Letters from Mudlavia: "… it is just very hard to get well"

Sharlene Voogd Cochrane


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 296-314

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Letters from Mudlavia: "… it is just very hard to get well"

Sharlene Voogd Cochrane*

You must go to Niagara for Niagara Falls, to the Yellowstone for the Grand Geyser, and to Kramer, Indiana, for the Mudlavia Mud Cure and Lithia Water Baths.1

In 1908, at the age of sixty-two, Charles J. Stockdale undertook what some thought was an extreme remedy for his increasingly painful rheumatism. Having suffered for years, he decided to try the mud cure, a process that required him to be packed in hot mud, then bathed in hot water once a day for several days. He left his wife and their seven children on the family farm near Aplington in north central Iowa and traveled to Kramer, Indiana, and the Mudlavia Mud Cure and Lithia Water Baths.

When Stockdale traveled to Kramer, he joined thousands of men and women who patronized mud and water baths and mineral springs to improve their health. Hot springs, mineral baths, and health spas could be found throughout the United States; among the most famous were such elaborate sites as Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Saratoga Springs, New York. When Charles made his visit the big eastern resorts were in their heyday, and the spas in many western and southern states were at their apex. In 1910, Hot Springs alone had more visitors than all of the other national parks together. The sale of bottled mineral-springs water reached over fifty-two million gallons; nationally, 695 springs reported sales of mineral water.2

Iowa, like many other midwestern states, had only a few springs that developed hotels or recreational facilities and a few more that bottled mineral water for sale. These sites were known mostly to a local clientele and did not become widely popular. Indiana, by contrast, had two of the larger resort springs in the country, at French Lick and West Baden, as well as six other resort sites, with "accom-

  • * Sharlene Voogd Cochrane is associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Lesley College, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her great-grandfather was C. J. Stockdale.
  • 1A. B. Schanz, ed., The Mudlavia Resort Book (Kramer, Ind., 1901), 23.
  • 2Cleveland Amory, The Last Resorts (1948; New York, 1952), 3-6; U. S. Geological Survey, Mineral Resources of the United States: 1908, 758, 759, 770. In 1910, Hot Springs had 120,000 visitors, while Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Platt (Sulphur Springs) together had 58,000. The author thanks Wilson Hess for making this information available; U. S. Congress, Senate Report, 64 Cong., 1 Sess., 1915-1916, S. Doc. 662.
modations for more than 4,000 people." Fifteen springs sold mineral water, twice as many as in Iowa.3

Mudlavia became well known for its unique "mud bath and lithia water spring." The discovery of the health powers of the springs was almost legendary among nearby residents. Sam Story, a local farmer with a serious case of arthritis, was digging for several days in wet mud to drain a field. He noticed as he dug and drank the nearby water that his symptoms were lessening. Within days he was cured. When his neighbors, the Camerons, heard the story they purchased the land and then leased it to H. L. Kramer who built a huge hotel and baths. Kramer sent descriptive brochures throughout the United States encouraging people to take the train to this "beautiful, unique" site. Perhaps convinced by the advertising or attracted to the mud as a more likely cure than the bottled mineral water available in his own state, Stockdale boarded the train in early October for the first leg of his journey.4

Mudlavia was tucked away in a quiet valley near Attica, a village that had boomed when the Wabash and Erie canal arrived in 1847 on its way to the Ohio River. Its success, however, was shortlived, since nearby Lafayette became the main railroad terminus, and the railroad quickly replaced canals as the main form of transportation for farmers and commercial travelers across the state. The railroad passed through Attica, and the station was a lively place when the trains from Chicago and beyond unloaded their Mudlavia-bound passengers. Nearby Williamsport, on the Wabash River, served as a debarking point for visitors arriving from the south. Horses and buggies, and later cars, carried visitors to the mudbaths.5

The Mudlavia Hotel, nestled on a parcel of low-lying grassy farmland, was surrounded by hilly, wooded terrain. The main building, atop a rise, was the grandest structure for miles. Open land stretched before it, space for tennis courts, a golf course, and buggy rides. When Stockdale arrived in Attica after two days of train trav-

