Maybe this should be
Shin Ka Wa Sa weekend
Would a festival by any other name smell as sweet — or, perhaps, sulfuric?
Most people know that this weekend’s Chingawassa Days traces its name to a much heralded but briefly lived resort and mineral bath called Chingawasa Springs (one S instead of two), 4½ miles northeast of Marion.
Until the Panic of 1893, which led to a seven-year depression almost as severe as the Great Depression four decades later, Chingawasa Springs was a thriving hotel, restaurant and sanatorium, built in 1888 and linked to Marion by a municipally financed railway that opened July 29, 1889, according to Railway Preservation News.
Both the Santa Fe and Rock Island railroads reportedly sold cross-continental tickets from Chicago to points west that included layovers at the popular mineral baths, reached via the Marion Belt and Chingawasa Springs Railroad, which also hauled stone from nearby quarries.
The sole remaining car from the two-car railroad was relocated in 2005 from Marion to the Orphan Train Museum in Concordia. The other car reputedly for many years housed Marion’s Owl Car Café.
Local legend has it that the springs were named for an Osage chief who figured prominently in the history of the region. He may even have resided in a very large community of native people, oblique references to vestiges of which appear in 1870s newspapers, in the same general area just north of Marion.
Whether the springs were named for him and even what his name meant in the Osage language is unclear.
Doubters have suggested an alternative source of the term “chinga wassa,” which in Spanish slang means, as politely as we can put it, “cocked-up water” — a somewhat fitting name for springs, which produced stinky water laced with sulfur. However, there is little evidence of Spanish being used widely in the area at the time.
Diaries of explorer Zebulon Pike do find evidence of an Osage named Chinga Wassa, son of Pike’s guide Shenga Wassa, in the early 1800s. The names Shin-ga-wasa and Chingawasa (with both one S and two) also appear as signatories in 1820s and 1830s treaties with the Osage and Kansa nations, some of them executed as nearby as in Council Grove.
Several of the documents contain English versions of the name Chinga Was(s)a as “Handsome Bird” and Shenga Wassa as “Beautiful Bird.”
In a 1908 speech about the closely related Kaw (or Kanza) Indians, whom the Osage lived among and shared a Sioux dialect, State Sen. George P. Morehouse of Diamond Springs asserted that the spring was named after a noted Kaw brave, Ching-Gah-Was-See, whose name Morehouse agreed meant Handsome Bird.
Ching-Gah-Was-See’s claim to fame, other than having the springs near Marion named after him, appeared to be that he had warned a government Indian agent when a drunken 1870s-era chief from his tribe planned to kill the agent near Council Grove. The Kaw soon afterward were forced to relocate to Oklahoma.
According to librarian Kathleen Auschwitz of the Osage nation’s genealogical archives in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, the names are more appropriately spelled Shin Ka Wa Sa, but their meaning is obscure.
In research requested by this newspaper, she found the name appearing with two Osage clans — the Hun Ka Gra She (Mottled Eagle) and Hun Ka U Lum Ha Ka (Last in the Hun Ka Order).
Her boss, genealogical center director Vann Bighorse, even recalled a latter-day member of the Osage nation named Shin Ka Was A, who died a few years ago.
Although the newspaper’s request to research the name began as a routine task for Auschwitz, it ended up being a bit more.
Soon afterward, she visited Marion County, but not to further investigate any connection between Chingawassa Days and any historical person named Shin Ka Wa Sa.
Her husband’s family was part of German/Russian migration of Mennonites to the Goessel area in 1880, and she was interested in revisiting those roots.