Doc Ch. 19bykingkey©
Just the sound of the word sent chills up my spine. Remembering the history of Deadwood from my past gave a real feeling of dread. From what I remembered, Deadwood lost almost half its people due to the smallpox epidemic in August of 1876. This was something that sent fear all through my mind as to what I could do about it. I wasn't worried about myself, since I had been vaccinated as a child. However, I was very worried about my family.
Turning to the young man I told him. "I don't mean to worry you but from what you describe it sounds pretty much like she has caught smallpox, but I won't know for sure until we get there, and I can examine her. Before we leave the town I need to make some arrangements in case this is smallpox. I need to get the town prepared in case of an outbreak so it's going to take about an hour before we can leave.
I could see that this really scared the young father and he became more worried about his daughter. I then asked him how he was feeling in case he had come down with the disease also. He insisted that he felt fine, and that it had killed most of his family, that he had lost both parents a brother and three sisters to it, and he was worried that he would lose his daughter also.
I told him that we would do everything we could for her and asked if he could drive a wagon. He assured me he could. I asked if he could take my wagon to get his daughter and bring her back to just outside the north end of town where I would try to have a small camp set up to bring the sick people to, and try and stop the spread of the disease.
Walking over to the hotel I first went to the front desk and asked for the owner. The desk clerk knocked on the door to the left of the front desk and asked the owner to step out and speak to me. The owner came out to ask what the problem was, so I told him about my suspicion of smallpox and asked if he could get the other leading citizens of Deadwood and find out if anyone else in town was sick, and also to find out who had had smallpox already and survived it as if it became an epidemic I would need all the help I could get. I finally said that I needed some tents set up just outside the north end of town where I could keep my patients separate from the rest of the town to keep the disease from spreading.
He said, "Smallpox... Smallpox... are you sure? I've never had it but I've heard that there's a vaccine for it!"
"Yes there is a vaccine, although I don't have any of the vaccine with me! I need to get on the telegraph and wire Cheyenne and Fort Laramie and have them give me the vaccine as soon as possible although it is a week's hard ride to each of these towns so can you round up the town's leaders and main businessmen to meetwith me as soon as possible?"
"Sure, while you are sending your telegram, I'll round of the others and meet you back here as soon as you're done."
Leaving him I went to the telegraph office to start sending off telegrams letting people know about a possible outbreak of smallpox in the Deadwood area. I sent telegrams to Cheyenne and Fort Laramie to let them know about a possible outbreak of smallpox and what I was doing to try and contain it, asking that they send all the vaccine that they could.
Finishing sending out the telegrams I then went to search for my ladies. I found them in the restaurant of the hotel talking with Aunt Lou. Pulling them aside I explained about the smallpox, and that I wanted them to return to the ranch where they would be safe. This caused a major argument among my wives, insisting that they stay there and help me. I then explained how one out of two died of smallpox unless they were vaccinated first or had already survived the disease and as I did not want to lose any of them, they needed to return to the ranch where they would be safe. Just then Moon spoke up and lifted her blouse to show me the scars and said that she had had smallpox as a child and could not get it again so she would be staying to help me.
Turning to Dawn I said. "Okay Moon can stay since she cannot catch this disease again, and I will need all the help I can get. I want to rest of you to go back to the ranch and stay there until I send for you. I've already wired for the vaccine, but it still takes 10 days after vaccinating for it to take effect."
I could tell that my wives were unhappy with me about this but after seeing that I was firm in my resolution they started to get ready to take the wagon back to the ranch as I said.
Turning to Moon, I asked. "How old were you when you had smallpox? And how much did you remember of it?"
"I was only 10 years old when my family caught smallpox. My mother, sister, and two brothers died at it, leaving only my father and I. My father was a doctor of herbal medicine but after coming to this country, he could find no patients but other poor China immigrants and could not make a living at that, so he joined with some other relatives and opened the laundry." Moon said.
