Manataka American Indian Council









The Fountain of Youth?

By Linda VanBibber




The area in Hot Springs known as Manataka encompasses Hot Springs Mountain, Indian Mountain and West Mountain, referred to as the Three Sisters by First Nations People.  Surrounding the Three Sisters are seven imperfect concentric linear circles composed of geologic and energetic features that encompass a wide geographic area in south-central Arkansas. 


The center of this area was a gathering place for indigenous nations for thousands of years prior to the explorations conducted by the Spanish and the French.  The area was heavily mined for novaculite (whetstone), a stone which could be shaped into a very hard sharp edge for spear tips and cutting tools.   Prior to the arrival of iron products brought by white traders, this stone was much sought after for weapons and tools. 


These ancient mines are still evident on both Indian Mountain and West Mountain.  Archeological evidence provides strong support that Indians gathered in the area for mining and trading of this valuable stone. 


Between these mining sites lies Manataka Mountain, today called Hot Springs Mountain.   The hot springs, at the time of the explorations of Dunbar and Hunter in 1804-1805 were found to be a great natural curiosity generating much excitement on the part of the explorers.


On February 14, 1805, an interview with George Hunter appeared in the Orleans Gazette, in which he presented a grandiose view of the natural potential of the lower Louisiana Purchase and touted the medical virtues of the hot springs:


. . . He visited the hot springs of Ouachitta, and found them amongst the greatest natural curiosities in the country. . .The doctor is of the opinion that they possess extraordinary medical virtues. [Berry, Trey; Beasley, Pam; Clements, Jeanne, editors, The Forgotten Expedition, 1804-1805: The Louisiana Purchase Journals of Dunbar and Hunter, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge: 2006.]


What a wonder must have been presented to their eyes upon their arrival at the springs.  They had sent scouts ahead who had returned with excitement about what they had seen and the sweetness of the ‘boiling’ waters.  Hot water issued forth from the side of the mountain from as high as 187 feet.  The springs were surrounded by mounds of white tufa, created by the mineral deposits from the springs.  These white mounds were streaked with red iron oxide.  The overall all exotic landscape caused one writer to think mistakenly that the area had volcanic activity. Not a scientific conclusion, but an understandable error based on the steaming mounds on the side of the mountain.


These springs were known for their healing and rejuvenating properties throughout the Americas.  A strange and foreboding place, rich in flora and fauna.  Surely this was a sacred place, a place given special attention by Creator.   Many tribes told stories of this strange place called ‘the Place of Peace’ in their own languages.


This was a place acknowledged as important to all people and all people were allowed to travel there for their physical and spiritual needs without fear of enemy interference.


Tales of the special place no doubt had stimulated the interests of Thomas Jefferson, a man known for his keen interest in science.  These tales could not help but be compared to ancient European stories of the Fountain of Youth, a subject that found its way into the art, poetry and hearts of the times.  Popular since the time of Alexander the Great, the Fountain of Youth held an honored place in the European psyche and was popularly believed to be an actual place, possibly a fountain within the Garden of Eden.


It is well known that Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was searching for this mystical fountain.  Interestingly, the place where he met his demise by the Calusa Indians in Florida was a place he called Manataca. 


Much speculation has been made concerning the etiology of the name Manataka.  It has been speculated that the name is derived from ancient native languages no longer in use.  It has been speculated to be a term derived from the Algonkian “Manitou” word for Spirit.   To the best of my knowledge, no one has explored the possibility that Hernando De Soto, also believed to be searching for the famed Fountain of Youth, may have brought with him the name of a place recorded by his predecessor, Ponce de Leon, who had been on the same mission.   This coincidence may merit further examination.


The stories concerning the miraculous hot springs located in the new Louisiana Territory were widely known at the time Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Dunbar and Hunter expedition.   That one of the goals of this mission was to explore the hot springs as a potential site for the legendary Fountain is highly probable.


There was a great deal of excitement among the explorers when they reached the hot springs.  It is interesting to note that the springs are referred to as fountains:


When the explorers arrived at the springs, they discovered a crude cabin and shacks constructed by visitors to the purportedly healing fountains [italics mine].  During the ascent the team also met several individuals who had either previously visited the springs or were on their way to bathe in the waters. [Ibid]


Were all these European explorers looking for the famed Fountain of Youth?   We may never know. What we do know is that the waters flowing for from the side of Manataka Mountain are famed throughout the world for their healing properties.  People today still line up at the fountains in several locations to fill their bottles with the healing waters. 


And we know that a contemplative walk along the trails of Manataka Mountain still elicits today that feeling of the numinous described by famed theologian Rudolf Otto in his book “The Idea of the Holy”.


I shall speak, then, of a unique, ‘numinous’ category of value and of a definitely ‘numinous’ state of mind . . .  like every absolutely primary and elementary datum, while it admits of being discussed, it cannot be strictly defined.  . . [It] cannot, strictly speaking, be taught, it can only be evoked, awakened in the mind; as everything that comes ‘of the spirit’ must be awakened.


It is fun to speculate about what may have been.  But it is for the things

we do know, the reality of the ever present the spirit of peace and healing, for these we keep the legends and stories of Manataka alive for our children.  It is our intent that our children will know of and hold dear a mystical Place of Peace as did our ancestors before us.