By Brad Dison
A few weeks ago, a Journal subscriber sent me a picture of a concrete structure and asked if I knew what it was. (See image above). The man said he was driving on the straight stretch about a mile west of Friendship on Highway 4 cautiously watching for deer when he saw what he initially thought was a deer stand. For many years, locals traveling this stretch of road have known to be careful driving in this area because deer have often run into the path of oncoming vehicles. A timber company had recently clear-cut the trees in this area, which exposed the concrete structure. Always interested in local history, I agreed to help determine the origin and use of the concrete structure.
The next day, my family and I drove to the area to see if we could spot the curious object. I told my wife that I doubted we could spot it easily from the road since we both drive past the area on a daily basis and neither of us had ever seen it. There was no traffic behind us so I slowed the vehicle to get a better look. As the old expression goes, “it stuck out like a sore thumb.” Standing tall amongst several small saplings was the mysterious concrete object.
I shared the picture with several lifelong residents of the area but none of them knew anything about the structure. Someone suggested that the structure could be related to Raborn’s Salt Works, something I knew almost nothing about although I have lived within five miles of it my entire life. On a couple of occasions during my childhood, my grandfather had mentioned Raborn’s Salt Works but I was unable to remember any of the details.
I wanted to take a closer look but I needed permission from the landowner. I searched the records held by the Bienville Parish Assessor’s Office and Clerk’s Office and tracked down the current landowner, the Weyerhaeuser Company. I contacted Deano Orr, Weyerhaeuser’s Gulf Region public affairs manager, explained what little details I knew about the mysterious object, and made arrangements for a local Weyerhaeuser representative to accompany me onto the property.
On April 30, 2022, Weyerhaeuser’s Seth Carpenter met up with Eddie Holmes and me near the object in question. (Eddie, the Bienville parish Clerk of Court, has worked closely with me on several historical investigations.) The timber on the land immediately south of Highway 4 was dotted with swamp palmetto and tree stumps left from the recent clear-cutting operation. About 100 yards from the highway stood the “stack.”
The concrete stack stands 134 ½ inches tall. The exposed portion of the hexagonal footing of the concrete stack measures 36 inches on each side and is tapered at an 80 degree angle. The concrete is 22 ½ inches thick at the opening at the base. Horizontal lines in the concrete show that the stack was built in multiple pours. The stack has an opening at the top. Large bolts are evidence that something was once mounted atop the stack. We located three more concrete footings near the stack. Large bolts protruding from the footings show that something was mounted to them as well. Small, brittle remnants of old iron pipes littered the ground.
The land 200 yards southwest of the stack is comprised of a shallow swampland which covers several acres. Unlike most swamplands which are characteristically murky, the water in this swampy area, at least on the day we visited it, was perfectly clear. The water averaged about three or four inches deep.
250 yards to the southeast is another pool of water which measures about 30 yards by 60 yards at its widest points. The whole area near the pool was covered with wildlife tracks. At a ravine leading from the highway to the property, the ground was covered with fresh deer tracks. As we neared the pool of water, a water moccasin slithered away from us in the water which, like the swampy area, was shallow and clear. Visiting the area left me with more questions than answers. I had to dig deeper.
The investigation led me to events that happened way back in 1837, eleven years before the Louisiana State Legislature created Bienville parish. On June 15, 1837, John M. Fouts purchased “seventy-nine acres and eighty hundredths of an acre” of government land, about half of which was marshy lowland, near Friendship in what was then Claiborne parish.
It must be mentioned that prior researchers habitually misspelled John Martin Fouts’s last name as Foust. A creek which passes through this property still bears his name on current maps although it is spelled Fouse Bayou. Locals refer to it as Fouse’s (rhymes with pouches) creek. Legal documents, genealogical research, and the headstones marking his family’s graves have shown his last name to be Fouts.
John M. Fouts was born in 1781 in Virginia. Sometime between 1800 and 1821, Fouts moved to Louisiana. In 1821, Fouts married Martha Ware Nelson in Ouachita parish, Louisiana. Together they had five children, the oldest of which was Maria Theresa Fouts. Maria Theresa will be discussed more as the investigation continues. Early on, Fouts recognized that the water on the land had an unusually high salt content. It is likely that he knew the land contained a high concentration of salt prior to the land purchase. The high salt content is one reason why deer are attracted to the area.
Until the Industrial Revolution when it began to be produced on a massive scale, salt was a much sought after and expensive commodity. For thousands of years, humans have used salt to preserve food, tan animal hides, heal wounds, and for other medicinal purposes. As civilizations spread throughout the world, salt became one of the primary trading commodities. At one point, Egyptians used salted fish as a form of currency. In Ancient Rome, having salt on a dinner table was a sign of wealth. People who sat nearest their host or head of the dinner table were said to be “above the salt.” Those who were less favored by their host were said to be “below the salt.” Someone who was well-respected or something which was desirable was said to be “worth their [or its] weight in salt.” In the Roman Empire, the word for payment to soldiers was Salarium (sala rye um), the Latin word for salt. Over time, the soldiers adopted a shortened version of the word which we still use to denote a worker’s wagers — Salary. Other words derived from salt include salami, savage, sauce, salsa, sausage, and salvation. In some religions salt is considered a symbol of purity. One of the principal factors behind the Lewis and Clark expedition was the search for new supplies of salt. During the American Revolution, British ships captured cargos of salt bound for the colonies to disrupt the colonists’ ability to preserve food. During the War of 1812, when the U.S. government was unable to pay some soldiers with money, it paid them in salt brine.
Soon after purchasing the land, Fouts began to use the salty water to produce salt for his family. According to A.C. Veatch, Assistant Geologist for the state of Louisiana who performed a geological survey of the site in the 1890s, Fouts was likely the first human to utilize the resources of the salt dome because he found no evidence of Native Americans on the land. In 1840, Fouts began a “modest operation” and produced enough salt for his family and neighbors. Four years later, on May 11, 1844, John Fouts’s wife, Martha, died and was buried on the Fouts property. On February 19 of the following year, John Fouts died and was also buried on the Fouts property. Following their deaths, their daughter, Marie Theresa Fouts, and her husband, Chriswell Whitlow, continued to produce salt on a modest scale.
The investigation continues next week in “Raborn’s Salt Works: Part 2, the Raborn Era.”
If you have any information about Raborn’s Salt Works, please email the Journal at BPJNewsLA@gmail.com.
Special thanks to: The Weyerhaeuser Company’s Deano Orr and Seth Carpenter, Kenny Price, Elizabeth Morgan, and Eddie Holmes.
1. U.S., General Land Office Records, 1776-2015 for John M. Fouts, Ancestry.com, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1246/images/RHUSA2007B_LA0860-00382?pId=811646
2. Harris, Gilbert D. and A.C.Veatch, Geology and Agriculture: A Preliminary Report on the Geology of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, 1900.
3. “John Martin Fouts Sr,” Find a Grave, accessed March 22, 2022, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118456718/john-martin-fouts.
4. “Martha Ware Nelson Fouts,” Find a Grave, accessed March 22, 2022, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/118456609/martha-ware-fouts.
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