Taking her with me, we went to the front of the hotel to speak with some of the town's businessmen and leaders about the possible outbreak of smallpox in the area. Getting to the front desk, I saw the hotel owner with about a dozen other men there waiting for me.
Going up to these men I said, "Thank you all for coming. I don't know what you've all heard but I've had a man come up to me and tell me that his little girl was sick and from the description he gave me, it sounds like smallpox. As you know a smallpox epidemic is very contagious and spreads quickly, unless treated properly. What I need from you are some tents and cots set up just north of town by that stream. I'm not worried about the water since it's downstream from the town. I also need for you to find out how many people we have in this town who are already survivors of smallpox, since they cannot catch it again. This means that they can help with the patients and can go to each cabin and mine claim to check to see if there any more cases, and if they are to bring them in for treatment. I have sent the father to get his daughter and meet me just north of town trying to get this set up as fast as possible. As you may have heard I've already wired Cheyenne and Fort Laramie for the vaccines, and once they get here we will start vaccinating everyone. However, once vaccinated it still takes about 10 days to take effect. So with everyone's help hopefully we can get through this without too many deaths."
Turning to Moon, I said, "This is going to be a lot of hard work until the vaccine gets here. About all you can do is to treat them for their fever and try to keep them as comfortable as possible. There isn't much that can be done other than to let the disease run its course. If we can keep the fever down to a lot of them will have a good chance of surviving."
Moon then turned to me and said, "My father taught me a lot about herbs and potions that may help to keep the fevers and other symptoms from becoming too bad. I think I can get a lot of these over in the Chinese section of town."
Giving Moon some money to purchase some of these remedies and herbs that she needed, I headed outside the north end of town to wait for my wagon that the girl's father had driven to get his daughter.
As I approached the clearing just past the north edge of town I saw my wagon approaching and directed him to park next to the creek. Luckily the creek was downstream from the town so I did not have to worry about the water spreading the disease back to the town.
As soon as we got parked, I went inside to examine the girl and discovered my fears were right, it was smallpox. Although I had never seen the disease since in my time smallpox has almost been totally wiped out, I was positive that my diagnosis was right. Turning to her father I asked if he had ever had smallpox. After him saying that he hadn't I suggested that since he was exposed, he needed to clean himself well in the creek and to wait still north of town but away from his daughter. I told him that there was a chance he may have caught the disease, but that I had no vaccine on hand and it would be coming soon and then I could vaccinate him. He told me that he would not leave his daughter and would stay to help get her well. This kind of put me in a dilemma. I already had one patient and knew that I soon would have a lot more. Without a vaccine I knew that sooner or later the girl's father would come down with the disease. I thought for a few minutes and remembered reading somewhere that if I could take some of the pus from under some of the blisters and dilute it, it might work as a vaccine. Chances were this would still give the man smallpox but probably not as severe a case. I let him know that this was a large risk and that chances were he would still come down with smallpox itself, but I hoped that it would not be a real severe case.
About this time, I heard a commotion outside. Going out, I found a dozen men and three women with a wagon load of tents, cots, and other supplies. Going up to the man who seemed to be the leader, I introduced myself, and he said, "My name's Rev. Jonathan Smith. I was a surgeon's assistant back during the war before I heard the calling. I and these other fine people are here to help all that we can. We are all survivors of smallpox, so we should be immune to it. Just let us know what needs to be done."
"I'm glad you're here. So far, I have just one young girl but it is definitely smallpox. So, we need to be ready. First off, let's get some tents and cots set up for incoming patients. We also need to get a couple of teams of men to go to all the out-lying cabins and search for other sick individuals and bring them in for treatment. I know that all of you are immune to smallpox but to keep from spreading the disease after each time you are exposed you need to clean yourself and your clothes to the best of your ability, so we can try and keep some control over the spread of this disease."
About then I saw someone approaching with three Chinese women carrying several packages each. Stopping them before they got too close I asked. "I'm glad you're back Moon, who are these women you have with you?"
"These Chinese women come to help. Have already been sick and survived. We bring lots of herbs and remedies to help keep patients clean and comfortable. They think you good man take Chinese woman as wife and not make slave so they come to help. They don't speak English well, but I can translate for you."
I then thanked the women for their help. Turning to Rev. Smith I asked if he could help get the camp set up and a couple of teams going around the area looking for other sick people.
Well, everyone pitched in to get everything set up. I stopped for a minute and asked Moon, "I think we are starting to get everything together but one other thing I hadn't thought of is how are we going to feed all these people?" Giving her some of the gold that we had found I had her take the other women with her and go back to town to buy pots and pans and enough food to last us for several days.
Going back into my wagon to check on the young girl and her father, I told him, "I have a lot of help now to help take care of your daughter and other patients if you want to scrub up in the creek and camp away from her, we can take care of your daughter for you to help keep you from being exposed too badly and possibly keep you from catching the disease."
"I'm staying here to help take care of Becky. You said that you had a possible way of vaccinating me, so I wouldn't get too sick. I'm willing to take that chance but either way I won't abandon my daughter. She is all that I have left since her mother died in childbirth a year ago."
I opened two of the blisters on her stomach, making sure to choose two where the scars would not show and gently removed the pus from the blisters, then moved to the laboratory section of the wagon. I placed the pus into a small test tube and added about 10 mL of distilled water, shaking at and hoping that it was good enough. I then proceeded to take a pin that I kept dipping in the solution and pricking his arm just under the skin for about an inch in diameter patch, hoping that this would take effect. I then asked who she may have come in contact with to catch this disease? The father told me that the only one he could think of was this cowboy they came by and asked for some water for his horse and to see if he could him a meal. "I could tell at the time that the Cowboy was not feeling well. He looked sick and when I asked him he just said that he thought he might have caught the flu somewhere, but that he would be fine."
After this I went out of the wagon to see what progress had been made. Seeing that all the tents were up and most of the cots were set up in them at around six to a tent and all that was left were small things such as bedding and lamps for the tents, I told the men that we were pretty much done with the set up and have them split up into two man teams and search the town and all the surrounding area for others that were sick.
As the men were getting ready to leave. I saw a wagon coming toward our small camp as it got closer I saw Moon sitting in the front seat with the storekeeper driving. As soon as he pulled up the other women jumped out of the back and started unloading the wagon. Seeing the amount of things that they had bought, I had them put everything into the last tent thinking that this would make a good place for the women to sleep and to keep the supplies.
Moon then got off to the wagon and she and the storekeeper came up to me and Rev. Smith. I introduced moon to the Rev. as my wife and went to introduce the storekeeper but the Rev. said he already knew him. The storekeeper told me, "I didn't have enough cash on hand to cover the gold that you sent with your wife to purchase supplies a you need. However, since you will probably be needing a lot more supplies before this epidemic is over, I created you an account in which you still have $283 credit for your gold."
"I didn't plan on paying for everything out of my own pocket. The townspeople can pay their fair share, but while you're here I will need other things such as, I need all of your willow bark tea and most of your patent medicines such as headache powders plus we'll need fresh food and vegetables sent out every few days. If the man whom you send out with the supplies has not had smallpox, I need him to leave the supplies by that tree about 50 yards yonder."
All this seemed to make the storekeeper happy, and he asked when we wanted the next load of supplies. I told him that he needed to check with the other businessmen of town about taking up a collection to help pay for the supplies here because I was not going to foot the whole bill myself. I said we had probably enough fresh fruit and vegetables to last this week and bring another load in about every six days so as we did not run out totally. Then thinking about it. I asked the storekeeper if he had a supply of soft cloth rags or even better yet baby diapers and told him that I would take all that he had been on hand, plus I needed disinfectant, soap, and other cleaning supplies that he had on hand. Furthermore, I wanted the least 2 to 3 changes of clothes for everyone working here. I could see the dollar signs in his eyes as he thought about this order. So I told him to make sure to get with the other businesses in town about donations to pay for all the supplies.
