Poncha Springs Historical Perspectives

Click Here for a historical timeline of the Town of Poncha Springs.

A Historical Perspective

With abundant hot springs (99 nearby) and the influence of Spanish culture in the area, the community site became known as Poncho (meaning cape and warmth) Springs. In 1924, the town officially became Poncha Springs.

The Ute Indians often camped in this area, spending summer high in the Rockies and winters in the lower mountain valleys where the average yearly temperatures are a pleasant 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 1779, Juan Batista de Anza led a military expedition over Poncha Pass. Trappers soon followed the explorers. Kit Carson, a famous mountain man of the times, is credited by some with the discovery of the hot springs.

Prospectors began to arrive on the scene about 1860. Nat Rich and Bob Hendricks built the first cabin (still standing) in town. James Rich, son of Nat Rich, was the first white child born in Poncha Springs in 1867. Poncha Springs was designated as an election precinct that year.

John Burnett homesteaded in 1865. He was the first Indian Agent here and his wife, Menerva Maxwell Burnett, was one of the first school teachers. In 1866, a log cabin was built on the Burnett Ranch for an Indian supply post.

The Hutchinson and McPherson families also homesteaded in the mid 1860's. In 1868 John McPherson purchased Nat Rich's squatting rights from Joe Hutchinson and built a grocery store.  

Poncha started to boom in the mid 1870's. Construction on the Jackson Hotel was begun in 1876 and completed in 1878. The town incorporated on December 8, 1880. The population was 350 at the time and the vote was 70 for and 1 against.

With the building of the railroad in 1880, the population grew to well over 2000. Poncha had the first library in Chaffee county. A major fire in 1887 destroyed almost all of the Town's frame buildings, including the 17 flourishing saloons in Town. Another early day structure, the Presbyterian Church, built in 1882 was lost to fire in 1932.

The school house, which was completed in 1883, is still standing and is depicted at the top of this page. This long standing building has been converted to use as the Town Hall; incorporating all local government functions as well as containing the Town museum and a large meeting room on the second floor.

Today, with a population of 967 people, Poncha Springs is a delightful community, proud of its heritage but eager for the future.

The Poncha Hot Springs

Some historians say Lieutenant Pike was the first white man to visit the mineral springs in 1807 when he was in search of the Red River of Texas. Others think Kit Carson was here in 1832 and that he was the first white man to learn of them. Regardless, the Ute Indians and their chieftains, Shavano and Caloraw, made use of the springs and discovered their healing powers even earlier than the dates mentioned.

Ancestors of some local residents made use of the hot water as early as the 1860's. Three local entrepreneurs, a Mr. Burnett, Henry Weber and another whose name is unknown, dug a large pit and lined it with logs to gather the hot water and used it for bathing. They constructed a log fence around the pit for the sake of privacy. Later they erected a more elaborate "shack" of sawed boards.

During the 1870's the community below the hill became a busy stage center and outsiders stopped long enough to either see the steaming springs or take mineral baths.

When the railroad came through in 1881, the hot springs really flourished. A hotel was built to accommodate the people among whom were such notables as the McGruder's of Civil War fame, U. S. Grant and even H.A.W. Taylor and his wife. This Poncha Springs hotel is not to be confused with the Jackson Hotel which managed to survive the devastating Town fires and is able to boast some famous and infamous visitors as well, including Baby Doe Tabor and Jesse James.

The hotel at the springs burned in 1893. Another was built at the site, but it too ended in ashes in 1903. The Holman family came in 1904 to manage the springs. On their arrival, they found a large round swimming pool made of rock and completely plastered by hand. There were two cabins, two baths, and a sleeping room. The springs all bubbled out of the mountainside and people could even fry eggs at some of the hotter springs.

In 1927, Donald Hartwich took over the springs and ran it until 1935 when the City of Salida had the W. P. A pipe the water to the Salida pool. All the springs were capped with cement and the famous hot springs from Poncha have been property of Salida ever since.


333 Burnett Avenue / PO Box 190 / Poncha Springs, CO 81242
mail@ponchasprings.us / Phone: 719-539-6882 / Fax: 719-539-6898