Sulphur Springs was famous resort
Pre-Civil War discovery in Catahoula parish frequented by Bowies, others

By JACK M. WILLIS
Journal Correspondent

In less time than it takes to drive a big-city block, you can motor through White Sulphur Springs, Louisiana and see all there is to see. It wasn't always this way. Times were when White Sulphur Springs had two huge hotels, three rooming houses, a dance hall with gambling facilities, a mercantile, saloon, livery stable, post office and a school.

According to renowned local historian Eli W. Plummer, White Sulphur Springs, Louisiana had its humble beginnings along about 1830. Long before there were wagon roads, and travel was primarily by horse back, an adventurer by the name of Joseph P. Ward came upon the site which was located in what was then the western edge of the Catahoula Prairie District. He stopped his train of horses by a beautiful spring and he and his fellow travelers decided to make camp for the night.

Ward's former home was the resort town of White Sulphur Springs, Georgia and he was bound for Texas, but when he smelled this sulphurous liquid bubbling from the spring, he may have even said, "Eureka! I believe I'll name this locality White Sulphur Springs, Louisiana."

Ward quickly considered the possibility of building a resort here even bigger than the resort facilities he had left in Georgia. He quickly erected a two-story hotel, a gambling house, a spacious dance hall, set up a general merchandise store, and a saloon which it is said the Bowie brothers, James and Rezin frequented between trips to San Antonio. He also built extensive living quarters for his slaves. The "Springs" became a nationally known spa and resting resort with merchandise and patrons being brought in by steamboats to LaCroix's Landing on nearby Little River.

According to Plummer, the success of Ward's venture exceeded all his expectations. The "Springs" gained a nation-wide reputation as a place where adventurers could seek buried treasure, (A local resident's wife was walking down the bank of nearby Trout Creek and kicked a "rock" that had a metallic sound as it skittered across other rocks. Further examination of the object revealed it to be an 1835 Spanish coin.) Sportsmen could find fabulous fishing in Trout creek. (One local said there were so many fish in the creek they had to swim uprightly.) Couples could find quiet repose under shady trees, seek unexplored trails, and best of all, they could drink the bubbling water that could cure al their ills.

With this auspicious beginning, White Sulphur Springs continued to expand. By 1850, additionally it boasted two big hotels, a livery stable, cotton gin, a gristmill, a post office and a school. It was there in the hotel that champagne glasses clinked, beaux and belles danced the Virginia reel, and the stately minuet, and uniformed Negro slaves catered to the guests' every whim and desire. Gamblers spun the roulette wheel and dealt the cards. "Hotheads" settled their grudges with Colt "Dragoon" revolvers.

According to rather fanciful accounts chronicled by Plummer, the sick and lame responded so well to the curative powers of the magic springs that wagon loads of discarded crutches and canes had to be hauled away.

There is no record of Joseph Ward's sudden disappearance, why he left or where he went. Most of the community remained intact after the War of Northern Aggression, even though a regiment of Confederate cavalry frequently bivouacked in the area.

One family, the Bethards, figured prominently in the maintenance of the area after Ward left. George Bethard, a Kentuckian who served in the War Against The South, found his native state too inhospitable after the war, so he removed to White Sulphur Springs, located 11 miles east of Pollock, Louisiana, on what would become State Highway 8. The Bethards, upon their arrival in the area, took over a farm and lumber business for a plantation owner on the north side of Trout Creek. They began to take in boarders. They began to like the hotels business, so their next move was to the south side of the creek to a two-story, eight-bedroom house more suited to the hotel trade. They stayed in this location for five years and then moved to a 12-room house built by Ward before the war. It was here that the Bethard's Hotel became famous. The Bethard family (there were eight children) continued to operate their hotel under various names. First, it was the Alaska. Then with the arrival of the Iron Mountain Railroad in Pollock, the name was changed to the Railroad Hotel. They would send a hack to Pollock to pick up guests. At one time around 1900 there were the Moffett Hotel, Bethard Hotel, the Rollins House and the Whatley House all in operation, which took in guests and boarders.

In 1910, splitting Catahoula Parish created LaSalle Parish. A year later, in 1911, the State Board of Health ran extensive tests on the supposedly curative waters of the "Springs "and found them to be laden with bacteria. This condemnation procedure was the death knell for White Sulphur Springs, Louisiana. And, what seems to be as an after thought, a gazebo was prefabricated in the mill yard of Trout Creek Lumber Company in 1914. It was transported by team and wagon to the site of one of the "Springs" (there are two) and erected, where today it is the only visible evidence of what was once a grandiose manifestation of Joseph Ward's dream of almost 85 years earlier.

If a visitor to the site today listens carefully, he might just detect the reverberating echoes along Trout Creek of Joseph Ward's exclamation of, "Eureka"! White Sulphur Springs, Louisiana!