  • 3A general guide to mineral springs in Indiana, and West Baden and Mudlavia in particular, can be found in Robert M. Taylor, Jr., "Soaking, Sluicing, and Stewing in Hoosier Mineral Waters," Traces of Zndiana and Midwestern History, IV (Winter 1992), 4-9; Jeanette Vanausdall, "'A Miracle of Rare Device': Images of the West Baden Springs Hotel," ibid., 10-19; Jane Nolan and Linda Weintraut, "The Right Water, the Right Mud and the Right Place: The Story Behind Mudlavia," ibid., 20-27.
  • 4U. S. Geological Survey, Mineral Resources: 1908, 770; William Edward Fitch, Mineral Waters of the United States and American Spas (Philadelphia, 1927), 361-62. For a recent study of water cures in general and their development in Texas see Janet Mace Valenza, Taking the Waters in Texas (Austin, Tex., 2000).
  • 5Thomas A. Clifton, ed., Past and Present of Fountain and Warren Counties, Indiana (Indianapolis, 19131, 130, 144-45; Standard Atlas of Warren County, Indiana (Chicago, 19041, 19; A History of Warren County, Indiana (Williamsport, Ind., 19661, 1-5, 157-59. The author thanks Chris Brown, librarian at the Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library, for helping to locate the Mudlavia site as well as relevant county resources.
el, he may have been remembering another trip he took for health reasons much earlier in his life. Rheumatism was his second serious health condition. As a young man, Stockdale had "quick consumption [probably tuberculosis]. … and could hardly walk down the street without stopping to rest." When he was about sixteen, Stock-dale left Iowa and headed west in the hope of increasing his strength. Family stones tell of his riding with wagon trains, fighting Indians, and "pulling timber" in Montana. After two years he returned physically well and with "$1,000 and a pair of oxen."6 He claimed his consumption was cured by these journeys, while his rheumatism developed from sleeping on the hard Montana ground. The rheumatism caused him pain throughout the remainder of his life.

Stockdale soon began to buy land and raise cattle. He married Lydia Smith in 1871 and took over his family's farm. Children came soon after, seven in all. Lydia also had consumption and during the time they were married she lived for two years in Colorado Springs and, later, another two years in California, hoping to improve. Neither of the trips seemed to help, however, and she died in 1888.

After two years, Stockdale remarried. His wife, Louise Keller, was twenty-one years his junior and had been a seamstress and nurse for the family. Louise, or Lou, as he called her, also gave birth to seven children, the last in 1907. The following year, Stockdale said good-bye to his family (with children at home, ages one, four, nine, ten, twelve, fifteen, and seventeen) and took the two-day trip, first on the Illinois Central to Chicago and then the Chicago and Eastern Illinois to Attica, Indiana. A horse-drawn car met the travelers at the station and carried them the six miles to the little village of Kramer and the Mudlavia spa.

People arrived at the mud baths with great hopes that they would be cured; advertisements and medical testimonials presented an image of enjoyment, rest, and certain health. The reality was somewhat different. Patients waited expectantly for up to three weeks for the effects of the daily treatments to be felt. The uncertainty of success created a high level of drama for the patients, along with anxiety and ohn boredom. Charles Stockdale experienced all of these emotions during the weeks he spent at Mudlavia.

Arrival in Mudlavia: Week One

There is ample accommodation at Mudlavia for two hundred and fifty guests and the rooms are mostly arranged en suite. … Every room in the entire hotel has been completely renovated and refirnished where necessary, so that all conditions for the health, rest or pleasure seeker are everything that can be desired… as full of comfort as sunshine, cheery decoration, antique oak and luxurious rugs can make them.7

  • 6Lydia Stockdale, "Stories of Grandpa Stockdale," c. 1940, typescript (in the author's possession).
  • 7Indiana Springs Company, "Mud More Valuable than Gold" (brochure, n.p., 1905).


Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library, Williamsport, Indiana

Once Stockdale settled in, he wrote almost every day either to his wife or to one of his children. During the first few days, his letters were full of advice, including words of love and encouragement to family members and guidance concerning the day-to-day management of the farm.

My Dear Wife and Family

Well I have just had my baths. … And from now till tomarrow at 1/2 past 8 nothing to do but sit around and eat our regular meals.

The weather is just lovely. Yesterday there were lots of Ladies and Gents out on the porches and out taking their walks. I went out but it seemed to chill me so I came right in. Have all the exercise I want in the building. From where we eat to where we get our baths must be as far as from our house as to the barn. My rheumatism seems to be aching quite a good deal at times but not hard. It kept me awake last night for 2 or 3 hours. They all say for the first 4 or 5 days it is worse and aRer that it gets better. …

Well, I hope you are all well. Tell the boys to turn the sheep into the yard & stay over night so they can get water and watch them the first time. They may be so dry that they will push each other in the tank an drown. And look after the fences an see that the cattle get water and see that the fat steers get their corn regular and so forth. Ray [son, age seventeen] is now old enough to take an interest in things and see what needs to be done.

Well I hope that Lizzie [Lou's sister] came down and Grandma [Lou's mother] so you can get your sewing done. Try and take good care of yourselves and keep well at home, if possible don't be worrying about me. … Tell those little boys I think of them lots of times. I know Glen [age four] and Howard [age one] will be asking for their Papa when you get this. Tell them to be good little children.8

The next day Stockdale added more description of Mudlavia and offered further advice to his wife.

