Revisit Native American history in Eureka Springs
Eureka Springs has been publicized as a tourism destination since the 1880s, but before that, the area was frequented by Native American tribes, who came here for the mild temperatures, good hunting and healing springs. Before northwest Arkansas was populated by white settlers, tribes such as the Osage, Creek and Choctaw would stop by what is now Basin Spring and use the healing waters. Legends began to circulate about the spring, from the miraculous cure of a chief's daughter to the claim that this was indeed the original Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Leon sought for so long. These stories were circulated for years, and eventually brought more and more people seeking the power of the ‘medicine' spring. Settlers believed that the stone basin which caught the spring water flowing down the mountain was originally carved by American Indians, and the name Basin Spring stuck. In 1879, the town was founded by this spring, and it remains an integral part of the Eureka Springs spirit to this day.
Although the original spring is now below the ground level of the paved park, if you peek down the circular guard rail, you'll catch a glimpse of the spring that started it all. Look above the bandshell, past the buildings, to the forested hills, and you can imagine the rugged, natural beauty surrounding the spring, making it an oasis of good medicine for the tribes that camped here.
Just about 15 minutes west of Eureka Springs is Blue Spring Heritage Center, a remarkable site for those studying Native American heritage. The spring itself pumps millions of gallons of cold, clear water every day, and was a natural stop for Native American tribes. The bluff shelter overlooking the spring still bears the markings from visits long past; both the spring and the shelter were considered to be sacred, and warring tribes would lay down arms rather than disturb this sacred spot. Archeological digs at the shelter prove that tribes were visiting Blue Spring as early as 1700 A.D.
In 1839, the spring took on a sadder moment in history; the area was used as a rest stop during the forced relocation of the Cherokee people from their homelands east of the Mississippi to Oklahoma territory, in what is now remembered as the Trail of Tears. Before the area was completely settled, Blue Spring was also known as a trading post for the Osage tribe, a people known for their boat-building skills.
Blue Spring Heritage Center also has a short historical film about the Native American and early settler history, so stop by and learn a bit before you head down to the spring itself; the film really makes the history come alive once you realize you're standing on ancient sacred ground.
This November celebrates American Indian Heritage Month, so take some time and explore the culture, history and lifestyle of the first Americans while you're in Eureka Springs.