Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trapper Osborne Russell Observes "Beer Springs" (Today's Soda Springs) [otd 07/08]

In July of 1834, fledgling mountain man Osborne Russell wrote, "We travelled down this river and on the 8th encamped at a place called the Sheep Rock, so called from a point of the mountain terminating at the river bank in a perpendicular high rock."
Sheep Rock, sometimes called Soda Point
… near Soda Springs, Idaho.
He then noted: "The Sheep occupy this prominent elevation (which overlooks the surrounding country to a great extent) at all seasons of the year."

Osborne Russell was born June 12, 1814 in Maine. So far as is known, he received very little formal schooling. Yet at some point he learned to write clearly and accurately, with a better than average vocabulary. He ran away to sea as a teenager, but picked the wrong captain: Most of the crew jumped ship in New York and young Osborne went with them.

Russell then spent a couple years with a fur company in Wisconsin and Minnesota before joining Nathaniel Wyeth's Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company [blogs, Jan 29 & Dec 20]. After attending the mountain man rendezvous in southwest Wyoming, Wyeth's party continued west in early July.

On July 8, Russell continued, "On the right hand or East side of the river about 2 miles above the rock is 5 or 8 mineral Springs, some of which have precisely the taste of soda water."

Trappers knew these springs well; they called them "Beer Springs." A party led by Captain Benjamin Bonneville had visited the springs less than a year before [blog, Nov 10]. He claimed that his men "threw themselves into a mock carouse." He went on to say, "It was a singular and fantastic scene, suited to a region where everything is strange and peculiar."

Russell said, "This place which now looks so lonely, visited only by the rambling Trapper or solitary Savage will doubtless at no distant day be a resort for thousands of the gay and fashionable world, as well as Invalids and spectators."

Nine years later, an expedition led by Second Lieutenant John C. Frémont visited the springs. He noted that “A traveller … at every step is arrested by something remarkable and new.” They analyzed the water in one spring and found it heavily loaded with dissolved solids … ten times a level that is considered “very hard.”

The feature became a well-known landmark on the Oregon Trail.  Abigail Scott (later, Duniway) [blog, July 29] was one of many who commented on the springs. In 1852, she wrote, “About 11 o'clock we came to the Soda Springs; They are a great curiosity.”

Osborne Russell’s prediction about a “fashionable” resort was off only in the timing. In 1887, the Union Pacific Railroad built the Idanha Hotel in Soda Springs. The resort hosted travelers for over thirty years. However, the hotel burned down in 1921 and they did not rebuild it. That was probably because the more heavily developed Lava Hot Springs lay 15-20 miles to the west.
Idanha Water bottle label. Soda Springs, Idaho.

In addition to the resort, the Natural Mineral Water Company began bottling "natural" soda water, also in 1887. (They were probably part-owner of the hotel, but the records are somewhat uncertain.) The Company shipped Idanha Water all over the world, and won both national and international awards.

Today, Alexander Reservoir covers most of the springs Russell observed. However, the town of Soda Springs does feature a man-controlled geyser powered by a geothermal source of natural carbon dioxide.
References: [Hawley]
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965). [Original imprint produced in 1914 by Syms-York Company, Boise, and republished in 1921.]
Soda Springs, Idaho, Idaho online.

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