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Steele Hot Springs

Page history last edited by Clint Gilchrist 8 years, 11 months ago

Steele Hot Springs
By Judi Myers
August, 2003


Described as 'dirty, dingy, slimy and scary', but 'we didn't care', Sublette County's hot spot for over forty years was Steele Hot Springs swimming pool. Located east of Boulder at the base of Fremont Butte and built by Ed P. Steele in 1931, this pool and adjoining bath houses were a source of fond memories and stories. From mid-May until school started in the fall each year, this swimming facility was open to the public.


Harry Lovatt helped with the construction in 1930. As Harry told the story: "Ed, the old man, was digging a trench to bring water down to the swimming pool. He'd been digging on it for months and it was eleven feet deep. It was getting to be too big a project for himself, so he hired Charlie Wilson and me to come down.


"We came that morning, it was before noon. Charlie was on top and I was down in the ditch. I had a big cowboy hat on. I'd stopped and was leaning on my shovel and here it caved in! Eleven feet deep! My elbows were out and the big hat left a pocket of air in front of my face. As soon as it caved in Charlie started running and as he come over the top of me I gave a yell with my last breath of air. Charlie says, 'He's right here.' Johnny Steele says, 'No, he's down here' and I was hoping Charlie would win out. Charlie started to diggin' and hit me right on top of the hat. Charlie said it was 3 feet 9 inches to the top of the dirt.


"Of course the pressure was terrible so I had passed out. Charlie cut a hole in my hat and the #%@"%&"% never did buy me a new hat either! As soon as he got my face out I come to right then. It took a long time to dig me out 'cause I was paralyzed from the pressure. I couldn't help myself one bit. In the Roundup it gives all the credit to Johnny Steele and don't even mention Charlie and he did 100% of it. That's what Charlie said. I don't know. I was out."


Ed Steele was 71 when he began building this commercial venture with the hot springs. He'd homesteaded the ranch in 1886 and brought his wife Emma and sons out in 1888. According to Ed's son Mike, the extreme winter of 1889-90 wiped out the cattle and his dad would have left except that "he didn't have enough horses left to pull a wagon". The Steeles did leave for a year to go to South Pass and also spent 2 years in Lander, but returned to the Fremont Butte ranch to raise 7 children (an 8th child died in infancy). The springs, which are actually a warm 87 to 90 degrees, are located across the East Fork River from the main ranch buildings.


Ellen Cole, one of Ed's granddaughters spent much of her youth at the ranch and remembers riding in a buggy across the bridge for her weekly bath in one of the bathhouses. Ellen said, "Water snakes would come out of the cracks. Verna (her aunt) would get them by the tail and snap them like a whip. Then she'd hang 'em on the barb wire fence. They'd wiggle 'til they died. Seems like they always died at sunset."


Bill recalled a diving board story. "When I was a junior in high school we went to the pool. My mom had been a swimmer in her day but now she was heavy. She got on the board and did a perfect dive. She hit the bottom and that's where she stayed! I finally realized she wasn't coming up so I went in and saved her life."


When Carlta was at the pool she was the lifeguard, but never had to rescue anyone. "We had a sign 'NO Climbing on Rafters or Cables' but kids would jump off the diving board and try to grab the cable that went across to hold the roof.


"The pool had tractor inner tubes and kids would have contests to see who could stand on them the longest. One time I noticed a snake on one of the inner tubes. It was a harmless water snake but some big farm boys from Farson didn't know that. Farson had real rattlesnakes so that's what those boys were used to. When I walked over and picked up that snake - OH! The look on their faces."


Debi Ruland said the big thing was "if you found a snake you threw it in the pool and yelled, 'SNAKE!' It was just a fun place."


Another woman remembers the pool as "dark, dingy and the water was yukky. It was a scary place to me. My mom was baptized there. It was awful. I was only about 6 and my brothers were 4 and 8. Everybody was yelling and we didn't know what was going on. We thought mom was drowning. My little brother was so scared he jumped in to save her! I guess he was baptized too."


Thelma Steele said "I didn't know how to swim and I was afraid of water. Pete (her son) was 4 and I was pregnant with Rhonda (Swain), so I just had on my regular clothes. Pete took a step down into the pool and there he stayed! I didn't think about being scared, I just went right in and got him!"


Debi Ruland said she was at the pool often and especially remembers on time: "We were all in the pool during a storm once. The wood in the ceiling started falling into the water! We got out of there REAL fast!"


Although several people had memories of the pool begin dark, murky and smelly, Carlta said, "The pool wasn't dirty! We drained it and cleaned it every two weeks! We had lights. It wasn't dark!" Carlta said her parents sold the pool for health reasons. "They were told they had to put in chlorine and all. It was just too much."


In 1972 Priebe sold the entire ranch to Mark Stockton and Rusty Gooch. Rusty said, "We had to close the pool to the public for insurance reasons, but we had our own moonlight parties sometimes. Although we posted it 'No Trespassing', people snuck in. When we bought the place Priebes retained the right to live in the old house. About 1973 we split the ranch and NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) bought the old ranch house area. Stockton got the Triangle R in Pinedale and I got the hot springs."


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