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Fales Hot Springs | Where to find Fales Hot Springs | Fales Hot Springs Yesterday and Today
Somewhere in Time
Fales Hot Springs

A Trip To Fales Hot Springs In The 1890's

by Ella M.Cain

Dear reader, if you would like to take a trip which is enjoyable and different and chucked full of real wholesome pleasure, let me take you from Bridgeport to Fales Hot Springs in the late eighty's or early nineties. Here you will find never-to-be-forgotten personalities, good mineral bathing, excellent food, dancing and entertainment. It sounds as if I were describing a modern resort doesn't it? Well, omit the word "modern" and that's what Fales was in its primitive, delightful way, before the turn of the century.

The Springs are located about fourteen miles north and west of Bridgeport. We go buggy team as it is just the right distance for a day's round trip through wonderfully scenic country, giving you a thrill at each new turn in the road. You ride between placid green meadows where cattle and sheep are grazing, cross rushing streams and come close to timber covered mountains.

You catch a view of the Sierra Nevada, with their snow capped peaks some twenty miles away, framed by the rocky aperture of The Devil's Gate. Every mountainous region it seems has a Devil's Gate, but the view through this one, going towards Fales is unsurpassed.

We suddenly come upon our first view of the Springs from the road directly above them as they are in a hollow in the hills. The smell of minerals and steam greets us and we are conscious of warm heavy moisture in the air. The springs bubble up from the earth in an immense pool in a turbulent, rollicking, exciting sort of a way, not throwing any gushers into the air, but emitting clouds of steam.

Further down are the baths but we have not time to think of them yet, for the folks who live here are coming out to give us a royal welcome. They are Sam, the owner, his wife, Diana, his step-daughter Minnie and brother Tom, to say nothing of the geese, turkeys, and chickens which half run, half flutter, and fly up the hill to meet us, led by patriarch of the flock, Brigham, a turkey gobbler. He rustles up his feathers, spreads out his wings until he seems double his original size, and gobbles his welcome lone and loud. The children in our party are half de- lighted, half terrified by Brigham's antics. The horses shy away from the feathered flock and the stable boy takes them off to the barn for a rest and a feed of oats, hay, and barley.

Fales is the stopping place for the big freight teams and travelers coming over the Sonora road. You will be sur- prised at the number of people who are here. Some are stopping in the big two story hotel overnight, others for a longer time in order to take advantage of the highly mineralized water for their various ailments.

Nearly always the first procedure of the visitors is to enjoy a bath. There is a choice of four: a tub, a steam, or mud bath, or the more active freedom of the pool bath. The tubs are wooden square affairs with water piped in from the cold and from the hot spring. Be careful, for the water is terribly hot, 180 degrees Fahrenheit. (Only thirty feet below the hot spring the cold spring comes bubbling up.)

The mothers give the children a good scrubbing in the wooden tubs. It is so easy it seems, to them, to bathe the children here instead of at home in Bridgeport. There they have to use the old, round, wooden or galvanized tub in the middle of the kitchen floor, with water that is pumped from the well and heated on the wood stove.

The steam baths are also housed in wooden shacks. It doesn't matter if there are a few cracks in the walls, the steam makes visibility from the outside to the inside practically nil. The floor is of wooden slats placed far apart so the hot steam can come rolling up. The slats are none too safe, as quite recently a fat elderly Irish woman from Bodie named Ellen O'Brien broke through and slightly scalded her feet. She bounded out into the open in nature's garb, throwing her arms in the air and yell- ing, "Shure I'll run out if awl of bodie is lookin' afore I'll be scalded to death in the devil's mushpot."

The plunge, about 20 X 30 feet is also loosely housed. The merriment enjoyed by the bathers can be heard for some distance outside. Here all ages seem to gather for the rollicking fun of ducking and dousing. The mud baths are seldom used.

After the baths, attention is turned to the dining room in the big building. Diana Fales is an excellent cook. A few years ago she was a beautiful woman, but her beauty is fast fading by the hard work she is doing here. She was a widow by the name of Clark and had supported herself and daughter Minnie by running a lodging house, first in Aurora and then in Bodie. In the latter place she met tall and lanky Sam Fales, (many years her senior, and quite bald), and married him. Minnie is now in her late 'teens, tall and willowy, with two long braids of blonde hair hanging down her back. She helps her mother with the cooking and various other duties around the Springs, is passionately fond of music, and plays the piano exceptionally well.

