Friday, August 30, 2013

The Founding of the Homeplace - Summer 1838 - Progress Report Part 3 of 5

The Founding of the Homeplace
Summer 1838, Progress Report
Part 3 of 5

"The Founding of the Homeplace" saga will continue here on every other Friday during August and September. This is a serial presentation of the story, beginning in 1833, when four families decided to settle the land, the valley, that would become the setting of the first two books in the The Homeplace Series: "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited" and subsequent series stories, set in 1987 and 1996, to date. The underlying premise of this series is the desire of the family matriarch to retain the family farm in the southern Missouri Ozarks in whole and in the family. 

[See Story 1 (Parts 123, and 4), Story 2 (Part 123, and 4), Story 3 (Part 123 and 4), Story 4 (Part 123 and 4), and 1838 Progress Report (Part 1 and 2) earlier.] 

Characters in this series become actively involved in the study of their family history and snippets of that research appear, from time to time through the series (one example). This serial presentation begins to share that ‘research’ in Story Form, and, some of the Stories represent 'writings of the family' that were ‘discovered’ in the process of that research. Each Story is an essay or report of the activities of the initial four families and their descendants that settled the Homeplace – the farm and the surrounding valley.

Summer 1838, Progress Report

In this episode, we share "Part 3 of 5"

During the time the mill was being planned and constructed, Robert and Jake also continued to identify the location of various natural resources in the area that would be useful to the valley residents. Extractable bat guano in varying quantities was found in four caves, with smaller quantities in several smaller caves. Bat guano was valuable both as fertilizer and as a source of processed sodium nitrate for gunpowder. They had begun a modest mining operation during the second year in the valley and that had continued, as other responsibilities allowed. Jake was familiar with the process necessary to extract sodium nitrate from the guano for use in making gunpowder.
Two caves were identified with sufficient quality and quantity of saltpeter for making gunpowder, as well. Saltpeter, also known as niter, is potassium (or sodium) nitrate. When it is combined and ground together with charcoal and sulfur (when available), correctly and in just the right quantities, it produces black gunpowder. Sulfur lowers the temperature required to ignite the mixture, increasing the rate of combustion. Without sulfur, the powder is not as strong, and is somewhat dirtier. This requires more frequent cleaning of the barrel of the gun. Elemental sulfur was available at the salt lick they found near the central stream, downriver from Jake’s blacksmith shop.
Saltpeter earth, often called “peter dirt,” was mined from the caves. The peter dirt was placed in wooden vats or hoppers. Water was poured on top of the dirt. As the water seeped down through the dirt, it collected (leached) nitrates. The nitrate-rich water dripped into a trough at the bottom of the hopper, which drained into a large kettle. This liquid was then heated, and the water boiled away, leaving small, white, needle-like crystals of saltpeter in the bottom of the kettles.

Small quantities of low grade lead, iron and copper ore were also identified but no effort had yet been devoted to any extraction operations for them.

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