“Pond Town”, as Salem was originally known, was settled primary by Mormons who moved from nearby Payson, Utah, in 1851 in a search of more viable farmland. David Fairbanks and David Crocket, two of the earliest settlers, led the project by constructing a dam on a stream near Salem to help with irrigation for the crops they hoped to grow. Fortunately for them, the soil was fertile and they had a successful harvest in 1851. The Crocket and Fairbanks families, however, were discouraged from spending the winter in Salem for fear of Indian attacks. They temporarily left their fledgling community for the safety in numbers offered by Payson.
Crocket and Fairbanks returned in 1852 to continue the work of building up their community. The next year could be considered “frontier typical:” the settlers lived a simple but difficult life of planting crops, building new homes, and expanding the dam. There were little to no issues with the Indians until the Walker War started in 1853. The Walker War, a small-scale conflict between Mormon settlers and Ute Indians, caused problems in the Salem community. Indians launched raids on the nascent community and they were forced to retreat to small forts built in Payson. As a means to defend their community from the perceived threat, Salem resident began to construct their homes in a fort-like position in 1856. A mix of adobe brink and lumber, all of the eventual structures (including homes and a store) faced inward. The fort became the focus of settlement for Salem residents, and the extension of the dam turned the area near the fort extremely fertile. The fort was finished in 1858, and was used regularly until 1870.
After 1870 the fort fell into disuse as other, sturdier forms of lodging became available. In addition, as conflicts with the Indians subsided residents of Salem felt safer expanding their settlement. The constant stench of manure from the fort (which often doubled as a corral for local livestock) was also an impetus for relocation away from the fort. The home of the Durfey family, the last family to reside in the old fort complex, was left standing until well after 1900.
The Pond Town fort was an essential edifice for Salem’s early settlement and expansion. The protection it offered and community it fostered acted as a catalyst for more settlers to reside in Salem and gave it the foundation it needed to become the town it is today.