Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 10, No. 4
SALT WORKS IN EARLY OKLAHOMAa
By Grant Foreman
Of the features that entered into the history of Oklahoma, climate, topography, geography, and soil were among the most important
for they gave us the grass and forests supporting the animal life that in turn made this a paradise for the early Indians
and brought the trader and trapper, the first whites who disputed with the aborigines the possession of the country and brought
it to the knowledge of the people of the east. Related to these features was one of equal importance, that of transportation.
Practically as we understand the term now, transportation did not exist in those early days. To consider that subject we must
dismiss all our present conceptions and think only of the slow and painful movements of the Indians by villages on their periodical
hunts; or of the traders who traveled for weeks with their little trains of pack horses or mules carrying merchandise to barter
with the Indians or returning from the prairies, Santa Fe, or Chihuahua to the Three Forks, Fort Smith or St. Louis with their
kegs or skins of bullion bulking large and heavy, a thousand dollars or two of Mexican silver making a load for the nimble-footed
Or we should think of the only other method of transportation—that by water. The oceans and bays that indent the shores of
our country, the great lakes and rivers, determined the locations of our important cities for they provided the one essential
to their life and growth, that of transportation. And so the rivers of Oklahoma determined the locations of our army posts
and trading settlements that brought in their wake commerce and industry and civilization. But water transportation had its
limitations and while Col. Chouteau could ship from the Three Forks cargoes of skins and furs to New Orleans the toil and
expense of the labor of building boats at Chouteau's little ship yard and the weeks of navigating the vessels to their remote
destinations could be
incurred only because of the comparatively great value of the cargo.
But there was one product of the country, one of the most essential to human life and comfort, that did not lend itself so
readily to the primitive methods of transportation of those days, and that was salt. As we do not realize how important salt
is to us today, much less do we comprehend its place in the lives of the pioneers when they lacked present day facilities
that deliver it to thousands of cities, villages, and shops where it is available to us with scarcely a thought of the means
by which it is produced and brought to us.
How vital salt springs or other sources of salt supply were to the pioneers of this country is indicated by the scores of
place-names of towns and streams named "Saline" or "Salina." So important was the possession of and access to nature's sources
of this essential to human life and industry that the Indians waged battles over them; in the early territorial grants east
of the Mississippi River, the Government expressly reserved salt springs and other deposits in order that as public property
they might be made available to all. After the consummation of the Louisiana Purchase, the Government cancelled many claims
to salt springs that the Spanish and French officials had granted and restored them to the public domain. In cataloguing the
resources of newly acquired territory to determine its value and to indicate its place in the future economic scheme of the
country, explorers and officers sent to report, invariably gave a place to the salt deposits along with the soil and vegetation
and water courses. Thus Maj. Amos Stoddard who was commissioned in 1804 to take possession of Upper Louisiana under the treaty
of cession reported on the important features of our new acquisition. And he subsequently wrote a book1 in which he devoted several pages to descriptions of salt springs and other deposits in the Purchase. Of the flowing spring
five miles northeast of the present Mazie, in Mayes County, later known as the Campbell and still later as the Bryan saline;
he said in part: "The spring formed a fountain or basin at its source of about forty feet in diameter. It then suddenly disappears
under a rock of about forty yards in extent,
the top of which is flat and smooth, and great quantities of salt are formed on it. The water is nearly saturated; the Indians
and traders procure their salt from it; and they say that eight gallons of it will yield by evaporation one gallon of salt.
About four hundred Osages living near the mouth of the Verdigris river a short distance only from this spring, obtain their
supplies of salt from it; and as it is situated on a navigable stream, it will probably very soon become of importance to
the manufacture of salt among the whites."
This salt spring, known to few people now living, was more potent in the history of this state than the greatest oil well
ever drilled in Oklahoma. It heads a train of developments and events increasing in importance with the years, that touch
the lives of all of us and enter into the present greatness of our state.
This spring was known to the Osage living within what is now Missouri and influenced Pierre Chouteau when he brought about
the division of that tribe by inducing half of them to remove to the region east of Tulsa and north of Muskogee. Their presence
here influenced and was followed by the trading settlements at the Three Forks and the Saline, Union Mission near by, emigrant
trains through the country over the ancient Osage trail that led to this spring and later became part of the Texas Road, Fort
Smith and Fort Gibson, white settlements, the one influencing the next; until Fort Gibson and the head of navigation at the
Three Forks, brought to the neighborhood thousands of immigrant Indians from the East, and these in turn caused Indian agencies,
and the importance of the country as the head of Indian administration; it was from this first immigrant Indian settlement
at the Three Forks that the Tallassee Indians removed in 1834 to give their name to the present city of Tulsa.
Union Mission was located near this salt spring in 1819, and the missionaries often wrote of the frequent visits of the Osage
Indians to the spring where they boiled down the water and made salt that they carried to their villages. Salt was important
to the Indians, not only in their diet, but for preserving and tanning hides, a work that was skillfully done by the women.
Oklahoma was blessed in an extraordinary degree with salt deposits that challenged the interest and frequently the wonder
of explorers, who first learned of them from the resident Indians who collected their salt there. Perhaps the most celebrated
were the deposits in northwestern Oklahoma on the Salt Fork River.
When Capt. Zebulon M. Pike was sent to explore the western limits of the Louisiana Purchase, Lieut. James B. Wilkinson separated
from the remainder of the party in October 1807 and descended the Arkansas River. On December 10 he passed the mouth of the
"Grand Saline, or Newsewketonga" Cimarron River, and noted2 what the Indians told him: "About two days' march up this river, you find the prairie grass on the S. W. side incrusted with
salt, and on the N. E. bank, fresh-water springs, and lakes abounding with fish. This salt the Arkansas Osages obtain by scraping
it off the prairie with a turkey's wing into a wooden trencher."
These salt deposits were visited in January, 1811 by George Sibley, Osage agent stationed among the Osage Indian in Missouri.
The next month he wrote a graphic account3 of this phenomenon that was the wonder of all who had seen or heard of it.
