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Native Americans and hot springs

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Soda Dam on Jemez Creek, near Jemez Springs, New Mexico
The Mother Spring - Pagosa Hot Springs, Colorado

Native Americans have a long relationship with hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles and other geothermal phenomenon. There is evidence that many[dubious ] of the major hot springs in the Americas were visited and used by local native peoples. There are artifacts near some of these hot springs that support a history of human activity that extends back thousands of years. Native Americans revered hot springs as a sacred healing place.[1]

Long time use[edit]

John W. Lund, a civil engineer specializing in geothermal energy wrote that if opposing tribes, even those at war, arrived at the same spring, all conflict ceased because they believed the springs were sacred.[1] Indigenous people in the Americas' use of hot springs and other geothermal resources go back 10,000 years, according to archaeological evidence of human use and settlement by Paleo-Indians. Thermal springs provided a source of healing mineral water, warmth and cleansing.[2]

Examples of Indigenous use[edit]

Tonopah hot springs[edit]

The natural hot springs in Tonopah, Arizona are an example.[3] The name "Tonopah" derives from the Western Apache name Tú Nohwá, meaning "Water For Us" or "Water For You". Though there are no ruins or evidence of dwellings in the immediate vicinity of the hot springs, the prevalence of grain-grinding mortar holes, pottery shards, and other man-made objects in the area suggest that this site was frequented for many years by native peoples such as the Hohokam. The hundreds of very high quality arrowheads found near existing springs in Tonopah attest to its popularity as a hunting ground.[citation needed]

Sleeping Child hot springs[edit]

In the Montana Rocky Mountains near the area that is now known as Missoula, a hot spring used by the Nez Perce peoples, was used as a refuge in the 1870s to avoid a confrontation with American soldiers. A group of the indigenous people left their infants at the thermal springs to avoid harm from the possible battle. Upon returning from the fray, the babies were peacefully sleeping, "protected by the natural hot springs."(Lund, pg. 9) This event is the reason for the name, Sleeping Child Hot Springs.)[1][4]

Saratoga Springs[edit]

In the area in New York now called Saratoga Springs, a system of approximately 18 hot springs exist. These thermal resources were used by the Iroquois and Mohawk peoples, in particular the High Rock Spring. The Mohawks called the area Kayaderosseras. These peoples used the springs for cleansing and healing.[1]

Hot Springs, Arkansas[edit]

There are 47 thermal springs in the Hot Springs, Arkansas area, that have been used first by Paleo-Indians and later by various indigenous peoples. These springs, known as the Valley of the Vapors, were considered a sacred and healing place, as well as a neutral ground where "warriors of all tribes could rest and bathe" in a peaceful refuge.[1] After European contact, indigenous groups were driven towards the west, the Quapaw, Cherokee and Natchitoches occupied the area.[1][5]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Lund, John W. "Historical Impacts of Geothermal Resources on the People of North America" (PDF). Geo-Heat Center Bulletin Vol 16, No. 4. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  2. "A History of Geothermal Energy in America". U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  3. McGonagle, Roberta L.; Waski, Lynda L. (1978). "Archaeological Survey of Springs in the Tonopah Resource Area". U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Battle Mountain District. 2.
  4. Chiasson, Andrew (January 2013). "The Economic, Environmental and Social Benefits of Geothermal Use in Montana" (PDF). GHC Bulletin. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  5. "American Indians at Hot Springs National Park" (PDF). National Park Servcid. Retrieved 31 October 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dumond, Don E. (1978). Alaska and the Northwest Coast. In: Ancient Native Americans, Jesse D. Jennings (Ed). W. H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco. pp.43-94.
  • Marjorie Gersh-Young, Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest: Jayson Loam's Original Guide, Aqua Thermal Access, 2004. ISBN 1-890880-05-1 Search this book on ..
  • Marjorie Gersh-Young, Hot Springs & Hot Pools Of The Northwest, Aqua Thermal Access, 2003. ISBN 1-890880-04-3 Search this book on ..
  • Griffin, James R. (1978). The Midlands and Northeastern United States. In: Ancient Native Americans, Jesse D Jennings (Ed). W. H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco. pp. 221-280.
  • Whittlesey, Lee H. (2002), Native Americans, the Earliest Interpreters: What is Known About Their Legends and Stories of Yellowstone National Park and the Complexities of Interpreting Them, The George Wright Forum, published by the George Wright Society, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 40–51.[1]
  • Lipe, William D. (1978). The Southwest. In: Ancient Native Americans, Jesse D. Jennings (Ed). W. H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco. pp. 327-402.
  • G. J Woodsworth, Hot springs of Western Canada: a complete guide, West Vancouver: Gordon Soules Book Publishers. 1999. ISBN 0-919574-03-3 Search this book on ..
  • Clay Thompson, "Tonopah: It's Water Under The Bush", the Arizona Republic 1-12-03, p. B12.

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