21 August 2008

Hot Springs State Park: History of the Spring

The first annual production of the Historical Indian Pageant commemorating The Gift of the Smoking Waters was held in 1950. This dramatic retelling of how the Shoshone and Arapahoe Indians gave the Hot Springs to the United State Government is now performed every August with participants in traditional Indian dress. Along with this event, Thermopolis has expanded its Pageant Days celebration with a parade, followed by Indian dancing around the Centennial Flag Pole, a craft show for vendors, and a rodeo.

Here is the site of the original bath house used by Chief Washakie of the Shoshone Indians (part of Hot Spring State Park):


For those who attend the Historical Indian Pageant, a pamphlet is provided which includes a brief history of this event entitled, "History of the Spring" by Jessie L. Duhig. Here is what it states:

Moccasined feet of Indians trod the paths surrounding the Big Horn Hot Springs long before the coming of the first white man. Prior to 1897 the Springs were a part of the Wind River Indian Reservation and there were no white settlers on land owned by the Indians.

Shoshones, under Chief Washakie, first came to live on the Wind River reservation, and they fought to the death with any other Indian tribes who sought to intrude on their land and hunting. But Chief Washakie was friendly to the whites and proudly boasted that he had never shed white man's blood, and that no white man's scalp had ever decorated the door of his tepees.

Later the Arapahoes were also placed on the Wind River reservation and members of both tribes made pilgrimages to the Big Horn Hot Springs to bathe in the waters of the Big Spring, which was known to the Shoshones as Bah-gue-wana, Smoking Water.

While they bathed in the waters to cure their ills of body, they camped on the banks of the Big Horn river some distance away for they looked upon the Big Spring with awe and somewhat feared it.

White men came also, first a few fur traders and later cowboys who were trailing cattle herds to new range. The cowboys dug holes in the travertine, or "formation" as it was then called, and dug ditches through which the water flowed to the crude, uncovered tubs. There they washed away the dust and grime of the long, hot trips, and they had no need to worry about privacy for there were no people within many miles.

Stockmen settled along Owl Creek to the west, on land adjoining the reservation, and in the early Nineties a little town was established at the junction of Owl Creek and the Big Horn River, which was the nearest point to the Springs a town could be located as it must be off reservation land.

When a post office was to be located at that point it was necessary that the town be named, so a group of men gathered to discuss the problem. In their midst was Dr. Julius A. Schuelke, German-born physician and surgeon who was attached to the United States Army at Ft. Washakie. He suggested the name of Thermopolis, combination Greek and Latin word, which literally translated means Hot City. And the name was adopted by the group.

Dr. Schuelke was the first white man to recognize the importance of the Big Spring, as he had been reared near the spas in the Old World. When he made a trip to this homeland in the Nineties, he took a sample of the water of the Big Spring to Paris, France, and the first analysis of the water was made by Prof. M.P. Schuetzenberger of the College de France.

The Big Spring is the largest hot medicinal spring in the world. It flows 18,600,000 gallons of water every 24 hours at a temperature of 135 Fahrenheit, and the pool is approximately 35 feet in diameter.

A move got underway in the early Nineties to get the Shoshone and Arapahoe Indians to agree to deeding a 10-mile square of the Wind River reservation land to the United States government, which would include the Big Horn Hot Springs, and the land would be opened to homestead settlement by the white men.

Negotiations were carried on with the Indians, with Washakie, Chief of the Shoshones, as spokesman, and on April 21, 1896, articles of agreement were signed at the Shoshone agency.

The first signature was that of Washakie, a Shoshone, and the second was Sharp Nose, an Arapahoe. Alternately Indians of both tribes signed.

For this transfer the Indians were to receive $60,000 which when considered in terms of dollar value, was practically a gift from the Indians, as the area included the largest mineral hot springs in the world. After Chief Washakie signed, he said: "I have given you the spring; my heart feels good."

The treaty was ratified by the government, and a one-mile tract of land embracing all the springs, was given to the State of Wyoming, and it was made a state park. The town of Thermopolis was moved six miles south to its present site adjoining the Big Horn Hot Spring.

Chief Washakie, although signing the agreement with his X mark, was wise and benevolent. He asked that a portion of the water remain free to the people and that a campground be reserved for the Indians.

In accordance with the wishes of Chief Washakie, the Wyoming legislature in 1899 set aside one-fourth of the water of the Big Spring for free use, and in later years a camping spot was reserved for the Indians.

It is in observance of the giving of the waters of the Big Spring to the whites, that Indians gather with their white brothers around Bah-gue-wana to present the pageant, "Gift of the Waters."

The flow rate of the spring waters is presently at 1,200 gallons per minute or 1,728,000 gallons every 24 hour period. This is according to Kevin Skates, Park Superintendent, to whom I spoke on 20 August 2008. He stated that the flow rate was measured just "a week ago."

No comments: