In 1877 in San Elizario, Texas, a conflict that was years in the making arose between Mexican and Anglo- and African-Americans, all of whom had differing opinions on the ownership and control of a nearby salt mine.
With the wounds of the Civil War still healing, the post-war Reconstruction brought entrepreneurs and power-hungry politicians to West Texas—much to the chagrin of the longstanding, Hispanic inhabitants. San Elizario was one of the largest U.S. communities in the area and held the county seat for the region, making it an attractive locale for Democrat and Republican politicians alike fighting for political clout in the state. And it was salt that served as the fodder for their stump speeches.
At the base of the nearby Guadalupe Mountains lay a treasure trove of dry lakes that produced nearly-immaculate salt.
For generations, the people of San Elizario traversed to the foot of the mountains to gather the salt which they used to preserve meats. No one owned or operated the salt deposits—they were treated as a commonwealth among the people.
This commonwealth functioned peaceably until a group of Republican leaders—including William Mills, Albert Fountain, Ben Williams, and Judge Gaylord Clarke—from neighboring areas in Texas claimed the land under the state and federal laws that allowed individuals in the new U.S. territories to claim mineral rights—that is, the right to remove underground minerals or oil from an area to sell for profit and also be able to control the surface from where the minerals are being removed.
Each of the claims was rejected by an El Paso court, and the men of the so-called Salt Ring were unable to gain sole title over the land. And since each had differing opinions on how to handle the land, feuding and fighting inevitably and unsurprisingly broke out.
This feuding cleaved the Salt Ring leaders, and the Anti-Salt Ring formed. Some, like Mills, wanted individual ownership. Others, like Fountain, wanted state ownership with community access. And yet others, such as Louis Cardis, thought the inhabitants had it right and wanted to keep the current commonwealth. Cardis and Fountain banded together to become the Anti-Salt Ring, which in turn made Mills the leader of the Salt Ring.
Fountain was elected to the State senate, rendering him perfectly poised to assert his plan. But Father Antonio Borrajo, the priest of San Elizario, opposed Fountain's idea and joined forces with Cardis. Together, Borrajo and Cardis could influence the Mexicans against the Salt Ring. When Judge Gaylord Clarke—a supporter of Mills—was murdered, though, Fountain high-tailed it to New Mexico, giving Borrajo and Cardis a prime opportunity to push their plan.
In 1872, a man named Charles Howard from Missouri came to town with the intention of restoring Democratic power in Texas. After appraising the salt situation in the area, Howard approached and formed an alliance with Borrajo and Cardis. The men worked together to get Cardis in the state legislature and elect Howard as district judge. It didn't take long, though, for more in-fighting to occur and further cleave the Anti-Salt Ring. Howard took claim to the salt region, closed the roads to the region, and instituted a tax on all salt gathered from there—Howard's intentions when coming to San Elizario were not just to restore Democratic influence, but also to increase his personal wealth. Shocking. Needless to say, Cardis and Borrajo broke all ties with Howard and encourage the people of San Elizario to procure salt from the area in despite Howard's claim over the land.
Howard became a downright bully, imprisoning citizens for procuring salt "unlawfully" and also beating up former friend Cardis. But those being bullied would not stand for it, and in 1877, a mob of people seized Howard and hauled him off to the county jail. After a three-day jaunt behind bars, he paid $12,000 and relinquished all rights to the salt flats to be released.
Following in Fountain's footsteps, the incensed Howard fled to New Mexico (and actually stayed with Fountain), but returned less than two months later to have his revenge on Cardis, whom he blamed for being jailed and usurped. He found Cardis rocking peacefully in a rocking chair outside of store, and shot and killed him.
Howard wasn't done, though. In December of 1877, he rode back to town with a hodge-podge group of Texas Rangers in an attempt to reinforce his power over the salt. History proved to repeat itself, though, and an angry, armed mob descended upon Howard and the Rangers, all of whom had no other choice but to take refuge in nearby buildings and churches. After two days, the siege ended with Howard surrendering to the mob. He was shot by a firing squad and thrown down a well. The Rangers, too, surrendered to the mob—marking the only instance of surrender in the history of the Texas Rangers.