This place is 6 miles from where we got off the train. It is situated in the edge of a valley, 4 or 5 hundred acres surrounded with hills all covered with timber. It really looks beautiful. This is another nice day every one mostly that are able are out in the sun and taking walks and so forth. … If you need meat Ray and Rob [son age 12] could butcher a sheep. If it aint too warm of course, I cant tell how it is. Then do the best you can.9

He also wrote individually to his children. To his fifteen-year-old daughter Neva, he advised, "Well Neva try and neuer be late at school, be always a good Girl & do good. … Remember Gods eye seeith us all may our lives always be prescious in his sight. Is your Fathers Prayer." Of son Robert he inquired,

How are you getting along. Are you still trying your best to be a good boy? Guard against everything that has the appearence of evil. Guard your tongue govern your temper now when you are young then it will be easy for you as you grow to be a man, improve every minute at school & try and be useful and help your Mama every minute you can just think how much she has to do and every thing you do will make it that much easier for her.10

  • 8C. J. Stockdale to "My Dear Wife and Family," October 9, 1908, Stockdale-Voogd Papers (in the author's possession).
  • 9Stockdale to wife and family, October 10, 1908, ibid.
  • 10stockdale to Neva, October 12, 1908, ibid.; Stockdale to Robert, October 13, 1908, ibid.


Voogd-Stockdale collection in author's possession

As Stockdale thought about his family and all the work at home, he was concerned about the length of his stay. He joined what must have been frequent discussions among the Mudlavia visitors about numbers of baths and cures:

I think that I will come out all right but it may take 21 baths to do it. that seems like a long time to look ahead. But there are plenty of others that have to do it to. … There was a young man went away this morning feeling very happy. … he said when he came he could scarcely walk at all his knees and joints were all swollen and besides the rheumatism he had Exema. he said his face and head was sore all over when he would scratch his head the hair would come out. And now that was all well. … He took 21 baths."

Progress was slow but Stockdale made an effort to remain hopeful:

I took my bath this morning and while in the cooling room my leg hurt me oh so much. … I saw the Dr and told him, he said for me to go to my room and undress an go to bed and stay till noon and rest which I did until 1 oclock. … I am not any better than when I came or hardly as good but they say that it is a good sign to be worse that it shows the mud is drawing out the disease and that afterwards then they get better.12

  • 11Stockdale to wife and family, October 9, 1908, ibid.
  • 12Stockdale to wife and family, October 10, 1908, ibid.

GENTLEMEN'S MOOR MUD BATH AT MUDLAVIA "Mud More Valuable Than Gold," booklet, Indiana Historical Society

Some of Stockdale's fellow patients benefited from the treatments more than others:

There were 14 left here this morning to their homes, some well, others helped some and som not helped at all. One man from Texas & his wife, his wife was much better but he wasent any better whatever. There are several that dont get much of any relief. … Well Neva you would wonder to see all the women & young Ladies here lame & crippled with rheumatism. … I see so many here so bad that I have made up my mind that I aint very bad.

I really believe that I am getting better. My hip is ever so much better to day but the pain now seems to be in the calf of my leg and some in foot and seems to catch me in differents parts of my body that I never felt anything before.13

With one treatment a day, there was plenty of time for other activities. Many of the spas and sanatoriums that developed around mineral springs grew into luxurious resorts for the wealthy, who wanted fine food, comfortable surroundings, and leisure activities such as racing or gambling. Mudlavia was clearly not being marketed to that clientele. As its brochure proclaimed, "Who comes here, leaves vice behind."14 While some came for the "whiskey treatment" or for leisure and relaxation, most were there because of health problems. The activities were decidedly low-key and proper: "I must go out, sit on the porch and sun myself after I finish this letter. … There are lots out playing Crochet [croquet] and others playing golf more out bugy riding. Some here just resting up, dont know how to spend their money." Later, Stockdale spoke about patients spending time writing letters: "There is just 8 writing desks in this room & it is kept full from morning till night most always."15

  • 13Stockdale to Neva, October 12, 1908, ibid.
  • 14Schanz, Mudlavia Resort Book, 19.
  • 15Stockdale to Neva, October 12,1908, Stockdale-Voogd Papers; Stockdale to Hazel, October 25, 1908, ibid.

As the days passed and his body continued to ache, Stockdale sometimes gave in to despair:

I sometimes dont know what to think about the treatments here. The night before last… I never slept any all, my leg kept acheing a little all night no matter which way I turned it kept on acheing not hard but just enough to keep me awake. I saw the Dr yesterday he told me to put a hot watter bag by it did so & last night slept some, it has been bothering some today.16

The Treatment and the Guests: Week Two

The philosophy of the mudbaths is that they bring the skin into lively action and open these ducts and pores, and let the bad matter out of the system, and it is the most rational manner of curing disease, especially rheumatism. … The characteristics of the Magno Lithia water, the minerals that are in it, the magnesia and lithia, which remain in the mud as the waters from the spring percolate through it are what give the mud its strength and drawing power.17

The efficacy of bathing in and drinking mineral water and of using hot springs and "lithia mud" for reviving health, ending pain, and restoring skin and internal organs was touted in medical literature as well as in the brochures and books published by the resorts and hotels. Promoters reminded readers of the long history of hot springs and mineral water use in Europe and Greece and by Native Americans in the United States.

