As COVID-19 remains in the crosshairs of politics, the economy, and our personal lives, the Stay at Home and Safer at Home mandates are all too familiar. In the case of infectious diseases, these same restrictions applied in the 19th and 20th centuries, but were simply called “Quarantine.” Let’s take a peek at quarantine rules and enforcement in Greeley and Weld County in the “olden days.”
On Valentine’s Day, 1896 the first case of scarlet fever hit Greeley, and by June there had been 32 reported cases, three of them fatal. By June 25th, only nine cases were still quarantined, and the young patients were recovering. City Clerk Milton P. Henderson was notified of scarlet fever cases, and precautionary measures prescribed by a physician were enacted. The city marshal went to the infected residence, notified the “inmates” of the rules to be observed, and tacked a quarantine card to the door. At this time, physicians recommended a minimum quarantine period of six weeks for scarlet fever. The June 25, 1896 Greeley Tribune reported that some residents were disgruntled with precautions implemented by “medical advice and civil law” to protect children. Opponents believed these folks were “. . . given to sensationalism even if they have to strain the truth in so doing, and have been circulating stories that there were at one time fully fifty cases of scarlet fever in Greeley and over 150 since the epidemic started last winter.” “Fake news” it seems, is nothing new!
In 1901, Sheriff A. J. Elliott was a health champion when it came to fighting smallpox outbreaks in Weld County. That year, the Weld County commissioners hired Michael Lavelle of Greeley to nurse the Faraquer family who had smallpox. Mr. Faraquer’s death was the first fatal smallpox case in Weld County. After his death, the Greeley Tribune reported on March 14, 1901, that “. . . Lavelle came into town without changing his garments or fumigating, went home and was around on the streets all day Saturday. Monday night Sheriff Elliott arrested him on a state warrant, charged with violating the quarantine regulations. His offense is a serious one, and he came near having to pay a heavy fine for his rashness. His children have been taken out of school and will be kept at home until chances for infection are past. He was released from the jail Tuesday night, after having been well disinfected. Prominence is given this matter because the authorities wish it distinctly understood that every person who breaks quarantine regulations in case of contagious diseases will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Whether it was an individual or a town, Sheriff Elliott didn’t mess around with smallpox. A week after arresting Mr. Lavelle, he appointed Mr. A. L. McClement as a special deputy sheriff at Hudson, to make sure “that the necessary regulations are complied with while the town is undergoing the quarantine siege for smallpox.”
Evans and LaSalle were also in the news. On May 3, 1911, twenty Evans high school students went on strike, leaving the room when principal Lafayette Ryan returned after an absence of six weeks, citing the quarantine of his wife for diphtheria. The striking students felt it was unnecessary for the principal, who wasn’t ill, to remain out of school, whereas students were held to a different set of rules.
The March 12, 1912 Greeley Tribune reported “School started again in LaSalle after an enforced vacation of three weeks following the quarantine for scarlet fever. Church was held Sunday and public meetings will be resumed. Strict measures were taken to prevent the spread of scarlet fever and practically every case is out of quarantine.”
An article in the March 28, 1912 Greeley Tribune addressed quarantine efforts in the Greeley schools. From September 1, 1910 to April 1, 1911, 90 students with contagious diseases missed a total of 292 weeks of instruction, compared to only 23 quarantined students during the September 1911 to April 1912 school term.
In November 1912, L. W. Nichols of Greeley was returning home from Los Angeles by train. At Castle Rock, CO, the conductor discovered that a passenger riding in the same Pullman car with Nichols was ill with smallpox. The conductor telegraphed the board of health at Denver and was advised to quarantine the eight passengers and the porter in the Pullman car at Castle Rock for two weeks. One passenger, frightened by this news, jumped from the train!
In January 1913, Greeley’s City Physician W. H. Shields advised Greeley Tribune readers that quarantine cards would be posted on house doors for cases of yellow fever, scarlet fever, smallpox, and the flu. The quarantine period for chicken pox was 21 days. He reiterated that indifference and opposition of even one citizen in regards to public health could result in unnecessary sickness or death of others.
The Spanish flu of 1918-19 and the Coronavirus of now spread easily on college campuses. At Colorado Teachers College (now University of Northern Colorado), the Mirror reported on February 28, 1919 that the girls of the Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority had been quarantined for a week in their home on Tenth Avenue as Janet Kinnilon and Marie Hastings had the influenza, but their quarantine was to end on Saturday. The Mirror also noted that “Miss Hemlepp, eighth grade training teacher is back at school, showing us that in her tussel with the flu, she came out victorious. Miss Julian has had a harder fight but expects to join us in a few days.”
2020 has been a tough year, so I want to conclude with an anecdote. John Montgromery Brindle Petrikin was one of Greeley’s notable citizens. As a young man in the 1890s, he purchased the land where the University Center now stands. With limited financial resources he couldn’t immediately build a home, so he pitched his tent at the top of his newly acquired property. Tents are hard to secure from intruders so as a precaution against would-be thieves, Petrikin secured a yellow flag—symbolizing smallpox—to the tent. Returning to his tent after work a few weeks later, he found it ransacked and some of his possessions missing. The considerate thief, however, left a note: “I already had the smallpox!”
My hope, as the year of COVID-19 creeps to a close, is for a universal gift of immunity and more genteel, healthy, and prosperous times.
By Peggy A. Ford Waldo – October 1, 2020