After he had left I got with Moon and all the other ladies to see how things were coming along. After I saw that they were almost finished I asked if they could make some soup for dinner, since I had a feeling would be busy shortly and I wanted to keep the supplies ready at all times.
Going back into my wagon I turned to Dave, Becky's father and said we were about ready to move her into the first tent, and that he could sleep in the second to last tent until it was needed or could pitch his bedroll under a wagon. However, we'd need to move her now as I had a feeling that I'd have a lot of patients soon.
As we were moving her some of the team started coming back in with other sick people.
First was a widow Brown. She was about 80 years old and supported herself with the large garden selling produce throughout the area.
Next was the Abbott family. They had a large farm about 2 miles from town and said that the same cowboy had come by their place asking for water and that they had found him two days later dead in the woods just outside their place. They were.
Tom Abbott age 38
Mary Abbott age 37
Tom Junior age 12
Nancy Abbott age 8
We put them in the first tent with Becky and started trying to bring their fevers down and to make them as comfortable as possible. They seemed pretty sick, especially the women. Unfortunately there was not much we could do. I had Moon to make up some willow bark tea and tried to get them to drink it along with some soup to try to ease their pain and build up some of their stamina as I knew that if they did not eat something their bodies' resistance would start to fail.
As the others were getting ready to go out and check some more I had them hold a moment and asked Becky's father where their cabin was located. After he told me I told them to start around his cabin and work their way around it a couple of miles each way heading toward the Abbott's cabin, telling them that more than likely they would find the sick in between and could have some of the others search the outlying areas, but I wanted to get as many sick to us as soon as possible because the sooner they saw us the more likely they were to survive.
After they left, I got the Rev. Smith and told him it looked like we were in for a long haul and that I had sent to Cheyenne and Fort Laramie for the vaccine, but even after they got here with it would still take 10 days after everyone was vaccinated for it to take effect so we were looking at probably 6 to eight weeks before we were in the clear. So, everyone was going to be extremely tired before this was over and we should start now breaking the people that were going to be treating the wounded into shifts so some would get some rest while they could.
I then went to my wagon, got out my cleaning supplies and proceeded to scrub the interior of my wagon until everything was cleaned and disinfected. As I was doing this Moon came in and started taking over the cleaning telling me to go to check on the patients and get something to eat.
I went and got myself a bowl of stew that the women had made and was sitting on the back porch when three of the teams arrived with nine more of the sick, placing them in the next couple of tents and making them as comfortable as possible before heading out for more. This went on for the rest of the day and by the time the day was over, we had 38 sick people and that was just the first day.
The next few days were more or less same except on the second day the widow Brown and both Abbott parents passed away. We lost 20 others in the first week and 87 more brought in. This overflowed the tents we had set up so we had to give up the supply tent and the tent we were sleeping in plus the two beds that were available in my wagon for patients. I had to warn Rev. Smith several times not to give the patients a long sermon while trying to treat them. Most of the treatments were just willow bark tea to help them relax and cold damp cloths to help try to control their fevers. We also tried to encase their hands in socks or clothes to keep them from scratching and causing more scarring than was absolutely necessary.
We were barely holding our own when on day 15, I saw three wagons coming toward the camp thinking 'Oh no, not more people', then as they got closer I discovered the first wagon was driven by Grandpa and the next ones were driven by Dawn and Standing Bear while Running Dear and Little Doe drove the last one. They parked the wagons near the trees where the supplies were dropped off. Seeing my wives brought mixed emotions. I was glad to see them yet at the same time I was mad that they would come back into danger. Going to them, I said to Grandpa, "Uncle Henry just what the hell are you doing here? Ddon't you know that this is smallpox and it's very contagious? I sent the women back to where they would be safe and now you just brought them back into danger?"