Before the colonist arrived, there was once a “Native American United Nations” – and societies that brought out the best in people. We did it once. We can do it again!
Hot Springs, Arkansas was once the “Native American United Nations.” Indigenous paths from all over North, Central and South America all converged there. It was called “The Valley of the Vapors” – truly mystical! And it was to break this “Sacred Hoop” that the US government made Hot Springs the first National Park – so tribes could no longer gather and find unity there.
Very little is known about this valley in pre-colonial times and my research for my book, The Beauty Path: A Native American Journey into One Love, did not turn up references to it. Like so many “Indian legends” it could be completely true, exaggerated or a total fabrication. All the information below is from the only book available on the valley, Indian Folklore Atlas of Hot Springs National Park by Marcus Phillips and Sandra Long.
According to their research, original people have been in the valley for at least 10,000 years. It was also called “Nowasalon,” “Manataka” or “Valley of the Vapors,” “Valley of Peace” or “Place of Peace.” The nearby Caddo Indians considered it the “Garden of Eden.” There were no permanent settlements or residents in the valley. That’s why archeologists cannot find many artifacts in the valley; however, the novaculite flint from this area has been found in artifacts of tribes all over North America.
The quality of the local crystal is considered by both gemologists and collectors as the purest in the country, perhaps the world, with some growing to boulder-sized formations. Two large crystal formations have been located miles apart in the area. Scientist believe they are connected deep underground making them in reality one huge crystal formation. Nowasalon is in the exact middle of these two mammoth crystals.
The book says that the hot spring water began as rainwater and then it slowly seeped into the Earth. Thousands of feet down it is superheated and shoots into these 47 springs through faults and crevices, picking up curative minerals on its journey to the surface. This process takes over three thousand years so the water, which is completely free of bacteria and slightly radioactive, is very old and very pure. Different springs are curative for different ailments.
In pre-contact times, there were trails coming into the valley from all directions. Tribes from all over the continent would journey here. These trails linked with major trading trails that traversed the whole country. Native tribes in both North and South America were linked in a vast network of trade. During times of famine, trade partners sent food. Guatemalan macaw feathers were used by Taos Indians of New Mexico and indigenous people in Honduras made pipes from Minnesota pipestone. According to the book, this ancient trail system was like a giant wheel and Nowasalon was the hub of intertribal activity and diplomacy. It was not only neutral ground, it was sacred ground.
Legends say a beautiful Indian princess would appear and drop an eagle feather at the feet of the angry parties reminding them to let their anger fly out of the valley. Great councils for all tribes, some so large that they encircled the entire valley, would be held with singing and dancing around great campfires. Medicine lodges were erected. It was said that rare healing plants grew in a great circle around the valley. They were gathered by the women of the tribes while the men gathered precious healing crystals and clay, along with flint, gold, silver, pyrite, and whetstones.
The local novaculite rock was highly valued for its fine flint for making tools and weapons. Gifts were exchanged among individuals and tribes to foster friendship and diplomacy. Friends and relatives separated by marriage would reunion here. Legends also say that the elders and chiefs of warring tribes would meet here to resolve their differences—a sort of Native American UN. Many tribes met here and exchanged stories and shared their simplistic technology, their ceremonies and rituals.
People from different tribes would sit in the hot springs or gather flint together or sit around campfires at night and exchange stories. It was a festive atmosphere, like being at a huge family gathering. They learned from each other. The medicine men and shamans shared their knowledge of medicinal plants. The women exchanged recipes, techniques for basketry, pottery and fashion designs. Though they learned each other’s tribal languages, there was a universal sign language that everyone understood — a common all-tribe language that is now lost, perhaps forever.
There were tribal and inter-tribal dances and drumming circles in a central plaza and just outside the valley, blankets were spread out with items for trade. People would share their campfires at night with people from other tribes. Those who were familiar with the springs and plants would share their knowledge with the newcomers.
The tranquility of the Valley of the Vapors came to an end in 1832 by order of President Andrew Jackson, who considered Indians “savage dogs,” and was the mastermind of many racial atrocities, including the infamous Cherokee Trail of Tears. Jackson pushed Congress to take an unprecedented action in the nation’s history, and one that was unconstitutional, by confiscating Nowasalon. Jackson was warned by the United States Supreme Court the government was prohibited by the Constitution to own land but he continued anyway. Understandably concerned about any place that might cause tribes to gather and unify, the valley was declared national land and the springs were dammed up. It was the first (and smallest) national reserve. Over time, hot springs resorts were built for tourists. A few remain but only one of the 47 springs is now accessible.
From The Beauty Path: A Native American Journey into One Love by Robert Roskind