Salt River Favorite Resort for Menfolk

by Jack Blanton

When I was a boy the favorite resort for both men and boys was Salt River, the Middle Fork of which flows through our town. It was where we would fish in the spring, where we would swim in the summer, where we would hunt and gather paws-paws in the fall, and where we would skate in the winter.

In May, when locust trees were in bloom, the redhorse would riffle, meaning the time when that large variety of fish would cross shoals which separated long stretches of water; just why, nobody seemed to know. Boys with clubs and men with guns would gather for the fun of trying to kill or cripple a redhorse as it dashed into the shallow water we called a riffle. It was no easy thing to do, partly because the fish was so dexterous and partly because the water would so deflect shot and so soften a club's blow that little damage could be done.

On one occasion, however, I saw a huge redhorse rendered helpless by a blast which took off its tail. It was too close to the surface when the trigger was pulled. Without a tail a fish can do nothing but flounder around in one spot until picked up.


In rural Missouri the reason for redhorse riffling when locusts are in bloom is just as much of a mystery as that the weather is always too cool for comfort during that period.

Sportsmen of the present day will be surprised to know that Missouri's first fish commissioner, Col. John T. Crisp of Independence, undertook to stock every farm pond and every stream with carp, a fish that has no attraction for a sportsman, and which has not a single merit for a place in the frying pan. Col. Crisp looked upon it as a thing that would plug a large hole, that of food, in the household economy.

On a train trip with him one day, I heard nothing but carp, carp, carp. Every farm pond and stream was pointed to as a place from which there would come an abundant supply of food when the state planted it with carp. He really sent out hundreds of cans of fingerlings. In spite of all efforts to eliminate him from the scheme of things, the carp continues to hold his own and remain as a monument to a misguided effort.

Before Paris put in a system of waterworks, Salt River was an unfailing source of supply for citizens when their wells would go dry during a long drought. A local citizen made a large tank for that purpose, mounting it on the running gear of his wagon. A docile team would back the wagon into deep water, from which it would be filled by a process of dipping with a bucket.

The favorite swimming place at Paris was called "The Old Log" so named because for 20 years the trunk of a huge tree that had been felled by a storm lay well out into the stream, furnishing footing for diving operations.

At this swimming hole one afternoon some of the boys suddenly noticed that Frank Rose, one of their number, was missing. After all efforts to locate him failed an alarm was sent out. Scores of men hastened from town to the scene. They waded here and there in the shallower water, and dived in the deepest places. The boy could not be found. Later in the afternoon a line of men, clapping hands and reaching across the stream, waded back and forth for a quarter of a mile. Meantime, an anvil was fired several times on the bank nearest to where the boy was last seen, the theory being that the concussion would loosen the body from whatever might be holding it down. This, too, failed of results.

In response to another theory, taken from an almanac, the homefolk hurriedly baked a large loaf of bread that was impregnated with something or other--I believe it was quicksilver--that would cause the loaf to stand still if it should be floated over a dead body. It failed miserably, as the father and mother watched anxiously from the bank.


Finally, along toward sundown, an over-grown boy decided to make one more try where the boy was last seen. He was scared almost into convulsions when his foot caught under the arm of the dead boy and brought him to the surface. In spite of this tragedy, however, the Old Log remained a favorite swimming hole until high waters carried the old tree trunk out several years later.

According to tradition, Salt River was so named because of an incident at its mouth when a Frenchman, one of the first settlers, undertook to open up commerce with St. Louis. He had developed a salt lick or spring down in Ralls county. The only market for salt was in St. Louis, far down the Mississippi, into which Salt River empties near Louisiana, Mo. With a well-loaded boat he set out. At the mouth of the river a sudden squall overturned his boat and destroyed all his cargo, whereupon he and other settlers began calling it Salt River.

Several prongs of Salt River, including the North Fork, Middle Fork, and South Fork join into one stream near Florida, Mark Twain's birthplace. The villagers had bright visions of trade and development if the stream were made navigable, with Florida as the head of navigation. They sold the County Courthouse the idea to the extent of an appropriation of $500 for that purpose. Two loads of flour from a local watermill actually went out from the village dock. The difficulties proved insurmountable and another dream failed to come true.