Native Americans succeeded in driving the three Cooper
brothers back home to Loutre Island in 1809. The Coopers returned
with about 150 others the next year, 1810. Even before that,
Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone were making salt in the untouched
wilderness north of present-day Boonville.
Let’s look back to the 1700s. In Kentucky, Daniel Boone
taught his young sons surveying and, at "Blue Licks,"
he taught them how to make salt. The hunter was 65 years old when
he brought his family and a large company of relatives and
friends to near St. Charles in 1799-1801. They needed salt for
tanning hides, curing and drying meat and seasoning their food.
Daniel’s American Indian friends told the old hunter how to
get to a salt lick about 30 miles west of present-day Columbia.
In 1803 Boone’s youngest son, Nathan, started building a
spectacular limestone mansion for his growing family.
Nathan’s brother, Daniel Morgan, was an unmarried hunter. In
1806 Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone went halfway across Missouri,
through our county, to locate the salt lick. There, they planned
how they’d get started manufacturing salt in this untouched
They’d bring 12 big iron kettles and build a stone
furnace for boiling water day and night. They’d wall up the
two springs one 50 feet from the furnace and the other 125
feet away. They’d make wooden troughs to carry the water to
the kettles, paddles for stirring, large trays for drying the
moist salt in the sun. They’d make those from wood from the
surrounding forest. They’d bring rounded metal scrapers for
scouring the salt residue, called "bittern," from the
insides of the iron kettles. They’d need several kinds of
saws, wedges, mallets and a carpenter’s vice for making
wooden equipment. The forest had a ready supply of oak, hickory
and maple wood for making such equipment and for the mountains of
firewood they’d need. They’d also need men to help with
They returned to the lick in 1807 with three men named
Morrison, paying them 50 cents a day "and their keep."
The Boones’ surveying skills helped in establishing a route
from near St. Charles, across "Upper Louisiana" to the
salt springs, Years later other wagons heading for Santa Fe and
Oregon would follow the ruts and tracks the Boone brothers made
as they meandered through the wilderness with oxen pulling their
loaded wagons. Thus the road was called "Boonslick
The men had to boil 80 gallons of water to produce two gallons
of salt. They dried it in the sun and packed it in animal skins
or barrels made of hollowed sycamore logs, They took it to the
river and two men poled a keel boat to markets in St. Louis where
each 4-gallon peck of salt sold for 65 cents. For the delivery,
the men were paid 50 cents a day on the downstream run and 75
cents a day for bring supplies upstream. Salt making was so
profitable they enlarged the "factory" and operated it
for three more years. That was during a peaceful time with the
American Indians and before 1810 when the first settlement was
established by the Cooper families. Nathan completed his
limestone mansion in 1810, and the Boones sold out in 1811,
probably to their helpers.
The original Boonslick Trail was north of the cluster of
cabins called Smithton. It was abandoned in favor of Columbia,
which was planned and started in 1821. The trail was rerouted in
1823 to include the new town’s Broadway as an advantage for
travelers and merchants alike.
Earth scars behind the home and antique shop of Mike and Nancy
Russell near Columbia’s eastern city limits
indicate where wagons descended to cross the north fork of
Grindstone Creek to get to Columbia.