In the 18th century, Nathan Boone and his brother, Daniel Morgan Boone, learned how to make salt by boiling water from a certain salt spring in Kentucky. According to Johnson's "Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge," printed in 1886, the waters of that spring were sold for medicinal purposes in various parts of the country.
John Filson wrote that his friend Daniel Boone considered beautiful Kentucky to be "another Eden"; however, its salt licks were barren of beauty because of brackish earth and lack of greenery caused by the trampling of great herds of wild animals licking salt there.
Missouri's salt springs must have been barren for that same reason. In addition to providing wild game with the hunter's choice of excellent meats, those springs yielded salt for pioneers and natives.
They were considered "a grand medicine chest" in the wilderness. Mineola, off Interstate 70, has such a spring.
Salt was essential for pioneer families, their slaves, their domestic animals and to American Indians living or hunting in that area. It was called a "lick" because animals got their salt by licking the earth where salt-water springs had deposited it.
The salt content in water for Boone's Factory, east of Arrow Rock, was so weak it required 320 gallons of water to make a bushel of salt! Imagine the amount of firewood used to boil 320 gallons of water in open air and the labor of cutting trees, sawing and splitting the wood and tending fires day and night. Kettles occasionally had to be emptied and cooled because their interior surfaces accumulated "bittern," which had to be scoured off by hand with a special curved tool.
People, wild animals, horses and oxen all crave salt; it's essential in our diets. Daniel and Rebecca Boone taught their children how to locate salt springs, how to make temporary furnaces and how to remove the water and dry the remaining salt slush.
Eighty gallons of water from a good salt spring would yield a bushel of salt. It took a lot of salt for the family, slaves and domestic animals moving the 800 miles from Kentucky to Missouri.
One of our Logan relatives left Kentucky on horseback on that turn-of-the century moving trip, caring for herself and the 3-week-old baby in her arms. My ancestors, the Bryans and the Logans, must have stayed close to the 65-year-old Daniel Boone, who was knowledgeable about dealing with American Indians and the wilderness in general.
My husband and I visited the Boone's salt springs in the 1930s -- we saw the remnants of a freestanding sign, now destroyed by vandals, at the top of a steep incline. We had to hold onto tree roots and brush to keep from rolling down the dangerous incline. The salt water, oozing from a few rocky barren spots, trickled into a near branch that was on its way to the Missouri River. We saw a few broken bricks but no water wheel or troughs or handmade buckets and no animals vying for the best place to drink.
It took imagination for us to believe we were at the right place. I dipped a finger, and, yes, the water was slightly salty. I pretended to see animal skins and hollow logs, packed for shipping by keelboat to the market in St. Louis. Each bushel of salt would yield only 65 cents!
Today the salt springs are a state park. It's much easier to walk down to the area that was the site for the Boone brother's saltworks. It would be a great place to visit with your family this summer. Check it out at mostateparks.com.