By Lee Standing Bear Moore
THE PLACE OF PEACE
The Sacred Mountain
and Valley of the Vapors
For thousands of years, this magnificent site was the gathering place of many nations. Tribal leaders and spiritual elders made pilgrimages to the Great Ma-na-ta-ka Mountain to sit in great councils with many tribes. Some came every seven years, others came every eleven years, and others made the journey more frequently depending on local custom.
Tribal leaders prayed and made peace offerings to the Creator, the Great Manataka (Place of Peace) Mountain and each other. They danced and sang around huge campfires in the narrow valley situated between the Manataka mountain and her sister mountain, today called North Mountain. Her other sister mountain, today called Indian Mountain stood guardian to her east. Daughters of the first nations gathered rare medicinal herbs found in great abundance in a large area surrounding Manataka in the shape of a circle. Their sons found precious clear crystals, gold, silver, pyrite, and whetstones.
Spiritual elders also brought gifts from their tribes to Manataka. Some gifts were intended to establish friendships and diplomacy between various tribes and others were personal gifts between long-time friends. Trade items were also exchanged on blankets spread out in dozens of camps just outside the sacred valley. Other, more precious gifts brought to Manataka were not intended for humans, but were ceremonial offerings for the sacred mountain.
It is said by the grandfathers that seven holy caves were on the sacred mountain. The center cave is made of magnificent shining crystal encoded with messages of the star people. Inside the crystal cave are seven crystal cones set on a crystal altar and each contain secret messages and seven shields.
Ancient tribes came to Manataka on pilgrimages to place ceremonial items in five of the caves. The people of the south laid gifts in the southern-most cave and people of the north laid their gifts in the northern-most cave. Two other caves were used by the people from the west and east for offering ceremonies. The cave located to the left of the crystal cave was used by the ‘Keepers of Manataka’, the Tula Indians, who lived in surrounding areas and for other tribes living nearby such as the Caddo, Quapaw, Osage, Tunica, and Pawnee. To the right of the center crystal cave was a ceremonial cave reserved for gifts of the other people of this land – the animals, birds, fish, insects, plants, stones and the elements. No one ever approached the most sacred crystal cave, as it was said to have been the work place of the star people (angels?) and resting place of many spirits.
The southern-most cave, nearest the surface of the ground, once held the Manataka Stone, or as referred to by the National Park Service as the “Calendar Stone” brought by people from the south. The Calendar Stone was removed after the Civil War by workmen digging on the mountain to capture the sacred waters of Nowasalon and build ornate bathhouses for the rich. An ancient clay doll was recovered from the northern cave some time in the early 1900’s by workmen and is currently on loan to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. Each of the seven caves disappeared at various times after the invasion began in the 1500’s, either at the hand of the invaders or by natural or supernatural causes.
Everyone sought healing and pleasure in the magical hot waters of Nówâ-sa-lon (Breath of Healing) that spewed from the sides of the mountain creating dozens of crystal clear pools. No one was allowed to enter the sacred area, called the ‘Valley of Vapors’ carrying a weapon into the sacred area decreed by the Great Mystery as the ‘Place of Peace’. No fighting or discord was allowed. Should anyone violate these laws, they were taken outside the valley and severely punished.
The Lady of the Rainbow, referred to as Ix Chel by the Maya, was said to have presided over the peace in the valley. Dressed in all white buckskin and holding one eagle feather in each hand, she stood on the mountain overseeing the peace. When quarrels did arise, a vision of the Rainbow Woman could be seen at twilight rising in the vapors of the highest pool as a warning to the offending person. If the guilty one did not listen to this warning, the Lady of the Rainbow came to him and dropped one feather at his feet, which meant it would be wiser to fly away than to disturb the peace again. If this warning was not heeded, she dropped the second feather as a sign to his family and others to remove the offender from the valley by whatever means necessary.
Our Grandfathers saw dense green forests surrounding the narrow valley. Steam rose from abundant hot springs on the side of the mysterious mountain. The valley was shrouded in misty vapors which feathered the lush underbrush and curled upward through the tall trees. Sometimes the vapors joined low clouds to float away in the pink evening sky. Other times they lay lightly upon the ground like a soft blanket or swirled around the bubbling crystal pools.
Manataka was a place of strange, mystical beauty. Everywhere, the sound of trickling water made sensual music as it bathed the bare faces of fractured cliffs and splashed into creeks at the bottom of the mountain. In places where the steaming waters issued from the rock, growing cones of tufa covered with exotic mosses cupped in shades of red and orange painted the calcareous rock. Particles of silica, washed by the sun, sparkled like millions of diamonds while pyrite fragments seemed to catch fire and glow.
