Chapter IV -- Rolling Fork Salt Works

I will now drop back to an earlier point and start at the beginning or my starting point in Sevier county, where I had just invested my all, a fifty cent green back shin plaster, in a game of poker. I think I hear some modern society lady say: "I will read no more of this stuff for his is nothing but an old gambler." I will admit that along in the 1860's and 1870's I was right handy with the spotted pasteboards, but the custom was common in those days, so I will drop the subject and go back to work at Rolling Fork Salt Works on a hire of a peck of salt per day and my board, which consisted of fresh beef and corn bread for each of the three meals per day.

There were three furnaces at the old works; one of them having twenty five cast iron kettles, cast at, and hauled by wagon from Jefferson, Texas. Some of them can be seen scattered over the country now. The other two furnaces were supplied with twenty seven kettles each.

The modus operandi for making salt at these wells was about this way: Wood was first cut in about four foot lengths and allowed to season for a while, and I will say here that these furnaces were kept rented and running all the time; never allowed to cool off if it could be avoided; consequently there were always two sets of hands, a day shift and a night shift. A big, wide furnace was built of rock and dirt, perhaps twelve feet wide. In the center of this furnace were two rows of kettles, the top of them a little above the level of the furnace. These kettles held from 50 to 150 gallons each. The largest was placed at the front of the furnace, the smaller ones at the rear, diminishing in size from front to rear. The water was drawn from wells with buckets and sweep. Why someone never made a pump and put it in these wells is a mystery, as the water would stand several feet deep in these wells, the surface water coming in all the time, and the salt water being the heavier always stayed on the bottom, the bucket only brought up a weak solution of salt water from the surface, while pumping the pure salt water from the bottom would have taken less boiling. As before mentioned, the water was drawn from the wells and poured into the first kettle near the mouth of the furnace and was dipped back from kettle to kettle with a wooden bucket with a long handle attached to it similar to a hoe handle. In the last and smallest kettles it commenced to grain and as it thickened it very much resembled thick mush. It was then dipped up, put in troughs with one end raised higher than the other, that all water might drip out. When it became drained dry we had the genuine Arkansas production of salt, which was steadily sold at four dollars per bushel. One peck of this salt I was to get for a days work, but as I was then taking the initiatory degree of Arkansas customs and ways, and citizenship I had a first class case of chills served out to me like a brother 'till Christmas. Chill tonics were not known at the time and quinine was out of the question, so for four months I shook and drank teas of every conceivable kind. Among them I remember holly; mouse ear; sassafras, dogwood, wild cherry and ash bark. The chills gradually became lighter and weaker, and so did I. The last one, a day or two before Christmas, was barely perceptible, and if tramping (hoboing) had been half as common then as now, and I had known half as much about it then, as I do now, I would have sought my mother's home east of the Mississippi river, and she could have exacted any kind of promise or oath from me never to leave it again. But dear old Arkansas, what a tale I would have told on you, and I would have gladly taken oath to never set foot on your soil again - No more forever.

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