In Salem today are but slight traces of pits used by Indians
during the later years of their dominance in this region. Such
pits, eleven in number, were evidently in use when Jason Lee
and his party arrived in the Willamette Valley. They contained
the water into which an ailing Indian would jump after spending
time in an adjoining sweat house. My next younger brother, our
two older sisters, and I played in these pits within thirty
to forty years after the Indians abandoned, at this place, their
weird rites which accompanied their attempts to relieve the
sufferings of the sick.
The pits or pools were elongated and smaller at the east or
slightly north of the east end, where the sweat house or teepee
stood, apparently in recognition of the direction in which the
sun rose during the greater part of the year here in western
One pit located about eighty feet south of Electric Street,
in the alley between Winter and Summer Streets, varied from
the others in that it was round.
Depth of the pits was from five to six feet when we first played
in them. All but three were on higher ground, where there was
no natural drainage into them. However, from springs still higher
up the slope, water was apparently channeled into the pits.
Most of these spring disappeared when the trees were removed
and those remaining have been drained.
The northernmost pit was located near what is now the southwest
corner of Bennett Field at South Salem High School; The southernmost
was where a house stands at 2195 Summer St. SE. The pool farthest
east was slightly east and north of the center of the block
surrounded by Electric, Hoyt, Summer, and Raynor Sts. SE. The
one farthest west was near the center of the block bounded by
Rural, Electric, Church, and Cottage Sts. SE. Positions of the
others are shown on the accompanying map.
The Indian name of the place has been forgotten. The missionaries,
anxious to supplant the Indian religion with their own, not
only tried but succeeded in forgetting the place.
During the time of the grading of Bennett Field, an effort was
made to persuade the school directors to preserve the pool on
the school grounds, but to now avail. Mythologies of the Old
Word were being taught to the pupils at Leslie Junior High School,
while traces of equally interesting Indian lore were being destroyed
on their own school grounds.
To the Indians, the sun was an object of awe and reverence.
In deference to its daily appearance in the east, they placed
their sweat houses to the east of the pools in which they cooled
off after time spent in the steamy heat of the sweat house.
Sickness was caused by evil spirits in the Indian way of
thinking, and efforts were directed toward driving these spirits
out of the bodies of the sick. The "powwows," as
the whites termed them, were noisy, accompanied by much chanting,
with vigorous massaging, and more or less beating the body
of the sick person, with the hands or fists by the medicine
man. A powwow would continue sometimes for days. It may be
assumed that, over a long period of time, such noisy affairs
were common events near the sweat houses.
Probably the Indians discussed the relative merits of various
pools for the curing of diseases. As time went on, sizes of
the various pools were enlarged by the removal of sediment
carried from them on the bodies of those treated. Thus, the
varying sizes of the pools were a gauge of their popularity
- or lack of it - among the Indians who went to them to be
treated for the physical disorders.
Written by Lewis H. Judson
Marion County History, Volume 8, 1962-1964