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Smallpox in Statehouse


Smallpox ravaged the world for centuries before it was eradicated by vaccination in 1980. In what is now North Dakota, smallpox devastated Native tribes and instilled a real fear among people for many years. The contagious virus was pervasive and found its way everywhere – even the state Capitol, more than a century ago.

First-term Representative Mike Maddock, Republican of Benson County, had returned to the Capitol from his home near Esmond and complained to fellow lawmakers he had been feeling badly for several days. A doctor examined him and immediately diagnosed smallpox. Maddock was removed at once to a pest house in Bismarck to quarantine. He was in the House chamber “but a few moments,” and though the doctor recommended adjourning the House and fumigating the chamber, that didn’t immediately happen. But the next day, on this date in 1903, the House chamber underwent a two-day fumigation and disinfection “as a precaution against any stray smallpox germs.”

Maddock’s diagnosis caused “considerable excitement in the house corridors.” No other lawmakers took ill “although some were freely exposed” and many of them days afterward attended a reception held by the governor and first lady. A cloak room attendant who boarded with Maddock in Bismarck fell ill. Both men recovered at a detention hospital in Bismarck. They were sick for weeks. Maddock wasn’t able to return to the Legislature, which adjourned before he was released after nearly a month. He “received excellent care” at the hospital and paid his bill before leaving for home. He died a year later from stomach cancer at age 42, having “kept growing worse” after the pox.

Around the time of Maddock’s release from the hospital, a Williston newspaper commented that “each session of the legislature seems to have a smallpox scare.” Many people in Bismarck got vaccinated after the cases at the Capitol.

Other parts of North Dakota saw smallpox erupt that winter in 1903.

Some families in Linton were quarantined in a dual epidemic of smallpox and diphtheria. Rumors spread that only mail-carriers were allowed in or out of town. Linton’s hotel was closed, quarantined and fumigated. The town’s telephone office, in the quarantined hotel, was relocated to the bank.

A barber shop in Kensal was quarantined after several smallpox cases were traced to the barber shaving. The barber reportedly continued to operate his shop “after the disease was plain upon his features.” Stutsman County’s Board of Health and the Kensal School Board ordered vaccination for schoolchildren and all others not already vaccinated.

In Richland County, a county health board member was assaulted while putting quarantine signage on a home of smallpox patients. The assailants were arrested, fined $30 and jailed for failure to pay the fine.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Emmons County Record. 1903, January 2. Page 4
Emmons County Record. 1903, January 8. Page 3
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1903, January 22. Pages 4, 7
Emmons County Record. 1903, January 23. Page 4
Emmons County Record. 1903, January 30. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, February 4. Pages 2, 3
The Minneapolis Journal. 1903, February 4. Page 13
The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, February 22. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, February 24. Page 3
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1903, February 26. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, March 10. Page 10
The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, March 12. Page 3
The Williston Graphic. 1903, March 12. Page 8
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1903, March 19. Page 6
The Bismarck Tribune. 1904, July 29. Page 3
The First Fifty Years: A Community History of Maddock, North Dakota 1901-1951

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