The Bullitt County History Museum

Museum Newsletter - 11 Aug 2007

Friends of the Bullitt County History Museum E-Newsletter
August 11, 2007, (Volume 3, Number 9)

The Bullitt County History Museum is a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society.

As always, welcome to those of you who are receiving this newsletter for the first time. The newsletters are informal, off-the-cuff writing, without much editing, so please don't hold it (or me) too accountable, legally or grammatically. If others want on the list, they are more than welcome; just have them send me an email at and I'll add them. If anyone wants off the list, let me know that too, and I'll be happy to delete. David Strange


>> Monthly Bullitt County Genealogical Society meeting.

The regular meeting of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. at the Ridgway Public Library in Shepherdsville, August 16. Everyone is welcome!

>>Betty Darnell's mother passes away.

I am sad to report that Betty Darnell's mother passed away. Please remember her in your thoughts.

>>Old "Colored" Cemetery on Highway 44 West

Friend and volunteer Daniel Buxton is researching the old Shepherdsville "Colored" Cemetery on Highway 44 West next to Fugate Lane. He is hoping to eventually restore it. In preparation, he has been learning a lot about it. One mysterious thing is that the cemetery seems to have been called the Hall Cemetery at one time. If you have any information on that cemetery or would be interested in helping in any way, contact Daniel at

Museum Activity.

>> Salt Making at Don Elden's Civil War encampment a success.

"A fair Hell on earth." is how one 1790's pioneer described life at a Bullitt County salt works. I now understand that description more fully now after standing next to a boiling cauldron in 96 degree weather for nine hours. As part of a Civil War re-enactment encampment that was held in Shepherdsville's riverside park last weekend, I set up a twenty gallon iron kettle on an open fire and, for my first time in public and dressed in period costume, attempted to make salt the old local pioneer way.

Though salt making in Bullitt County had mostly died out by 1830, it picked up again during the Civil War as southern sympathizers would make salt and smuggle it south to the Confederacy. Salt was essential in preserving food, among numerous other needs, and it was hard to come by during the war. Union soldiers would try to find the kettles and destroy them, so farmers would often hide their valuable kettles by burying them when soldiers were around. Legend has it that there are large stashes of the big kettles still buried around the county.

After the Civil War, local salt making did indeed drift to an end. Thomas Joyce, who was buried (I believe about 1878) in the recently restored Shepherdsville Pioneer Graveyard next to the park, is recorded as "the last salt maker". Newly discovered salt mines in both the North and the South made it much easier to get salt than our way of boiling down salty water.

But between 1777 and 1830, Bullitt County salt had been almost like gold to people as far away as the Illinois country. It was so profitable that one person traded his land in Oldham County for one iron kettle...and made money!

By the way, I did succeed in making the salt. Though I had about given up. After nearly nine hours in blistering heat, and nearly out of my supply of water, I was already telling people that it looked like I failed, when, all of a sudden, the remaining water turned mushy with salt. I got about a heaping double-handful of strong-tasting salt, less than a dollar's worth in today's grocery stores, but about the amount I had expected.

I learned a couple of things too. The first salt out of an iron kettle is brownish color, but if I had kept going, the impurities in the kettle come out and the salt gets as white as table salt. The other thing is that it is terribly hard to actually get the salt dry. Salt tends to absorb moisture, so just leaving salt in a bag to finish drying on its own just does not work.

Another thing I learned while preparing for this is a bit macabre. As you know, salt was used to preserve meat, such as salt-cured country ham. But you may not know that it was also sometimes used, in basically the same way,to preserve bodies being sent back home from the war.It was not considered very dignified, obviously, but often was the only choice other than being buried wherethe person died.

One group of soldiers near Shepherdsville during the war wanted to send the body of a comrade back home, but they could not get permission to do so unless they could place him in a sealed metal casket. There were none to be found, so they went up to the train tracks and stole enough sheet metal to make one themselves. They made up the box, placed their deceased friend inside, and soldered it tight, sending it North on the next train.

Salt Maker Dave

For Your Information...

>> Genealogy Research for Bullitt County.

Doris Owen suggests the following web site as a good source when doing genealogical research on Bullitt County. Looks good for other counties as well. Check out and let me know what you think.

>> Trunnell Cemetery Web Site.

Pat Payne and friends have created a new web site concerning the Trunnell family and the old Trunnell/Bowan family cemetery that we have been restoring over near Chapeze Lane. Check out

>> A "Butcher" may not be what you think.

When reading old reports and newspapers you might sometimes see someone's occupation described as a "butcher". For example, a news article about a local train wreck described a boy there as a butcher. According to Webster's Dictionary: "butcher: [old colloquialism] a person who sells candy, drinks, etc. in theaters, trains, circuses, etc." Thanks to Betty Darnell for this information. Betty wonders if the term had anything to do with the name "Butch" as a name for a tough young boy.

Finally..."A Fair Hell on Earth"

The description of a salt makers' life as "a fair Hell on Earth" makes me think of how pioneer life in general was so terribly tough to survive. We tend to sit in our nicely air conditioned homes and romanticize about the old pioneer days as happy families living as one with nature.

But Nature can be a very hard task master.

Not only were there horribly hot summers that had to be endured, but murderous winters.

Several years ago Bullitt County was hit with a record snow and very bad freezing weather. Electricity went out across most of the county for nearly two weeks.

I remember my neighbor and I actually liking it at first. "This is quite an adventure!" we said, "Just like the pioneers!"

It was surprising how wonderfully quiet everything was when there was no electricity. No TV or radio. No whir of the furnace fan. No hum of the lights or transformers. Only the beautiful pleasant sound of snow falling on the ground and the crackling of the fire in my Fischer wood stove. We stored our freezer food out in our winter-frozen shed and all was at peace.

It was truly a wonderful experience.

For a while.

Dark came quickly though, and, without electricity, life changed just as quickly.No light and no TV was a new experience for all of our family.

Then the cold began to set in more and more in the house, with the family retreating ever closer to the little wood stove.

Frost glazed the windows. The house began to succumb to the cold. We wore gloves and coats even when inside the house. Never mind going outside or working.

Finally, after several days of this, as I went outside to get yet another armload of firewood and was beginning to worry where I would get more, I saw my neighbor. "This isn't fun anymore." he said.

And I agreed.

Fortunately, a few days later, the electricity came back on. Ah!! Wonderful, Glorious Electricity!! and all that it brought with it!

Nowadays I still like to think romantically about "the good old days," and indeed there is much to commend them. But I also know about the deadly winter of 1777, the first winter of the salt makers in Bullitt County, when the winter was so cold that buffalo pushed against the tiny settler cabins, threatening to push them over, trying to get to the little bit of heat from the cabin fires.

Oh, give me the amazing wonder of cool air conditioning and a full-functioning furnace any day!

Sure I'm spoiled.

That's OK with me!

Thank you for being a Friend of Bullitt County History.

David Strange
Bullitt County History Museum
Executive Director
Museum Phone: 502-921-0161

The Bullitt County History Museum is a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society. The Society meets on the 3rd Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Ridgway Memorial Public Library, located at the corner of Walnut and Second Streets in Shepherdsville. Annual membership to the Society costs $15, which includes a highly-awarded quarterly newsletter mailed to you. Information and membership applications can be obtained at the Museum or at any meeting or by mailing to P.O. Box 960, Shepherdsville, Kentucky 40165 or e-mailing

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 12 Sep 2020 . Page URL: