HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN SPRINGS
** The Spanish translation of El Dorado is Golden **
El Dorado Springs as a rural village began in 1881 when the springs became known t the outside world for their curative mineral content. However, before that "discovery" was made, those springs had run free and clear for thousands of years and were a mecca for the native Osage Indians who laid claim to the lands around the springs for hundred of miles in all directions. Here they brought their sick, aged, wounded and weary. They knew the water was life-giving and life-saving, a secret they carried with them when they left Missouri for Oklahoma after ceding their lands to claims by white settlers.
Missouri achieved statehood in 1821, but was not quickly settled except for areas along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and along some of the main tributaries, such as the Sac, Osage, Lamine, and other rivers. Settlement seemed tied to discoveries of iron and coal, to timber, fur trapping, and to the rich soils for growing wheat, cotton, corn, and grains of all kinds. The prairie and timer lands of Cedar County, part of the Ozark Uplift, helped shelter the secret spring. The settlers who did come, and stay, were adventurous, looking for space and land, for the freedom to do as they wished and a place to raise large families in the process. Sheep and cattle raising were not uncommon, but the wilderness of Cedar County and adjoining St. Clair County with their rocky soils and tall grass prairies would remain relatively sparsely settled even into the 20th Century.
The hills and trails for several miles on all sides of the Osage Indian's secret spring seem folded and rippled like glossy ribbons tied to a beautiful package, and a beautiful package they are, even today: timbered hills covered with native hardwoods, rolling prairies covered with high long stemmed grasses, abundant wildlife and both small and large streams, some fed by other springs even more secret than the one the Osage Indians found so long ago. A few wagon trains crisscrossed the area, most heading west, some south to Texas and beyond. Settlers choosing to remain were both rich and poor, some with slaves, most without. Small towns with only one store and a few houses sprung up along the trails and crossroads.
Originally belonging to the French as part of the Louisiana territory, Missouri passed under Spanish domination until purchased by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Both France and Spain had early settlements in Missouri, having sent expeditions into the area. Perhaps these explorers rode by the secret spring and maybe watered their horses there before moving on. We will never know the total early history of the springs. We do know that in 1821 Harmony Mission was created at the confluence of the Marais des Cygnes River and the Marmaton River which forms the upper reaches of the Big Osage River, not more than 40 miles from the spring, and supplies were sent there by wagons pulled by mules along a trail known to some as Campbell's Mill Road and also called Missionary Trail by others. This trail is shown to have passed through what was to become El Dorado Springs at, or near, the spring park basin. Perhaps the drivers spent the night by the spring watering and resting their animals for the next day's long journey. But no one stayed at the spring long enough to experience the water's healing effects. And so, the secret remained.
Those early settlers into Cedar County seemed to remain almost invisible until 1860 when the national issue of slave vs. free state helped lay the foundation for the Civil War, a war greatly dividing not only our nation but the state of Missouri as well. Battles were fought as close as 8 miles from the periphery of the microcosm of the secret spring, but no battle that we know of occurred withing the surrounding glen. The war came and went, along with border disputes and bushwackers, and the escapades of the James and Younger Brothers. Schools and churches were build, cemeteries laid out. Babies were born, crops planted, creeks forded, and life went on.
Then in 1879, Mr. Jackson, an early settler in Cedar County, directed a family to the secret spring. This family was journeying to Eureka Springs, Arkansas so the ailing mother might benefit from the healing waters there and they needed a place to rest for the night. Mr. Jackson owned land not far from the spring, watered his cattle there and carried water from the spring for him and his family to drink. He know the waster was good and that the family would be safe there. The Hightower family remained at the spring for several days, and the mother began to feel much better. They were all excited about the change in her condition and decided to remain at the spring indefinitely. After a period of time, they permanently moved from their Vernon County home some miles away and built a home just up the hill from the secret spring. They were happy to spread the word about the healing properties of the spring water that poured so freely out of the side of a hill in the secluded spring basin. Word spread, people came. More people came. Some stayed. Many visited. In 1881, little more than a year after being "discovered", there were hundreds of people camped by the spring, partaking of the water. A formal town was platted with the secret springs, no longer a secret, at the very heart of the plat.
From 1881 until the years of the Great Depression, the springs were the center of much activity. The now-famous mineral was was bottled and shipped all over the world as El Dorado Springs became a mecca of hotels, restaurants, spas, opera houses, boarding houses, mineral baths, doctor's offices and stores, where the rich and fashionable came to stay for vacation and 'take the waters,' and where they mingled daily with the farm people and the locals who provided the labor behind their hotel stays and the delicious food served to them in the restaurants and hotels.
Today the water of the secret springs still flows in golden splendor in the lovely Park Basin, the Summer Band still plays in summer's breezes, and imaginations still return to times when the Park was filled with throngs of elegantly dressed people holding their personally engraved drinking cups and descending the steps to a no longer secret Golden Spring.