It seemed no one won the war: it was utterly senseless, costly, and resulted in San Elizario losing its county seat. The building of the railroad through West Texas just a few years later—which, rather ironically, made salt a commodity easy to come by—bypassed San Elizario, resulting in a decreased population of the town.
One of the largest acts of civil disobedience in history is Ghandi's campaign against the British salt tax in India—The Salt Satyagrah—a march to Dandi that began on March 12, 1930 and ended on April 6, 1930.
Ghandi led the Indian National Congress party in India who held a strong commitment to performing acts of non-violent civil disobedience in order to attain complete independence.
At the time, colonial India was under the thumb of Britain and its various taxes on commodities that cut deeply into the pockets of India's poor—and the British salt tax was perhaps the most odious offense to India's people. The 1882 Salt Act provided Britain with a veritable monopoly on the production of salt, and it could only be procured from the government with a hefty tax applied to it despite the fact that it was readily obtainable on the Indian coasts.
Of course, to obtain salt from any other source other than the government was an unlawful act, and all were forced to succumb to the taxes since salt was an integral part of every Indian citizens' life.
For this reason, Ghandi chose to perform his act of civil disobedience against this tax right at the heels of the Puma Sawarj—the formal Declaration of Independence issued on January 26, 1930 by the Congress party—by organizing the salt march in protest of salt laws.
Word of the march, however, fell on the deaf ears of Britain and Viceroy Lord Irwin, to whom Ghandi wrote prior to the march to offer to stop the protest if he agreed to meet a list of demands, one of which being the elimination of the salt tax. Viceroy Lord Irwin was uninterested and unresponsive, so the march began.
The carefully-planned satyagrah attracted throngs of followers along the way—reaching the tens of thousands—as well as national and foreign coverage of the march—all of which brought tremendous attention to the independence movement in India to free themselves from British rule.
After reaching Dandi, with what seemed like all the world's eyes on him, Ghandi scooped a fistful of salty mud into his hand and proclaimed, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." He proceeded to boil the mud in seawater until all that remained was the salt, thus illegally producing salt—tax-free salt, to be exact.
With Ghandi's encouragement, several thousand followed his lead, illegally procuring and producing salt in order to forego Britain's reign. And Britain, finally, took notice.
Despite the satyagrah's non-violent civil disobedience, the British responded to protests and demonstrations with armed troops—a measure that backfired miserably and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of non-violent protesters. Britain, clearly, was at a crossroads—how were they to respond to non-violent dissenters?
The British decided to arrest Ghandi and throw him in jail for being involved in unlawful activities, but the movement marched on through early 1931 when Ghandi was finally released from jail to have a discussion with Irwin on equal terms.
While the civil disobedience received tremendous coverage, British rule remained well into the 1930s and 40s. The foundation of this reign, however, was irreparably cracked as a result of the salt satyagrah, and the British knew they were losing their footing with the Indian people. On June 3, 1947, the Governor-General of India, Viscount Louis Mountbatten, announced the division of the British Indian Empire, with Pakistan declaring its nationhood on August 14, 1947 and India finally declaring its official independence on August 15, 1947.
Salt has carried such an immense significance throughout human history, and its presence and impact quite literally has changed our language. Numerous words, phrases, and practices have developed around our most prized flavor promoter. Here are a few of our favorites.
Salary: Fixed Pay.
The word "salary" has its root in the Latin word sal, meaning salt. Fixed pay was not always a monetary exchange but also an exchange of work for certain goods—including salt. The Romans are known to have paid their soldiers in salt—the Roman term for this was salarium—which is said to be from where the word salary derives. The Roman practice of paying soldiers in salt, however, has been long-debated—some say that was not the case, but rather soldiers were paid in order to procure their own salt.
