The dense woodland known as the Ozark Mountain region here in Northwest Arkansas has existed for thousands of years. Although rich with wildlife, "the Ozarks" were sparsely populated by the Osage Indians.
The Osage claimed all the land in this region and in parts of Southern Missouri and they repeated the tale that was originally told by the Cherokee about a specific healing spring somewhere in the mountains west of the Mississippi River.
This tale became a legend. This legend traveled far and wide and landed in Europe where Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon found documents on his uncle's ship telling of this healing spring in the new land that, if consumed and used for bathing, would cure ills.
Indian tribes throughout America knew of this spring, and Spanish coins dated in the fifteenth century, as well as other evidence found at the site of the spring give credence that this was the Fountain of Youth sought by explorer de Leon.
He never found it.
The Osage land, in 1825, was ceded to the US Government and it became part of the Louisiana Purchase, this making it subject to the Federal Homestead Act, and was opened to white settlers. Before long, attracted by the abundant wildlife and game, hunting events and parties from Berryville, AR (just fourteen miles west on the other side of the King's River) began visiting the region and camping by a spring near the bottom of a ravine.
Times were certainly different and to get a better grasp of how remote this area was during this period of time, Berryville was the only town in Carroll County and had only 280 residents. To get to the spring, the journey took all day by horseback through deep wooded forest, with a natural detour several miles north in order to effectively cross the King's River. Of course, a bridge was finally built (in 1931) that made this passage much easier.
In 1854, Missourian Dr. Alvah Jackson and his son, who were hunting in NWA, discovered this incredible spring nestled in a small, natural rock basin at the foot of a hill.
For many, many years, Dr. Jackson heard the tale, the legend... "Could this be it?", he thought. Is this the healing spring spoken by The Osage for all those years?
It was at this moment, when Dr. Jackson camped by the spring with his son who had been suffering for many weeks with a chronic eye infection. He encouraged his son to wash and soothe his face and eyes in the water for the few days that they were camping there and the infection disappeared.
Together, Dr. Jackson and his son took some of this healing water home with them and started to enhance his medical practice by selling it as a remedy for eye ailments. Incredibly, he and his son managed to keep the location of this spring a secret until the Civil War ended in 1865.
He brought some wounded veterans to the site to help heal their wounds with the water and after the soldiers departed, the spring returned to obscurity until 1879.
In April 1879, Dr. Jackson brought his friend Judge C. Burton Saunders of Berryville, AR to the spring to cure his painful erysipelas. To the awe and amazement of Judge Saunders and everyone around him, this ailment began to heal so he, his wife and son built a small cabin on the site and lived by the spring until he was completely cured of this skin disease.
Word spread and the discovery of the spring was an overnight sensation.
Twenty families (this was about 400 people) are to have said camped at the very site location of the spring by July 1879. Tents, shacks, horses, oxen. They lived there and bathed in the healing water.
Then, the spring flowed from the mountain, higher up, and fell into the stone basin. Drinking happened at the top, bathing at the bottom.
Story after story of miraculous cures grew daily and these settlers bonded through their pain, illness, desperation. Banding together, it was time to name their new healing home in this secret wilderness. They held a town meeting; quite possibly, the first one.
L.J. Kalklosch, a former resident, author and historian, tells that it was a Mr. McKay who had suggested "Eureka!" Greek for "I've found it."
As history explains, Archimedes, a scholar in ancient Greece had discovered the displacement theory of solids to liquid while sitting in a tub of water. How apropos!
Kalklosch tells in his book, The Healing Fountain, that with a roar of approval, the name was accepted, and a town was born.
Discovering Eureka is a blog series where we seek to discover the unique things that make up Eureka Springs. There is so much to see, experience and explore here in Eureka Springs and in this series we will take time to give you the local perspective on what to do, where to go, what to see and how did this become something significant for our town.