CREATING THE SULPHUR SPRINGS RESERVATION
By 1900, the U. S. Census showed that there were 1,198 residents in the community of Sulphur Springs, I.T. This was phenomenal growth for a town that did not exist just a decade earlier. By the turn of the century, the Sanborn Fire Insurance map indicated that there were now many businesses and residences in the area of the "Seven Springs".
A large two-story timber-framed pavilion had been constructed over the springs in the center of town. C. J. Webster, the town's first banker along with some other investors, built the pavilion. The bottom story was a rock walled area around the springs. The top floor was a dance hall known locally as "The Seven Sisters" taking its name from the seven springs.
Situated along the streets, on the 1900 map, were buildings such as offices, newspaper, post office, bakery, bathhouses, wagon yards, livery and blacksmith shops, a cotton gin, banks, lumber yard, hat shop, drug store, grocery and general stores, billiard parlor and saloons. There were about thirty residences also located inside the spring's area.
Also indicated was the Harper Hotel, which was just north of the Pavilion Springs. The White Sulphur Inn was shown a block northeast of the Pavilion and the Sulphur Cotton Gin was located on the hill a block east of the Pavilion. The offal from the hotels was simply dumped in piles on top of the ground on the hillsides above the seven springs.
The growing population was quickly overwhelming the springs and creeks ability to carry off the refuse and effluent. At this time, open pit, hand dug toilets was the standard. Shopkeepers emptied their trash and swept out their stores into Sulphur Creek.
Colonel Joseph F. Swords came to Sulphur Springs as a special inspector for the Indian Service. His job was to form a three-man committee and make an appraisal of the improvements on town lots. Under the Curtis Act of 1898, all towns with a population of 200 or more were to be surveyed and platted under the supervision of an inspector for the Indian Service to insure that the Chickasaws and Choctaws were receiving fair payment and that the land was valued fairly.
With twelve hundred residents and countless thousands of visitors flocking to the hotels and bathhouses, a plan had to be developed soon if the 'seven springs' area was to be saved from civilization.
On July 1, 1902, Congress approved a supplemental agreement to the Atoka Agreement with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. This authorized a reservation that would protect and control the springs and creeks that would "cause the least interference with the completed townsite". Six hundred forty acres were authorized to be taken into the reserve and the buildings within the reserve would have to be moved.
Within the month, the Secretary of the Interior, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, dispatched Special Inspector Frank C. Churchill and geologist Joseph Taff of the United States Geological Survey to Sulphur Springs in order to perform an examination of the springs, creeks and general topography of the land to be acquired by the United States.
This survey included the springs within the town of Sulphur Springs, Rock Creek, Sulphur Creek, Limestone Creek, Buffalo and Antelope Springs as well as Buckhorn Creek and its springs four miles south of Sulphur Springs.
The area around Sulphur Springs was determined to be the best for beautification and greatly surpassed the area around Buckhorn Creek. It was also determined that the prairie between Sulphur and the springs on Buckhorn Creek was a "high treeless prairie" and useless as a recreational area. They also referred to the thick under story along the Sulphur and Rock Creeks as "jungles".
The survey team also suggested planting trees in the surrounding prairie, an idea that has caused great damage when the idea was implemented in the 1930's with the red cedar. They also noted that there was a great deal of deforestation along Sulphur and Rock Creeks and the places were now covered with narrow cultivated fields.
Among the springs surveyed were the seven springs at the present day site of Pavilion Springs, Hillside Spring, three large springs located at the juncture of Sulphur (Travertine) and Rock Creeks, two Bromide-Sulphur springs in the south Park of town in a tributary of Rock Creek, "Wilson Springs" located in the southeast Park of the town, two springs in the area of the Bromide Pavilion with one gushing from the base of the Bromide Hill and the other issuing from the bed of Rock Creek.
Antelope and Buffalo Springs were discussed in the report as a possible water source for the town of Sulphur. Described in detail was the beauty of Sulphur Creek as it meandered for more than a mile through the wooded lowlands with its many waterfalls and pools of cool water. The survey team recommended that since none of the pools were suitable for swimming that a dam should be built in the present day site of Little Niagara Falls creating a lake thirty feet deep, a half mile long and up to one thousand feet wide.
Churchill and Taff submitted their survey and made recommendations as follows:
First: preserve and protect the springs against contamination.
Second: preserve and protect the Sulphur and Rock Creeks.
Third: the reservation of reasonable space for public passage and comfort in connections with the waters reserved.
Fourth: utilizing the waters and preserving the beauty of the grounds.
The survey team worked hard to limit the size of the reservation. They noted however the erosion of the banks of the two creeks and that "little care is had for the disposition of sewage". The area around the Pavilion Springs was due "certain and serious contamination".
A ten-acre parcel southeast of the Pavilion called Wilson Springs was considered for inclusion in the reservation but it was not contiguous with the proposed reserve. The land between the two springs was considered useless and the idea was dropped. For future reference, depending on which map you are looking, Wilson Springs, The Asphalt Springs and The Sulphur-Asphalt Springs are one-and-the-same.
The final report suggested that 629.33 acres be included in the reservation. Based on this survey, the two tribes ratified the Supplemental Agreement in September and were paid $12,586.60 for the reservation land. The going price for an acre of average land at this time was about one and a half dollars per acre. The government paid more than ten times the normal price of average land for the reserve or $20 per acre.
Now there was the problem of dealing with the people who owned businesses and homes in Sulphur Springs. Appraisements of the buildings began in January of 1903 under the direction of Frank Churchill. A total of $86,981 was paid out for improvements. Some owners refused the government's offer and chose to move their buildings outside the reservation. Businesses, houses and even churches were loaded on wagons and moved to new locations. Those who chose to remain temporarily were allowed to, but they had to pay the government rent.
Now, all the people of Sulphur Springs had to do was figure out where the new town should be located.
© Contributed by Dennis Muncrief, October 2006.