The most magnificent sight to behold at Manataka was seen from miles away in any direction. Indian elders on pilgrimage may have said to their fellow travelers, “We know we are there when the sign in the sky appears.” The sign was a huge, beautiful rainbow stretching across the entire valley.
The Rainbows of Manataka would not disappear after a few minutes of glory in the sun like all other rainbows. Manataka’s rainbows would build and build in size and would become more colorful throughout the day because of the constantly running hot and cold water springs.
The Rainbows of Manataka were not only a natural wonder of the world and a magical sight, they held a very special meaning. We believe the rainbow has a sacred purpose. The rainbow is a sign of the Creator’s Great Blessing.
Wherever the rainbow appeared was a place appointed by the Great Spirit – Creator for people to gather, especially those of differing origins and interests. It was a place where even enemies sat in peace. It is at Manataka, under the rainbows that the nations gathered by direction of the Creator for His purpose.
Manataka is truly the place of peace for all people. The area was a cultural and trade center for all native peoples – a great melting pot of American Indian culture. The Valley of the Vapors was neutral territory unclaimed by any tribe. The Great Spirit decreed that all that visited here were to lay down their weapons and bathe as brothers in the healing waters. Even tribes who were hostile to each other acknowledged the truce while in the Place of Peace.
The Caddo were the dominant people in areas surrounding the valley. The Quapaw, Osage, Tunica, Natchez, Pawnee and Shawnee were nearby. There is disagreement between archeologists, ethnologists and historians as the exact number of tribes that may have visited Manataka. Some say there may have been 34 language groups who considered the Valley sacred ground. In an effort to diminish any sort of future claim on Manataka, others say there were none who visited here. Stories of the sacred Valley of Peace still exist among some tribes today. Other tribes, whose languages have been largely lost since the European invasion, speak of Manataka as if it were a mythical place.
In the early 1500’s, Spanish conquistadors mounted expeditions to find the legendary spring whose magic waters could rejuvenate the elderly and heal the sick. In 1512, Ponce DeLeon failed in his attempt to reach the mysterious hidden valley containing a crystal fountain of healing water known as the “Fountain of Youth”.
His fellow explorer, Hernando DeSoto was the first white European invader to enter the Valley of the Vapors in 1541. Desoto’s chroniclers wrote about the amazing sites they beheld. As far as the eye could see were hundreds of lodges representing tribes from every part of the vast continent. The colorful dress of various groups was different from one another and they spoke many distinct languages. Ceremonial and tribal dances were held in a central plaza, and elders sat in circles smoking the pipe.
Almost immediately after first contact, the original inhabitants began to disappear. European invaders sacked the land, spread disease and incited inter-tribal wars that all but decimated dwindling native populations during the next two and half centuries.
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, white invaders began to settle in the Valley of Vapors. In 1832, President Jackson, mastermind of the Trail of Tears and other racial atrocities, was looking for a way to totally demoralize and disorient native populations. He was also concerned about Manataka from a strategic military viewpoint. Jackson was not prepared to risk the possibility that thousands of Indians on the Trail of Tears might decide to gather at the sacred site and mount a rebellion. So, Jackson pushed Congress to take an unprecedented action in the nation’s history by confiscating the most holy site in the American Indian world, Manataka, and making it the nation’s first federal reservation.
The confiscation of Manataka by Jackson was an act contrary to the terms of the Louisiana Purchase and against the Constitution of the United States. The United States government promised the French, Spanish and native tribes in negotiations preceding the Louisiana Purchase the federal government would not violate sacred sites. The U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice Marshall, warned Jackson the government was prohibited by the Constitution to own land [There is still no provision in the Constitution for the government to own land].[There is still no provision in the Constitution for the government to own land. The Constitution does not contain a provision for the federal government to own land. One reason why this provision was purposely omitted from the Constitution is because the founding fathers lived under a European system where the royal government owned and controlled all land. The government cannot assume any power that is not specifically given to them by the Constitution.]
Thus, the only legal way Jackson could accomplish the take-over was to pass a ‘provisional’ law steering around treaties with other nations and the U.S. Constitution. Jackson wanted to create the first commercial federal reservation. As a popular president and famous Indian fighter, this was an easy task as members of Congress, of which not one of its members had ever seen Manataka, looked the other way.
For the next four decades the government allowed settlers to build bathhouses and residences around the springs but in 1875 it forced the settlers out and later began selling off choice pieces of property to selected businessmen.
What was left of the Hot Springs Federal Reservation after the ravages of the settlers and greedy government agents was turned over to the newly created national park system in 1921 and became the second national park after Yellow Stone. Today, it is known as Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.