"I embraced the opportunity while I was out to visit and examine the famous Salines beyond the Arkansaw. The Grand Saline
is at least 20 miles in circumference and is a perfect level plane covered in dry hot weather from 2 to 6 inches deep with
a beautiful clean white Salt, of a quality rather superior I think to the imported blown salt. The Rock Saline is on a smaller
scale being not more than about 500 acres in extent. It is also a level flat surrounded by very high hills formed chiefly
of Gypsum of various qualities, and flint and Red Clay; from the bases of these Hills arise many springs of salt water which
spreading slowly over the flat is by the action of the Sun converted to hard salt which is more or less abundant accord-
ing to the weather a long continuance of very hot dry weather produces a solid mass of salt from 5 to 12 inches thick covering
an hundred acres of the flat, very much resembling a large pond of water covered with rough ice.
"There are several springs which rise within the flat, around which the Salt forms in such solid masses as to defy the heaviest
shower of rain, however often repeated. At one of these Springs I hewed out a piece of salt 10 inches thick. I then dug about
a foot below the surface of the ground and still found an almost solid mass of salt; an Indian seeing me digging, laughing
asked me if I expected to dig to the bottom. I am induced to believe there is a solid rock of salt of vast extent near the
surface here. At present I cannot give more sketches of these truly great curiosities of nature. When I shall have revised
my notes perhaps I may again resume the subject in some future letter."
Three years later he wrote a longer description:4
"The Grand Saline is situated about 280 miles S. W. of Fort Osage between the forks of a small branch of the Arkansaw, one
of which washes the Southern extremity, and the other (the principal one,) runs nearly parallel with, and within a mile of
its opposite side. It is a hard level plain of redish Cold. Land, of an irregular or mix'd figure, its greatest length is from N. W. to S. E. and its circumference full Thirty miles—This
Plain is entirely covered in dry, hot weather, from 2 to 6 inches deep with a crust of clean white Salt of a quality rather
Superior I think to the imported blown Salt; in this State the Saline bears a striking resemblance to a field of brilliant
white Snow with a crust on it after a rain—
"The Grand Saline is environed by ridges of Sand Hills, some of which are perfectly naked, some thinly clothed with verdure
and small trees,
and others afford on their declivities thickets of Dwarf Plum Bushes not over 30 inches high, which yielded us (23d June)
a great abundance of ripe Plums the largest and finest I ever tasted—I am of opinion that the Salt may easily be waggoned
from this place to the Arkansaw where Keel Boats may receive it at certain Seasons—the root is thro' an open Prairie all the
way, and the distance not over 80 or 90 miles.
"The Rock Saline lies about 75 miles N. W. of the Grand Saline surrounded by naked mountains of red clay and Gypsum—It is
a level flat of hard red land of about 500 acres, thro' which pafses a small stream, dividing it into two unequal parts, one fifth of which, or about 100 acres, being on the S. W. Side, close
under a tremendous Hill, from the base of which ifsue Several Springs of Salt water, which gradually covers the plain and by the action of the Sun is in the dry hot seasons
converted into a Solid mafs of Salt several inches thick. There are also within this plain, 4 Springs of Salt water perfectly saturated around which
are formed hollow covered with rock Salt from 12 to 20 inches in thicknefs. When I visited this Saline, it had just been inundated by excefsive rains, and all the Salt was swept off except that around the 4 springs—yet I found an immense quantity there, and actually
blocked out with my tomahawk a very clean piece full 16 inches thick.—From what I saw myself and what my faithful Indian guides
told me on the spot, and had often told me before, I have not the least doubt but there are times when this whole Section
(next the Hills) is covered completely with a solid rock of Salt from 4 to 12 inches thick, and immediately around the 4 Springs
12 to 20 inches thick, resembling a field of Ice in large flakes—The other Section produces Salt exactly like that of the
Grand Saline—The country around the rock Saline is very mountainous, and the Saline can only be approached on foot or (with
some difficulty on Horseback). You have a Specimen of the Salt
which I got at this Saline from one of the Springs—therefore I need not describe it."
Capt. Nathan Boone, the son of Daniel Boone, visited these salt plains in June 1843, while on an expedition from Fort Gibson
for the protection of Santa Fe traders; he gives an extended account in his journal of the expedition. When he came to the
Salt Fork, designated by him on his map as "Little or Upper Red Fork, called by the Osages "nes-catonga" meaning "Big Salt,"
he visited the "Big Salt Plain" probably in Alfalfa County, which he says looked "like a lake of white water in an extensive
But the most wonderful saline seen by him was that on the Cimarron called by him the Lower or Big Red Fork; this was called
by travelers the Salt Rock and was a subject of great interest and amazement to all who had seen it. "The whole cove on the
right of the two forks of the river," he said, "appeared to be one immense salt spring of water so much concentrated, that,
as soon as it reaches the point of breaking forth, it begins depositing its salt. In this way a large crust or rock is formed
all over the bottom for perhaps 160 acres. Digging through the sand for a few inches anywhere in this space, we could find
the solid salt, so hard that there was no means in our power of getting up a block of it. We broke our mattock in the attempt.
In many places through this rock salt crust the water boiled up as clear as chrystal; tempting to one suffering from thirst;
but so salt that our hands after being immersed in it and suffered to dry, became as white as snow. Thrusting the arm down
one of these holes they appeared to be walled with salt as far down as the arm could reach."5
The Indians came to these salt plains or the Salt Rock from all directions and made salt; they scooped up the salt and sand,
placed it in kettles of water; when it was dissolved the sand settled to the bottom of the vessel; the clear water was then
poured off and boiled down until only the white salt remained. With the salt they filled bags of skins that they loaded on
their ponies and carried it to their villages.
The work of collecting the salt and fuel was done by the women, while their husbands were engaged in hunting or other occupations.
For the Grand Saline was more than merely a place to secure salt. It was a famous place to hunt the buffalo and other game
that collected there for the salt. It was often a rendezvous for Indians who met their friends there in large bodies for conferences
to plan wars or other affairs of state among the Indians; and quite as often they came there to surprise their enemies and
kill them if possible. Indians with some commercial instincts such as the Kickapoo, Cherokee, Shawnee, Osage and Comanche
met there to barter peltries and horses for merchandise and powder.
