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Dakota Datebook

Manitoba Smallpox Quarantine

Statewide mandates to curb disease outbreaks are not new in North Dakota. In the summer of 1892, Governor Andrew Burke declared a quarantine against neighboring Manitoba due to a smallpox outbreak in a Canadian border town just north of Neche, North Dakota.

The outbreak began in late July when a girl in Gretna, Manitoba, fell ill from smallpox, which was supposedly traced to men who worked at a town laundry. When several people fell ill, carpenters built six shanties on the prairie outside of Gretna to quarantine the sick patients, but the pox spread to two neighboring villages, and three days into the epidemic, all of Gretna was put under quarantine, with guards camped on the outskirts of town.

With little help for nursing the growing number of sick people, the situation became desperate. A doctor from Neche, who had taken charge, said some smallpox patients “were wandering around in delirium unrestrained.” Two nuns from Winnipeg came to help. The home of the men who allegedly carried the pox into Gretna was fumigated with sulfur and recommended to be burned, along with its contents. Health authorities advised that Gretna residents be vaccinated, but many people were apathetic about vaccination.

The week after the first case of smallpox, North Dakota’s governor announced the quarantine. Trains were barred from crossing the border. Postal carriers were protected by armed guards to exchange mail at the boundary. Guards were also stationed along the border. Some newspapers reported that the quarantine wasn’t rigorously enforced and that some trains still ran. In response, the authorities in North Dakota tore up a stretch of railroad tracks.

The governor was criticized at home and abroad. Manitoba’s premier thought the quarantine was too severe. Winnipeg residents were indignant. Some travelers were stranded. An opinion in a Jamestown newspaper called the quarantine “unnecessary and premature” and said “the governor is always looking for a chance to affix his official signature to any kind of a high-sounding document.”

Gov. Burke lifted the quarantine after ten days as the outbreak waned. Ten people were known to have fallen ill in Manitoba, and at least four died.

The 1893 Legislature passed a bill to reimburse Pembina County more than $1,100 for costs incurred due to the quarantine. Around this time that year, new Gov. Eli Shortridge signed the bill. Governor Burke had lost reelection in 1892.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Manitoba. (1893). Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, (Vol. 25). Queen’s Printer for the Province of Manitoba; pages 222-226
1893 Senate Journal, State of North Dakota
The Winnipeg Tribune. 1892, July 23. Page 5
Courier Democrat. 1892, July 28. Page 3
The Winnipeg Tribune. 1892, August 1. Page 5
The Saint Paul Globe. 1892, August 3. Page 8
Calgary Weekly Herald. 1892, August 3. Page 1
Star Tribune. 1892, August 4. Page 5
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1892, August 4. Page 4
The Winnipeg Tribune. 1892, August 4. Page 5
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1892, August 5. Page 2
The Victoria Daily Times. 1892, August 5. Pages 1, 3
The Winnipeg Tribune. 1892, August 8. Page 4
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1892, August 12 Pages 2, 4
The Victoria Daily Times. 1892, August 25. Page 2
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1893, March 3. Page 2
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1893, March 17. Page 2


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