The healing powers of certain waters have been recognized from earliest times, including Minoan and Egyptian civilizations. Both Baden-Baden, Germany, and Bath, England, were expanded from early Roman baths. Many spas in the United States developed from springs celebrated by Native Americans. In 1832, Hot Springs, long a well-known medicinal spring, became the first National Reserve; it was the first time the federal government acquired land specifically for public recreational and health purposes.18

By the nineteenth century, scientists were especially interested in the chemical analysis of these waters. It was not scientists, though, but "enthusiastic commercial promoters, romantic travel writers and passionate health reformers who cultivated the fashionable perceptions and popular acceptance of America's healing waters."19

Medical doctors in the twentieth century used scientific language to explain how these processes aided health. They developed

  • 16Stockdale to Hasel [sic], October 14, 1908, ibid.
  • 17Schanz, Mudlavia Resort Book, 19.
  • 18Joseph Wechsberg, The Lost World of the Great Spas (New York, 1979), 6-8, 45-48, 180; Jonathan Paul De Vierville, "American Healing Waters: A Chronology (1513–1946) and Historical Survey of America's Major Springs, Spas, and Health Resorts Including a Review of Their Medicinal Virtues, Therapeutic Methods, and Health Care Practices" (2 vols., Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, Austin, 1992), I, 252.
  • 19De Vierville, "American Healing Waters," I, 161.

POSTCARD OF THE LITHIA SPRINGS AT MUDLAVIA 1900 Warren County Historical Society

case studies, sought clinical authentication, and established sanatoriums that would treat disease. In 1908, the year Stockdale visited Mudlavia, the American Climatological Society committee on health resorts listed a new mineral water classification system as supporters eagerly explained the reasons for health results. Respected physicians wrote huge guides to mineral water spas throughout the country, including information about hundreds of diseases mineral waters could cure. As late as the 1940s, some doctors continued to advocate such treatments.20

The history of spas and mineral-water use suggests that medicinal waters may have been widely available within the ancient communities that valued springs. However, in the nineteenth century mineral-water baths were for the most part an activity of the wealthy, who could afford the leisure time and costs of travel and hotels. One strain of this literature highlights the role of spas as a place of rest for educated middle- and upper-class white women.21

Stockdale's letters provide another view. As he wrote about how the treatment at Mudlavia affected him and those about him, he was concerned with health, not recreation. Most of his fellow patients shared that focus and in fact they were a vital part of the healing process. The sufferers encouraged one another, providing hope or sharing concerns.

A book about Mudlavia published by the Indiana Springs Company in 1901 included descriptions of many of the guests. Stockdale, a farmer and livestock dealer, fit in well. The most common age groups represented among patients were forty-one to fifty and sixty-one to seventy, which reflected the fact that health concerns associated with aging brought most people there. Men outnumbered women. Most females were identified as wife, daughter, granddaughter, or sister of another guest, usually male. While a few women were identified as individuals, only two were described as employed, one as a sculptor, the other connected with the "Office of Hildreth Hotel and Opera House Company."22 Although only a few women are identified in the book, there appeared to be a thriving women's section, which Stockdale described in some detail.

I see that the Women have a large dress like a night dress but large & made of heavy woolen cloth. They wear them to the booth and have to have them on in the cooling room. The men have them to some have blankets. I bought a blanket here for a dollar that answers the purpose alright. The Women have their separate Rooms and Ladies to wait on them. The men have a separate booth to undress in. … I throw the blanket around me and go to the mud bath room, throw it of, then get int a bed of

  • 20Fitch, Mineral Waters, 19-29; Henry E. Sigerist, "American Spas in Historical Perspective," Bulletin of the History of Medicine, XI (February 19421, 133-47.
  • 21See Susan E. Cayleff, Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement and Women's Health (Philadelphia, Penn., 1987).
  • 22Schanz, Mudlavia Resort Book, 31-44, 57-62, 81, 84-107.
mud fixed on a cot. There a man covers me all up except my head and some over the breast. The mud is heated & fixed all by machinary in a separate room.23

Stockdale believed that his wife's sister, Lizzie, might benefit from the treatment and he was willing to pay her way:

