History of Sleeping Child Hot Springs, Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Swimming at the hot springs, 1980s. Beth Green Swallow photo.

Swimming at the hot springs, 1980s. Beth Green Swallow photo.

Sleeping Child Hot Springs probable convoluted ownership/history timeline:

Pre 1880s: The hot springs were used by the Bitterroot Salish people and other nomadic tribes as a peaceful and welcoming healing place for thousands of years. Often hot springs were considered places of peace for tribes that were enemies so 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 child.

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.

The story ends with coyote winning over four monsters and declaring “From his time forward … this spring of hot water will be here to heal all generations to come.” The Salish were forcibly moved to the Flathead Indian Reservation in 1891.

Colorized postcard of tents and bath houses circa 1900-1910.

Colorized postcard of tents and bath houses circa 1900-1910.

Late 1800s to late 1900s: 40 acres including Sleeping Child Hot Springs is homesteaded, “purchased” or traded perhaps, by white settlers from the Bitterroot Salish people, and then privately owned by a series of families, but open to the public for a fee to use.

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.

Totally surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land, there are many hiking trails around it. 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.

Swimmers at SCHS circa 1920s

A lot of large and small wildlife visit, including whitetail and mule deer and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. According to many old postcards, the hot springs remained a very popular recreational area with camping, a large hotel (that burned), tents, etc, for Bitterrooters through the generations. At one point, 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.

looking down into sleeping child hot springs canyon

Early 1990s: Spokane developer Ed Chopot buys the hot springs and closes it to public. Tears down old buildings and builds a 5-story resort/home/conference center, heliport and hangar. Also on property: caretaker’s home and four condominiums. The entire complex, including paved areas, is geothermally heated.

gates
2000 Quitclaim deed is filed, giving property to son Joel Chopot (who lived on the property for years). By late 2002 Joel has relinquished ownership back to his father.

2002: Four Nevada casinos file suit against Ed Chopot for more than $11 million in gambling debts. They also accuse and file suit transferring title in order to avoid having to use Sleeping Child Hot Springs assets to pay gambling debts. Chopot proves that he had transferred title previous to incurring debts and the case is dismissed. Rumors of more than $30 million gambling debt and of more casinos joining the suit. Thousands of dollars in back property taxes are also owed.

2003: Hamilton businessmen Harold Mildenberger and John Blahnik become owners.

2005: Ed Chopot flees 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 business man, borrows $2.4 million from the Whitefish Credit Union as a down payment and purchases Sleeping Child Hot Springs for $5.9 million.

2006: Beasley is unable to make payments on the $3+ million balance. At the time, Beasley had the property listed for $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.

2014: Sleeping Child Hot Springs for All, a local non-profit organization, is formed in an effort to acquire the hot springs and open it to the public.

2015: Property is currently listed as a corporate lodge/retreat and vacation/event rental, and is listed for sale for $12.9 million.

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