I just returned from a weekend vacation with my wife in Hot Springs. Although not technically in the Ozarks, Hot Springs is located in the neighboring Ouachita Mountains and has a very interesting history. I'm not sure how geographers distinguish between the Ouachita Mountains and the Ozarks. The Boston Mountains, I believe, are considered to be the southern range of the Ozarks. However, if you go a little farther south, even though you have never left mountainous territory, you are considered to be in the Ouachita Mountains, a separate range. What's up with that? Anyway, back to the town's interesting history. On this blog, I've previously discussed towns, such as Eureka Springs, that grew up in our region during the late 1800s because of nearby mineral water springs. Hot Springs, however, predated Eureka Springs and most of the other mineral water springs of the Ozarks by almost half a century. People started trekking to Hot Springs to "take the cure" as early as the 1830s. The town became one of the first, if not the first, resort spa in America. I'm even more fascinated by the criminal history of Hot Springs than by its mineral water history. By the late 1800s, the town had become not only a famous mineral-water town but also a mecca for gamblers. During the 1880s, Frank Flynn controlled most of the gambling--the town's organized crime boss, so to speak. In the mid 1880s, Alexander S. Doran, a former Confederate major, came to town and opened up his own gambling house. He and Flynn clashed almost immediately, and they ended up in a gunfight. Flynn was wounded, but Doran soon left town, relinguishing any claim on the town's gambling interests. A couple of years later, Doran was killed in a shootout in Fort Smith (an incident that is the subject of a chapter in my upcoming book, Desperadoes of the Ozarks
). Meanwhile, Flynn continued to control gambling in Hot Springs. Law enforcement officials not only looked the other way where gambling was concerned but actually supported it because of the revenue it brought in. Hot Springs gambling eventually led to a notorious shootout in 1899 between city police and the county sheriff's department. On the surface, the city police seemed to support the gambling interests while the sheriff's office appeared to be trying to crack down on the vice, but the battle was really over which side would control the gambling. Later, during the gangster era of the 1920s and early 1930s, gangsters like Al Capone hung out in Hot Springs when they wanted to take a break from their regular gangster activities in Chicago and elsewhere. In fact, there's a Gangster Museum in Hot Springs today.