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James Otis

The Beehive Huts

It was not until we had been in this land of America nearly a year that Jethro and I could make out why three little huts, shaped much like an acorn when placed with the big end down, had been built near the river at a considerable distance from the Indian village.

These huts were hardly more than large enough to admit of three people sitting very closely together in them, and so low in height that whoever was inside could not rise more than to his knees. They were formed of many layers of reeds, and plastered thick with mud until you would say that no air could get through, save at the very bottom, where was a hole about the size of a man's body.

But one day Jethro and I came to know for what use these beehive-like huts were intended. A big fire was built outside one of these odd structures, and in it were heated eight big stones until they must have been red-hot. Then we saw a sick Indian being led down to the hut, where he wriggled through the small opening after the manner of a snake.

As soon as he was inside, the hot rocks were pushed in after him, and on them was thrown a dozen or more pots of cold water. Of course a great steam immediately filled the hut, and the small opening was closed as tightly as possible by two mats.

We thought the man surely would be stifled, for it must have been much as if he had been held over a kettle of boiling water, forced to breathe in the steam; but those who had charge of the business gave little or no heed to his possible suffering. They squatted outside the hut, burning tobacco in the little stone bowls, until suddenly we saw the mats thrust aside, and the sick Indian crawled out, looking exactly as if he had been well boiled.


The rest of the savages, who were puffing smoke from their mouths, did not so much as turn their heads, when the Indian, dripping with perspiration, leaped into the river.

I said to myself that if he did not count on drowning himself to escape the steam from the hot rocks, he would certainly be killed by going into the cold water while he was so warm; but in this I was mistaken.

He swam around while I might have counted twenty, and then, coming ashore, started on a run for the village, leaving his friends to go on with burning tobacco, or to follow him, as best pleased them.