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Evelyn Hilton

HOT SPRINGS, TEXAS. Hot Springs is in Big Bend National Park where Tornillo Creek enters the Rio Grande, in the southern tip of Brewster County some four miles upriver from Boquillas Canyon and the Mexican village of Boquillas. The natural springs at the site are known as Boquillas Hot Springs. Boquillas is Spanish for "little mouths" and refers to the many small streams or arroyos that drain this part of the Sierra del Carmen range (see SIERRA DEL CABALLO MUERTO) and flow into the Rio Grande. Later, when the springs were promoted for their health benefits, the settlement there was called Hot Springs, and a post office by that name was established at the site in July 1914. Although there are several other small hot springs in the area, these larger and more accessible springs are the best known.

On the cliffs near the springs are pictographs (see INDIAN ROCK ART) painted by the various Indian tribes who roamed the Big Bend area for many centuries; at the foot of the cliffs are kitchen middens as well as depressions in the rock that were used as mortars. At a site where hot springwater poured off a lip of rock, an ancient bathtub-like depression was found chiseled out of the sedimentary rock.

On January 16, 1882, railroad surveyors and a company of Texas Rangers surveyed the Hot Springs area. The land was reserved by the state of Texas to be sold for a public school. Rich A. Guilden patented the section in 1904, but he failed to comply with government regulations, and ownership of the land reverted to the state. In 1909 the land and springs were purchased by J. O. Langford, who hoped there to regain his health, which had been weakened by many bouts with malaria as he grew up in Mississippi. In his book, A Homesteader's Story, Langford reported that he completely recovered after following the treatment used by the Indians, bathing in the springwater and drinking it. To reach their new home, Langford, his wife, and their daughter, Lovie, traveled by wagon from Alpine. When they arrived, however, they found their homestead occupied by Cleofas Natividad and his family. A bargain was made whereby Natividad stayed, paying rent by working for Langford. Together they built an adobe house for the Langfords on the limestone cliff above the hot springs. Langford also built a store and post office, and the site became a popular border trading post, conveniently located on the wagon road between San Vicente and Boquillas. A stonemason, Herman Jacobs, was later hired to construct a bathhouse of limestone blocks over the hot springs. By 1912 the Alpine Avalanche was carrying Langford's advertising for his new health resort. Baths were priced at twenty-five cents apiece or five dollars for twenty-one, and towels or blankets cost ten cents extra, with special rates given to families.

In 1913 raids by Mexican bandits increased, making it hazardous for those living or visiting in the river country, and in early 1916 the Langford family left their border home and moved to El Paso. They returned to Hot Springs in 1927 and found the countryside greatly changed-the once vast grassland had become bare eroded ground. Ranchers had grazed large numbers of livestock in the area, taking advantage of soaring wartime prices for meat. Langford built a new store and post office and a group of cabins to serve overnight visitors and health seekers. During the next fifteen years Hot Springs became widely known for its mineral water.

In 1942 the Langfords sold their property to the state of Texas for eventual donation to Big Bend National Park, but for a time Maggy and H. Baylor Smith continued to operate the hot springs facilities, the trading post, and possibly the post office, which was discontinued by 1943. Smith died in 1944, and Maggy ran the place alone until 1952. Hot Springs was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Although in the 1980s the bathhouse was no longer standing, visitors could bathe in the spring and visit the ruins of the post office, motel, and Langford home.

The temperature of the springwater, which is heated geothermally, is 105°F year-round; the water contains calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, and lithium. The springs' flow rate in 1936 was 250,000 gallons a day, but more recent measurements show a decrease.


Gunnar Brune, Springs of Texas, Vol. 1 (Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1981). Clifford B. Casey, Mirages, Mysteries and Reality: Brewster County, Texas, the Big Bend of the Rio Grande (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1972). J. O. Langford and Fred Gipson, Big Bend: A Homesteader's Story (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1952; 3d ed. 1980). Miriam Lowrance, Rock Art of Brewster County (El Paso Archaeological Society, 1982). E. E. Townsend, "Rangers and Indians in the Big Bend Region," West Texas Historical and Scientific Society Publication 6 (1935).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Evelyn Hilton, "HOT SPRINGS, TX," accessed August 05, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvh99.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 6, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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