Probable convoluted and dramatic history of Sleeping Child Hot Springs

Salish delegation to Washington DC 1884, to plead to remain in their homeland of the Bitterroot Valley. They were forcably removed in 1891.

Salish delegation to Washington DC 1884, to plead to remain in their homeland of the Bitterroot Valley. They were forcibly removed in 1891.

Prehistory: Sometime in the distance past, two high volume hot mineral springs emerged from rock faces of the rock-walled canyon at Sleeping Child Hot Springs. A 1980 geology report states that the water comes from a fracture of the Idaho Batholith.

Pre-1880s: The hot springs were used by the Bitterroot Salish people (who spent their winters in the Bitterroot Valley) and other nomadic tribes as a peaceful healing place for thousands of years. Often hot springs were considered places of peace for tribes who were enemies so that they could be used by all. The Salish people named the hot springs after a coyote creation story.

In the Salish language, the name of the hot springs is “Snetetšé” — sleeping (or sometimes “weeping”) child. The creation story ends after coyote kills monsters disguised as crying babies. Coyote declares “From his time forward … this spring of hot water will be here to heal all generations to come.”

1891: The Salish are forcibly moved north from their homeland in the Bitterroot Valley to the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Lodge/hotel at Sleeping Child Hot Springs circa 1915-1920. It later burned to the ground.

Lodge/hotel at Sleeping Child Hot Springs circa 1915-1920. It later burned to the ground.

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Tents and small cabins around the hot springs, circa 1900. Colorized postcard.

gates

At the end of Sleeping Child Road, the gates to the hot springs declare it to be private property.

Late 1800s to late 1900s: 40 acres including Sleeping Child Hot Springs is homesteaded or taken over by other means by Euro-American settlers. It is then privately owned by a series of families, but open to the public for a daily fee. Totally surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land, the hot springs is a half-hour drive from downtown Hamilton at the end of Sleeping Child Road in a beautiful box canyon with high, sheer walls. A lot of large and small wildlife visit, including whitetail and mule deer and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. According to old postcards, the hot springs remained a very popular recreational area with camping, and at one time during the 1920s had a large lodge/hotel, cabins, etc, for Bitterrooters through the generations. Early on, the railroad owned a right-of-way to it (probably in hopes of it being a route/pass to Anaconda area but perhaps as a destination for tourists). A popular Forest Service campground just outside the property was buried by a rock slide in more recent years, and not rebuilt. Rumor has it that the last family owner attempted to interest both the City of Hamilton and Ravalli County in purchasing the hot springs for about $200,000 and making it public. The local governments declined to buy. A Southern California cosmetic dentist purchases the hot springs for $225,000 in the late 1980s and closes it to the public.

Early 1990s: Spokane developer Ed Chopot purchases the hot springs. He tears down or remodels the old buildings and builds a 5-story concrete, rock, steel and glass ‘lodge.’  Also on the property: caretaker’s home,  four condominiums, heliport, and hangar. The entire complex, including paved areas and roads, is geothermal heated.

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The main pool, with two hotter, smaller pools just above it. The 5-story lodge towers over the pools.

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Photo taken by Melissa Ann Atwood from a hiking trail on US Forest Service property above the hot springs.

2000 Quitclaim deed is filed, giving property to son Joel Chopot (who lived on the property for years).

2002 Joel Chopot relinquishes ownership back to his father. Four Nevada casinos file suit against Ed Chopot for more than $11 million in gambling debts. They also accuse and file suit against the transfer of title from Ed to his son Joel (supposedly in order to avoid having to use Sleeping Child Hot Springs assets to pay gambling debts). Ed Chopot proves that he transferred title previous to incurring debts and the case is dismissed. Rumors fly about more than $30 million total gambling debt and of more casinos joining the suit. Years of back property taxes are owed.

2003: Hamilton businessmen Harold Mildenberger and John Blahnik become owners, create Sleeping Child Hot Springs LLC as the holding company and immediately put the property up for sale.

2005: Ed Chopot flees the country and is later brutally murdered in Costa Rica. Most people assume that his murder is tied to his Las Vegas gambling debts, but this has not been proven.

2005: Robert Joe Beasley, a Whitefish businessman, borrows $2.4 million from the Whitefish Credit Union and purchases Sleeping Child Hot Springs for $5.9 million, with the $2.4 million used as the down payment.

2006: Beasley is unable to continue payments on the $3+ million balance. At the time, Beasley had the property listed for sale at $18 million, and he owed $28,000 in back taxes. Mildenberger and Blahnik agreed to modify the sales contract, but after a second year of defaults, they terminate the contract and get the property back, keeping the down payment.

2014: Sleeping Child Hot Springs for All, a local non-profit organization, is formed in an effort to acquire the hot springs, make it publicly-owned and open it to all the public. That effort is ongoing. Sleeping Child Hot Springs for All partners with Trust Montana in Missoula, and makes an offer to the owners for a tax write-off in exchange for putting the hot springs into a public trust. The owners refuse to negotiate the offer.

2003- 2016: Property is listed for sale as a corporate lodge/retreat and is a vacation/event rental. Current asking price is $9.8 million. Ravalli County 2014 Assessed taxable value was $2,372,374. Property taxes in 2014 were $25,782.

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2 thoughts on “Probable convoluted and dramatic history of Sleeping Child Hot Springs

    • Georgiann: Medicine Hot Springs also was sold (at least twice) into private hands and closed to the public, around the same time that Sleeping Child Hot Springs was. The latest sale was just this year. — Dorinda Troutman, Chair of the Board of Sleeping Child Hot Springs for All.

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