As we go into the dining room with appetites that can do justice to any meal, we see the table laden with all kinds of good home-cooked food, the piece-de-resistance of the meal is usually chicken. There are delicious fruits which are brought by heavily laden fruit wagons from Sonora. During the course of the meal, Clay Hampton, the School Master from Bridgeport, appears at the door. He is an affable, professional, looking person, noted for his fine Spencerian penmanship, drawing, and love of music. He is greeted by applause as he is carrying the case containing his "fiddle" which means there will be dancing later on. He is "sweet on Miss Minnie" who is one of his upper grade pupils.

"We knew we must ride for our lives..."

After the sumptuous meal which costs only 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children, (including the bath), the dining room is cleared for dancing. Clay takes his violin out of the case and begins to tune it. Minnie shyly slips into her place at the piano. (It is no surprise to any one when, shortly afterwards, they are married.) The music starts, the fun begins, waltzes, polkas, schottishes, and square dances. How these "old-timers" hoe it down in the square dances until they are breathless.

Then Tom and Sam, the two comedians, start their entertain- ment. Tom is a rather good ventriloquist and the little papier mache dummy on his lap knows all the answers. The children are spellbound and crowd around. "Don't get too close," he tells them, "as Chester doesn't like it." The real thrill comes when Santa Claus calls down through the chimney to know their names and what they want for Christmas. They all answer at once, but Santa doesn't seem to mind that.

Then Sam pulls up his barroom chair on the right hand side of the fire place where the legs fit exactly into the grooves they have made in the floor. It is from this vantage point he practices the "art" of tobacco spitting for many hours each day at the targets drawn on the sides of the fire place. So perfect has he become that he is now the acknowledged champion tobacco spitter in these parts, and seldom has anyone to challenge him.

He is also noted as a spinner of tall, blood curdling, yarns of his own imagination, but he has two rivals in this feild, Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) in Aurora and "Lying" Jim Townsend in Bodie. Tonight no one comes forth to challenge him in the tobacco spitting contest. So he displays his talent anyway for the amusement of the visitors. Two men are laying wagers in the back of the room as to his hits and misses. After this he is called on for a story. He thinks it best to tell a true one first as it sort of throws folks off guard for those that follow. So he begins:

"The place where we are now sitting was a large Indian encampment ground in its day. Hundreds of Piutes made these Springs their home, as it was the warmest place to be found hereabouts, and fish and game were plentiful."

"On the hill directly in front of this building the grinding bowls the Indians used are still to be seen hewn in the solid granite---and there they will be 'till the end of time. After a rain the birds come and drink out of them as the Red men will never be here to use them anymore."

Sam, at this point, seems to realize he is getting into a sentimental mood which he rather despises, so he aims the ammunition he has been gathering at the furtherest target---and hits it.

A pause.

"Now folks I want to tell you of a serious injury that happened to me once. One below zero morning I looked out and saw the hot springs all frozen over. I was so sur- prised I rushed out in my stocking feet. The ice was thick. Thinking it would hold me up, I started to cross. In the middle of the pool, the ice cracked and broke. My feet were so badly scalded I wasn't able to walk for months. During the time of my disability I decided to try my hands at inventing. I worked for months on an invention of perpetual motion. Sort of a pendulum affair. First it seemed to go and then it wouldn't. But, believe it or not, I finally discovered it"---a pause---"it was a woman's tongue."

Another round of tobacco juice hit its mark. Then he continues, "At one time we knew the Indians were on the warpath all around the county. We were laying low, hoping they would move to other parts as winter was coming on."

"The time came when we had to go into the timber land to get wood. Looking down the mountain we saw them coming hooping and hollering like a pack of devils. We knew we must ride for our lives as we were outnumbered twenty to one. We finally ended up in a box canyon with our back to a cliff, and they killed every one of us---to the last man."

A sweet old lady screams and nearly faints at Sam's dramtic ending of this story.

It is now time for us to say good night and depart for Bridgeport. The ride home is like going through fairyland as there is a full moon. Gone now are all the actors in the drama of that day long past. Gone is the old hotel, a landmark of Pioneer days, as it burned down quite recently. Today the Springs only are unchanged, and around them is being built a more modern resort having great potentialities.