Settlers and the U.S. government destroyed the sacred Circle and the seven ceremonial caves containing the Manataka Stone and other ancient artifacts gifted to Manataka by the tribes. Stolen artifacts were sold for profit by government agents. Government bureaucrats, to cover up gross negligence of the past, claim there were never any caves on the mountain, regardless of strong evidence to the contrary.
Out of forty-seven hot water springs surviving the early onslaught of settlers, the government covered all but two small hot water display springs with metal and concrete in the name of “protecting visitors and the environment.” Actually, the reason is to control the sacred waters for profit. They pump the waters to private bathhouses and hotels where it can be sold.
The vapors that once blanketed the valley have vanished. The wondrous rainbows covering Manataka have not appeared since government bureaucrats decided to “preserve” the springs from pollution and the escape of radon gas. The so-called scientific preservation basis for covering the springs can be disproved by any high school freshman.
The pools of healing waters are hidden with garishly ornate bath houses for the rich. Over the years, the U.S. government has systematically attempted to wipe every trace of Indian culture from Manataka. They deny this place is a sacred site and twist history with much authority to discourage our people from reclaiming our heritage.
One park historian recently wrote a report claiming Indians were afraid of the hot waters because they came from the devil. [The idea of ‘devil’ is foreign to American Indian beliefs.] The fact is, the land and waters are too commercially valuable. It is for greed, not preservation they hold hostage our Great Manataka.
The federal government has covered up the Story of Manataka for nearly 200 years. Government agents were especially aggressive in this effort just prior to and immediately after the Removals (Trail of Tears) when hundreds of ancient artifacts and religious objects were either sold, lost or destroyed. Regardless of this fact, the NPS curatorial collection today still has over 414,000 objects, nearly 46% remain un-catalogued, stored in dilapidated, unsecured buildings.
Their lust to remove all traces of indigenous cultures has gone from frenzied greed, to sordid indifference, to outright denial that our ancestors were ever here. A more insidious tactic used in recent times is to craft promotional material about the park that states, “People have used the hot spring water in therapeutic baths for two hundred years.” — as if no one was ever here before then.
The Tula people made their home along the Caddo River near what is known today as the town of Caddo Gap, located approximately 45 miles southwest of Hot Springs. Today, a large statue of an Indian stands in the middle of Caddo Gap declaring the area was known as “Tula”.
There are no plaques or statues designating this area as Manataka (The Place of Peace). Yet, the bureaucrats know this is its holy name.
Today, there are no monuments to the gentle people who were the ‘keepers’ of Manataka. There is barely a remembrance of the spiritual power the Great Manataka gave to the people. This sacred ground held great meaning for all native people and is part of their ancient lore.
Will Manataka always be held captive by government bureaucrats never to breathe again? Will the Rainbow Woman who sleeps deep within the mountain awaken once more? Will the giant of American Indian spirit reawaken and its awesome strength be unleashed to give life back to the people of the land?
Today, there are many signs showing the great resiliency of native cultures. Our sons and daughters are returning to the old ways in search of peace in their daily lives. Everywhere you look there is renewed interest in native culture. It was foretold that this would be so.
It is our prayer the people of the land will return. We long for the day when the tribes of many nations will journey to these grounds again. They will not come as tourists looking for wondrous sights, but as brothers and sisters seeking healing and guidance while showing reverence and faith in the Great Spirit who dwells in this sacred place.
We yearn for the time when the tribes will come together, not to achieve some political or economic purpose, but to learn from each other and share the strengths of our cultures. We pray for the time when the leaders of our nations will once again hold hands in the Great Circle of Peace and give thanks to the Creator.
Should the American Indian be angry about the past? Should we do to others what they have done to us? At Manataka, the answer is No. Why?
No, because we are sacred water given to us by the Creator of All That Is. We were born in water and our bodies are composed mostly of water. We must drink water to restore us. Water is necessary to life. But, sometimes the water comes in floods and washes away our homes and food. Waters of the flood take away our homes and often bring disease. We are sad after the flood waters leave.
No, because we are the sacred wind given to us by the Creator of All That Is. Every cell in our bodies contains the wind. We must breathe the wind every moment in order to live. But, sometimes the wind comes like a tornado and blows away our homes and kills our loved ones. We are sad after the tornado leaves.
The white European Christian culture came to us like the wind and water. They flooded us with filth and greed and killed indigenous babies and grandmothers in the name of their religion. They came to us like the tornado bringing the whirlwind stench of war and the shame of false ways.
