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Cool Things - Waconda Springs Drawing

Waconda Springs drawing by Herschel Logan.In the 1970s an artist drew this image inspired by Waconda Springs, a Kansas artesian well that gave rise to a resort, mining company, health spa, and bottling franchise. The central figure is an Indian princess--Wakonda--and according to folklore her death endowed the spring with medicinal qualities.

Sometimes a little mystery and a good story can boost sales. This may have been the case with Waconda Spring's bottled water.

Folklore & Legend

Legend claims that Wakonda was the daughter of an American Indian chief. One day while walking near the spring, she met and fell in love with a warrior from a rival tribe. Eventually, war broke out between the tribes and an arrow from Wakonda's father struck her lover. Mortally wounded, the warrior fell into the springs and Wakonda dove in after him, never to resurface. Her spirit is still believed to dwell in the spring.

Though the legend cannot be proven, the spring's existence can. Positioned on the north side of the Solomon River, near Cawker City, Kansas, the salt-water pool occupied the top a limestone mound, built up from years of mineral deposits. Measuring 55 feet in diameter, the depth of the pool remains disputed.

The spring was believed to be a gathering place for American Indians. The first European to see it was William Johnson, Britain's Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the American colonies. He spotted the spring while working with tribes in 1767. Zebulon Pike documented the spring in 1806 during an expedition to Colorado. Isaac McCoy, a Baptist missionary, saw the site in 1830 while surveying land for future Indian reservations. He wrote, "On the Solomon River, a branch of the Kansas, is a salt spring, which is a great curiosity."

Mineral Springs and Health Spa

After the establishment of Mitchell County in 1870, the Cawker City Mineral Company purchased the springs with the intention of harvesting salt. When the endeavor failed, a bottling company bought the spring. Water was sold as "Waconda Flier" and advertised as medicinal. A resort was constructed in 1904, and the company was awarded "Mineral Water of Superior Medicinal Quality" at the St. Louis World's Fair that year.

Panoramic photo of Waconda Springs in 1921In 1907, Dr. G. F. Abraham, of Mankato, Kansas, converted the pleasure resort into a health spa where patients were bathed in pure Waconda water, and drank the water each morning as a "mild and gentle laxative but a sure laxative." Abraham and subsequent managers embraced the Waconda legend and the mystery surrounding the springs. Perhaps to create publicity and boost sales of bottled water, a deep-sea diver was hired in 1908 to validate the well's depth. According to legend, the bottomless well was connected to the ocean and fell with the tide. The diver claimed to find no bottom, and instead uncovered trinkets that were interpreted as past spiritual offerings. Forty years later, a team of geologists from the University of Kansas used sonar and found the well's depth to be 35 meters.

Abraham and his descendants operated the spa until 1964, when federal flood control measures required the construction of a reservoir at Waconda Springs. Despite efforts to preserve the site as a national monument, the structures were bulldozed and the well was sealed in 1968.

Resting below Waconda Lake, the spring has intrigued many people, including Kansas artist Herschel Logan. During his retirement in the 1970s, Logan wrote, illustrated, and printed small books. This drawing of Logan's was most likely intended for a book about Waconda Springs. In 1990, Logan's son donated the drawing and book manuscript to the Kansas Museum of History. The collections also include a stoneware jug which held Waconda Springs water.

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Entry: Cool Things - Waconda Springs Drawing

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2006

Date Modified: September 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.