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Salt Plains

by Wendel Gene Ferrin

Most, if not all, farmers in our area of Comanche County got their cattle salt from Salt Plains during the early years of the county up to the time when block salt with or without added minerals such as sulpher became available and people started buying block salt for their cattle.

My earliest memory of Dad (Ernest L. Ferrin) going to Salt Plains for cattle salt was when I was very young: Dad and "Jimmy" Ferrin (Earl Bryant Ferrin) were going with Dad's wagon and team to get a load to split between them. I remember running after the wagon crying to go along but to no avail.

What we called the Salt Plains was at a bend in the North Canadian River south of Mooreland, Oklahoma. This river had a very high salt content. I don't know how deep the salt deposit was, but I know that at some points along the edge it was 12" to 18" deep.

I don't remember how long the trip took in a wagon, but it was about 60 miles south of Coldwater so it had to take several days to make the round trip.

Later, when Dad got a Model-A Ford truck, I went with him several times and going to the Salt Plains and back was a full day's trip. We went through Coldwater, then Lookout, across Highway 64 and then to the river. My first trip there I remember seeing the hood and stack of a steam engine that was sinking in the quicksand or quicksalt. It had been used in some way to work the salt deposit, I suppose, but I don't know how it was used. I recall being told that the men working with it had tried to save it when it started sinking by pulling on it with another steam engine but that they were in danger of losing the second one the same way as the first one so they abandoned the first one. Over the next 15 or 20 years, I know that the hood and stack that were visible only sank 2 or 3 more feet, and that could have been from the rust eating the metal.

The man who owned the land on both sides of the river was a Mr. Blackman. He charged a very small amount for the salt and he even helped you load it.

The salt wasn't clean enough for cooking or curing food. It was only used for cattle and horse salt or to help freeze ice cream made in a hand-cranked churn.

Some people used oil drums cut off about a foot from one end to hold the loose chunks of salt for their cattle even though the bottom would rust out of the oil drum in about a year. I put salt out for my cattle and horses in wooden boxes, or, when I found one, I'd use the tub from an old washing machine -- they were ideal salt dispensers because they were of heavy steel which didn't rust because of the baked-on paint on the tub, they were the right size to hold loose or block salt and they were easy for cattle or horses to get salt from.

(written in 1987.)

Email from Bobbi Huck to Jerry Ferrin, dated 05 Feb 2003:

I was just reading your Salt Plains story. I also remember going there. His name was Ezra Blackman. He lived in that little one room shanty all his life. I took a lot of pictures when it was sold to Cargill, but it sure didn't look like it did back then. I probably took them in the middle 1980's. It already had large ponds then for salt harvesting, they call it.

The Salt Plains

by James W. Dappert

"I spent two weeks or more in making this survey of Comanche City and had great hopes at that time that here would be built a metropolitan city, railroad center and great manufacturing town in the then very near future. For was it not in the center of a fine farming country? Also was there not an inexhaustible supply of salt nearby? Did not all men use salt? Would there not always be a ready market for all the salt which could be scooped up and refined in the Little Salt Plains? When these beds of salt were exhausted, if ever, was there not another great bed of salt a few miles farther down?

I had seen both the little and the great Salt Plains, and I knew the salt was there. Naturally I thought there would be a demand for salt as long as mankind cooked its food and seasoned it. Hence, when the opportunity presented itself to acquire some of those valuable town lots which I had been surveying. I jumped at the chance and took all my pay for the services rendered in deeds to some of those valuable town lots. I secured a half block in the residence portion of Comanche City - 12 lots, 25 x 140 feet each, and used four lots, 50x140 feet each, also in the residence section.

I paid the taxes on these lots for several years - 1 year, as I now recall. I made an effort to pay them the fifth year, but was informed by the county treasurer that no taxes had been assessed against any of the lots of Comanche City, and that the promoters that they paid all the expenses of my helpers, paid for the material for stakes, and, as I recall it, paid my board bill at Mr. Gaylord's residence nearby.

A little more about those Salt Plains. They were discovered by Col. DuTisne in the year 1719. He raised the French flag over them and took possession of them in the name of the French king. He thought that this salt was going to be a great asset to New France, but it seems not to have brought any great wealth to either the French owners or later possessors, up to now.

I made a visit to the Salt Plains about 25 miles nearly straight south of Avilla in the dry season, about June 1885. While there I saw large areas of bluish rock salt, seemingly a foot thick, covering an area of about 190 acres. I may have gotten the wrong impression as to the size of the area, but no wrong impression of its thickness.

I had spent an entire week near Evansville on line surveys, and was quitting about 2:30 p.m. one Saturday. I left my instruments and equipment at Mr. Black's residence and started out afoot for my home. By the time I really got started it was about 1 p.m. The road was new to me if I took the shortest course, about 20 miles over hills and hollows, walking at a rather brisk pace. After leaving Evansville I passed near but two human habitations on all that trip. I was wholly unarmed, except for a walking stick which I found.

" -- James W. Dappert: Reminiscences of Early Days in Comanche-co.
The Western Star, January 15, 1926.

"Mrs. King related many early days incidents, and one she told was of how Frank King who was the range boss of the Comanche Pool and whom she later married, came by and told her how that day he and other cowboys of the Pool had came upon the bodies of three (sic) salt-haulers who had been camped at a spring just over the line in Oklahoma. He also related how these men had been killed by Indians and their horses stolen. They buried these unfortunate men whose bodies were so swollen they filled a wagon box by the time they were found. These graves can still be found on the R.E. Hill ranch in northwest Woods County, Oklahoma."
-- Frank & Almada (Parker) King

Also see:

Cowboy Cemetery near Salt Plains, Woods County, Oklahoma

Box 15: Public Works Projects (January-March 1935) - Salt Plains (1936-1937)

This web page was made by Jerry Ferrin on August 28th, 2001. It was last updated 17 August 2006.