Picking research projects, sometimes for me, is an agonizing problem
that eventually turns into an enlightening experience; what was to be my
American Humanities research project was just such an experience. I had
preliminarily thought I'd look into cultural myths. While researching myths, I
ran across El Dorado Springs, MO., under the category of geographical myths, in
the library computer. I thought how interesting while also wondering why. The
book listed had been published in 1887, with a question mark behind it, and was
housed in the rare book collection of the main library. Off I went to the main
library to see what the old book had to say. While looking through the small
book, what appeared to be possibly a promotional pamphlet for the town, I
thought perhaps the spring was why it was classified as a geographical myth.
While I read through this book, the librarian brought me another book she had
found in their collection about El Dorado Springs. This one was written and
published in 1962 by Paul Kemp titled The Wonder City. Interestingly, Kemp
started the book with a statement that really piqued my curiosity. "Indians who
once roamed the area had known that the spring had medicinal qualitites, but,
with characteristic reticence and secretiveness, they did not reveal this fact
to the white man. They held the secret in their hearts as they gave ground and
moved westward from the surging horde of white immigrants . . . " (1). To my
mind, this sounded like a fallacy; how did they know the Indians knew if they
never told anyone? Could I find out if the Indians considered the water
medicinal? Could I prove this statement false? Farther on in the book, I came
to the section titled "For Whites Only." "From the town's founding[,] no negros
have ever lived here." This in itself, to me, was phenomenal, but the last
sentence was what made me want to search farther. "El Dorado still has no negro
residents, but under today's Supreme Court rulings on civil rights, we have lost
face and mus t bow to the age of fading color lines (Kemp 30). Did the town,
after 1962, the published date of the book, ever allow negros to become
residents of the town? This town seemed to keep other cultures from entering
its borders, the perfect topic for my American Humanities paper. When I
submitted my topic, my teachers didn't match my enthusiasm for El Dorado Springs
and suggested I continue searching. I eventually found other material to write
about but El Dorado kept haunting my dreams. I knew nothing about this town,
but there was a tugging that pulled at the perimeters of my mind that could not
be ignored. Little things kept popping up about the town in conversations or in
things that I read. Being a strong believer in "there are no accidents," when
my English instructor mentioned a teacher she knew who lived there but taught in
Kansas City, I asked if I could tackle El Dorado Springs as the subject of my I
Search for English. When the answer was yes, I set out to find if I could
uncover the reason s for underlying feeling of my being pulled to this area.
What did I really want to know about this town? Could I find
information on the Native Americans that had inhabited the area, before the
white settlers, and whether or not they had put any importance on the area and
its water? Why was it important to disprove the statement in The Wonder City
about the Native Americans? Did it tie in with the discrimination of African
Americans the book alluded to? Would I find other instances of discrimination?
Why did I feel drawn to this area? Questions tumbled around in my head.
I felt the first step in my search should be to try to find out more
about the town. I had already exhausted the library's information and searching
the Internet turned up no information. It was time to contact the only
person's name I had that knew about the area, Susanna Swager, the teacher who
worked at the Blue Springs campus and lived in El Dorado Springs.
I called her and introduced myself.
"Ms. Swager, my name is Pamela Yeager, a student at Penn Valley
Community College; my English teacher gave me your name. I'm doing an English
research paper on the town of El Dorado Springs and I was hoping you could give
me some information on the town."
"I would be happy to, though for the life of me, I can't figure out why
anyone would want to write about El Dorado Springs."
I told her about the information I had already collected; the statement
of fallacy about the Indians and the "white only" section of the Paul Kemp book;
how these had piqued my curiosity and a little bit about what I hoped to search
"El Dorado is a town that is what you could classify as "red neck," they
are, in most cases, very conservative people. I went to high school there and
then later on I was a teacher at the high school for nineteen years. I don't
live in the town, I have a house about six miles out of town and I drive down
and stay there weekends, but I know about most of the things that have happened
there." I was to learn later that Susanna had always danced to the beat of her
"Did you know about the "whites only" law?"
"Oh yes, there used to be a sign at the edge of town stating that blacks
were to be out of town by sundown. As far as I know that law is still on the
books, but I know of one time it was overlooked. There was a girl, the daughter
of one of the town's wealthier families, that left El Dorado Springs after high
school. I don't remember where she ended up, but she married a black football
player and had a child. Well, things didn't work out for her; she ended up
getting a divorce, so she brought the child back to El Dorado Springs for the
grandparents to raise. They raised him and nothing was ever said about the
child because the family was prominent and well to do."
Ms. Swager asked me. "Do you know anyone else from the town to
"No, I'm really going into this blind. I've just had a nagging
sensation about the area that made me feel I needed to know more about it. I
had planned on driving down to do some research and to hopefully find some other
people to interview."
"When you come down and visit, you're welcome to stay with me; I'll tell
you what I know and show you around."
I was surprised and pleased with the invitation. (Coming from the city,
where people are usually a little paranoid, it was unusual for someone to invite
a total stranger to stay at their house.) We arranged a weekend that was
available for both of us. I would go down on Friday during the day to get a
start on my research, and then meet her when she arrived after 4:00. She
suggested I visit the historical museum and the library, which was located in
the municipal building in the park, and also told me that I might try to locate
an older man, who as far as she knew didn't have a job but was more like the
town philosopher and hung out around the Sun newspaper office.
