Manitou Springs

Dr. Edwin James, botanist and historian of Long’s expedition, who visited the Pike’s Peak region in 1820, says of the principal spring at Manitou:

The boiling spring is a large and beautiful fountain of water, cool and transparent and aerated with carbonic acid. It rises on the brink of a small stream which here descends from the mountains at the point where the bed of this stream divides the ridge of sandstone, which rests against the base of the first granitic range. The water of the spring deposits a copious concretion of carbonate of lime, which has accumulated on every side, until it has formed a large basin over-hanging the stream, above which it rises several feet. The basin is of snowy whiteness and large enough to contain three or four hundred gallons, and is constantly overflowing. The spring rises from the bottom of the basin with a rumbling noise, discharging about equal volumes of air and of water, probably about fifty gallons per minute, the whole kept in constant agitation. The water is beautifully transparent, has a sparkling appearance, the grateful taste and exhilarating effect of the most highly aerated artificial mineral water.

In the bottom of the spring a great number of beads and other small articles of Indian adornment were found, having unquestionably been left there as a sacrifice or present to the springs, which are regarded with a sort of veneration by the savages. Bijeau, our guide, assured us he had repeatedly taken beads and other adornments from these springs and sold them to the same savages who had thrown them in.

Mr. Rufus B. Sage, who describes himself as a New Englander, after passing through this region in 1842, published a book giving his experiences and observations. In speaking of the Fontaine qui Bouille Creek, now known as the Fountain and of the Manitou Springs, he says:

This name is derived from two singular springs situated within a few yards of each other at the creek’s head, both of which emit water in the form of vapor, with a hissing noise; one strongly impregnated with sulphur and the other with soda. The soda water is fully as good as any manufactured for special use and sparkles and foams with equal effervescence. The Arapaho regard, this phenomenon with awe, and venerate it as the manifestation of the immediate presence of the Great Spirit. They call it the “Medicine Fountain” and seldom neglect to bestow their gifts upon it whenever an opportunity is presented. These offerings usually consist of robes, blankets, arrows, bows, knives, beads, moccasins, etc., which they either throw into the water, or hang upon the surrounding trees.

Sometimes a whole village will visit the place for the purpose of paying their united regard to this sacred fountain.

The scenery in the vicinity is truly magnificent. A valley several hundred yards in width heads at the springs, and overlooking it from the west in almost perpendicular ascent tower the lofty summits of Pike’s Peak, piercing the clouds and reveling in eternal snow. This valley opens eastward and is walled in at the right and left at the mountain’s base by a stretch of high tableland surmounted by oaks and stately pines, with now and then an interval displaying a luxuriant coating of grass. The soil is a reddish loam and very rich. The trees, which skirt the creek as it traces its way from the fountain, are generally free from underbrush, and show almost as much regularity of position as if planted by the hand of art. A lusty growth of vegetation is sustained among them to their very trunks, which is garnished by wild flowers during the summer months, that invest the whole scene with an enchantment peculiar to itself.

The climate, too, is far milder in this than in adjoining regions, even of a more southern latitude. “It is here summer first unfolds her robes, and here the longest tarries”; the grass, continuing green the entire winter, here first feels the genial touch of spring. Snow seldom remains upon the ground to exceed a single day, even in the severest weather, while the neighboring hills and prairies present their white mantlings for weeks in succession.

As the creek emerges from the mountains, it increases in size by the accession of several tributaries, and the valley also expands, retaining for a considerable distance the distinguishing traces above described.

The vicinity affords an abundance of game, among which are deer, sheep, bear, antelope, elk, and buffalo, together with turkeys, geese, ducks, grouse, mountain fowls, and rabbits. Affording as it does such magnificent and delightful scenery, such rich stores for the supply of human wants both to please the taste and enrapture the heart; so heaven like in its appearance and character, it is no wonder the untaught savage reveres it as a place wherein the Good Spirit delights to dwell, and hastens with his free-will offerings to the strange fountain, in the full belief that its bubbling waters are the more immediate impersonation of Him whom he adores.