So important were these salt deposits to all the Indians in the West that when the Government by its agents Montford Stokes
and others made the treaty with the Creek Indians in 1833 at Fort Gibson by which their lands in the present Oklahoma were
confirmed to them, it was cautiously provided that "if the saline or salt plains on the great western prairies, should come
within the boundaries defined by this agreement, as the country of the Creek nation, then, and in that case the president
of the United States, shall have the power to permit all other friendly Indian tribes to visit said salt plains and procure
thereon and carry away salt sufficient for their subsistence, without hindrance or molestation from the said Creek Indians."6
At an early day white men not only availed themselves of nature's bountiful supply of salt but sensed its commercial possibilities
and installed equipment for its manufacture. But they did not compete with the Indians for the vast supply on the salt plains.
They combined salt deposits with the advantages of river transportation and founded the salt business on the streams of eastern
Oklahoma. Perhaps its earliest manufacture for commercial purposes in the present Oklahoma dates from 1815 when one Bernard
R. Mouille for himself and associates obtained from Maj. William L. Lovely, Cherokee agent, a license to operate the salt
springs on the west bank of the Grand River, east of the present Mazie, near where Union Mission was to be later established.
In the settlements on the lower Arkansas River
salt was then selling for $25 to $30 per barrel and Mouille urged that because of scarcity and high cost of salt his establishment
would be a great public convenience. And he showed what a great undertaking it would be for he would have to transport his
kettles and other equipment for a long distance to the mouth of the Arkansas River and then up that stream 750 miles he said,
and then up the Grand or Six Bulls River another fifty miles; here, where his establishment would be 300 miles from the nearest
white settlement he would have difficulty in keeping adequate help that he would have to pay very high wages.7 This establishment was subsequently shown on old maps as "Campbell's Salt Works," but in later years was called Bryan's Salt
Works. Campbell was killed by his partners David Earheart and William G. Childers about May first, 1819, and the works were
abandoned for the time.8
The next month this establishment was visited by the naturalist Thomas Nuttall, who found it:
"lying idle and nearly deserted in consequence of the murder of Mr. Campbell, by Erhart, his late partner, and two accomplices
in their employ. [He gives a good picture of the] saline, which appeared to be a gravely, alluvial basin, of about an acre
in extent, and destitute of all vegetation. A small fresh water brook, now scarcely running, passed through this area, and
the salt water, quite pellucid, issued copiously to the surface in various directions. At one place it boiled up out of a
focus of near six inches diameter, emitting fetid bubbles of sulphuretted hydrogen, which deposited a slight scum of sulphur.
All the springs are more or less hepatic, which circumstance is attributable to a bed of bituminous and sulphuretted slate-clay,
visible on the margin of the stream, and probably underlaid by coal, through which the water rises to the surface....The only
well dug upon the premises for salt water, was about five feet deep, and quarried through a bed of dark colored limestone,
taining shell and nodules of black hornstone, similar to the chert of Derbyshire....When the works were in operation, 120
bushels of salt were manufactured in a week, and the water is said to be so strong, that after the second boiling, it became
necessary to remove the lye. No mother water, or any thing almost but what is volatile, appears mixed with this salt, which
is of the purest whiteness on the first boiling and only takes about 80 gallons of water to produce a bushel."9
Mark and Richard H. Bean settled in 1817 on the Illinois River near its confluence with the Arkansas where they had located
a salt spring. As salt was scarce in the settlements on the Arkansas, Maj. William Bradford, commandant at Fort Smith, urged
them to make salt there for the use of the garrison and the white settlements. They accordingly proceeded to secure the necessary
equipment and proceeded with the manufacture of salt. They first purchased the kettles at the abandoned Campbell's Salt Works
on the Grand River in 1819 and shipped them down the Grand and Arkansas rivers and up the Illinois about five miles and removed
them overland west two miles to the salt works on a stream now called Salt Branch. 10
The next year the Beans and a man named Reuben Sanders obtained from the governor of Arkansas Territory a license to operate
these salt springs. Captain John Bell, who visited them in September, 1820, while traveling from the mouth of the Verdigris
to Fort Smith, says of these works
"...They are situated on a small creek which flows into the Illinois creek about a mile below, and at the distance of about
seven miles from the Arkansas. Mr. Bean commenced his operations in the spring, and has already a neat farm-house on the Illinois,
with a considerable stock of cattle, hogs, and poultry, and several acres of Indian corn. Near the springs he has erected
a neat log-house, and a shed for the furnace; but his kettles, which
were purchased of the proprietors of the Neosho establishment, were not yet fixed."
Passing over the trail from Fort Smith to the mouth of the Verdigris, Jacob Fowler crossed Illinois River—
"...and about one mile farther stoped for the night at Beens Salt Workes,—this is the Second night Since We left the fort—the
Workes one Small Well With a few kittles about 55 gallons of Watter make a bushil of Salt and the Well affords Watter to boil
the kittles about three days in the Weake Been and Sanders Has permission of the govern [government] to Worke the Salt Spring—they
Sell the Salt at one dollar per bushil."11
Under Bean's management these works produced a large output of salt which contributed much to the comfort of the white settlements
along the Arkansas River. The Arkansas Gazette said: "...we have salt of the first quality, and produced at the saline on
the Illinois, about 50 miles from Fort Smith in great abundance." In 1822 on the expiration of Bean's license, Governor Miller
extended it for three years, and in 1825, Governor Izard extended it for twelve months and said:
"...Your proposal of making over to the use of the United States all the Improvements executed by you at these works (with
the exception of the Iron Pots and boilers) in three years from this time, on condition of having the use of the Property
rent-free during that Period, will be laid before the Department of War. It is however stipulated that you shall deliver at
least two thousand Bushels of marketable salt at this place [Little Rock] for a price not to exceed $1 50/100 pr. bushel at
any time within the first year after this Date should you be called upon by the executive to do so."
According to General Arbuckle and Captain Bonneville, Bean's salt works supplied salt to the whole country around and they
built boats in which they shipped it down the Arkansas River to Fort Smith, Little Rock and other settlements on that stream.
