Historic ‘Indian Bathtubs’

Written by Dick Perue

A natural phenomenon, known by many monikers such as “Big Medicine,” “Healing Waters,” “Magic Waters,” “Medicinal Water” or “Hobo Pool” is probably responsible for the location of Saratoga.

Hot mineral water comes to the surface in the valley through fissures at the peak of a geological formation resulting from the upheaval of a rock ledge. There are a number of these springs located throughout town, including at the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort in the North Platte River, which runs through town, and on the west side of the river at the present Hobo Pool, which is owned by the Town of Saratoga.

Many legends link Indians to hot springs. The Indians believed in the supernatural powers of the waters. They believed by bathing in the mineral waters they would regain health and long life, and sometimes, warriors did so believing that the first to bathe would be the most enduring fighter.

The earliest settlers in the Upper North Platte River Valley refer to the hot springs as the “Indian Bathtubs.” 

Professor WH Reed, who came in 1868 to study and gather specimens, has told the most believable stories about the springs. He traveled throughout the state and often came to Saratoga.

He said, “The hot springs at this place used to be very popular with the Indians. They would resort to this valley by the thousands. This was neutral ground for every Indian tribe, for they all wished to bathe in the waters and be healed. No matter how much they might war outside of its boundaries, here they would fraternize, bathe and be healed. All roads led to these hot springs, and there were deeply worn trails made by the dragging of teepee poles. The waters were ‘Big Medicine.’”

Reed also said when the emigrants came through the area in about 1847, they brought smallpox to the Indians, who then came to the hot springs for treatment. Some research indicates it may have been cholera rather than smallpox. In any event, treatment consisted of sweating each patient in the hot water, listed as between 118 and 128 degrees, then plunging him into the cold waters, about 40 degrees, of the nearby river.

The result was nearly always fatal. Old hunters have said the treatment of many other Indian diseases was the same. The Indians decided a bad spirit had gotten into the waters and was killing all who bathed in them so, from then on, they shunned the valley and called the hot springs “Bad Medicine.”

Although white men, such as William H. Ashley and his band of fur trappers, are said to have passed through the Upper North Platte Valley as early as 1825, it wasn’t until the Overland Stage line was moved south in 1862 to what is known as the Overland Trail that many emigrants saw the valley … but then that’s for the next time we gather to soak in the hot pool.