I was favored … about 4 years ago, with a piece of the rock Salt of Louisiana; and judging from your communication to congress, in which mention is made of that Salt mountain, that you had never seen a specimen of the Salt, have taken the liberty of forwarding to you a piece thereof;
To Thomas Jefferson from John Bradford, November 29, 1803
Th: Jefferson presents his salutations to mr Bradford and returns him thanks for the specimen of rock-salt from the Missouri which he has been so kind as to send him, and which came safely to hand.
To John Bradford, December 24, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
We should desire leaders with curious, inquisitive minds.
The President had forwarded to Congress a quantity of mostly speculative written material about Louisiana, but he hadn’t read it and didn’t vouch for its accuracy. One account was of a great salt mountain “about 1,000 miles up the Missouri … 180 miles long and 45 miles wide.” Kentuckian John Bradford had been given a chunk of Louisiana salt from a man in St. Louis. Familiar with the salt mountain reference and Jefferson’s lack of evidence, Bradford shared a specimen. The ever-gracious Jefferson acknowledged the gesture and expressed his thanks.
The opposition Federalist press had a field day ridiculing the salt mountain! In the footnotes accompanying Bradford’s letter, that press also speculated on the existence of:
– “an immense lake of molasses”
– “an extensive vale of hasty pudding”
– “vast river of golden eagles [$10 gold pieces] ready coined”
– “immense mountain of solid refined sugar”
– “a considerable lake of pure Whiskey”
– or perhaps the salt mountain was “… Lot’s wife, magnified by the process of time”
The “salt mountain” was mostly likely a salt plain along the Cimarron River in western Oklahoma.