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LEDBETTER SALT WORKS

LEDBETTER SALT WORKS. In 1862 William Henry Ledbetter, a native of Mississippi, founded a saltworks at a saline spring on the Salt Fork of Hubbard Creek, about eight miles southwest of the site where Albany was later founded in Shackelford County. The spring was first discovered by whites in 1861, when three cattlemen-Cal Greer, William King, and Vol Simonds-who were returning from a cattle drive to the Concho River area to the west, found it while walking across country after losing their horses. After the announcement of the discovery, settlers in the region visited the spring to produce salt for their use. Among them were George Greer, George Hazelwood, and Billy McGough. McGough described the water as "salty as brine, but bitter and muddy." His men filled barrels with it to allow the water to settle and then boiled it in pots until only the salt was left. When Ledbetter took over the site and built a house and corrals, the site became the westernmost settlement of whites in an area frequented by Comanches; so it remained for almost ten years. The Lynch Ranch was developed some twelve miles to the east on Hubbard Creek.

The value of a source of salt in this area is difficult to overestimate. The absence of refrigeration made salt essential for curing meat, and it was necessary for the feeding of livestock. No other source was available to settlers, and many of them visited the site to get this essential ingredient for life. Ledbetter himself produced many tons of high-quality salt, some of which went to supply Confederate forces during the Civil War. The method of production was simple. Ledbetter hauled by wagon from Jefferson several large iron kettles and filled them with saltwater by the use of a pump. A wood fire was then lit in a furnace under the pots, and the liquid boiled away. Because of the influence of Judge Hood of Weatherford, a solar method of evaporation involving several large vats was developed. After the salt dried, it was put in burlap bags, stenciled with Ledbetter's marks, and hauled by wagon to market, usually in Weatherford.

Because of its isolation, the saltworks was frequently subject to Indian raids. Since his production was important to the area, Ledbetter was later "loaned" a small cannon by the commander of Fort Griffin for defending the site against the attacks. According to Edgar Rye, one raid on the outpost was led by Cato, "the renegade negro husband of Indian Kate." A punitive expedition of soldiers led by Lieutenant Turner caught up with the Indian band and, according to Rye, killed nine, one of whom was Cato himself. In another raid Phillip H. Reynolds, who worked for Ledbetter as a wood hauler, was killed while gathering firewood along the creek south of Albany. The creek is named for him. The Indians then attacked the saltworks but were driven off by Ledbetter and two other men. As they retreated, Ledbetter, who was out of projectiles for his cannon, reportedly fired the kingbolt from his wagon tongue at the departing raiders. In 1870 or 1871, John Calvin Ledbetter, the younger of the two sons Ledbetter had at the time, wandered off from school at the Lynch Ranch. They assumed he was carried away by Comanches. A search party made up of citizens and soldiers followed but found no trace of the missing boy. George Hazelwood was killed by the Indians in an attack the next day. John Ledbetter's fate has never been learned for certain, although a man who came to Fort Griffin in later years claimed first to be the lost Ledbetter child and then insisted that he was S. W. Wesley; he died in San Antonio in 1934.

Ledbetter abandoned the saltworks, probably in 1880, because no rail transportation was available to him, and moved back to property near Fort Griffin, where he built a hide-covered picket house now partially preserved in the park in downtown Albany. A large granite marker commemorating the saltworks stands on the west side of the courthouse square in Albany. A family named Graham lived at the site of the saltworks in 1876, but today nothing remains at the location, which is on private property near the Albany City Lake.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Don Hampton Biggers, Shackelford County Sketches (Albany, Texas: Albany News Office, 1908; rpt., ed. Joan Farmer, Albany and Fort Griffin, Texas: Clear Fork Press, 1974). Carl Coke Rister, Fort Griffin on the Texas Frontier (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956). Edgar Rye, The Quirt and the Spur: Vanishing Shadows of the Texas Frontier (Chicago: Conkey, 1909; facsimile ed., Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1967).

Lawrence Clayton and Morris Ledbetter

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Lawrence Clayton and Morris Ledbetter, "LEDBETTER SALT WORKS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dkl03), accessed October 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.