Licton Springs A Sacred Site of the Duwamish Tribe Ancestral Homeland By leI?elás (Thomas R. Speer)Tweet
Duwamish Sacred Site
Licton Springs has been a Duwamish religious site since time immemorial. le?qtid (Red-Paint, “LEE’kteed”, Licton Springs) is a spiritual site sacred to Chief Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe of Indians, signatories to the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty at Mukilteo.
In traditional Duwamish Teachings and view of the Universe, all things in the ?ál?altid (Ancestral Homeland) are permeated with spiritual Power, those things visible as well as not visible, including all things considered “inanimate” by Euro-Americans. This cultural information was, in part, what Chief Seattle was trying to convey to the Euro-Americans in his famous 1854 speech.
Within the ?ál?altid (Ancestral Homeland), Chief Seattle’s Duwamish People were immersed in beneficial spiritual Powers emanating from the forests, the skies, the waters, and especially from le?qtid (“Licton Springs”) and other sacred sites.
A place flowing with healing waters, as documented by Euro-American science, was regarded as possessing extraordinary spiritual Power and was a treasured medicinal resource for our Duwamish Tribe ancestors.
Treasured Resource for Puget Sound First Nations
Traditionally, our “High-Borns” – our hereditary nobility – were required by tradition to marry outside the Duwamish Tribe. This is the cultural principle that scholars call Exogamy. As a result, there have been centuries of marital bonds between the Duwamish Tribe and many First Nations of Puget Sound including the Snohomish, the Suquamish, the Snoqualmie, and those living at “Tulalip” and “Muckleshoot”. As a Snoqualmie Elder said on Memorial Day, “We are One Blood”.
For generations, the Duwamish Tribe gathered at Licton Springs, together with their relatives by marriage, in the proper season for harvesting sacred Red Ochre pigment, necessary for spiritual celebration and renewal. Like the Duwamish Tribe, neighboring First Nations consider the sacred site le?qtid to be a tangible cultural property inherited from their male or female Duwamish Ancestors. As a result of inter-marriage, neighboring First Nations have a material interest in access to and preservation of the sacred site le?qtid.
First Stewards of Licton Springs
For Chief Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe of Indians, Licton Springs is one of the last spiritual places remaining in our ?ál?altid (Ancestral Homeland). Licton Springs is located on the South Fork of tuw’Xú?bid (“Thornton Creek”).
Thornton Creek was the home of the tuw’Xú?bidabS (“Tu’húbedabsh”, tuw’Xú?bid- Creek-People), a prominent group of the Duwamish recorded in Dr. T.T. Waterman’s ground-breaking work Puget Sound Geography.
The tuw’Xú?bidabS are the First People of McAleer Creek, Thornton Creek, Matthews Beach, and the northwest shoreline of hiI XáVu? (Big Lake, “Lake Washington”), an important district of the ?ál?altid (Ancestral Homeland) of Chief Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe.
“Licton” is an English-language attempt to pronounce líq’ted. The name líq’ted is the Duwamish dialect word for the reddish mud of the springs, one of the few Duwamish words still used as a place-name in the city named to honor Chief Seattle.
When Euro-American colonists first arrived, the Licton Springs area was heavily forested and filled with numerous mineral springs, bogs, and marshes. The Duwamish Tribe called this group of springs líq’ted, connoting “red”, “colored”, or “painted”, referring to the Iron Oxide – Red Ochre – that still flows to the surface in Licton Springs Park.
For the Duwamish Tribe, the Red Ochre (líq’ted) was a sacrament and an essential component of their annual religious worship. It was also highly-valued trade commodity unavailable in many other regions.
Sustainably Cultivating the Ancestral Homeland
Cedar, Fir, Hemlock, Alder, and Willow trees flourished in that area, along with Ferns and Salal. Throughout the entire Duwamish Ancestral Homeland (western King County), the Duwamish Tribe set fires periodically to transform desirable hunting areas and to encourage plants which they cultivated and harvested. Controlled-burns were a traditional Duwamish method of removing unwanted dense underbrush and stimulating new plant growth, which attracted Elk, Deer and other game animals and birds.
Physical and Spiritual Healing
Licton Springs was a therapeutic resource for the Duwamish Tribe, who built a wúXted (“WUKH-tud”, “sweat lodge”, sweat-house) near the springs. A wúXted was used to cleanse and revitalize a person’s spirit, as well as their body. For spiritual gatherings and ceremonies, the Duwamish People painted their faces with Red Ochre pigment, the reddish mud flowing from Licton Springs, and used the red pigment to decorate their longhouses and other objects with spiritual images. Healers administered herbs and soothed aching bodies with the red mud.
There was a large marshland approximately 85 acres in size west of the springs. The Duwamish Tribe called the marsh sAúE’qid (“SHLOQW-qed”) or “bald head” and harvested cranberries there. This marsh was called “bald head” because no tall trees grew there.