Should we hate the ignorant white invaders who came like a senseless flood and washed away the homes and sacred places of our ancestors? Should we hate those who flooded into our homes and stole the land? Do we hate their children who continue to violate our sacred Mother Earth and reek terrible injustices upon us? Should we despise the government that came like a terrible tornado and killed our people and defiled our sacred places?
But dear friend, we as American Indians cannot be angry at the sacred waters and the wind because they are made by the Creator. We can only be sad.
In the same way, the white European Christian and their government are also made by the Creator. And we cannot hate them for they too are made by the Creator.
At Manataka, we shed no more tears for the past.
Why should we not shed tears for all that has been lost!?
Because our culture is not gone! It flourishes and grows stronger each year! Look around you. American Indian culture is spreading all over the world.
We should not cry for our ancestors because they are not gone. They are here with us now. Their spirits dwell within us. They are on our lips as we speak. They are upon our fingertips as we do the work to uphold our heritage. We honor them. We do not cry for them. We rejoice for them!
The Great Spirit – Creator caused our circle to be broken. At Manataka we know the reason. It is for that reason we are here keeping the spirit alive.
Together, we can awaken the great forces of all native peoples by rekindling the fire of Manataka. The hot springs are still here. The medicinal herbs, quartz crystal, precious stones, and beauty are still here. And, the beautiful waters of Nowasalon flow abundantly.
Wakantanka niya waste pelo !
Why did the elders of many nations make regular pilgrimages to Manataka?
Was it to bathe in the healing waters? Was it to gather the healing herbs, healing stones or healing clay? Did the great beauty of Manataka compel the elders to travel great distances across raging rivers, through snow storms, sand storms, sometimes facing hunger on the trail, and sometimes losing one of their family along the way?
According to the National Park Service the reason the people of the land came was to bathe in the waters for their health. NPS also says they came to make peace with one another. (“…You know those savages were always warring against each other and for what other reason would this site be called ‘The Place of Peace’?”) Other NPS bureaucrats contradict these claims and say American Indian elders never considered Manataka a sacred place and few tribes ever came here. All these claims are false.
Do you know why the nations sent their elders to Manataka?
The answer to this most important question cannot be given in writing out of respect for our ancestors, our culture and the sanctity of the Story of Manataka. The answer may only be given eye-to-eye, heart-to heart to those who come to this special place of peace in the right way. The answer to this question will amaze you and fill the remainder of your days with deep respect and understanding of the American Indian way of life.
In 1996, for the first time in over 150 years, three elders of the Mayan, Cherokee, and Cheyenne people came on pilgrimage to Manataka.
In 1997 and 1998, three more spiritual elders prayed and performed ceremonies on the sacred mountain.
In 1999, four spiritual elders performed ancient ceremonies at Manataka.
In 2000, five holy men made pilgrimages. In April, the first public Gathering of Manataka was sponsored by the Manataka American Indian Council. The second Gathering was performed in September by Grand Chief Woableza LaBatte, a Lakota spiritual leader who heads the World Council of Spiritual Elders. Over 2,500 American Indians prayed at the Mountain.
In 2001, six spiritual elders prayed at Manataka, two more Gatherings were held and over 4,500 American Indians made pilgrimages.
In 2002, seven elders journeyed to the sacred mountain and two Gatherings were sponsored by MAIC. The last Gathering in November, 2002, Zintkala Oyate, Peter V. Catches-the-Enemy, a 34th generation Lakota spiritual leader of the Spotted Eagle Sundance officiated ceremonies. Nearly 7,000 people, of many faiths and races came to the sacred mountain to pray. The colors of the rainbow gather again!
Up to May, 2003, five elders had journeyed to Manataka to pray. In June, the annual Summer Gathering at Manataka will be led by Grand Chief Woableza and Omeakaehekatl, a Maya high priest and Day Keeper who will conduct ancient rites. The Painted Horse War Dance Society of Oklahoma will act as color guard and perform dance exhibitions. Chief Gray Wolf Henson (ret.), former chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians will lead the Fire Ceremony.
By June of 2004, twelve spiritual elders came to Manataka to perform ancient ceremonies completing the requirements and setting the stage for a cleansing of Manataka to take place. The Saginaw Chippewa Warrior Society came with their families to join hands in the sacred circle at Manataka with other indigenous peoples.
The new Superintendent of the Hot Springs National Park, Josie Fernandez notified Manataka that a permit and cash bond would be required in the future before ceremonies could be held in the circle in Gulpha Gorge Campgrounds.
