Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Boones’ salt enterprise hard work, profitable

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 wilderness.

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 this work.

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 Trail."

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.


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