THE SALT PETER CAVE BLUFF AND THE CAPTURE OF THE POWDER
By S. C. Turnbo
On the south side of White River in Marion County, Arkansas, and some 6 or 7 miles below Oakland is a noted bluff that a few of the early pioneers along White River claimed that during the earliest settling up of Marion County that one night an explosion occurred in the face of this bluff. The detonation was said to have been heard for miles and resembled the bursting of a large meteor causing the earth to tremble. Whether this be true or not I have no way of confirming. But it is possible that such a report was heard and was in connection with the memorable earthquake in 1811. This bluff was made famous during the early part of the Civil War, The confederate authorities kept a small force of men here awhile to protect the powder works and the employees while engaged in the manufacture of powder from salt peter that was found here. The powder was made for the use of the confederate soldiers. The salt peter was taken from a cave in the bluff hence the name of the bluff. A brief account from several sources of the capture of the confederate forces and the works here are given to show something of the soldiers employed here and the extent of the works. We will first quote from official records of the war of the rebellion that the writer examined in the confederate home library at Higginsville, Missouri, in the month of June, 1907. General Samuel R. Curtis a federal officer in reporting to General H. W. Halleck under date of November 30, 1862, says that General Herron said that the salt peter works were destroyed. Sixty prisoners were taken and over 100 horses. The troops who took the works were the 1st Iowa, 10th Illinois, and 2nd Wisconsin. The commander of this combined force was Colonel D. Wickersham of the 10th Illinois. The southern men captured belonged to Burbridges command. Five hundred shot guns were also captured. In another report we read that Captain Burch 14th Missouri state militia with 40 men destroyed the salt peter works which included 5 buildings 1 engine 26 large kettles 6 tanks blacksmith and carpenter shops and tools $6,000 worth of salt peter 500 barrels of jerked beef and 42 prisoners. This last report is claimed to be a second destruction of the works and was reported by Brigadier General E. B. Brown, Springfield, Missouri, December 18, 1862, to General Samuel R. Curtis." Another report says that Milton Burch claimed that the force at the cave were 23 men who were captured, the shot guns and old rifles were destroyed, 4 mules, 3 horses and 2 wagons were captured. The wagons were destroyed the salt peter works cost the confederate government $30,000. Captain McNar was in command of the southern forces at the cave. The federal forces marched to this bluff from Ozark, Christian County, Missouri." We will now give a brief account of the capture of the salt peter cave bluff works by "Mun" Treat a southern man and who was one of the party employed to assist in making powder he says, "When the federals attacked the works there were 13 men present who were in charge of Perry Tucker with Pate Moreland as cook and waiter. Our camp was on the summit of the bluff and consisted of a few log huts two of which was filled with dried beef, The men were paid 60 cts per day In Chattanooga money which was good currency at that time. We had got in a fair way of turning out powder when the federal forces put an end to the works. The strength of the federal forces that captured the works was 150 strong and was under the command of Captain Burch, Soon after we were taken prisoners the union forces burned our quarters and destroyed the other works except that if I mistake not they left a few of the large kettles uninjured. Among our party that were captured were Henry Ray, son of M. P. Ray who lived at the mouth of East Sugar Loaf Creek and John Yandell who lived on Elbow Creek In Taney County, Missouri, and John Crawford who also lived in Taney County. Henry Ray died suddenly on the side walk in St. Louis while the prisoners were being marched through the city. It was supposed that he was overcome by heat. It was intimated by Mr. Treat that the southern forces who were ordered to guard and protect the men and works got too far away on the approach of the federals. Some of the foregoing reports made by some of the federal officers to their superiors in rank were no doubt exagerated and if there any second capture of these works I was never reliably informed of it.
Springfield-Greene County Library