Sodium chloride, or common salt, is one of the most useful and sought-after substances on earth. It has long been used to flavor otherwise bland foods and to preserve perishables in the absence of refrigeration. The various inhabitants of Utah over the millennia have recognized the value of the Great Salt Lake
and its surrounding salt flats
. The lake is, of course, the remnant of a much larger ancient inland sea that scientists have dubbed Lake Bonneville
. As the lake shrank over time, the concentration of minerals in its waters, including salt, increased, while the resulting dried-up areas became coated with salt to a depth of several feet.
Father Escalante's 1776 journal noted that local Indians used the surrounding salt deposits for their needs. Mountain man Jedediah S. Smith obtained salt near the lake and took some to William Henry Ashley's fur party in 1825. John C. Fremont and Kit Carson mentioned the easy availability of the mineral along the lake shore, but since most immigrant parties already carried sufficient salt, the lake shore did not attract many overland travelers in need of the mineral.
The first Mormon
settlers visited the lake on July 28, 1847. Brigham Young
and others gathered salt from the surrounding rocks and noted how easy it was to simply scoop up the product; this method would be used by some well into the 20th century, although salt gathered that way contained impurities. In August 1847 a committee was assigned to get salt for the new settlement; they returned four days later with 125 bushels of coarse salt that they had shoveled out of deposits, along with some fine white table salt obtained by boiling. Historian John Clark said that the Mormons considered the salt deposits to be a communal resource, much like water or timber.