The following week, loaded with a map and the rough draft of what I
wanted to ask, I set out for El Dorado Springs. Driving down Hwy. 71, I thought
about how I go through life assuming that what I know or what I feel extends
also to the other people or areas of the world I live in. As I drove down the
highway past the huge oak trees that stand majestically in the fields, a silent
testament to the changes that have or, in some cases, have not touched all of
the world, my thoughts wandered; I thought about people and the world in
general. As I looked off in the distance, I saw the water towers that mark
where other groups of people have gathered to form a city. Do their thoughts
ever wander off to consider hidden feelings of the world's totality or are they
just so busy trying to survive, that nothing ever reaches that inner core where
you feel one with the world? Maybe some of the answers I sought awaited in El
I arrived in the town and immediately located the famed city park, the
site of the natural springs that, according to Kemp, the Indians had known about
but did not tell anyone before leaving the area. From earlier research, I had
learned a little about the history of the town's beginnings. It all started in
June 1881, when Joshua Hightower, his wife Corniela, and Hightower's brother
were led to the spring as a stopover area on their way to Eureka Springs,
Arkansas for his wife's health. They had planned to remain only a day or two to
rest before resuming their journey south. It was the water from the spring, at
the campsite, that seemed to rejuvenate Mrs. Hightower. Instead of moving on as
planned, they remained for two weeks since it seemed to be the water that caused
the marked improvement in Mrs. Hightower's health. When they broke camp,
instead of traveling on, they returned to their farm in Vernon County and spread
the word of the miracle cure the spring water offered. Word spread rapidly so
when the owners of the land, the Cruce brothers, arrived at the site, they found
hundreds of people drinking from the spring. According to accounts, they
decided at once to lay out a town. The town was platted out in such a manner
that the spring and about ten acres surrounding it was designated as a public
park. So it was on July 20, 1881, that the town of El Dorado Springs, Missouri
became a reality ("Spa" 3). Joshua Hightower, according to one account, was the
first man to build a house in the town, to be close to the curing waters. He
was a strictly religious man, slave owner and southern sympathizer, with a son
who had been in the Confederate Army. The family suffered grievously as the
result of the border warfare between Kansas and Missouri when, at one time,
Hightower himself was taken by a band of bushwhackers north to a neighboring
town and was almost hanged (Kemp 6).
I drove around the park, to get my bearings and to see if I could locate
the historical museum. I found it just north of the park, with a closed sign on
the door. What now, I thought. I looked at my watch. It was about 11:30;
maybe they were just closed for lunch. Right next door was the Chamber of
Commerce office, so I went to see if they could provide information on the
museum. There I met Lorraine Sturtz, the executive secretary, getting ready to
close the office for the day. I inquired as to the status of the museum and
learned I was a week too late. The first weekend in November they always hold a
fundraiser and then close down the museum for the winter. When I informed Ms.
Sturtz of my project, she responded with information and also names and
telephone numbers of some women, who were considered local town historians, that
might be willing to help out with my interviews. We talked for a while about
the information I already had and she offered me an incident that happened at
the high school when she was substitute teaching.
"As I was entering the class room, I heard a group of kids making racial
slurs at each other."
I interrupted, "Were any of these kids other than white?"
"No, but I didn't like hearing the slurs, so I announced that we were
going to have a discussion on other ethnic groups. As I said this, one boy in
the back of the room yelled out, ?Why? Whites are the only group that matter'.
Instead of responding to him, I engaged the whole class in a discussion of
cultural diversity. Later on, I was in a different class, but some girls who
had been in that class came up to me to thank me for the discussion. They
confided in me that that had been the best class they had ever had. They were
finally able to talk about some of the things they had questions about. To me,
that was so rewarding."
"So all of the students in El Dorado Springs are white?"
"No, there is one young man in the high school who is black. He is the
child of adoption. I don't think it's always been easy for him, though he did
have a date for the prom this year with the daughter of one of the town's
ministers. Most of the girls are not allowed to date him."
I had learned, earlier in our conversation, that Ms. Sturtz had only
been a local resident for two and half years. She and her husband had moved
there from California.
I asked, "Coming from California, a place with a totally different
ethnic background, do you see any differences between there and here?"
"All places are different. It's taken me about two years just to learn
to live a slower paced life than I had in California, but a lot of the time
that's a blessing. Now that I've taken over the job here at the Chamber of
Commerce plus substitute teaching, I keep very busy . . . It's my time at the
high school where I learn some of the changes that are taking place with the
students and their attitudes. Often, some of the girls will tell me things,
like one time when some kids went down to a shopping mall in Springfield. They
go there often and meet other kids from around the area, many of them are black,
and they do the things teenagers do, just hang out and gossip. It seems that
the guy who gave them the ride down, one of the girl's boyfriend, didn't like
hanging out with blacks and told them that if they wanted a ride home they had
better leave then, with him, or they would have to find their own ride home.
The girl surprised him and told him to go ahead and leave; they would find their
own way home, which they did. She told me she later talked to her boyfriend ...