Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Salt River n.

[? Salt River roarer, a backwards, unsophisticated country dweller (poss. from Kentucky, where there is an actual Salt River); note J. Inman in Bartlett (1848): ‘To row up Salt River has its origin in the fact that there is a small stream of that name in Kentucky, the passage of which is made difficult and laborious as well by its tortuous course as by the abundance of shallows and bars. The real application of the phrase is to the unhappy wight who has the task of propelling the boat up the stream; but in political or slang usage it is to those who are rowed up – the passengers, not the oarsman’]

In phrases

go up Salt River (v.) [? the salty tears of the mourners and/or the bitterness of death]

[1920s–40s] (US black) to die.

row someone up Salt River (v.) (also row someone up Salt Creek, … up a salt creek)

[mid–late 19C–1910s] (US) to defeat (a political opponent); to overcome, to send to oblivion; thus row someone up to the very head waters of Salt River, to defeat overwhelmingly.

row up Salt River (v.)

1. [mid-19C–1940s] (US, also be (on one’s way) up Salt River, soak one’s head and shoulders in Salt River) to become drunk, i.e. to send oneself ‘to oblivion’.

2. [mid-19C–1920s] (US, also go to/up Salt River) to suffer a political defeat.