And there are other scenes adjoining this that demand a passing notice. A few miles from the springs, and running parallel with the eastern base of the mountain range, several hundred yards removed from it, a wall of coarse, red granite towers to a varied height of from fifty to three hundred feet. This wall is formed of an immense strata planted vertically. This mural tier is isolated and occupies its prairie site in silent majesty, as if to guard the approach to the stupendous monuments of Nature’s handiwork, that form the background, disclosing itself to the beholder for a distance of over thirty miles.

Lieut. John C. Fremont, who visited the springs in 1843, while on his second expedition, was just as enthusiastic about them. He says:

On the morning of the 16th of July we resumed our journey. Our direction was up the Boiling Springs River, it being my intention to visit the celebrated springs from which the river takes its name, and which are on its upper waters at the foot of Pike’s Peak.

Our animals fared well while we were on this stream, there being everywhere a great abundance of grass. Beautiful clusters of flowering plants were numerous, and wild currants, nearly ripe, were abundant. On the afternoon of the 17th, we entered among the broken ridges at the foot of the mountain, where the river made several forks.

Leaving the camp to follow slowly, I rode ahead in the afternoon, in search of the springs. In the meantime, the clouds, which had been gathering all the afternoon over the mountains, began to roll down their sides, and a storm so violent burst upon me that it appeared I had entered the store house of the thunder storms. I continued, however, to ride along up the river until about sunset, and was beginning to be doubtful of finding the springs before the next day, when I came suddenly upon a large, smooth rock about twenty feet in diameter, where the water from several springs was bubbling and boiling up in the midst of a white encrustation, with which it had covered a portion of the rock. As it did not correspond with the description given me by the hunters, I did not stop to taste the water, but dismounting, walked a little way up the river, and passing through a narrow thicket of shrubbery bordering the stream, stepped directly upon a huge, white rock at the foot of which the river, already becoming a torrent, foamed along, broken by a small fall.

A deer which had been drinking at the spring was startled by my approach, and springing across the river bounded off up the mountain. In the upper part of the rock, which had been formed by the deposition, was a beautiful, white basin overhung by currant bushes, in which the cold, clear water bubbled up, kept in constant motion by the escaping gas, and over flowing the rock which it had almost entirely covered with a smooth crust of glistening white.

I had all day refrained from drinking, reserving myself for the springs, and as I could not well be more wet than the rain had already made me, I lay down by the side of the basin and drank heartily of the delightful water.

As it was now beginning to grow dark, I rode quickly down the river on which I found the camp a few miles below. The morning of the 18th was beautiful and clear, and all of the people being anxious to drink of these famous waters, we encamped immediately at the springs and spent there a very pleasant day.

On the opposite side of the river is another locality of springs which are entirely of the same nature. The water has a very agreeable taste, which Mr. Preuss found very much to resemble that of the famous Selter spring in the Grand Duchy of Nassau, a country famous for wine and mineral waters.

Resuming our journey on the morning of the 19th, we descended the river, in order to reach the mouth of the eastern fork which I proposed to ascend. The left bank of the river is here very much broken. There is a handsome little bottom on the right, and both banks are exceedingly picturesque, a stratum of red rock in nearly perpendicular wails, crossing the valley from north to south.

Lieut. George F. Ruxton, an officer of the British Army, who was seeking the restoration of his health by roughing it in the Rocky Mountains, camped at the Manitou Springs for a number of months in the early part of 1847.

Writing of his trip from Pueblo up the Fontaine qui Bouille in the month of March of that year, and of his stay at the springs afterwards, he says:

The further I advanced up the creek and the nearer the mountains, the more advanced was the vegetation. As yet, however, the cottonwoods and the larger trees in the bottom showed no signs of life, and the currant and cherry bushes still looked dry and sapless. The thickets, however, were filled with birds and resounded with their songs, and the plains were alive with prairie dogs, busy in repairing their houses and barking lustily as I rode through their towns. Turkeys, too, were calling in the timber, and the boom of the prairie fowl at rise and set of sun was heard on every side. The snow had entirely disappeared from the plains, but Pike’s Peak and the mountains were still clad in white.