Today Licton Springs is a harvesting and recreational location, situated within a modern residential and commercial district. Licton Springs is a part of the Seattle Parks system. The residential neighborhood named “Licton Springs” is located in North Seattle between Interstate 5 and Aurora Avenue.
In 1870, Seattle pioneer David Denny (1832-1903) purchased 160 acres, including Licton Springs, from the U.S. Government for $1.25 an acre. He built a summer cabin on the property. That same year, David’s brother Arthur Denny (1822-1899) purchased 400 acres to the west. David Denny and his family spent time at their wilderness retreat at Licton Springs. In 1869, he shot the last Elk in Seattle near Green Lake. David Denny had the water at Licton Springs tested in 1883 and it was determined to be healthful. There were at least two springs in the area: one with Sulfur Magnesia and another with Iron, which caused the reddish color.
David Denny’s Homestead
Denny constructed a two-story frame house at Licton Springs and contemplated a health resort for invalids and pleasure seekers. Denny’s daughter Emily Inez Denny reportedly had an incurable disease and was restored to health by drinking the waters from Licton Springs.
After the economic collapse known as “the Panic of 1893”, David and Louisa [Boren] Denny were forced to move from their majestic home on Queen Anne Hill, first to a small house in Fremont, and finally to their summer cottage at Licton Springs. David Denny died there on November 25, 1903.
Following her father’s death in 1903, Emily Inez Denny offered the 81-acre Licton Springs property to the City of Seattle for development as a public park. The city declined this offer. In 1909, Calhoun, Denny & Ewing acquired the site and platted it as “Licton Springs Park”.
The Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts were retained by Calhoun, Denny & Ewing to draw up plans for a park. They proposed an organic layout with a park, rustic drives, paved streets, and home sites. The Olmsted plan, never fully realized, included rustic shelters over the two spring basins, bridges, and paths, and clearing the reserve around the springs, as well as preservation of the original rustic Denny cabins. One remnant from the Olmsted plan for Licton Springs that exists today is a portion of the street network, where Woodlawn Avenue curves to connect with North 95th Street.
Calhoun, Denny & Ewing departed from the Olmsted plan and platted 600 building lots, but they retained Licton Springs as an open space reserve within the development. Licton Springs was a favorite picnic spot in the early years of the Twentieth Century, and its healing waters attracted attention. The water from Licton Springs drained into Green Lake by way of Becker’s Creek.
In 1920, Becker’s Creek and Licton Springs were enclosed in a buried pipe to Green Lake to protect the lake’s water supply. In 1931, the City of Seattle diverted water from the springs into storm drains because of pollution from septic systems (and presumably out-houses) in the area.
In 1935, Edward A. Jensen opened the only spa ever at Licton Springs, offering thermal baths that included 19 minerals. He bottled the water and sold it. Jensen died in 1951 before he realized his dream of a sanitarium. His widow, Mabel M. Jensen, sold the property to A.R. Patterson who planned a $500,000 sanitarium. The city purchased the 6.3-acre property in 1960 for use as a park. Since the bond issue did not include funds for development, the only improvements were the demolition of Jensen’s building, the spring shed at the iron spring, and the concrete ring at the large spring to the south.
The 1968 Forward Thrust bond issue provided funds for Licton Springs Park. Planners preserved the little remaining natural vegetation. The southern spring area became a small pond and was planted with wetland vegetation.
Additional improvements, including planting of trees and replacement of the play structure, were made in 1987 using the City of Seattle “1-2-3 Bond” funds. Re-forestation and improvements such as interpretive signs have been made to the park in recent years with considerable volunteer assistance from the Licton Springs community.
Save Licton Springs
Since Euro-American colonization beginning in 1851, significant material damage has been done to le?qtid (“Licton Springs”), especially during the period 1920-1950 when commercial exploitation was attempted.
Elders from the Duwamish and other tribes have voiced concerns about damage to or the loss of Licton Springs. I recently spoke with one of my Elders who, as a child, was taken to le?qtid (“Licton Springs”) by her father. She expressed concerns that the demolition of Wilson-Pacific School (Indian Heritage High School) and the construction of the new Mega-School may damage the subterranean water table, disrupting the flow of the mineral waters from the sacred site.
This Elder told me that she had visited le?qtid last Fall to prepare for the Winter Ceremonials, as is our tradition since time immemorial. She pointed out that the rate of flow from le?qtid was substantially reduced, compared to her first visit those many years ago.
le?qtid cannot be re-created, replaced, or re-located. Its importance is beyond measure and description, and its value is beyond price. The Duwamish People are the stewards of le?qtid, other holy places and the natural endowment that dókwibuA (Creator) bestowed upon our ?ál?altid (Ancestral Homeland).
At the beginning of time, le?qtid (“Licton Springs”) was given to us by dókwibuA (Creator) in perpetuity. It is an inalienable part of our Patrimony, a legacy from our Ancestors, and the Cultural Heritage of the dxdew?abS (People-of-the-Inside), Chief Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe.