The Almost Shoot Out of 1884

The first Army Navy hospital in the snow, mid 1800s.
First Army-Navy Hospital in the snow, mid-1880s

NPS Archives

In 1882, Congress authorized the War Department to construct the Army-Navy General Hospital in Hot Springs and allocated $100,000 to pay for it. In 1884, workers began diverting hot springs water to assist with construction. This angered Hot Springs Reservation Superintendent Samuel Hamblen who argued that the bathhouses needed all the available water from the hot springs. Despite Hamblen’s objections, Captain Jacobs, supervising the construction of the military hospital, diverted water.

Captain Jacobs later made the following report to his superiors in Washington,

"While walking around the hospital grounds, I found the Superintendent of the Hot Springs Reservation with a gang of men employed in opening the spring belonging to the hospital and in the act of leading off the water which would have resulted in suspending work on the hospital construction. I told him he must not cut me off from this water to which he paid no attention, but directed his men to proceed with their work. “I immediately came to my office and directed my clerk to get me a double-barreled shotgun. “Returning at once to the spring I repeated my demands not to interfere with the spring. The Superintendent repeated this to his men, when I pushed them away. The Superintendent then planted himself on the spring indicating in manner and speech that he wanted me to forcibly eject him, which I proceeded to do in a most effectual manner. At this time my clerk made his appearance with the gun which I took from him and stationing myself over the spring maintained possession, and shall continue to prevent any interference."

Superintendent Hamblen and his men suddenly found themselves staring down the twin barrels of Captain Jacobs’ shotgun. Jacobs was not just a man with a gun and an iron disposition. He was also a decorated combat veteran and no stranger to ending human life. Hamblen and his workers wisely decided that discretion was the greater part of valor and retreated. Both Hamblen and Jacobs urged their superiors to intervene. Officials in Washington ordered Jacobs to stop diverting water. The War Department authorized the purchase of city water for construction projects. The military completed the Army-Navy General Hospital in 1887. No superintendents were harmed in the construction of the facility.

Christopher Thrasher

Cockrell, Ron. The Hot Springs of Arkansas, America's First National Park: The Administrative History of Hot Springs National Park. 2014, 63 - 68.

United States. Official Army Register for the Year 1895, 337.

“Water Rights Fight,” January 1982, Hot Springs National Park, Library Vertical File, Drawer B4.

Large Image: A view of the Army Navy hospital in 2020 from the Grand Promenade.
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Image Caption: A view of the Army Navy hospital from the Grand Promenade. The controversial spring is located on the left behind the fence.
Image Credit: NPS Photo
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Last updated: May 6, 2020

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