Hot water, hot springs and high hopes

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The steaming waters of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs are not as innocuous as they appear in this photograph. Read the following account of how one itinerant failed to survive immersion in those waters.

In last week’s column, we reported the braggado of Daniel Egger, editor of Pagosa Springs’ first newspaper started in April of 1890.
Egger proved to be an excellent promoter of the healing qualities of the Great Pagosa Hot Springs. While Egger was encouraging the local business community to build more hotels and restaurants to attract more tourists, an Army surgeon in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., arrived in town with a cadre of injured and ailing soldiers.
On July 3, 1890, 20 soldiers from the Kansas fort arrived at the Springs under command of a Maj. Weaver. They bivouacked at the cabin home of S.C. Bell on the north side of the river.
More soldiers arrived as the year progressed and Egger unfailingly noted their arrival and improving health. Weaver had no problem in getting Egger to report on his soldiers in every edition of the “Pagosa News.”
Egger quoted the Army surgeon as saying, “I have much reliance in Pagosa as a health resort, from its peculiar position as to altitude and surroundings (pine forests), in which in every respect it is superior to Carlsbad, and infinitely more so to every other thermal spring in this country, not excepting the much vaunted springs of Arkansas.”
Soldiers weren’t the only ones bathing in the healing waters. Eggers reported in May that “L. W. Smith, Peter Usler, and E.W. Digges; 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 liked the treatment so much he soon moved to Pagosa Springs, maintained a home in Pagosa and a farm at Arboles, and eventually died at the Old Soldiers Home in Monte Vista. Smith also moved to Pagosa Springs. Ten years later he published a newspaper in competition with the ebullient Egger.
At least one tragedy took place in the bubbling hot sulfur waters. A headline in the Pagosa Springs News of Nov. 30, 1900, proclaimed, “An Unknown Man Parboiled In the Pagosa Hot Springs.” The story following the headlined described the remains thusly: “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 part exposed … the spring has a temperature of 160˚(sic) and death no doubt occurred almost instantly.”