Sauce: a condiment or relish for food.
Sauce comes to us by way of the Latin word salsa, which is the feminine form of salsus, meaning salted. This makes complete sense since salt is more or less the original condiment or relish to food that humans used.
Sausage: highly-seasoned, minced meat usually in a casing.
Sausage also has its roots in the Latin word salsus, meaning salted. The types of sausages in this world are vast and varied, but the very essence of what a sausage is—salted, seasoned meat preserved in a casing—is the common denominator among all the delicious different iterations.
Worth his/her salt: to be good at one's job.
Just as the word "salary" derives from the practice of being paid in salt, being worth one's salt refers to being worth one's pay or keep. If someone is not doing his job very well or up to the necessary standards, he or she is said to not be worth his salt.
Grain of salt: a skeptical attitude.
People often provide advice for others to take certain statements "with a grain of salt"—meaning, to be skeptical or leery of what is being said. Or, as the Oxford English Dictionary says, "to accept a thing less than fully."
In Naturalis Historia, written in 77 A.D. by Pliny the Elder, a translation of an ancient, Grecian antidote for poison includes various ingredients as well as "a grain of salt"—meaning that any negative affects of the antidote could be controlled by taking a grain of salt. This relates to the common belief at the time that taking food with salt made it easier to ingest (though, let's be honest, this still reigns true in our modern times).
The figurative meaning for taking something with a grain of salt took came into use in English during the 17th century—most likely as a result of writers of the time studying the works of Pliny and other types of ancient Greek texts.
Salt of the Earth: a good, honest person or people.
The term comes to us from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, in the Book of Matthew in the Bible.
"Ye are the salt of the Earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted?"
The exact meaning of this statement is much-disputed, but some interpretations relate to the followers of Jesus being pure, agents of purifying the world, preservers of the purity of the world, full of wisdom, or in a sacred covenant with God. As far as the reference to salt that has last its flavor, some interpret this as someone who does not follow or uphold Jesus' message and therefore is foolish and should be cast away.
We think salt without flavor is foolish, too, and should be cast away.
While our modern-day usage of the idiom has lost most of it's religious connotations, it still refers to a person or group of people who are downright good people and has been the theme of poems, books, movies and even a song by the Rolling Stones.
Sit below the salt: Someone with low social standing.
Salt has long been marker to wealth, and 16th Century European dining halls had a very unique way of exhibiting one's rank and wealth. The most important diner—the host—would sit at the head of the table while the guests would be seated to his right and left in order of importance. A salt cellar would be placed in the middle of the table and those seated below the salt—and also farthest from the head of the table—were considered the lowest in rank.
Salt has shaped much of our human experience—as a mineral that nourishes, enriches, divides, conquers, and unites. Multi-faceted, multi-purposeful, and downright magical, salt is timelessly valuable.
Salt's recent history, however, has tarnished its luster. With the mass-production of refined salt that often contains chemicals and other unnatural agents, salt has developed into something quite different from its early beginnings. Common, refined table salt is bitter, metallic, and overly-salty—not at all the kind of palatal experience natural salt provides.
Refined salt also has pushed the whole of salt to villain status in our modern times. Unhealthy, unnecessary, and unwholesome—we have grown to fear salt. The mass-production of salt and salted foods has set a vicious cycle in motion. We naturally crave salt, and we, unfortunately, have at our fingertips a wide array of packaged, processed foods that contain copious amounts of refined sodium. We over-consume these foods and therefore over-consume refined sodium which completely counteracts salt's healthful benefits and renders us susceptible to health problems.
We at Beyond the Shaker, however, refuse to let salt shamefully ride off into the sunset based on the misconceptions and abuses inflicted on our beloved mineral. We are bringing salt back to its roots: natural, delicious, versatile, and essential to your health. Salt has and will always persevere, and we are delighted to be the vessel that brings it to a new life.