The Price of Salt
Without a Country – Suzanne, Eveline and Kate made the 70 mile trip to Saltville, Virginia and experienced a world unlike anything they had seen before. Through out the south, the price of salt ranged from $2/bag to $150/bag during the war. The price varied dramatically depending on where you were, which battles had just occurred, how late it was in the war, etc. Salt eventually became scarce as Union forces ravaged Confederate salt works during the war, driving prices up. The price was not an issue for the women from Watauga County. They hardly had a copper brownie to their name. Subsistence farmers were not known for their money…
As the women neared Saltville they witnessed long lines of wagons filled with wood, lines that extended over 2 miles. They soon learned, these wagons were hauling wood as payment for salt they intended to pick up and haul back to their respective states. Saltville was a large industrial complex where each state had a boiling operation with large pots bubbling away. Massive fires boiled away the water in the giant pots leaving salt as a residue. Smoke filled the sky, an eerie site for these back country farm women.
Suzanne, Eveline and Kate soon learned that wood was the currency used at Saltville. They didn’t have a mule and wagon so they had to carry wood an arm load at a time. This meant making many trips back into the woods, then carrying wood to the fires, then returning to the woods, then back to the fires, again and again. This walk would have been substantial considering all the others who had also been hauling wood prior to their arrival. They carried wood for several days in order to earn their salt.
As they hiked 70 miles through the mountains back to Watauga County, they each carried a bag with about 50 pounds of salt. The three no doubt marveled at how something as valuable as salt – an essential ingredient that could mean the difference between life and death – could be purchased with something as common as wood. All they had to do was work like a pack mule and haul wood to the furnaces.
Work is one thing this group knew well – their families scratched the land to survive. They were not members of the privileged class. They were mountain women.