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Cool Things - Waconda Springs Jug

Waconda Springs water jug

A patient at the Waconda Springs Sanitarium took home its waters in this jug. He hoped to be cured by their alleged healing powers.

"There are few human ills of any kind whatever which treatment at this place will not cure."-- Waconda Springs Sanitarium brochure

From arthritis and neuritis to diabetes and blood poisoning, the Waconda Springs Sanitarium claimed it could heal whatever ailed a person. This health resort near Cawker City, Kansas, opened in 1907 and took its name from a nearby artesian well.

Waconda Springs was named after a legendary American Indian princess and many people believed the water had medicinal properties. Patients at the sanitarium drank and bathed in the spring water.

One patient from Nebraska took Waconda water home in this Red Wing stoneware jug. Perry Weston suffered from a heart ailment. He traveled from Shelton, Nebraska, to seek relief at the Waconda Springs Sanitarium 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.

Perry sent many letters home during his one- and two-week stays at the sanitarium. The letters included updates on his condition, described treatments, and indicated the patient often thought of his loved ones.

Daily Baths in the Bathhouse

Perry also wrote about the daily baths he received. After his first few treatments, he wrote on June 2, 1916: "I have taken three baths in all. yesterday they did not get me so very hot. Just when I got to sweating good he turned on the cold water and froze me. this is a funny place to doctor." One week later he soaked in 115 1/2 degree water.

Close-up of jug imprint

The baths appeared to help Perry feel better: "The bath I took today straighten me up wonderful for the time being anyway . . . I got my bath about half past nine and when Doc put me on the bench to cool out I went to sleep and never woke up till twenty to twelve. I asked Doc why he didn't wake me up, he said it's the only time I have had a chance to get a real good sweat . . . he had packed me from head to foot with hot rags. I was sweating right! Now I feel better [June 7, 1916]."

Baths were administered inside bathhouses at the resort. Spring water was either heated or mixed with regular warmed water to achieve the desired temperature. Men and women bathed at different times of the day. Patients also drank warmed spring water for breakfast as a laxative.

The resort also offered a range of other therapies such as electrotherapy, massage, and chiropractic treatments. Some patients were placed on special diets to aid their recovery.

Greatest of Natural Waters

Perry left the sanitarium with this jug filled with Waconda Springs water, probably in an attempt to maintain his health at home. The jug was manufactured by the Red Wing Union Stoneware Company specifically to hold Waconda Springs water. A label on its side proclaims the jug holds the "Greatest of Natural Waters."

Woman dipping cup into Waconda SpringsWaconda Springs doctors gave Perry other tips for home remedies. On June 10, 1916, Perry wrote his parents to advise them about their garden. "You must have out quite a garden by this time. Just keep on setting out cabbage plants. The Doctor said I ought to eat slough [slaw] by the peck to get more blood into me."

Perry also received another helpful suggestion in February of 1937. In a letter to his wife, Daphne, he said: "They told me when I get home I must take a tablespoon full of whiskey every night and every morning for at least eight months to build up my heart."

Repeated visits to the resort seemed to ease Perry's condition. He wrote to Daphne in 1937, "I am better . . . I hope I can sleep tonight and I think I can. That pain in my chest left after I took my bath today. They put me on a juice diet today. It will last three days. . . . That swelling is slowly leaving my feet. They told me last week I would break out all over in a kind of rash. Sure enough this morning was all broke out except on my hands and face. In spite of all this I can see that I am getting better."

Despite this improvement, Perry did not live long after this last visit to Waconda Springs.  He died in April 1939. However, other sick individuals continued to seek relief at the Waconda Springs Sanitarium until the mid-1960s. At that time it was forced to close due to the construction of a reservoir. Shortly thereafter both the spring and resort were covered by the waters of Waconda Lake.

This jug and Perry Weston's letters are in the collections of the Kansas Historical Society. The collections also include a Waconda Springs drawing.

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Entry: Cool Things - Waconda Springs Jug

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: January 2007

Date Modified: December 2014

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