In 1899-1900, smallpox swept across the Indian territory with such a vengeance that extreme measures were taken to prevent its further spread.
The first cases were reported in coal mines, so workers in the mining camps were prevented from leaving.
Families built fever sheds to isolate the sick. Communities created pest houses.
Cities were quarantined and, finally, dozens of detention camps were set up across the state where patients were detained and cared for until they were no longer contagious - or died. Death usually occurred the second week.
Small pox was a virulent, contagious disease with a history of scarring and killing people. In its worst form it caused fever, vomiting, horrible scars, blindness and a death rate of up to 30 percent.
It was spread by close contact with a person who was in the early stages of the disease. Most susceptible were babies and young children.
The only way to truly manage smallpox was to prevent it. A massive vaccination campaign was launched and thousands complied. The Choctaws vaccinated 8,000 and other tribes followed their example.
Since smallpox could be spread by contaminated objects, houses and business were fumigated. Bedding and linens were burned. Homes were thoroughly cleaned.
At one time, panic was so great that many of the pets of those with the disease were killed.
In January 1900, the superintendent of health ordered the mail from the cities of Newkirk and Blackwell “disinfected at once”.
Naturally, one of the consequences of quarantining a town was the loss of revenue.
Caddo businessmen normally served customers from all over the territory, but during the quarantines travel was limited.
Also, many previously scheduled events had to be canceled or moved to safer locations.
Territory town mayors spoke out against visitors from other communities and officers were placed at the entrances to turn them away.
As life slowly returned to normal, the camps were dismantled, but smallpox continued to be a problem for many more years.
The local newspapers reported new cases in 1905-06, and another epidemic in 1912-13. Each outbreak was met with a quarantine and detention plan that had been perfected in 1900.
Note: The Bryan County Genealogy Library has many camp records on microfilm.
Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historical event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.