By Dr. Sharon West-Lansing 2018
This account was printed in the Centennial Edition of the Golden Nuggets of History 1881-1981
Long before the Hightowers found out about the curative powers of our iron spring, the Osage Indians camped here and looked upon it with reverence. It was to this spring they brought their wounded. They remained here until the white man began to settle this part of the country, forcing them to move on to safer grounds.
After the Indians left the area, the spring was forgotten except for a few early settlers who used the branch near the spring to water their livestock.
Then one summer day a mover's wagon containing a party of two men and a woman was led to the spring by John A. Jackson, Sr. a farmer who lived two mile northwest of the site, and knew of its existence.
The travelers were Joshua Hightower, his wife Carmelia, and Mr. Hightower's brother. Mr. Hightower, a prominent farmer from Vernon County, was on his way to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for his wife's health, and had planned to remain only a day or two to rest before resuming their journey to Arkansas. Instead of moving on as planned, they remained for two weeks because of the marked improvement in Mrs. Hightower's health.
When they broke camp, they returned to their farm in Vernon County and spread the word of this miracle spring. Needless to say, the news spread rapidly via newspapers and word of mouth. By the time they revisited the spring, they found several hundred campers there.
Frank Anderson of Nevada, was one of those arriving the first week after the news began to spread. He stated his first glimpse of the area was picturesque with the white tents gleaming in the summer sunset, while overhead the dark green foliage of the oak trees cast shadows of phantom forms over all those encamped around the spring.
The land upon upon which this spring is located was owned by N.H. and W.P. Cruce, two young men who lived on a farm several miles northeast of the site. The title to this land had passed from the government directly to the Cruce family and had no value except for pasture land, for which it had been used for a number of years.
Learning of the great excitement occasioned by the curing of Mrs. Hightower, the Cruce brothers arrived at the site to find hundreds of people drinking from the spring. They at once decided to lay out a town. On July 20, 1881 El Dorado Springs, Missouri became a reality.
The town was laid out in such a manner that the spring and about ten acres surrounding it was designated as a public park. AN area from Martin to Joe Davis and from High Street to Kirkpatrick Street was the original size of the town. It was surveyed, streets were laid out, and the rest of the area was broken up into lots which sold for $10 to $600 each, according to size and location.
The Hightowers made a total of three trips to the spring before they decided to move here. They erected the first house in El Dorado Springs on August 10, 1881. It stood on the ground where Wix Hardware stands now (1981). It was a small four room house that stood in a grove of trees.
Later in the 1890's the Hightowers built another home at 115 West Broadway which still stands (at the time of printing).
Since the area east of the park was designated for business buildings, it created the necessity of cutting down a sizable hill and the leveling of the street. This was a long tiring task, working with horses, wagons, crude scrapers and many hours of manual labor.
Grindstone Branch, that crosses Main Street at Gay, was covered with a wooden bridge. During the process of building streets within the city limits, more wooden bridges were erected on Spring Street, Hightower, Hickory, Joe Davis, and Jackson Streets so they could be opened to traffic.
Waldo P. Cruce
Nathaniel H. Cruce was born April 6, 1857 on a farm near Clinton, Mo. At the age of 14 he accepted a clerkship in a retail store where he remained two years. He attended the public schools and during each vacation would occupy his position with the same firm. After graduation from the State Normal School he came to Cedar County in 1881 and located one and a half miles east of the spring. N.H. and his brother W.P. were running a large sheep ranch, until the excitement caused by the wonderful cures of the Hightower family brought hundreds of people to the spring.
In July, 1881, the town site of El Dorado Springs was surveyed and the building of the Wonder City began. N.H. gave his entire time to the advancement of El Dorado Springs through various business enterprises. The two Cruce brothers and a cousin, J.C. Cruce, organized the first bank, known as Cruce Brothers, Bankers, in 1884. N.H. served as cashier until 1905. Property owned by N.H. at his death in 1925 is listed: First National Bank Building; the Opera House Block; The Cruce Row, consisting of six business rooms, the Park Cafe and Post Office Building; the Park Bakery, Roe's Book Store, Odell's Grocery, and Dr. Royston's office building. Also listed was property at Texico, N.M., Port Lavaca, Tex, and vacant lots in EL Dorado Springs and elsewhere.
N.H. was a philanthropist, always on the list of those contributing to the many good causes in town. He also served on the school board and picnic committees.
W.P. Cruce was born at Clinton, Mo. on Nov. 10, 1863, but was taken to Warrensburg, Mo. to reside when quite young. He attended the high school and later the State Normal School at Warrensburg. In 1879 he entered the mercantile business, but the next year came to Cedar County with his brother to raise sheep.
In 1886 he became assistant cashier in the Cruce Banking Company. Although only 19 when the town was founded, it is said that W.P. or Payton, took a deep interest and contributed much in the way of time and money to guarantee it's growth. Payton was a strong Democrat and was active in politics both locally and statewide. He never married and made his home with N.H. until his death in 1904 of a ruptured appendix.