On my way I met a band of hunters who had been driven in by a party of Arapaho who were encamped on the eastern fork of the Fontaine qui Bouille [Monument Creek]. They strongly urged me to return, as, being alone, I could not fail to be robbed of my animals, if not killed myself. However, in pursuance of my fixed rule never to stop on account of Indians, I proceeded up the river and camped on the first fork for a day or two, hunting in the mountains. I then moved up the main fork on which I had been directed by the hunters to proceed, in order to visit the far famed springs, from which the creek takes its name. I followed a very good lodge pole trail which struck the creek before entering the broken country, being that used by the Ute and Arapaho on their way to the Bayou Salado. Here the valley narrowed considerably, and turning an angle with the creek, I was at once shut in by mountains and elevated ridges which rose on each side of the stream. This was now a rapid torrent tumbling over the rocks and stones and fringed with oak and a shrubbery of brush. A few miles on, the canon opened into a little shelving glade and on the right bank of the stream, raised several feet above it, was a flat, white rock, in which was a round hole where one of the celebrated springs hissed and bubbled with its escaping gas. I had been cautioned against drinking this, being directed to follow the stream a few yards to another, which is the true soda spring.

I had not only abstained from drinking that day, but with the aid of a handful of salt, which I had brought with me for the purpose, had so highly seasoned my breakfast of venison, that I was in a most satisfactory state of thirst. I therefore proceeded at once to the other spring, and found it about forty yards from the first and immediately above the river, issuing from a little basin in the flat, white rock, and trickling over the edge into the stream. The escape of gas in this was much stronger than in the other, and was similar to water boiling smartly.

I had provided myself with a tin cup holding about a pint, but before dipping it in I divested myself of my pouch and belt, and sat down in order to enjoy the draught at my leisure. I was half dead with thirst, and tucking up the sleeves of my hunting shirt, I dipped the cup into the midst of the bubbles and raised it, hissing and sparkling, to my lips. Such a draught! Three times without drawing a breath was it replenished and emptied, almost blowing up the roof of my mouth with its effervescence. It was equal to the very best soda water, but possesses that fresh, natural flavor which manufactured water cannot impart.

The Indians regard with awe the medicine waters of these fountains, as being the abode of a Spirit who breathes through the transparent water, and thus by his exhalations causes the perturbation of its surface. The Arapaho especially attribute to this water god, the power of ordaining the success or miscarriage of their war expeditions, and as their braves pass often by the mysterious springs when in search of their hereditary enemies, the Ute, in the “Valley of Salt,” they never fail to bestow their votive offerings upon the water sprite, in order to propitiate the Manitou of the fountain and insure a fortunate issue to their path of war. Thus at the time of my visit, the basin of the spring was filled with beads and wampum and pieces of red cloth and knives, while. the surrounding trees were hung with strips of deer skin, cloth, and moccasins; to which, had they been serviceable, I would most sacrilegiously have helped myself. The signs, too, around the spring, plainly showed that here a war dance had been executed by the braves, and I was not a little pleased to find that they had already been here and were not likely to return the same way; but in this supposition I was quite astray.

Referring again to the mineral springs at Manitou, I quote from Col. R. B. Marcy, of the United States Army, who, with his command, camped there during the whole of the month of April, 1858. He tells not only of the springs and the game of that neighborhood, but of a frightful snowstorm that delayed them, near Eastonville in El Paso County, for several days at the beginning of the following month. He says:

Having accomplished the objects of my mission to New Mexico, by procuring animals and other supplies sufficient to enable the troops at Fort Bridger to make an early march into Salt Lake Valley, I, on the 15th day of March, left Fort Union on my return for Utah, intending to pass around the eastern base of the mountains near Pike’s Peak and the headwaters of the Arkansas and Platte rivers, following the Cherokee trail from the Cache la Poudre. The command was well organized, and we made rapid progress for about two hundred and fifty miles, when, on the 27th of March, I received an order from the General in Command in New Mexico, to halt and await reinforcements. I was obliged to obey the order and went into camp upon the headwaters of a small tributary of the Arkansas, called Fontaine qui Bouille, directly at the foot of Pike’s Peak and near a very peculiar spring which gives the name to the stream.

