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Mystic Spring Hidden Near Great Falls: Sacagawea Untold

Just outside of Great Falls, Mont. near the Missouri River sits a farm just “a rock’s throw away” from a mysterious spring that may have aided Lewis and Clark with their journey in discovering the west.

Neil Snyder has owned the 325-acre farm since 1969. Snyder says that the spring unexpectedly aided Lewis and Clark’s journey when Sacagawea, their guide and interpreter, became very ill. Over the years, many have come onto Snyder’s land to gaze at this historic spring.

“I’ve had people come up to my door and ask to see the spring,” said Snyder. “That’s how I found out its history.”

Snyder says that if it wasn’t for the spring, Lewis and Clark never would have made it back to Sacagawea’s homeland at what is now the Wind River Agency. According to one report, the journey to this Shoshone land was needed to “secure horses, supplies, and Shoshone guides to assist in the expedition’s trip across the Rocky Mountains.”

“It changed the whole picture of Lewis and Clark going to the Pacific,” said Snyder.

One of Lewis’ journal entries from June 10, 1805, states that Sacagawea became very sick just as they set out to explore the “Southerley” fork of the Missouri River. As they continued up to the Great Falls of the Missouri River, Lewis noted that “she now lay gravely ill, delirious, and much reduced by her indisposition.”

Along with other natural remedies to help reduce fever and pain, he had Sacagawea drink water from the sulfur spring, thinking it was similar to that of a spring in Virginia that held some medicinal benefits. Sacagawea’s fever lifted the very next day, allowing the explorers to continue their portage around the falls.

Are there secret medicinal springs hidden in our midst in Montana?

 detail_lewis__clark_at_three_forksWhile the spring contains no sulfur, it has many other chemicals that may have helped Sacagawea feel better. The spring’s strong smell comes from decaying anaerobic bacteria at the bottom of the pond. A few studies on the spring’s water found many dissolved minerals thought to restore blood electrolytes “which had been depleted by the length and severity of Sacagawea’s illness.”

Back in this time, illnesses were believed to be caused by inflammatory substances in the body. To rid the body of these, therapies included “bleeding, vomiting, bowel purging, blistering and sweating.” The high concentration of sodium sulfate in the water acts as a natural laxative, and Lewis and Clark knew that this would help rid Sacagawea’s body of any toxins.

Ronald Loge studies general internal medicine at the Southwestern Montana Medical Clinic. Loge says that “her recovery was not due to any of the treatments administered by the captains, including the water from Sulfur Springs.” The benefits, Loge argues, would have had minimal effects on Sacagawea.

Even if this specific spring held no miraculous properties, it still apparently aided Sacagawea in regaining her strength. The mysterious spring hidden behind Snyder’s farm holds an untold story of Lewis and Clark’s journey.

The spring is part of a 3.6 mile-long trail for interested hikers to journey to the spring and to the river.

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