Article originally published in the September 1999 edition of The West Side, the official YCHS newsletter. Written by historian and West Side editor John White (1928-1999).
During the last days of summer 1888 Yamhill County experienced a very real smallpox scare. The disease was first reported at McMinnville and in less than two days’ time, the rest of the communities in the area were taking preventative measures. Some towns like Amity, Dayton, Lafayette and Sheridan closed their boundaries to everyone attempting to enter from the outside, employing special deputies under the direction of the city marshal to patrol the streets and strictly enforce the ban. In fact, a fatal shooting occurred in Sheridan when a special deputy attempted to banish a town resident who had briefly visited his farm in the country and then attempted to return home later the same day. (See ‘Fatal Enforcement of a Quarantine’, November 1994 YCHS Newsletter).
In McMinnville however, the question was not one of keeping people out, but rather one of stopping them from leaving while Dr. E. E. Goucher, the hastily appointed Public Health Officer, and city officials courageously attempted to prevent further spread of the disease. The ‘West Side Telephone’ of September 21st 1888 states McMinnville “might well be called a doomed city presenting a very dismal aspect” as many of the business houses were closed with the proprietors seeking to avoid infection by removing themselves to the mountains or other locales considered to be a safe distance from town. In fact, the newspaper itself could barely muster an adequate number of employees to publish and apologized to readers for a lack of content.
It would be difficult to condemn those departing the town under these circumstances. They were only doing what they thought best for themselves and their families. However one individual received severe criticism for his hasty departure as reported by the ‘West Side Telephone’
“Among those who emigrated was City Councilman William Campbell. The work of the council has been arduous and the absence of one of them told on their strength. It seems as though Mr. Campbell could have “stayed with it” It certainly was all right to take his family away from contagion but being a public officer, it was his duty to return arul do all he could for the city. But no, he went and stayed. Now we ask the people of this city if Mr Campbell is a fit man for the position to which he was elected. He filled it (in a manner) when there was no danger, but when his help was most needed, he deserted. He will most likely be a candidate for the same office which he now holds, but the people of this city will remember his present loyalty (?) and act accordingly.”
The story actually begins a few weeks earlier when McMinnville resident Charles Bynum became ill. Dr. Goucher was called in, immediately recognized it to be smallpox and placed the house under quarantine. In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Bynum’s sister Annie, who had been visiting at the time, received vaccinations and were ordered to remain confined to the premises. Dr. Goucher and Jonas Howell closely monitored the case as the disease took its course. When the incubation period appeared to expire without any appearance of infection to other family members, the nurse was dismissed and barricades surrounding the house were removed, but the family was not yet allowed to go out.
There being no further indications of smallpox infection at the Charles Bynum residence or elsewhere in McMinnville, the community began to believe any threat to the general public had passed. This turned out to be a false sense of security however as a few days later two more cases of smallpox appeared.
The eight year old nephew of Charles Bynum, who lived directly across the street from the first case had somehow contracted the disease. This time it was the home of Frank Bynum, Charles’ brother, that was under the yellow flag while Jonas Howell and city officials attempted to learn how the lad had become infected. After a thorough investigation it was believed that germs carried by dogs with which the boy had played were the cause. This theory soon gained considerable credence when the young son of a Mr. Bodle who lived in the rear of the Henderson and Logan stables also became sick with smallpox.
It was at this point that the City Council and Dr. Goucher swung into action. Every person remaining in McMinnville would receive a vaccination against smallpox and to better isolate and treat those contracting the disease, a “pest house” was to be immediately constructed. There is no way of knowing the exact count, but local druggists estimated that slightly over a thousand vaccination points were administered under city supervision during the next two days.
A site for the pest house was selected on secluded property owned by Samuel Cozine about a mile southwest of the city. Construction began immediately with as many able-bodied men as could be found. The project was completed in just two days. Located near a spring the building was large and constructed to be comfortable as well as serviceable for the purpose. A separate kitchen building was also built nearby.
As vaccinations were being conducted and the pest house built, Andy Annis, a boarder at the Eccleston home, became ill. The whole family in that house was immediately placed under quarantine. Along with this came a report, later confirmed by Dr. Goucher, that G.C. Morgareidge, who lived near Lafayette, was seriously ill with the disease. With a high sense of urgency city officials ordered all those under quarantine be immediately moved to the pest house. An Amity resident named Mills, who had survived smallpox as a youngster and was thus considered immune, was hired for the serious job of transporting the patients as well as their bedding and personal items to the pest house with his wagon and team. (It seems Mr. Mills had been turned out of Amity when he attempted to return home the previous evening and was in need of funds to tide him through his banishment).
The Bodle family was moved first. The parents of the young child had not wished to leave his side and elected to accompany him to the pest house. Andy Ennis was taken next followed by the young Bynum boy. The Eccleston family, with whom Mr. Ennis had been boarding, continued under strict quarantine at their home as did the Frank Bynum family. Mr. Morgareidge apparently was not taken to the pest house but remained under enforced isolation at his farmhouse.
The following several days were anxious ones for the citizens of McMinnville. Had mandatory vaccinations and isolation been enough to prevent a real epidemic?. Worries deepened as the condition of Andy Ennis in the pest house worsened daily, eventually resulting in his death. Fears became alleviated however, as the quarantine period finally ran its course and no new cases had occurred. The quick and decisive action of Dr. Goucher and city officials had successfully prevented a disaster.
The two young boys who had been incarcerated in the pest house fully recovered and the Bodies, who stayed with their son, somehow escaped infection. Mr. Morgareidge also survived his ordeal with smallpox, postponing his demise for nearly twenty years until 1907.