This beautiful fountain issues from the center of a basin, or rather bowl, about six feet in diameter, and throws out a column of water near the size of a man’s arm. The receptacle, which is constantly filled but never runs over, seems to have been formed by the deposit of salts from the water, and is as perfectly symmetrical and round as if it had been cut out with a chisel. As the fountain is constantly playing and never overflows, it of course has a subterranean outlet. The most remarkable feature, however, in the Fontaine qui Bouille, is the peculiar taste of the water. It is pungent and sparkling and somewhat similar in taste to the water from the Congress spring at Saratoga, but sweeter, and to my palate pleasanter. We drank it every day in large quantities without perceiving any ill effect from it, and the men made use of it instead of yeast in raising their bread, which induced the belief that it contained soda or some other alkali.

The Indians believe it to possess some mysterious powers, the purport of which I could not learn, but there were a great many arrows, pieces of cloth, and other articles that they had deposited in the spring, probably as an offering to the Big Medicine Genius that presided over it. We remained at this place a month, during which time we amused ourselves in hunting elk, mountain sheep, and black tail deer, all of which were very abundant in the surrounding country, and our larder was constantly supplied with the most delicious game.

I remember that one morning just at daybreak, I was awakened by my servant, who told me there was a large herd of elk in close proximity to the camp. I ran out as soon as possible and saw at least five hundred of these magnificent animals, drawn up in line like a troop of cavalry horses, with their heads all turned in the same direction, and from the crest of a high projecting cliff, looking in apparent wonder and bewilderment directly down upon us. It was to me a most novel and interesting spectacle. The noise made in the camp soon frightened them, however, and they started for the mountains. They were pursued for some distance by our hunters, who succeeded in killing six before they escaped.

On the 30th day of April, our reinforcements having joined us, we gladly resumed our march for Utah, and at about one o’clock encamped upon the ridge that divides the Arkansas from the Platte rivers. The day was bright, cheerful, and pleasant, the atmosphere soft, balmy, and delightful. The fresh grass was about six inches high. The trees had put forth their new leaves and all nature conspired in giving evidence that the somber garb of winter had been cast aside for the more verdant and smiling attire of spring. Our large herds of animals were turned out to graze upon the tender and nutritious grass that everywhere abounded. Our men were enjoying their social jokes and pastimes after the fatigues of the day’s march and everything indicated contentment and happiness. This pleasant state of things lasted until near sunset, when the wind suddenly changed into the north. It turned cold and soon commenced snowing violently, and continued to increase until it became a frightful winter tempest, filling the atmosphere with a dense cloud of driving snow, against which it. was utterly impossible to ride or walk. Soon after the storm set in, one of our herds of three hundred horses and mules broke furiously away from the herdsmen who were guarding them, and in spite of their utmost efforts, ran at full speed directly with the wind for fifty miles before they stopped. Three of the herdsmen followed them as far as they were able, but soon became exhausted, bewildered, and lost on the prairie. One of them succeeded in finding his way back to camp in a state of great prostration and suffering. One of the others was found frozen to death in the snow, and the third was discovered crawling about upon his hands and knees in a state of temporary delirium, after the tempest subsided. This terrific storm exceeded in violence and duration anything of the kind our eldest mountaineer had ever beheld. It continued with uninterrupted fury for sixty consecutive hours and during this time it was impossible to move for any distance facing the wind and snow. One of our employees who went out about two hundred yards from the camp, set out to return, but was unable to do so and perished in the attempt. Several antelope were found frozen upon the prairie after the storm…. At the termination of this frightful tempest, there was about three feet of snow upon the ground, but the warm rays of the sun soon melted it, and after collecting together our stampeded animals, we again set forward for Utah and on the third day following, struck the South Platte at its confluence with Cherry Creek. There was at that time but one white man living within one hundred and fifty miles of the place, and he was an Indian trader named Jack Audeby, on the Arkansas.

Howbert, Irving. The Indians of the Pike's Peak Region. New York: Knickerbock Press. 1914.

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