Indian elixir: Georgia’s medicinal springs rediscovered
By Don and Diane Wells
|This marble structure caps the spring; water flows out of the mouth of the figurine continuously. Photos by Don Wells|
A few years ago, we wrote about the native plants used by American Indians for medicinal purposes. There are many books written about the properties of native plants and their uses to cure diseases, but none of these books talked about the health properties of spring waters.
The reason they were excluded is not known. It may be related to the fact these springs were sacred sites, and knowledge about them was not shared openly.
Benjamin Hawkins was the U.S. Indian agent to the Creek Indians from 1796 until his death in 1816. His extensive writings told about his visits to each of the Creek Indian villages, but he was never told about the sacred springs and other places sacred to the Creek Indians in Middle and South Georgia.
In February-March 2013, we were joined by Eddie Lanham (the Mountain Stewards research team), along with several local historians, and began investigating the Creek Indian areas in Fayette, Coweta, Meriwether, Stewart and Harris counties. Of particular interest is what we discovered in Meriwether County.
Meriwether County, a rural county whose eastern boundary runs along the Flint River, had a population in 2010 of 22,783. Greenville is the county seat with a declining population of well under 1,000. The more famous places in Meriwether County are Warm Springs, The Little White House and Callaway Gardens. While these places are well publicized and attract many visitors to Meriwether County, another part of Meriwether’s history is hidden under the radar.
Before the Creek Indians ceded their lands between the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers in 1827, the area of Meriwether and surrounding counties was occupied by the Muskogee Creek Indians (known as the Lower Creek Indians). Many of their villages were located along the principal rivers of the Flint and Chattahoochee, but none were recorded as being located in the area of Meriwether County. However, evidence found in the county proves otherwise.
On the eastern side of Meriwether County is a meteorite impact crater with a diameter of four miles. This feature is known locally as The Cove. The academic community has only recently started to acknowledge its existence with a published scientific paper in 2010. However, it was a known feature to the Indians.
This distinctive circular feature was created over 100 million years ago. The meteorite impact is believed to have caused the fracturing of the earth’s rock structure within many miles of the impact site, and that, in turn, produced a seemingly large amount of natural artesian springs. For some of the springs, the ground water flows down into the earth, reaching close to the mantle, were the water is heated and returned to the surface at a constant 88 degrees, such as is found at Warm Springs. Other artesian springs are cold springs, which have a temperature of around 66 degrees. Within the crater are a number of springs.
Some of the springs outside the crater are Mitchell Gap Springs, Warm Springs, Cold Springs, Chalybeate Springs and White Sulphur Springs. Many of these are known to have healing properties. Thousands of Indian artifacts have been found documenting the importance to the Indians of these natural waters. Some of the artifacts found in The Cove and around the springs date to the Archaic Period, going back 12,000 years; Indians have known for a long time that these springs have powerful effects.
The springs were considered sacred, and non-Indians were never told about them. They, and probably the area of The Cove, were a place of peace and sanctuary, and Indians from as far away as the Iroquois Nation came here for healing. Nothing was written by the Indians about the healing properties of the springs, but they surely knew the waters had qualities that could heal diseases and provide renewal to a wounded body. After the Indians moved to Alabama, knowledge of these mysterious waters was learned by the early settlers. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, resort hotels had been built at many of the springs.
A notice appeared in the Troy Alabama Messenger, August 17, 1871, announcing the Chalybeate (pronounced Clee-bit) Springs Resort “was in perfect readiness for guests.” Guests came from all over the south and elsewhere to enjoy the mineral water that could be bathed in for renewal or consumed for its healing properties.
Chalybeate Spring water is high in iron salts and has unique properties. In addition to the Chalybeate Springs Resort, hotels were built in Georgia at Warm Springs, Cold Springs and White Sulphur Springs. In the early 1900s, there were more than 1,000 hotel rooms at the springs in Meriwether County. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was one of many famous people who frequented the springs. Today, all of the resort hotels are gone, and knowledge of the effects of the spring water is all but forgotten. However, due to the efforts of one man, Steven Stewart, the restorative properties of White Sulphur Springs are being rediscovered. Stewart, the current owner of the springs, has refurbished the Red Sulphur and Chalybeate springs and is selling water collected from them.
White Sulphur Springs is named for the creek that flows nearby. White Sulphur Springs is, in fact, four springs, each with its special healing characteristics. These include Red Sulphur Springs, Black Sulphur Springs, Rock Springs and Chalybeate Springs. All springs with high iron content are called Chalybeate Springs and, worldwide, there are many of them. These four springs are located along Route 18 in Meriwether County on what was an old Indian trail that has been mapped in that area of Georgia. The four artesian springs flow out of the ground within a hundred feet of each other.
Our research of the Creek Indian presence in Meriwether County led us to stop by the springs to talk to Stewart. Over two successive weekends, we met numerous people who traveled from as far away as Columbia, S.C. to purchase this mysterious healing water.
Everyone we met had a testimony of the healing they had received from drinking this water. One person told us about his blood pressure and cholesterol being reduced significantly. Another, who had been mostly bedridden, drank the water over a period of time and was now walking a mile each day. One man’s arthritic hands were made better when he bathed them in the mud from Black Sulphur Springs.
These testimonies got our attention, so we decided to see if it would help Diane’s diabetic condition. After just a few days of drinking the Red Sulphur Spring water, Diane’s blood sugar reading dropped 50 points initially and has settled into a normal 30-point drop after several weeks of drinking the water. This drop in blood sugar reading has allowed her to reduce the amount of insulin she takes each day to control the diabetes. The long-term effect of this healing water is not known, but we intend to experiment over the next several months to learn more.
Some people consider the Indians to have been uneducated and without knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their living close to the earth and their knowledge of plants and spring waters indicates an understanding of natural medicines surpassing what is known today.