Their extensive equipment included
a good double log house, negro quarters, and stables, two drying houses and a large warehouse for the finished salt, with
two long houses to cover the 100 iron kettles they had transported at great expense over six hundred miles by keel boats before
any steamboat had ventured so high up the river. There were also outhouses and furnaces and a five mile road to a warehouse
they had built just below the falls on the Arkansas River. They made from 35 to 40 bushels of salt per day and sold it for
one dollar per bushel.
By the treaty with the Cherokee Indians in 1828 the country was given to them and the Beans were dispossessed of their salt
springs and equipment. They filed a claim with the Government for reimbursement and in the hearing in 1857, army officers
Arbuckle, Bonneville and Dixon, and two of their old neighbors there named William Quessenbury and William McGarrah testified
to the high character of the claimants and of the great value of their salt works and equipment which they said were worth
$15,000; this was the amount J. W. Denver, Commissioner of Indian Affairs recommended that they be paid pursuant to an act
of Congress for their relief of March 3, 1857.12 It also developed that when the Beans were dispossessed, the works were taken over by Walter Webber, a Cherokee Indian, who
with his heirs continued to operate them until the Civil War. From the accounts of early travelers and army officers, the
Bean salt works exercised a decided influence on a large extent of country and contributed to the comfort of many people both
white and Indian.
For a long time Webbers Salt Works was an important public place like a post office or the old mill where customers waited
their turns, and public business was transacted there. Thus the Cherokee Advocate of December 25, 1845, carried the announcement that "There will be sold to the highest bidder on Saturday, the fifteenth
of January next at Webber's Salt Works, the following named negroes, to-wit: Charlotte; May and her two children; Rachel and
her child, and one Negro man. All of which will be sold for the purpose of making an equal division of the proceeds of the
said negroes among the heirs of Ruth Phillips deceased. Terms of sale
cash. Sale to commence at Twelve o'clock. Looney Price and Ellis Phillips, administrators." The site of the Bean-Webber Salt
works is now easily identified by fragments of furnaces, wooden buildings, ashes, and the white of the salt deposit on the
earth that still attracts cattle.
Another salt works was located on the Illinois River about ten or twelve miles above the mouth and for many years was known
as Mackey's. There is evidence that as early as 1826 one John Lasater was manufacturing salt there and that year advertised
in the Arkansas Gazette that he wished to sell his equipment which included a good shed, salt house, cabins, 34 kettles, and some cleared land.13 Samuel Mackey who had a Cherokee family removed with the tribe from Alabama to Arkansas in 1819, and from Arkansas in 1828
and took possession of this salt works. It was located on the east bank of the Illinois River and near the military road from
Fort Smith to Fort Gibson. Mackey had a considerable establishment there and furnished lodging and food to travelers passing
that way. He not only shipped salt up and down the Illinois and Arkansas rivers, and thus supplied a large demand, but he
became an extensive farmer and took contracts from the Government to ration emigrant Indians during the Creek and Cherokee
removal. His place became well known through the country and was frequently mentioned in official and other contemporary accounts.
Salt water for his establishment was obtained from a spring that discharged through an opening in the solid rock in the bottom
of the Illinois River. A pipe was fixed in the opening of the spring so as to carry the discharge above the surface of the
river water and a pump was attached by means of which the salt water was carried to the kettles on the bank of the river.
Mackey died in 1839 and his sons James and W. T. Mackey succeeded to his business.
Prior to the Civil War these salt works became the property of Alexander Wilson a prosperous Cherokee who conducted a mercantile
establishment at Tahlequah. It was then known as the Marble Salt Works. Wilson died in 1858 when the salt works became the
property of his widow, Rebecca Riley Wilson, and three children including Mrs. Belle Rush lately of Muskogee. The equipment
then consisted of pumps
and other machinery, 100 immense evaporating salt kettles arranged in batteries in two rows of hewed log buildings several
hundred feet long, and a store-house stocked with general merchandise suitable to the demands of the neighborhood and to barter
for labor and wood. There were also wagons and oxen, horses and mules for hauling wood to burn under the kettles and for hauling
salt, and a large warehouse.
Mrs. Wilson died in 1861 about the time of the breaking out of the Civil War when the property was seized by the Confederates
who made of it a public gathering place where soldiers were drilled; and they manufactured salt there for the use of the Confederate
army and the surrounding inhabitants. In 1863 the Confederates were driven out by the Union forces and two companies of Federal
troops were stationed there to hold the works, the adjacent country, and the military road; they also manufactured salt there
to supply the Union forces and the thousands of Indian, negro, and white refugees gathered around Fort Gibson. About two years
later the Union forces abandoned the salt works and to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Confederates, they
completely destroyed all the equipment by burning the houses, and breaking up the kettles, the pumps and other machinery.
For many years the heirs tried in vain to secure compensation from the United States for the loss of the salt works and a
large number of cattle and hogs belonging to it that were taken by the Union Army. In the lean days of reconstruction after
the war, these broken kettles were repaired by straps of iron rivetted to the fragments and thus restored somewhat to their
former integrity, they were again used for making salt. One of these I had hauled to Muskogee and gave it to the University
of Tulsa where it will be seen on the campus.
Bluford West a Cherokee citizen came to the new home of the tribe in 1830. The next year he purchased from a white man named
Meredith some improvements on a place where there was a large buffalo and deer lick of an acre or two in extent located on
the northeast quarter of Section 11, Township 19 North, Range 19 East, on the east side of Grand River southeast of Choteau;
there was no salt spring but after a rain when the water evaporated it left a saline deposit. Here in 1832 West and Andrew
M. Vann began digging for salt water. At a depth of ten or twelve feet they struck rock and
found a little salt water; Vann gave up the effort and went to Fort Smith. West persevered however and dug four wells and
two cisterns; but in the only one in which salt water was found it was colored and unfit for making salt.
