"Cripple Creek Ferry" is the closing song on Neil Young's 1970 album After the Gold Rush. "After the Gold Rush" is generally considered one of Neil Young's best albums, as well as being one of the greatest Folk Rock albums ever, with its songs covering topics as diverse as racial prejudice "Southern Man", to post-apocalypse science-fiction "After the Gold Rush", and several simpler romantic songs.
Which makes us wonder what "Cripple Creek Ferry" is about. At 90 seconds long, it consists of a chorus, a single verse, and a repeated chorus. It is sung in Neil Young's typical shaky voice, and the instrumentation, including piano, has a distinctive lo-fi, folk-rock sound. It also mentions "Cripple Creek", a location already made famous by folk-rock band The Band in the previous year's Up on Cripple Creek, and indeed, "Cripple Creek" has been the title of a folk song since probably the 19th Century. There are two locations called "Cripple Creek", one in Virginia, one in Colorado, but the song's lyrics don't seem to fit well with either, although Cripple Creek, Colorado would fit the album's theme of gold rushes, being a mining city in Colorado.
The problem here is that Cripple Creek, in Colorado, is truly a creek, a body of water that can literally be hopped over in one step. Cripple Creek, Virginia, is a little bit wider. But even though the song talks about the Cripple Creek Ferry having a "mighty tight squeeze" and "butting through the overhanging trees", this still doesn't make sense in terms of a ferry on either Cripple Creek, which would be at best a flat-bottomed raft meant to skip over water that could probably be waded. Of course, we can take "Cripple Creek" as being an imaginary place, a pastiche of frontier and country rivers, but even then, the song presents problems. The song mentions that "the captain hasn't heard from his deckhands", meaning that this ferry has a captain, and has a large enough crew, and a large enough deck space that the captain has lost contact with his crew---something that would seem to be quite improbable on the type of vessel, and the length of journey, that is a cross-creek or river voyage. For example, a contemporary ferry voyage across the wide Ohio River takes approximately a half hour. In addition, when the song mentions a gambler, it mentions that "it is the second half of the cruise, and you know he hates to lose". A "cruise" is usually not a word that is used for the rather brief and utilitarian crossing that a ferry will do.
So, to sum up, this song talks about the voyage of a ferry, that although it is going along a "creek" where it is barely making it through the trees, is also large enough that the Captain has somehow managed to lose all contact with his crew, and it is on a voyage long enough that people have time to play multiple card games. It might be easy to say that the song is a pastiche of "old west" imagery that is not meant to suggest a coherent story or location. This theory presents its own problems, with the realities of history being theatricized for the purposes of the song. But there is also a possibility that the song is about something else. The song "After the Gold Rush" is a science-fiction story about settlement of alien worlds, and it could be that the historic and geographic inconsistencies in this song are a fragment of a larger story. Or, if you prefer, this is just a cute, 90 second outro song to hum along to.