There were a couple of men who set out to mine for what miners needed. They provided one of life’s basic necessities, salt.
Benjamin Franklin White and J.H. Stump began mining salt in Idaho in 1866, at Stump Creek, which is on the Idaho-Wyoming border about 50 miles north of Soda Springs. Stump Creek runs a little salty, about 60 percent. Coaxing the salt out of the water was easily done. All you had to do was let the water evaporate and it would leave salt behind. That was fine if you wanted to fill your shaker, but if you wanted salt in commercial quantities you needed to boil the water away.
That’s what White and Stump did. They built wooden flumes to carry the water into several large galvanized iron pots where the water was boiled away. The salt was shoveled out every 30 minutes. Workers let it drain for about 24 hours then put it in drying houses where it “ripened” for two to four months.
This was no small operation. At the peak of production, the Oneida Salt Works was processing two million pounds a year. Some 300 teams were employed hauling wagonloads of salt, much of it to Montana along the “Salt Road,” also known as the Lander Trail. Each “team” was a triple-wagon setup hitched together and pulled by nine yoke of oxen. The operation lasted some 30 years.
J.H. Stump, who managed the mine, had the creek named after him. B.F. White, his partner, got into politics.
Born in Massachusetts, White had American roots as deep as they go. He was a direct descendent of Peregrine White, the first child born to Pilgrim parents who sailed over on the Mayflower. His political career started out in Malad City, Idaho Territory, where he was elected county clerk and recorder of Oneida County. His career reached its peak in Montana, though.
White, who was a banker and lawyer in addition to his claim to fame as a salt works owner, moved to Montana in 1876, where he established the town of Dillon. He served a couple of terms as mayor and was then elected to the Montana Territorial Legislature in 1882. In 1889 he became the governor of Montana Territory, the last of its territorial governors. Later he would serve as speaker of the Montana House of Representatives and later a Montana State Senator.
Clearly, he was man worth his salt.