I was talking to the Dr here about Lizzies Neuralgia in the stomach. He said if I was sure it was Neuralgia it would certainly cure her here. He said if it was canser it would do no good. He said her stomach could be pumped out & the contents anna-lyzed and if it was canser they could tell. Now Lou I have been thinking if she wanted to come here and take these baths here that you could give her the money to do it with. She has done lots for us, and it seems too bad for her to suffer if she can be cured. it only costs about 10 dollars to get here for fare. You can talk it over with her & see what she thinks of it if she comes before I go home it wouldent be so lonesome for either of us.24

Although Stockdale mentions loneliness, he probably found a number of guests of his own age and class who shared his general interests. Of 110 professions listed in the book, there were 25 merchants, 10 hotel proprietors, 5 bankers, 5 salesmen, and 5 insurance agents. There were 4 farmers, 8 railroad agents or managers, and another 10 persons who worked as other kinds of business managers. Seven men were described as politicians, almost always "stalwart Republicans," and 4 were listed as newspaper publishers. There were a few teachers, college administrators, and 2 clergymen, one a Catholic, another from the Armour Mission in Chicago. Many upper-middle-class professionals were regular guests at Mudlavia. The publishers highlighted the visitors who represented the upper strata of society.

Stockdale was also upper middle class, if judged by his farm holdings. The Stockdale farm was one of the largest in the Aplington area, over one thousand acres, at a time when the average United States farm was 138 acres. As a leader in the local Presbyterian church and having been "elected to offices of trust" in his community, Stockdale shared many of the values and expectations of others at Mudlavia. At the same time, he was not "elite." Aplington had no electric service until 1915, when a town-sponsored generator ran between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Looking back when she was eighty, Neva Stockdale remembered the coming of indoor plumbing. Washday and much of farm work was backbreaking and tiresome, no matter how successful the farmer. So the Stockdale experience was much the same as their rural neighbors; the extent of difference between the wealthy and more modest was not so extreme in the Iowa small town of 1908 as it was in more urban parts of the country, or as it became later in the century.25

  • 23Stockdale to wife, October 16, 1908, Stockdale-Voogd Papers.
  • 24Ibid.
  • 25More farms in 1910 were between 50 and 499 acres than any other size, and only 50,000 farms were over 1,000 acres out of 6.37 million farms. Texas Education Agency, http://www.tea.state.tx.us/resources/ssced/techno/activity3handout1.htm;


Voogd-StockdaleCollection in author's possession

It is clear from Stockdale's observations that not everyone was helped equally at Mudlavia and that his own future health was still in question:

There was a man this morning fainted away in the mud room just as he was going to get in. … I am afraid he never will get well. Most all who were here when I came have gone away & the rooms all filled again so many new faces. One man came last night had rheumatism for 25 years and only lives 30 miles from hear. He said he thought he could wear it out he changed his mind & thought it would wear him out. … There are a good many folks here business men just to have vacation and rest up.26

A few days later Stockdale described another patient.

It is wonderful how many that comes here for treatment. There was a man came here last night he weighs 300 lbs big plug hat & long beard he has been a large Bridge contractor & now a Banker. They say he is a million heir he must be 70 years old. He has a little rheumatism to.27

Not all the patients were old.

The young man that was so bad caused by riding his bicicle went away this morning not as well as when he came. They carried him on a cot from home & took him back on it. There are but few here now that was here when I came. Mostly all new faces. It realy wonderful to see so many cripples they keep coming. Then there are some here to get the whisky soaked out and for all kind of troubles. There was a German Dr from St louis when I came, he is here yet. Saturday last his Wife came to. She is a Dr also. There is nothing wrong with either a nice couple just having a vacation,

  • Jane Abbas, Diletta Buseman, Sylvia Meyer, and Becky Uhlenhopp, Aplington 1856–1981: 125 Years (Aplington, Iowa, 1981), 30, 47, 139; Centennial Committee, First Presbyterian Church, Aplington, Iowa, 1869–1969 (Aplington, Iowa, 1969), 2-5.
  • 26Stockdale to wife, October 18, 1908, Stockdale-Voogd Papers.
  • 27Stockdale to wife, October 20, 1908, ibid.
they both take the treatment. The man wants to reduce his weight and only eats one meal a day. Still he has gained 4 lbs so far he weighs 220 lbs naked.28

During his second week at Mudlavia, Stockdale began to attend religious services. Nonsectarian worship was offered at a small Victorian wood-shingled church built at the behest of Mrs. Kramer, wife of the Mudlavia director. In addition to Sunday and midweek services, the church also served as a meeting and performance space: "There is going to be preaching to night at 1/2 past 7. I will try & go it is only about 50 feet but have go to up stairs all the way, the house is on top of the bluff. There are lots out bugy riding."29