Digging these wells was a laborious process performed by slave labor. As one observer described it "they would put one log
house inside of another and cram earth between them and dig out, letting the house settle. This kept the sand and gravel from
caving in as they dug down. They built a frame work on the inside of the logs thus sunk. They cost a good deal." Finally West
abandoned the dug wells and proceeded to drill from the bottom of one well they had dug ten feet deep to the solid rock.14
With a force of men an upright timber with a fork at the top was securely set in the ground. In the fork was a horizontal
pivot on which worked a lever from the heavy end of which depended a drill on a cable; this was called a spring pole with
a heavy iron bit. At the other end of the lever or sweep the strength of three men was required to pull it down and thus elevate
the drill; they then released their hold and the drill dropped with great force into the hole; another man stood at the rope
and turned the drill before it dropped. By this primitive method the drilling continued for two years; the work was very slow,
sometimes no more than three-quarters of an inch of progress being made in a day. The stone was powdered by the drill, and
washed but with the water poured into the hole. A fifth man, a blacksmith, was employed to keep the drills sharpened. A man
named Trammel superintended the work for about a year and another named Heth for the next year. Finally at a cost of about
$6,000 after drilling a two and one-half inch hole 126 feet through the rock a vein of salt water was struck that rose with
sufficient force to lift it in pipes 14 feet above the surface.
When the well was completed it was necessary to case off the surface water, and not having any iron pipe they resorted to
an expedient typical of the resourcefulness of those early days. They secured sound tree trunks about twelve inches in diameter
and cut them into sections of from eight
to twelve feet long and with an extension auger two inches in diameter they bored through the entire length of the section.
Then they tapered one end of the section to a point and reamed the end of another section into a funnel shape so that the
former fitted closely. Pipe thus made was set down on top of the hole in the rock so that the water would pass up without
leaking through the connection. Similar wooden pipes were used to convey the salt water from the well to the vats from which
it was conveyed into the kettles over the furnaces. Immense quantities of wood were used for fuel under the kettles; this
was purchased at about a dollar a cord. Vats were made by hollowing out large sycamore logs.
The equipment was then set up for handling and evaporating the salt water. A furnace was first constructed over which were
heated 52 kettles holding 50 gallons each. The first twenty feet of the furnace was built of slate or soap stone quarried
six miles away as ordinary stone available would not stand the heat. The wall of the furnace was seven or eight feet high
at the front gradually diminishing in size to two feet where it ended at the chimney 70 feet from the fire. The furnace was
housed under a shed 22 feet wide, built on locust posts with wall plates, rafters and lathing covered by three or four foot
clap boards. In front of the furnace was a "fire shed" 16 by 20 feet.
Later there were sixty kettles to each of the four furnaces and in them West made from thirty to sixty bushels of salt a day,
fifty pounds of salt being produced from 110 gallons of water. The salt was produced usually at a cost of about thirty cents
a bushel. There were three "liftings" a day and each "lifting" averaged nearly eighteen bushels.
In April 1841 David Vann who was then on a Cherokee delegation in Washington negotiated for West from one General Carter of
Tennessee, a consignment of salt kettles which were to be delivered on the east bank of Grand River near Ft. Gibson at a cost
of $100.00 per ton, together with one ton of small castings for the salt works. West and Vann were then in partnership. Vann
wrote that the shipment was to start on the first rise of the river in the spring. However, Vann abandoned the salt business
and the kettles were not sent until later and the consignment of salt kettles from Gen-
eral Carter arrived at Fort Gibson on the steamboat Huntsman July 29, 1843.
The Cherokee council enacted a law October 30,1843, declaring all the salt springs in the Cherokee Nation to be the property
of the nation except the one on Lees Creek, granted by the treaty of 1828 to Sequoyah. In this they followed the theory that
controlled with the government of the United States with reference to the salines on the public land, and by the western Cherokees
themselves. The result of this law was to dispossess all of the old settlers who were then in possession of and operating
these salt works. After the enactment of this law, the Cherokee Nation took possession of all of these salt works and leased
them to individuals for a rental which was paid to the nation. The old settler members of the tribe who were thus dispossessed
filed claims with the government for the loss sustained by them and an investigation was ordered. The improvements of the
citizens thus taken were inventoried and appraised. From this it appears that at the time of the act the improvements at the
West salt works included the following:
One one-story-and-a-half dwelling house of hewn logs with two large rooms and passage way between them, porches in front and
rear, one room handsomely sealed and the whole house well finished, worth $2000.00. One dining room and kitchen of hewn logs
adjoining, worth $500.00. A smoke house, root house, a negro house and large log building for poultry, $200.00. One spring
200 yards from house and well 30 feet deep, the drilling of which was stopped by the law of 1843. One corn house, one stable
80 feet in length with several divisions and small stable and stable yards, troughs, etc., valued at $300.00. Eighty-seven
acres of cultivated and fenced prairie land and thirty-five acres of cleared wood land with fencing, the yard about the dwelling
house, potato patch, garden, grass covering about nine acres and 200 fruit trees; the whole was assessed at the value of $4125.00.
The improvements at the saline consisted of the following: 1 trough or cistern made by hollowing out a solid log 64 feet long
and 4½ feet in diameter. There was a large amount of excavation and walling required for the adjustment of the furnace which
was housed in a shed 90 feet in length and 20 feet wide. A salt house joined the furnace shed. There were
800 feet of wooden pipes for conveying salt water made of tree trunks. Close to the well there were two buildings for residences
of the workmen with out-houses adjoining; a blacksmith shop and a building used as a salt-house. The first ten feet of the
well was ten feet square walled up with logs and then a frame set in leaving a space between it and the logs filled with dirt.
In addition West had cut for his furnace 900 cords of wood which was estimated at the value of 50c a cord.
When the salt works were taken from the Old Settlers they were bitter toward the government dominated by John Ross and the
great majority of the tribe who had lately emigrated in 1838. The tension caused by the killing of Boudinot and the two Ridges
in 1839 was aggravated in 1841 by the murder of Isaac Bushyhead and the serious wounding of David Vann, who were identified
with the dominant or Ross faction of the tribe, by a man named Work who was serving with John West, a brother of Bluford West.
The affair occurred at the polling place near the Saline during the election for national officials of the Cherokee Nation.