In June 2004, members and guests were accosted and harassed by National Park Rangers who threatened the people with arrest if they came again to pray in the sacred circle. Many people were frightened away. During a later meeting with the new Superintendent, Fernandez threatened Elders with arrest and she called them pagans and witches. Josie Fernandez threw pieces of paper on the table saying Manataka’s members and guests violated seven rules and forbade any future gatherings. Elders were not allowed to examine the documents, nor were they allowed to answer any of the allegations. The so-called evidence were trumped up and false allegations. Throughout the remainder of the year and throughout 2005, families and individual members and supporters (anyone wearing Indian regalia or jewelry or appearing to be Indian) who went to the park to have a picnic or pray in the circle were stopped by Rangers and questioned, often times searched. Fernandez demanded a large cash bond (far beyond the financial means of Manataka) before a permit to perform ceremonies would be allowed.
Throughout 2005, Elders attempted to seek a meeting with Fernandez or her superiors without success.
In Mid-Spring 2005, MAIC learns of a new website called “Manataka Exposed” operated by a former employee of the National Park Service. Manataka writes a response to the charges. Read History of MAIC
In June 2005, as the annual Gathering was about to take place, armed Park Rangers blocked the entrance to Gulpha Gorge Campgrounds to anyone appearing in Indian regalia or appearing to be American Indian.
In October 2005 during the Fall Gathering held at Bald Eagle Mountain Park a distance of 5 miles from the sacred Manataka, over 250 members and guests rode in caravan to several locations around the sacred mountain and walked over the mountain to the sacred circle in Gulpha Gorge to evade a National Park Service blockade set up at the entrance of the Campgrounds. Ceremonies were performed in the sacred circle and afterwards, the people quietly walked back across the mountain. Many more ceremonies were performed in the circle in coming months under the cover of darkness or inclement weather. Park Rangers continued to stop vehicles appearing to be Indian and issued strong threats. Fernandez continued to make racial and other derogatory remarks to individuals in the community.
Secret prayer ceremonies were held each month on the sacred Manataka asking the Creator to bless Fernandez.
A large number of letters from recognized spiritual elders in North, Central and South America declaring Manataka a sacred site were received.
In June 2006, MAIC Elders decided to return to Gulpha Gorge to perform ceremonies regardless of the threats and harassment of National Park Rangers. The Gathering was the smallest yet (due to Gestapo tactics of the NPS) but the Gathering was a beautiful event with Otto Riollano Davila of Puerto Rico delivering a spiritual message. Park Rangers did not interrupt the gathering in any significant way, but the hovering presence of armed Rangers frightened many families.
Manataka discovers the presence of individuals who joined Manataka but were agents of Fernandez.
Because of continued Fernandez harassment, MAIC continued to use both Bald Eagle Mountain Park, the sacred Manataka Mountain, and Gulpha Gorge Campgrounds for ceremonies and gatherings in 2006 and 2007.
In 2007, Elders decided to hold all ceremonies on top of Manataka mountain in locations not easily found or accessible to outsiders. The elderly and disabled are transported by vans and carried to various locations on the mountain. Many make the journey on foot. In 2007, Spiritual Elders and hundreds of people continued to journey to Manataka for prayer and ceremony.
2008-2012 Today’s Keepers of Manataka and members of MAIC are watching and waiting for other Gatherings in preparation of the Great Awakening and the Great Gathering at the Place of Peace. Will you join us?
©Story of Manataka, All rights reserved, 1992-2008.
Credits:Some material for this article were taken from the Indian Folklore Atlas, Phillips/Long, 1994, U.S. government records, the Garland County Historical Society, stories told Chief Benito Gray Horse and by the elders of many nations.
Indian Folklore Atlas of Hot Springs National Park
by Marcus Phillips and Sandra Long
The Valley of the Vapors, Manataka — The Place of Peace was never told as well before this excellent resource guide was written. Well researched with dozens of references, this book contains the colorful history of Hot Springs and Indian legends of this sacred site. The Indian Folk Lore Atlas also serves as a tour guide with seven individual walking tours designed to take the visitor back in time to the actual locations where history was made. This book is endorsed by the American Indian Center of Arkansas, the City of Hot Springs and the Garland County Historical Society. Experts of the Caddo, Quapaw and Cherokee nations consulted on this book. A wonderful addition to any library. Great for the coffee table. Dozens of maps and illustrations. 195 pp. Soft Cover. $37.95
PILGRIMAGES TO MANATAKA
Feel the power and spirit of ancient rites. Attend ceremonies, guided tours, and cookouts. Travel and lodging booking for groups of 25 or more.
(Some activities not available year-round.)
A pilgrimage to Manataka is a journey through the outer world to the inner world.
Walk on a rainbow trail;
walk on a trail of song,
and all about you will be beauty.
There is a way out of every dark mist,
over a rainbow trail.
Box 476, Hot Springs Reservation, AR 71902