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A site of early-day healing … and tragedy

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter This undated drawing shows two men viewing the main hot spring. In the background, Fort Lewis is shown on the left and the town on the right.

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
This undated drawing shows two men viewing the main hot spring. In the background, Fort Lewis is shown on the left and the town on the right.

The Great Pagosa Hot Springs attracted the attention of U.S. Army medical experts as early as 1890.

A Major Weaver, surgeon at the Home in Leavenworth, Kans., had much to say when he arrived in Pagosa Springs in July of 1890 with 20 invalid soldiers.

The soldiers were quartered at the Cabin Home run by S.C. Bell on the north side of the river.

As the year progressed, more soldiers arrived. Pagosa’s newspaper editor trumpeted the results as “wonderful.” Soldiers sent to the hot springs meant more money for town merchants.

Weaver’s opinions, published many times over in the Pagosa News, helped fan the flames.

He said, in part: “I have much reliance on Pagosa as a health resort, from its peculiar position  as to altitude and surrounding pine forests, in which in every respect it is superior to Carlsbad, and infinitely more so to every other thermal spring in the country, not excepting the much vaunted Hot Springs of Arkansas.”

One wonders if there was any connection between Weaver and the Pagosa Springs Company, since both were from Leavenworth, Kans., a major army post at that time.

In any case, soldiers dipped in the mineral waters seeking relief from rheumatism, stomach troubles, blood and kidney diseases, arthritis, sciatica and any other number of afflictions.

Soldiers weren’t the only carriers of aches and pains bathing in the healing waters.

Editor Egger reported in May, “L.W. Smith, Peter Usler, and E.W. Diggs, miners from Red Mountain, were bathing in the celebrated waters.” And, “Mr. Slevin of Silver Cliff could hardly walk when he arrived at the Springs ten days ago, and last Saturday he ran a foot race. Such are the wonderful cures of the Pagosa Springs.”

Slevin moved to Pagosa Springs, maintained a home at Arboles and died at the Old Soldier’s Home in Monte Vista a few years later. Smith also moved to Pagosa Springs. Ten years later he published a newspaper in competition with Egger.

At least one tragedy took place in the hot waters. On Nov. 30, 1900, a headline in the Pagosa Springs News proclaimed, “An unknown man parboiled in the Pagosa Hot Spring.”

The story described the remains: “The hot water certainly did its work well, for when the corpse was examined more closely it was found that the flesh was literally boiled to pieces, flesh falling from his hands and face, those being the only parts exposed … The spring has a temperature of 160 degrees and death no doubt occurred almost instantly.”

The dead man was apparently an itinerant. It was not determined if he took his life on purpose or entered the waters without apprehending his danger.

This story was posted on November 7, 2013.