Jacob West a white man, and his son John West were arrested and tried for the murder and both sentenced to be hanged. Jacob
West was executed and John West received 100 lashes. Work escaped.
This was not the end of the trouble and the feud continued to divide the people of the tribe. Bluford West left home on account
of the trouble and went to Washington where he died of pneumonia, April 2, 1845. He was survived by his widow Nancy who afterwards
married Leroy Markham, a blacksmith who worked under contract for the tribe. They continued to live at the West farm for many
years though they were not for some years permitted to operate the Salt Works. In 1860, Leroy Markham leased the works from
the Cherokee Nation for a term of ten years. For a long time Mrs. Markham as the sole heir of Bluford West sought to recover
from the Cherokee Nation compensation for the loss of their property; two or three times appropriations were made by the Cherokee
Council only to be vetoed by Chief John Ross. However after his death, with the aid of Joel R. Bryan as her attorney an appropriation
of $12,000 was made and paid to her.
Perhaps the best known salt works in Oklahoma was
that which gave the name to Salina, the village a mile north of it. While this was not operated so early as the Bryan salt
works near Union Mission, a few miles lower down the Grand River, it developed into the most important of all in its days
of great activity. A salt spring here was known to the whites as early as 1820 but there was no attempt by them to manufacture
salt from it for ten years after that time. In 1828 Lieut. Washington Hood accompanied from St. Louis a party of Choctaw,
Chickasaw and Creek Indians on a tour of exploration. When they came to this saline he noted in his report "About 1 mile S.
E. of Mr. Chouteau's on the E. side of the Neosho, there is a salt spring, rising from a limestone rock covering from 1 to
2 acres; several openings are made in this rock by the water, which has a strong saline taste. . . The quantity of salt which
this water would yield is not known, as no experiment of that kind has been made but it is probable that it would producel5 abundantly."
These and other salt springs were included in the reservations made by treaty in 1825 to some of the half-breed Osage members
of the family of Col. A. P. Chouteau who had his home and trading post nearby. He acquired title to the springs at this place
and in 1830 sold them to Sam Houston who believed they would make him rich, but he was obliged to abandon that illusion when
he discovered a white man could not own land in the Indian country. About that time the Cherokee Indians removed to this country
from Arkansas and Capt. John Rogers a Cherokee took possession of the springs. He began making salt here and nearby erected
his home and called the place the Grand Saline. Two years later October 6, 1832, the place was, visited by Washington Irving
who noted in his journal that Captain Rogers and his wife were half-breeds "he absent at Cherokee council which has been in
session four weeks, being discordant; Mrs. Rogers a fine-looking woman; her son a tall fine-looking young man, married to
a handsome tall half-breed. Log house with piazza—locust trees; saline in valley-bubbling16 springs."
At the time Captain John Rogers was dispossessed by
the Cherokee law of 1843, his improvements at the Grand Saline consisted of one 25 acre enclosed cultivated field and another
of 40 acres containing 665 fruit trees; one frame store house weather-boarded with clap boards and one frame dwelling house
with two log out-houses; two large log stables with shed and stable yard with garden adjoining; one frame dwelling with adjoining
kitchen, smoke house, negro house and garden with a stable and one spring house and two log houses made for workmen near the
springs; two salt-houses and one shed 80 feet long covering the furnace; two cisterns 56 feet in length of board three feet
wide and two feet deep; 50 salt kettles in the furnace. In 1839 Captain Rogers had in operation 115 kettles but one of the
furnaces was abandoned and 50 of the kettles were taken away by Captain Roger's son, Lewis, for use in his salt works on the
Spavinaw. There were in addition at Captain Roger's salt works 500 feet of pipe made by boring through tree trunks, a blacksmith
shop and negro cabin.
This was a natural flowing saline where only trifling expenditure was necessary to procure the salt water and Captain Rogers
had been offered for it as high as $24,000.00. In March 1844 Rogers and his family were removed in accordance with the provisions
of the law of 1843 relating to salines. This saline was then leased by the Cherokee Nation to Lewis Ross who contracted to
pay $1600.00 annually for ten years.
Ross built here a pretentious home which became one of the show places of the Cherokee Nation; in later years it was purchased
by the Cherokee Nation and with additions was used as the Cherokee Orphan Asylum. About 1898 or 1899 this building was destroyed
The improvements at the Grand Saline belonging to Captain Rogers' son John Rogers consisted of one hewed log house weather
boarded at the ends with sawed lumber and plastered inside and overhead, and outside on two sides, 18 by 24 feet, one and
one-half story high, with two (2) ten foot porches bannistered around with planed, tongued and grooved flooring below and
above, three glass windows below and one above, one stairway, one stone chimney with two fire places and a shingled roof,
valued at $500.00.
One smoke house of hewed logs, one story high, 17 x 18 feet with a nailed board roof; one kitchen of hewed logs 18 x 19
feet, with a slab floor, stone and brick chimney, and board roof; one dining house of hewed logs one story high, 17 x 18 feet,
with good plank floor, nailed board roof, two doors and one brick chimney; two cow lots and fenced garden; one house, wall
hewed down, 18 x 20 feet with plank floor, nailed board roof, wooden chimney and one door; three log cabins about 10 x 20
feet in size; and two old stables of round logs and shed. One spring house of hewed logs, 12 feet square; one horse lot and
garden enclosed by stake and ridered fence.
One reservoir for salt water being an embankment of earth and two logs high, 40 feet wide and 80 feet long; one salt house
of hewed logs 16 x 18 feet; one shop house of hewed logs 16 x 18 feet; two cabins of hewed logs 16 x 18 feet; one salt house
of hewed logs 18 feet square; two old houses 16 feet square and a blacksmith shop; 540 feet of wooden pipe valued at 7c per
foot; one furnace shed 20 x 80 feet with sawed rafters covered with four foot boards; one salt cistern 60 feet long, 3 feet
wide and 1½ feet deep; one salt cistern 60' feet long, 1½ feet wide and 1½ feet deep; one furnace; posts, plank, cultivated
land and fences, 362 bearing apple trees, 217 small apple trees and 5 bearing peach trees.
Fragments of hollowed sycamore logs or gums in Dirty Creek about three miles west of Webbers Falls, and in the Illinois River
above Mackeys mark the sites of other early salt works. The salt works on Dirty Creek were known as the Drew salt works. Before
the Civil War John Drew sold them to Dave Vann who operated them through the war. Vann's son, the venerable R. P. Vann of
Webbers Falls recently told the writer that his father ran the works day and night.
"There was a big cistern there that would hold half a million gallons of water. They pumped day and night with mules and negroes
going all the time. Vann owned 100 negro slaves and he had 150 at work cutting wood and feeding the fires in the furnaces
under the salt kettles. The water was piped from the cistern to the kettles where it was cooked down to a certain stage and
then with a hose it was piped to large evaporators on a lower level where the cooking continued until only the salt was left.
Then the negroes would get in the evaporators and
shovel the salt out to the salt house.
"Wagons would be waiting to haul it off. They came from everywhere. Much of the salt was hauled to Fort Smith in wagons drawn
by six oxen to each. I remember one trip my father made to Fort Smith with ten wagon loads of salt. It took four days to make
the round trip as the oxen could make only about 25 miles per day.
"The Creeks came to our salt works and bought salt from my father and they always paid in gold they carried in sacks. They
usually had a supply of money to buy salt with after a payment. They would come for a long distance to buy salt and I used
to hear them telling about coming from Little River. They would sell the salt in their country. They were funny looking people
and came to our salt works driving four ox-teams to a wagon. They seldom drove horses or mules. But they drove the prettiest
oxen I ever saw, gentle as dogs. My father charged one dollar per bushel for the salt on the ground. He would collect a flour
sack full of gold dollars that were about the size of a dime. The people did not rob houses in those days and the sack of
gold was left lying around the house. After they quit making salt at this salt works my brothers broke up the 150 kettles
we owned there and sold the pieces to Mr. Joseph Sondheimer at Muskogee for old iron."
The salt lick at Union Mission located in the southwest quarter of Section 9, Township 19, Range 19, Mayes County, formerly
Campbells and Earharts, was taken by the Cherokee Nation in 1843 and payment was made for the few small improvements to a
man named Alex Brown. There were several salt springs there and the water yielded more salt than that at West's saline. There
was no boring until after the saline was leased by the Nation under the law of 1843. Then Joel M. Bryan, an adopted citizen
of the Cherokee Nation who moved with his family from Georgia to this country in 1833, became the lessee; and the place was
operated by him and his sub-lessees until 1875 when the building of the M. K. & T. Railroad and resultant importation of cheap
salt ruined all the salt operations in the Indian Territory.
Bryan's sub-lessees paid him one hundred bushels of salt monthly as rental. At one time it was sublet to Leroy Markham.
The Grand Saline, West saline and Union or Bryan salt works furnished salt to Missouri, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory;
and quantities of it were hauled for a long distance by the Creek Indians to their nation. At times the demand was so much
greater than the supply that as many as a dozen ox-wagons would be waiting their turns for ten days or more; and sometimes
so eager were the customers to secure their supply and be off on long journeys to distant homes that salt hot from the kettles
would be loaded into the wagons instead of going to the salt house to cool. When the demand was not so great and Mr. Bryan
had accumulated enough salt to make it worthwhile he would construct a flat boat and take a cargo of salt to New Orleans;
the trip was long and laborious but he was able to dispose of his salt at a price that compensated him.
In 1833 there were reported17 six salt works in operation in the Cherokee Nation. Roger's, Brown's and Vann's on the Grand River, Webber's and Mackey's
on the Illinois River and Guess's on Lee's Creek. When the Cherokee Indians removed from Arkansas to their present home, George
Guess (or Sequoyah) owned and operated a saline in Arkansas. To compensate him for the loss of this saline he was given one
on Lee's Creek, near the eastern boundary of their new country.
Sequoyah built his log home on Skin Bayou overlooking a good fresh water spring west of his salt works and about ten miles
northeast of the present Sallisaw, Oklahoma. He looked after the fires under his kettles and the evaporation of the salt water
and the "lifting" of the residue salt and supplied customers as he dreamed of his plans to make his people literate by the
use of his alphabet.
After Sequoyah's death this saline became the property of Joseph Coodey and his son William Shorey Coodey and was operated
under the name of J. Coodey and Son. After expending a considerable sum in equipment they advertised in the Cherokee Advocate through the spring of 1846 that they had 3,000 bushels of salt on hand which they were offering
cheap and solicited customers; they also advertised for 1,000 to 1,500 barrels in which to ship the salt.18 The venerable Ella Flora Coodey Robinson of Muskogee, the granddaughter of Joseph Coodey, says that this venture in the salt
business was not a profitable one; because of the handicap, one would suppose, of its not being on a navigable stream of water.
About January 1, 1848, Mr. Coodey sold his saline to J. and W. T. Mackey, sons of Samuel Mackey, who advertised that they
had a large amount of salt that they would sell at fifty cents per bushel and they offered to take flour and bacon in exchange
In February, 1848, James M. Payne, Cherokee agent of salines, advertised for lease four salines:
One formerly operated by Lewis Rogers in Delaware District;
One formerly occupied by David Vann near James McNairs; and another formerly occupied by William Rogers, both in Saline District,
One formerly occupied by Akey Smith generally known as Webber's Salt Works in Illinois District.
The salt works on the Grand River were advantageously situated as the navigation of that stream and the Arkansas enabled the
operators to reach remote markets; with their keel boats they could ascend the tributaries of the Grand into southwestern
Missouri. Thomas L. Rogers a son of Capt. John Rogers and the brother of Diana, the quondam wife of Sam Houston, located on
the Spavinaw Creek near the Grand River in 1836 to raise stock when his nearest neighbor lived miles distant. There was a
salt lick on his land and he employed Alexander Johnson of Washington County, Arkansas who had been a salt maker for fifteen
years to drill a salt well for him on the lick. Johnson began work February 12, 1839, and after drilling through the solid
rock he discovered an adequate supply of salt water; by October of the next year Rogers had established the necessary equipment
and had begun making salt, but in 1843 he was dispossessed of his salt works by the Cherokee law.19
A story has survived concerning the owner of one of these salt works who was also engaged in merchandising.