As time passed, Stockdale showed less interest in his family's affairs, offering little advice except words of quick encouragement, especially to his wife to care for "those little boys." "Tell Neva to get up early and above all things to never be late at school it is only a habit to be late[.]"30 "Take good care of those little boys Glen & baby especially that nothing happens them. & larger ones to was expecting a letter to day but nothing came."31 "How is Neva my sweet little Lady & then Hazel that great standby an little worker. & all these young men."32

Stockdale's patience was wearing thin. Although he realized that a cure might take several days or even weeks, he constantly questioned whether he was getting better. Some days there appeared to be improvement; other days he was weary of the whole process. On October 16, a week after his arrival, Stockdale reported

It seems like a good while since I left home. And I am so thankful that I havent had any of those severe pains which I had the last Sunday at home. … I felt weak after my bath to day and lay down in bed til dinertime. … today at dinner it was hard for me to sit on the chair so long, no cushion to put on it it dont ache so much now slept some last night had hot water at my feet will keep it there every night after this. … there isent much here to write about it is the same thing over again.33

A few days later he wrote,

Well I slept very good last night but had to have the hot water bag at my foot and knee. … staid in the mud … about 45 minutes usually 30. … I feel some improvement & expect fmm now on to get better every day. … I dont expect now to leave hear until I take 21 baths, today was the 11th bath 10 more. …34

It is just two weeks this evening since I arrived here. After my baths this morning it seemed as if I was much better but when I came to walk to my room my leg felt very weak & pained me some. However I believe the treatment is going to cure me. They say that after going home most every one continues to improve until well.35

  • 28Stockdale to wife, October 21, 1908, ibid.
  • 29Stockdale to wife, October 18, 1908, ibid.
  • 30Stockdale to wife, October 16, 1908, ibid.
  • 31Stockdale to wife, October 21, 1908, ibid.
  • 32Stockdale to wife, October 23, 1908, ibid.
  • 33Stockdale to wife, October 16, 1908, ibid.
  • 34Stockdale to wife, October 18, 1908, ibid.
  • 35Stockdale to wife, October 20, 1908, ibid.


Warren County Historical Society

Waiting for the Cure: Week Three

In regard to the treatment of rheumatism at your institution, allow me to say that during my wife's illness with this trouble we visited the famous places in Arkansas and Colorado, but found nothing to equal the mud cure and Lithia water Baths found at Mudlauia, Ind. Too much cannot be said in praise of your institution, and I most earnestly and sincerely recommend the treatment to all persons afflicted with rheumatism. Your respectful,

I. H. Taylor, M.D. Springfield, Il36

Rheumatism was one of the most common complaints prompting patients to try the mud cure. The term rheumatism' appeared to cover many different pains and conditions, so that it is difficult either to identify Stockdale's illness or to know whether the treatments worked. Rheumatism had long been identified as a disease affecting joints; classical references abound, as do reports of treatment at English and French bathhouses and spas. The term was often interchanged with arthritis or confused with gout, yet nearly every description of spas includes rheumatism as one of the diseases cured.37

In the decades immediately following Stockdale's visit to Mudlavia much would be written challenging the accuracy of rheumatism as a diagnosis and mineral water as a cure. One writer called rheumatism a "much abused word, covering a multitude of pains and aches whether in the bones, muscles or joints," leading to much quackery.

  • 36For a typical testimonial from more than forty published see Schanz, Mudlauia Resort Book, 32.
  • 37Roy Porter and G. S. Roussaeu, Gout: The Patrician Malady (New Haven, Conn., 1998), 7-9; Roy Porter, ed., The Medical History of Waters and Spas (London, Eng., 1990), 96-97.
He said cases were due to infedion, old injuries, or "misplacements," and listed pages of alleged treatments, all of them ineffective. Another physician suggested that arthritis was more commonly used to designate inflammatory trouble within a joint and that many joint disturbances were incorrectly given the name rheumatism.38

Recent definitions bring us back to the earlier reports in which rheumatism seems to be a catch-all term.

Rheumatism is a general term for an acute chronic condition characterized by inflammation, soreness and stiffness of muscles, and pain in joints and associated structures. It includes arthritis (infectious, rheumatoid, and gouty); arthritis due to rheumatic fever or trauma; degenerative joint diseases; neurogenic arthsopathy; hydroarthrosis; myositis; bursitis; fibromyositis and many other conditions.39

Stockdale's condition may have been osteoarthritis, joint pain due to breakdown of cartilage, characterized by specific, localized symptoms. He complained most often of pain in his leg. However, he also reported pain in his hip, back, calf, and foot, which suggests the more serious, systemic condition of rheumatoid arthritis, in which the lining of the joints becomes inflamed. The resulting crippling pain, especially in arms and legs, makes this second diagnosis more likely.

