Three Forks History: Saltworks was popular with visitors

Almost everyone who explored Oklahoma when it was sparsely settled kept a journal of their travels. Most noted a stop at a farm located on the Illinois River about five miles north of the present town of Gore. It was the Beans’ Saltworks, run by two brothers named Richard and Mark Bean.

Harvesting salt from the many salt springs in the Three Forks area was an early occupation in Indian Territory. A salt mining business existed at a spring near Mazie before 1820. It was called the Neosho operation and was run by two partners. By the time the Union Mission was established near the Mazie spring in 1821, the Neosho operation was already out of business. Little is known about it except that one partner killed the other and then sold the salt kettles to the Bean brothers.

The Beans were apparently an industrious family for they put their salt kettles to work at a point where Salt Creek emptied into the Illinois River. The brothers would boil that salty water in the large kettles and as the water evaporated the salt was left behind. Fifty-five gallons of salt water would boil down to about a bushel of salt. They would sell the salt for $1 per bushel. The military post at Fort Smith was their primary customer, but they also sold salt to settlers in Arkansas Territory.

Visitors who called upon the Beans noted that the brothers had a neat and tidy farm, raising cattle and corn on their acreage. The Beans also built boats to ship their salt downriver.

Hardly a traveler through the region in the late 1810s and early 1820s failed to stop at the Beans’ farm. The brothers hosted explorers such as John Bell and Jacob Fowler, soldiers such as Matthew Arbuckle and Benjamin Bonneville and the missionaries traveling up the Arkansas River to establish Union Mission. Hospitality on the frontier meant that any traveler was welcomed for an overnight visit.

The Beans continued their operation on the Illinois until a new treaty in 1828 gave the land to the Cherokees. The U.S. government left it to the Cherokees’ discretion to decide who could stay on the land they had been given. The Beans were not allowed to stay.

They were forced to give up their farm, salt works and equipment and move out of Indian Territory. To compensate for their loss, the brothers were given 320 acres of land in Arkansas.

The Cherokees gave the Bean farm to a tribal member. There were several other salt springs in the area, including one used by the great Cherokee linguist Sequoyah.

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