Imagine how settlers must have felt when they heard about water bubbling out of the desert all by itself in seemingly endless quantities. Bonus: The water came springing out of the earth at 110 degrees like a gift from God.
Artesian City came into existence because of two wells that James E. Bower drilled on the Cassia-Twin Falls county line a couple of miles south of Murtaugh Lake in 1895. Bower watered his cattle with the wells for a while, but he thought they might be an attractant for farmers whose crops might benefit from warm water.
By 1909, Bower had enticed a couple dozen families to purchase property from him. And, indeed, the crops seemed to respond well to warm water. Potatoes faired particularly well. Cattle seemed to do better drinking all the warm winter water they wanted. A couple of cattlemen from California moved 5,000 head into the area. The claim was that feeding alfalfa to cows that had access to warm water was worth about $1 a ton in feeding value.
Artesian City popped up with a general store, school, hotel, a couple of dance halls, a livery stable, a post office and a cemetery. The post office operated just a couple of years, from 1909 to 1911. The cemetery is still… operating.
In 1910, developers brought a sanatorium to Artesian City “for the cure of the ailments of humanity,” according to an Idaho Statesman article at the time. The project included a 40-room hotel with each room offering a bathtub in which one could soak privately in hot water. The water contained “Sulphur, iron, and magnesia in quantities that render it valuable in the eradication of many diseases of the human family.”
The sanatorium lasted into the 40s. The wells were capped after that. Some say drilling for irrigation water in the area has since killed the artesian effect.
One footnote worth mentioning is that James Bower, who dreamed of providing warm water to crops, played another role in Idaho history. He was the ranch foreman who hired “Diamondfield” Jack Davis. More important, he was one of the men who confessed to the murder of a pair of sheepherders that Davis had been convicted of killing. That confession freed “Diamondfield” Jack and seemed to have done Bower no discernible harm.