Every town in Northeastern Oklahoma has unique stories about its origin and events that occurred over a period of years and Wagoner is no exception. The town was founded along the MKT railroad during the late summer of 1871. Originally known as “Wagoner’s Switch,” it came into being because of the need for a siding or switch between Gibson Station and Leliaetta to load cattle and lumber. It was named for Henry Wagoner, a dispatcher for the railroad located in Parsons Kansas. Apparently, Wagoner was monitoring the progress of the construction because when it was completed the crew foreman sent a telegraph to Parsons that “Wagoner’s Switch is ready.” and, shortly after a town developed.
Like others in the region Wagoner has a colorful history but may be unique in at least one instance. After being continually annoyed by range cattle wandering into town, the city fathers constructed a fence around it with gates on all four sides. Problem solved! There also were occasional incidents of violence, reminiscent of the Wild West. Deputy Sheriff Ed Reed, recently appointed by Judge Isaac Parker, moved to Wagoner in 1895 and the following October was called upon to arrest the Crittendon brothers, Dick and Zeke for disturbing the peace. Reed was no stranger to crime, the son of Belle Starr, he had recently served a prison term for horse theft, but like several lawmen had switched sides, settled down and married. During the gunfight that ensued, Reed killed both Crittendons.
After the Nellie Johnston in Bartlesville became the state’s first commercially successful oil well at 50 barrels a day, every wide spot in the road in Oklahoma started drilling. Wagoner was no exception and oil wells sprung up everywhere. But there was one that was certainly unique, a veritable “Fountain of Youth” that didn’t really make people younger, it just made them feel that way.
In 1905, J.P. Calhoun, a real estate agent, was showing property where an oil well had been drilled, but instead discovered a fountain of water gushing out of the ground sometimes reaching heights of 100 feet. The water was so charged with gas that it ignited when he held a lighted match close by. Calhoun, now curious about this gusher, held his infected hand in the water and it seemed to relieve the pain. After several days and several trips, Calhoun’s infected hand was cured! The word soon spread throughout the community about Calhoun and his “miracle” discovery.
Other, what might become considered dramatic cures to both man and beast followed. A local physician, G.W. Ruble, began sending patients to the miracle well and they reported good results curing internal and external complaints. Patients related being cured of a variety of ills, among others eczema, rheumatism, stomach and bowel trouble, varicose ulcers, dandruff, corns, and bunions. One resident poured the geyser water on his donkey that had mange and the animal was miraculously cured. Another had the same experience with his rheumatic mule. There seemed to be no end to the wonders this fountain could produce and, if that were the case, it occurred to Dr Ruble that it might just become a profitable venture.
The result was the formation of the Germicide Water Company. Now, in order to maximize the use of this natural phenomenon, a series of pipes were tapped into the mainstream of the geyser, permitting several to use the mysterious healing waters at the same time. In addition a bathhouse was constructed with 600 changing rooms for customers. Bathing in the water also proved successful. Some customers reported that, after ten baths, they threw their crutches away!
In addition to the bathhouse on site, the entire city of Wagoner became involved to accommodate visitors to use this miracle water. Baths were offered at local hotels and a germicide shampoo was available at the barber shop. The city of Wagoner piped a two sided fountain for citizens to use, one side for city water, the other for Germicide.
The Germicide Well seemed to be a gift of nature that just kept giving. The town of Wagoner became so identified with the “miracle water” that the local baseball team was renamed “The Germicides.” But what Mother Nature gives, she can also take away and over the years the robust flow became a trickle. Finally, thirty five years after the miraculous geyser was discovered, in 1940, it ceased to flow at all. No one really knows why. Some speculate that perhaps the geyser was supernatural, a diversion, meant to coincide with the ending of the ills of the Great Depression or the beginning of a new era, maybe even the advent of World War II. But, pragmatists in the community had another theory. They believed that the geysers potent water finally just ate away the pipes that carried the flow of water to their varied outlets.
Bruce Howell is an author and retired educator. His work includes 1806, an exploration of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. He resides on Grand Lake with his wife, Kay.