A mysterious crater of water once drew visitors from near and far in what is now Jewell County, in the north central part of the state. This large saltwater spring was believed to have spiritual and healing powers. It was a mound about 300 feet wide and rising 40 feet above the surrounding Solomon River Valley.
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.
Waconda means "spirit" to many Plains Indians. The Pawnee worked to live in harmony with the universe and looked to animals to provide spiritual guidance to reach this goal. The Pawnee traveled to the springs to make offerings and to gain wisdom to treat disease.
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. It sold the water as "Waconda Flier," which it 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.
In 1907 Dr. G. F. Abraham of Mankato 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."
"There are few human ills of any kind whatever which treatment at this place will not cure."—Waconda Springs Sanitarium brochure
Abraham and subsequent managers embraced the Waconda legend and the mystery surrounding the springs. When a patient, Perry Weston, suffered from a heart ailment, he sought relief at the Waconda Springs Sanitarium. He traveled from Shelton, Nebraska, several times between 1916 and 1937. His symptoms included back and chest pain, swelling, and insomnia. Doctors at the resort treated him by administering hot and cold baths, massaging his back, and putting him on juice diets.
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 to be nearly 115 feet in depth.
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. The spring was covered by water after a dam was built in on the Solomon River. Today is it Waconda Lake at Glen Elder State Park.
Portions from The Kansas Journey.
Entry: Waconda Springs
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: March 2011
Date Modified: August 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.