With more than forty-three million persons today suffering from such conditions, modern medicine, using aspirin and cortisone, has alleviated many symptoms. Alternative therapies are still sought by many sufferers. In fact, mineral water may have a positive effect on joint pain. Mudbaths and hot springs especially may provide temporary relief by holding body heat, which may relieve aches and pains. For rheumatism sufferers in the early twentieth century, the rest, heat, and attention of the health spa was ofien, as it appeared to be for Stockdale, the last hope.40

During his third week at Mudlavia, Stockdale continued to write about his own struggle with rheumatism and his hopes for the mineral mud and water cure. He measured the successes of other patients against his own experience:

There are several milion heirs here and such stile the Ladies put on. So many limping & with crutches and chairs coming to the tables some cant get out of the chair eat right in their whealed chair. … There was a little boy came last night 8 years old he had a large absess on his arm the Dr at home told them it was rheumatism & sent him here. They lansed it at 8 oclock last night. I heard the little fellow scream. This morning he is all right dont hurt anymore.41

Stockdale was encouraged by others' cures. "There is a young man came here 5 days ago couldent get on his coat alone could scarsely

  • 38Arthur Cramp, ed., Nostrums and Quackery and Pseudomedicine (3 vols., Chicago, 1911-1936), 111, 181-89; Fitch, Mineral Waters, 127.
  • 39Clayton L. Thomas, ed., Tuber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (19th ed., Philadelphia, Penn., 20011, 1886.
  • 40Roy Porter, ed., The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine (Cambridge, Eng., 1996), 112.
  • 41Stockdale to wife, October 22, 1908, Stockdale-Voogd Papers.
open his hand now he is as well as ever every pain gone and is going home tomarrow. It is really wonderful the people they cure & help That man that fainted away Sunday is feeling fine now & his rheumatism seems to be all gone."42

As his visit extended, Stockdale's comments contained more religious references, suggesting an increase in his prayers for recovery:

I was out to meeting this afternoon at 3 oclock. his text was from the 3rd comandment Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in Vain. It was an excelent sermon. I couldent help thinking about my nice young boys. I do hope they never will let such a thing ever come in their Hart.43

His letters often ended with a prayer: "May God bless and be with you all. Look up to him in whose hand our very breath is. Is the prayer of your Dear Husband & Father."44 "May the Lord that rules the Heavens and the Earth take care of you all and his spirit abide in all of your Harts is my earnest prayer Your loving Father & Husband."45

Stockdale's hopes and anxieties were reflected in his letters as the pressure rose in the last week. "I do believe that I am getting quite a relief from the treatments. They claim that the last week does the most good. I will know afterwards. Every day seems like a week. … hope to be home before long I am counting the days."46

He wrote home every day the last week:

You may think that I wouldent get lonesome so many here, but I do. There isent but one here now that came when I did. … every day seems as long as two. … I am still improving but slow it is just very hard to get well. … There dont seem to be any news to write. It is just the same thing over again.47

One more day & … treatment over. This morning I wasent as well and dident sleep good last night. I feel some pain in my hip now as I writing but very mild my leg feels very weak it is hard to get it out of these old bones.48

It seems as if my time here is getting shorter. Still I havent improved as much as I expected. I see so many got along so much faster still they are all much younger.49

Somewhat suddenly the final treatments brought a definite change to "these old bones." Stockdale was filled with great joy and wonder. It appeared that the mud baths had worked. Or had he willed himself well? If so, was the cure only temporary? One fact was certain: by the completion of the twenty-first treatment, his pain had disappeared.

  • 42Stockdale to wife, October 23, 1908, ibid.
  • 43Stockdale to Hazel, October 25, 1908, ibid.
  • 44Stockdale to wife, October 21, 1908, ibid.
  • 45Stockdale to Hazel, October 25, 1908, ibid.
  • 46Stockdale to wife, October 21, 1908, ibid.
  • 47Stockdale to wife, October 22, 1908, ibid.
  • 48Stockdale to wife, October 23, 1908, ibid.
  • 49Stockdale to wife, October 24, 1908, ibid.

I am feeling ever so much better today. Since I had my baths this morning havent felt a pain since. … I can scarcely believe my Self how nice my leg feels without pain only a little weak. it is really wonderful how many get cured here with the treatment. I have taken by Tuesday 21 baths & you may know that sweating so much that my flesh is just like a little child the least wind or draft I cant stand. … It seems like two months since I have been here.50

Words and pen fail to express how thankful I am to the Giver of all good for the return of my health once more. Yesterday morning in coming from my baths I could scarcely believe seemed to walk without pain. "his morning … I felt a little from small of my back to my hip but very light and only for a minute. Tomarrow will be 21 baths.51

The following day, apparently still improved, Stockdale began his return trip, taking the train from Attica to Chicago and then west to Aplington, Iowa, and his busy family and farm. No hrther letters tell us how he fared when he arrived home and whether the cure he experienced stayed with him. He continued to work the farm, his children grew, and he became an elder of the local Presbyterian church. Stockdale died almost nine years later, in June 1917, at the age of seventy-one. His death certificate listed the cause of death as "Diabetes, coma."

