When my friend Mary Grace heard that we’d bought the Chris Baumgartner place
she said, “Oh, you own that wonderful spring!” She lived a mile south, as
the crow flies, and she said that people depended on that water in the drought
years of the ’30s. “Otherwise they’d have had to sell their animals and
possibly lose their farms,” she said. “People from all around came with
teams and wagons and filled their barrels -- and they never dipped it dry.”
Springs are places where good, cool drinking water flows through the earth.
Consider the importance of pure water to a family crossing Central Missouri in
a covered wagon. The frontier pushed westward through Missouri around 1800,
and their trails followed Indian paths. Indians, too, used springs, which are
often located in valleys or on hillsides. Water, which falls as rain, travels
through porous rock or under impervious rock or clay, sometimes for many
miles. When it “outcrops” to the surface, the earth-cooled water can be
collected by digging a hole in the ground and walling it with stones. Mary
Grace said the spring on our place was “in a low place between a hill and the
site of the old road.” I recalled that, many years later.
One summer day when I was wandering in that general area, I thought about the
spring and explored where wild roses, blackberry bushes and poison ivy were
exceptionally thick and green. Surrounding trees were, too. I worked my way
through the briars, detouring around the ivy, and reached the middle of this
tangle. It was an “oasis” of healthy growth, and in the middle was a big
depression in the ground. Poison ivy almost obscured the huge limestone rocks
encircling the hole. Eureka! found it!
I took my bearings so I’d be able to find it again. I identified the old
gravel road site because the sod was treeless in a long strip. The spring was
near the place where wagons and buggies once crossed the creek on wide, flat
layers of limestone rocks.
We’ve had many a picnic on those rocks but the briars and iv~y had turned back
hikers who passed that way.
Later I chopped a path through the wild roses and blackberries but detoured
around poison ivy. I sprayed ivy that grew inside the spring’s wall and later
raked out leaves and trash as far as I could reach. Poking the rake handle
farther down, it came out wet! The groundwater was still there, but we’ve
never completed the clean-out.
Several years ago my grandchildren and I showed our spring to a fellow who
understood Indians’ habits and lives. He said, “Indians probably used water
from this spring two or three hundred years before Europeans came.”
A similar “outcropping” had been walled up on Columbia’s eastern slope, in
the mid 1800s. Old maps show the location of springs, so important to early
travelers. When covered wagons were known to be on the trail, on what we now
call Hospital Hill, men would hitch up their mules and go to help the ox teams
pull their wagons out of the mud hole.
I used local clay to make a folk art sculpture representing just such a
predicament. It’s mounted in the admissions lobby at Boone Hospital Center.
The spring was across Broadway, in the park north of Boone Hospital. A map of
early Columbia, mounted on the wall above the sculpture, shows “Spring
Street” between Broadway and Walnut. The spring for which the street was
named is still flowing, of course. A man told me, “We all know about the
spring. Our equipment kept getting stuck in the mud when the park was under
I guess springs and mud are almost forever.