By Cady Shaw
“The Saltworks of Sequoyah” exhibit is on display at Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum until January 2019. This exhibit gives a look into what a saltworks operation was and how Sequoyah came to own one.
Before Oklahoma was a state, it was known as Indian Territory. The first commercial salt manufacturing site was located along the Grand River in the Cherokee Nation in 1815. By 1833, there were at least six saltworks in the Cherokee Nation, including one owned by Cherokee statesman Sequoyah.
Sequoyah moved to the west side of Skin Bayou, near present-day Sallisaw, Oklahoma, in the Cherokee Nation following the Treaty of 1828, when the Western Cherokees traded their lands in Arkansas to similar lands in Indian Territory to avoid white settlement. One of the provisions of the treaty was that Sequoyah would receive the title to a salt spring in exchange for the one he had in Arkansas.
Sequoyah’s saltworks was located on Lee’s Creek, which was approximately 10 miles from his home. Every summer, he would load up his equipment in an ox-driven cart and head to his salt spring to work for several months. His works were extensive, which we know from the provisions of the Treaty of 1828. He had 22 large iron kettles (one of which is on display outside this museum) and the various provisions necessary for boiling the salt spring water.
Oftentimes, hollowed logs were used to pipe the saline water to rows of the iron kettles where the water was boiled away, leaving the salt behind. This method called for an enormous amount of wood to be used to transfer the water and heat the kettles. Sequoyah is reported to have traded his salt for firewood for this purpose. Once the summer was over, Sequoyah brought his equipment and salt back to his cabin.
After the Eastern Cherokees arrived in Indian Territory in 1839, they established a unified Cherokee government between the Western and Eastern Cherokee factions. This included an Act of Union and a Constitution. In 1843, Cherokee Nation passed an act to nationalize all saltworks in the jurisdiction, with the exception of Sequoyah’s. He was allowed to remain in ownership of his saltworks to thank him for creating the Cherokee written language. However, Sequoyah had left Cherokee Nation in 1842 to travel into Mexican territory in search of a band of Cherokees rumored to have removed there years earlier. Sequoyah never returned to his home in Cherokee Nation.
On display with this exhibit is a 2-foot tall by 5-foot wide iron kettle that was used in the saltworks operation. The exhibit can be viewed Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sequoyah’s Cabin Museum in Sallisaw, Oklahoma.