We Are East Idaho: Soda Springs
Published at | Updated at
SODA SPRINGS — The area where present-day Soda Springs is located has had many names. But its first name, the name the native Shoshone and Bannock tribes gave it, was Tosoiba — the land of sparkling waters.
Before the first permanent settlement was established, it was believed Tosoiba was home to more than 1,000 freshwater springs. These springs varied in temperature, from hot to cold, effervescence and flavor. The springs are a key point in the history of the area.
“Soda Springs has been on the map since the days of the Oregon Trail as an ‘Oregon Trail Oasis’ because of the sparkling water that we have here,” Soda Springs Mayor Austin Robinson said.
According to book “Tosoiba,” written by Camp Meads with the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, the springs provided fresh water to the early Native Americans who drank it for the medicinal qualities they believed it had. Native American women used the powdery buildup around the springs to clean clothing and bleach leather.
Instead of the Native American name for the area, trappers who came through called it Beer Springs. In 1842, Captain. John C.Fremont wrote in his journal about visiting Beer Springs for the first time and described where the name Beer Springs came from.
“A pretty little stream of clear water enters the upper part of the basin from an open valley in the mountains, and passing through the bottom, discharges into Bear River. Crossing this stream, we descended a mile below and made our encampment in a grove of cedar immediately at the Beer Springs, which, on account of the effervescing gas and acid taste, have received their name from the voyageurs and trappers of the country,” Fremont wrote.
Soda Springs served as the Oregon Trail Oasis for weary travelers throughout the 1800s. Another one of those travelers was Captain Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville, a French-born officer in the United States Army.
Bonneville wrote in 1833 about his visit to Beer Springs and the party that ensued with the trappers and local Native Americans.
“In a few moments, every spring had its jovial knot of drinkers with tin cup in hand indulging in a mock carouse, quaffing, pledging, toasting, bandying jokes, singing, drinking and uttering peals of laughter, until it seemed as if their imaginations had given potency to the beverage and cheated them into a fit of intoxication,” he said.
Bonneville recalled the men said the spring water was better than anything produced by hops or malt.
“It was a singular and fantastic scene, suited to a region where everything is strange and peculiar. These groups of trappers and hunters and Indians, with their wild customs and wilder countenances, their boisterous gayety and reckless air, quaffing and making merry round these sparkling fountains, while beside them lay their weapons ready to be snatched up for instant service,” Bonneville wrote.
He noted that unlike other evenings of drinking alcohol, that evening “left neither headache nor heartache behind.”
Establishing Soda Springs
That was life in Soda Springs for decades from when the first trappers arrived in 1812 to 1870 when Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent Jesse W. Fox to the area to establish a settlement there.
In the spring of 1896, the Bannock County Commissioners officially recognized Soda Springs as a city.
“It’s been a little farming community up until about 1953 when Monsanto came in and developed phosphate mining,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he believes Monsanto’s move into the community was one of the most significant events in the city’s history.
The Monsanto plant, which was later sold and became Bayer, is one of the largest employers in the city for its phosphorus mining operation.
“The phosphorus is 99.9 percent pure, which is hard to obtain anywhere else in the world, from what I understand,” Robinson said.
However, an event that predates Monsanto’s arrival in Soda Springs gave birth to one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
The Soda Springs Geyser
In 1937, local businessmen set out to find hot water for a commercial bathhouse and health resort.
On Nov. 28 of that year, the drill struck a gas chamber 315 feet underground. Hot water soon began shooting out of the ground to more than 45 feet in the air.
Once the 3,500-pound drill bit was removed, the water shot even higher to more than 70 feet. Thus was born the Soda Springs Geyser.
After a few weeks, the city received a telegram from the Secretary of the Interior asking them to turn the geyser off because “… it is throwing the world-famous ‘Old Faithful Geyser’ off schedule.”
“We control it now. It goes off every hour on the hour,” Robinson said.
Present-day Soda Springs boasts a population of more than 3,000 people. It’s dedicated citizens have worked to preserve the city’s rich history making a visit there one of a kind.
“We have a culture of laid back, kindness,” Robinson said. “It’s a slower pace of life that I think is lacking in a lot of places in the United States today.”