Story of Chingawassa Springs is retold

The Chingawassa Days festival is named after a legendary Indian chief.

No one knows for sure when it happened but, sometime between 1873 and 1888, a group of mineral springs located about four miles northeast of Marion became known as Chingawassa Springs.

The colorful title was based on a legend that Chief Chingawassa and his tribe had often visited the site. The story was told that a jealous Kaw chief murdered him there and he was buried nearby by his warriors.

Though the story is fanciful fiction, a Chief Chingawassa did exist. A volume of Kansas Historical Collections describes Chingawassa as "Handsome Bird, Great Osage Chief." He was a signatory to an 1825 treaty between the United States and Osage Indians.

The Chingawassa Springs area was a favorite picnic and recreation spot. In the speculative frenzy of the late 1880s, the springs were developed into a health spa. A railroad spur was built from Marion to the site.

Known as Chingawassa Springs Health Resort, the spa boasted a supervising physician and hotel. Special passenger train rates brought people from far and wide to seek the springs' healing powers.

After a few short seasons in business, including several prosperous ones, the economic panic of 1893 brought the fledgling enterprise to an abrupt halt. Chingawassa Railroad and Chingawassa Springs Health Resort ceased to exist.

The buildings were dismantled. Several train cars were converted to other uses and remained in the area for many years. The most famous was the Owl Car Café in Marion, which was open all night and existed into the 1970s.

The springs area continued to be used for recreational outings for many years. Now inaccessible to the public, it is just an ordinary springs and part of an ordinary cattle pasture, but its legendary history lives on in the eighth annual Chingawassa Days festival to be held this weekend in Marion.