The Box

Sweat Box or Sewer?

What do you do with a drunken soldier? Park historians are unsure what this metal-lidded hole in the ground was used for, but some say “the box” was a punishment for soldiers who broke the rules.

Fort Spokane, like any other military fort at the time, was a structured place where officers and enlisted men practiced drills and kept the peace. During their time off, the soldiers were free to get in trouble, and with a brewery just up the hill, drunkenness was the most common offense. Discipline was an important aspect of life at the fort. Punishments were often both physically painful and humiliating for the soldiers.

Once a soldier was accused he could expect to face a court martial, which was the most common punishment given at Fort Spokane. If further punishment was needed the soldier would then be sentenced to his fate. One punishment was called bucking and gagging: a soldier would be forced to sit with his hands tied under his legs and his feet bound, and a stick would be placed in his mouth. Other methods of punishment included forcing soldiers to stand on barrels, sit on a wooden mule or horse, or even be branded with a hot iron. Another severe punishment that may have occurred at Fort Spokane was known as “the box.”

The box was a device that was commonly used in areas of high humidity or extreme heat. Soldiers were confined in a tight, poorly ventilated space. Pits in the ground that are extremely similar to this one have been identified as punishment boxes at other Army forts from this era.

Effects that the box would have on its victims include; heat exhaustion, dehydration, difficulty breathing which could lead to suffocation, and if left in the box long enough, even death. The box was also known as the “punishment box” or the “dog house.” The general idea of the “box” was to deprive its victims of the ability to move and isolate them in darkness in order to force them to conform to regulations.

Is this hole in the ground in front of a you a 100-year-old punishment pit? The size and shape of the pit suggest that it is. On the other hand, the location of the pit close to the officer's quarters would argue against it, and the relatively few surviving documents from the fort do not mention it. The vault may instead be the remains of a drainage or sewer system. Which do you think it was?