The US began expanding westward after the Revolutionary War. Kentucky pioneers forged through wildlife to expand its new society.
Search and expansion led to the clearing of land and eventually the trading of Kentucky salt, to Tennessee, Virginia, and Illinois.
Early Kentucky pioneers had to navigate through small trails. Some larger trails, pioneers identified as 'buffalo traces'.
While navigating Kentucky woods, early settlers found openings in the woods, created by animals and Native Americans. Some of these narrow trails have been widened by larger animals and called 'buffalo traces'.
Circa 1800, it was natural and common to see buffalo licking salt in certain spots of the woods' floor. These places were called 'licks' by Kentucky settlers, according to a book Springs and the Settlement of Pioneer Kentucky by author and researcher Gary Odell.
In the book, geographer John Jackle is quoted saying about the objectives of the buffalo,
“always a salt lick, for basically, the traces were routes of maximum convenience connecting the larger salt springs.”
Commerce and ‘Mann’s Lick’
Hunters noticed that buffalo and other animals would have cleared paths to larger salt springs. This made their excursions eased, and full of discovery.
After Daniel Boone cleared a great path through the Cumberland Gap in 1775, word in Kentucky grew of new travel paths in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The paths provided an opportunity to distribute needed goods to Kentucky settlers.
The smaller saline rivers, according to the Kentucky Historical Society, could not accommodate industrial production.
Created new paths at the clearing of the Cumberland Gap, and the many ‘buffalo traces’ that led to the discovery of larger salt springs that gained names based on their geography, such as:
- Flat Lick - near Indian towns of Eskippikithiki, today’s Winchester, Kentucky
- Grant’s Lick - Discovered in 1793 by Daniel Boone’s nephew and formalized into a business in 1804 by a Mr. Grant Breckingridge and a partner.
- Bullitt Lick’s - what is near modern-day Dansville.
While the salt licks helped settlers thrive amongst themselves. The salt licks became a source for settlers and communities through the Buffalo Trace Route and the Cumberland Gap including Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, to be served by newly forming salt-mining companies.
Near a bend in the Ohio River called Salt River, a land surveyor named Colonel William Christian would begin construction on Kentucky’s first salt mine, Bullit Lick’s saltworks in 1779, according to a Kentucky Historical Society article.
According to the Bullitt County History Museum (BCHM), Mann’s Lick, just north of Bullitt's Lick was the third saltmine to open in Kentucky in 1787.
In 1780, a Mr. John Todd gained 200 acres, including Mann’s Lick, pursuant to a military warrant. Todd passed away before 1787, the year formerly Pennsylvanian man and Bullitt Lick employee for three years, Joseph Brooks, asked John Todd’s widow for a lease on the saltmine.
The BCHM article points out that other licks in Kentucky had spawned salt-producing operations, yet the ones near the salt river area flourished.
Soon, salt was leaving Kentucky by pack train and float boat for Illinois and Tennessee, and hunters, woodsmen, merchants, and traders of the many were trading near Mann’s Lick.
Where Mann’s Lick salt lick was in 1780, today is Jefferson Co, just north of Louisville, KY.