Mudlavia continued to prosper for nearly two decades after Stockdale returned home. A neighboring enterprise, the Hunter Hotel, began to bottle the area's mineral water and compete with Mudlavia; in 1914 they merged their bottling activities. Mudlavia was described in federal mineral water reports of this decade as a "large and commodious hostelry, with modern improvements and conveniences … fitted especially for administering the celebrated ‘mud baths’ for which the resort has become famous." There were rumors that Al Capone came to the site when he needed a rest from Chicago. The lithia water continued to be sold until much later in the century.52

In February 1920 a fire that started in a linen closet burned the building to the ground causing great distress to the guests, especially those who were in the baths at the time. Everyone escaped the inferno, and H. L. Kramer promised to rebuild immediately. However, restarting such an opulent business proved difficult.53

  • 50Stockdale to Hazel, October 25, 1908, ibid.
  • 51Stockdale to wife, October 26, 1908, ibid.
  • 52Warren County, Indiana, Historical Records Database, http://www.warren-co.net/history. A strongly-worded statement in the material published by the Indiana Springs Company may be a reference to the competition offered by Hunter Springs. In describing the train attendants who met incoming guests and drove them to the site, readers were warned: "Look for the right name and uniform on arrival, as a number of parasitic little fake institutions have sprung up in the neighborhood who try to mislead our patrons by imitating the style of our uniforms and vehicles." Schanz, Mudlavia Resort Book, 71. Fitch, Mineral Waters, 361; Ronald L. Baker, From Needmore to Prosperity: Hoosier Place Names in Folklore and History (Bloomington, Ind., 19951, 231.
  • 53Attica Ledger, March 5, 1920; WilliamsportReview-Republican, January 15, 1970.

Across the country, mineral springs, spas, and resorts continued to thrive into the 1920s, including a spring selling mineral water in Iowa Falls, Iowa, only twenty-five miles from the Stockdale farm. Fires, floods, and other disasters took a toll, causing many to close.

While supporters claimed great success from mineral-springs treatments, skeptics uncovered many false practitioners and misrepresentations of the diseases that could be cured and of the chemical contents of the lithia and other mineral waters sold in nearly every state. Closer federal regulation and health laws challenged many dubious practices.

During this period, a series of news articles reported that Kramer had additional problems of his own with the law. He was convicted of illegal activity in California and nearly spent time in jail. Several months after being found guilty of using the mails to defraud, as part of a land development scheme, he was exonerated, but the adverse publicity was another blow to his plans.54

Although a new building had reopened on the Mudlavia site by 1934, the depressed economy led people to spend less time and money at such resorts. People were also not as likely to use spas for health reasons. New developments in medicine, including the use of penicillin and other "wonder drugs" led people to reevaluate the effectiveness and necessity of long stays in health spas. According to Jonathan De Vierville, author of a recent history of American spas, the culture was changing, away from the traditional spa, which

required an established form, systematic order, and regulated regimes that required rest and time. Modern consciousness needed newness and speed and was basically unfavorable, if not antagonistic toward ritual, traditional and ordered cultural forms vital to socially regenerative spa practices and ancient spa methods. Healing waters needed time, form, and tradition: modernity demanded speed, novelty, and technology.55

The building in Kramer was used as a hotel and subsequently became housing for the elderly and infirm. It was later refashioned as a restaurant, but by the 1970s it was deserted again and after a final fire in 1974 the site was abandoned. Today there are still springs at the Mudlavia site. The water is tapped at one of the springs across the road from the former hotel. It is bottled under the Cameron Springs label.

Few traces remain of the buildings that marked this "large and commodious hostelry." The brick smoke stack of the last building still stands, a small lily-pad covered pond suggests the goldfish pond and fountain, and up in the hills is the concrete and brick holding

  • 54Attica Ledger-Tribune, September 15, 1927; Attica Fountain-Warren Democrat, July 19, 1928.
  • 55Fitch, Mineral Waters, 374; Woods Hutchinson, "Taking the Waters: The Humbug of Hot Springs," Everybody's Magazine, XXVIII (February 1913), 159-72; Harvey W. Wiley and Anne Lewis Pierce, "The Mineral Water Humbug," Good Housekeeping, LIX (July 1914), 107-11; Valenza, Taking the Waters in Texas, 138-47; De Vierville, "American Healing Waters," I, 618-19.
tank from the lithium-spring gazebo, which stood near the small Victorian church. Large trees dot the grounds in what were once formal designs. There is no hint of the four-hundred-acre farm that produced the fresh food served to the guests. And there is nothing in the scene to suggest the grandeur of the site, or the great hopes of the men and women who visited in their efforts to find health, relaxation, and renewal.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.