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Native Americans and hot springs facts for kids

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

Native Americans always used these phenomena as natural shrines. If opposing tribes, even those at war, arrived at the same spring, all conflict ceased because they believed they were walking on sacred ground. 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.

Examples of Indigenous use

Tonopah hot springs

The natural hot springs in Tonopah, Arizona are an example. 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.

Sleeping Child hot springs

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.)

Saratoga Springs

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.

Hot Springs, Arkansas

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. After European contact, indigenous groups were driven towards the west, the Quapaw, Cherokee and Natchitoches occupied the area.

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