He went to New Orleans with money to buy a bill of goods for his store and while there got into fast company that kept him
intoxicated until he had spent nearly all of his money. With what he had left he was induced to buy a boat load of salt and
before he had become thoroughly sober he discovered that he was returning up the Mississippi River with a shipment of this
article that customarily descended the river. However, when he arrived at Webbers Falls the river was so low that he could
go no farther and as the low stage of the river and all of the streams had prevented the movement from the salt works he discovered
that his supply was in demand and during the period of several months that his boat was held up at this place much to his
astonishment he was able to dispose of the whole cargo at a profit.
Another place near the junction of the Spavinaw and Grand rivers was occupied by a Frenchman while the country was the home
of the Osage Indians; after the arrival of the Cherokee, it was taken by a member of the tribe named John Shepperd, who later
sold it to Martin Miller, a white man with an Indian family. About 1838 Miller sold it to James McNair, a Cherokee of the
Treaty Party. McNair dug for salt and found a supply of water; he constructed two furnaces and was engaged in making salt
when the law of 1843 took the salt well away from him.
Salt deposits were not so numerous or abundant in any of the other nations of the Indian Territory, as in the Cherokee Nation.
This most essential article of diet and commerce might have been possessed in larger quantities by the Choctaw Indians but
for the fact that the surveyors who ran the eastern line of their nation in 1825 took some good salt producing springs from
them. The line that was to extend directly south from Fort Smith to the Red River was run west of south so that when it reached
the Red River it was several miles too far west; this threw the salt springs in Arkansas as it was intended it should. This
action resulted in endless controversy with the Indians that was not settled until after the Civil War.
However there were a number of salt works in the Choctaw Nation. Directly after the removal of the tribe to the west the Indians
proceeded to equip some of these springs so as to manufacture salt for domestic use. And in 1835 and 1836 it was reported
that about forty miles above the mouth of
the Kiamichi River there was a salt spring which yielded a large quantity of water and had been worked for family use. Two
other springs were found in that part of the nation and were later utilized for the manufacture of salt. Israel Folsom developed
a salt works on the Boggy Creek from which he manufactured salt on a considerable scale and marketed it extensively throughout
the Choctaw Nation and north Texas. Giles Thompson also had a salt works at Boggy Depot.
With the building of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad into the Indian Territory in 1871-72 and the introduction of
refined salt from large plants in the North at a much reduced price the days of the laborious manufacture of salt in this
country soon came to an end; the new era of transportation changed the whole aspect of the region commercially, industriously
and economically. There was probably nothing of the old regime swept away by this new element of transportation that was more
picturesque or more typical of the pioneer phase of this country than the primitive salt works.
19On August 7, 1882, there was enacted legislation authorizing the Cherokee Nation to lease the salt deposits on the plains
in the following language:
"Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in congress assembled, That
the legislative council of the Cherokee nation may execute a lease of the salines or salt deposits on the plains, not to exceed
three in number, located on the lands of the Cherokee nation lying west of the ninety-sixth degree of longitude in the Indian
Territory, and so much land connected therewith as may be necessary for the working of the same, for a period of not exceeding
twenty years, with right of a highway for ingress and egress, to be reserved for such purpose and to facilitate the manufacture
of salt, and the conditions of which lease shall insure the payment to the Cherokee national authorities of a royalty of not
less than one dollar per ton: said lease being subject to such conditions and to the proper jurisdiction of the Cherokee national
legislature, and said lease and conditions subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior: Provided, That the proceeds of such royalty from the manufacture of salt shall be an addition to the educational fund of said nation:
And provided further, That said salines shall continue subject to any rights of the United States under sections fifteen and sixteen of the treaty
of July nineteenth, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-six with the Cherokee Indians; and said lease or leases shall be
liable to revocation by the legislative council of the Cherokee nation and the Secretary of the Interior for the non-performance
of any of said conditions."
Pursuant to said authority the area containing these salt deposits was surveyed and described in the accompanying map with
the certificate of the surveyor, John M. Harsha, and the Cherokee delegation, reading as follows:
I, J. M. Harsha, county surveyor and civil engineer of the county of Reno and State of Kansas, do hereby certify that, under
the employ and supervision of their Honors D. H. Ross and R. M. Wolfe Legal agents and representatives of the Cherokee Nation
I have proceeded, under the
direction of the above named Gentlemen, to Survey the Great Salt Plains, situate on the Cimarron River at the mouth of Buffalo
River in The Indian Territory, by courses and distances as follows viz. Erected a permanent starting corner, forty links West
of the extreme point of Gypsum rocks formed by the junction of Buffalo and Cimarron Rivers, Deposited a marked stone and cedar
post marked X. Thence run due North (variation of the magnetic needle being ten degrees and thirty five minutes East) Four
miles twenty six chains and sixty six links and deposited marked stone and raised mound of earth containing the names of the
surveying parties, for a Beginning Corner. Thence East four miles and a half and set line stone 20x8x5 marked X for North
East corner. Thence south six miles and twenty six chains and sixty six links and deposited marked Stone & raised mound of
Earth for South East corner on south side of the Cimarron River. Thence West nine miles and erected south west corner, by
marked stone, mound and pits. Thence North six miles, twenty six chains and sixty six links to North West corner and erected
mound and pits. And thence east four miles and a half to the place of beginning, containing thirty six thousand four hundred
and seventy nine acres & fifty two hundredths of an acre. I also hereby certify that the annexed is a true and faithful Map
of said survey. Given under my hand and Official capacity this 27th day of October, A.D. 1882.
JOHN M. HARSHA
County Surveyor and Civil Engineer.
Made under our direction, in pursuance of Act of the National Council of the Cherokee Nation of Deer. 17th, 1881—Act of Congrefs of the United States, Aug. 7th, 1882—and Order of the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Sept. 18th, 1882.
DANL. H. ROSS
R. M. WOLFE
Novr. 4th, 1882.
The map herewith is that described in the above certificate.
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