Wahpeton and Breckenridge had their hands full in 1906 with a typhoid fever epidemic, a rabies scare, and smallpox. Dozens of people fell ill with typhoid fever that winter. Sewage from Breckenridge was blamed for contaminating the drinking water drawn from the Red River. At least four people died.
The Fargo Forum reported that Wahpeton’s water “is about as unfit for drinking purposes as fluid from a cesspool.” Hospitalizations soared. More than 90 people were hospitalized in January, February and March for typhoid fever. Some people were sick for as long as seven weeks. During this week in 1906, 11 people were reported sick with typhoid. Newspapers advised that “boiling or cooking in any form destroys germ life,” including typhoid.
A lab analysis by a University of North Dakota professor confirmed the presence of deadly bacteria in the river. Wahpeton also had an artesian well, which was found to be pure, but the delivery tank for the well was contaminated. Authorities sterilized the tank with steam, but the typhoid epidemic didn’t wane until warmer weather came. City and health authorities planned to sink another well to increase the pure water supply.
In the early days of the typhoid outbreak, authorities in Breckenridge, Minnesota, also struggled to contain “a siege of smallpox.” Thirty cases erupted in Richland County, just across the river, but no deaths were reported.
Just weeks later, Wahpeton face a rabies scare, attributed to a dog running at large and biting and infecting other dogs. In response, the city board of health ordered all dogs to be leashed or restrained with iron or wire muzzles. Strays would be shot. The order lasted three months. Richland County health officials made a similar order, and the Breckenridge Board of Health ordered all dogs muzzled for a year. Health authorities that winter distributed several flyers about rabies and typhoid. Wahpeton’s city council paid a laborer $14 in March and $2 in April for shooting un-muzzled dogs. A rabid dog rushed a Wahpeton farmer who was coming out of his stable. He fought back and followed the dog to a dump and shot it.
Such was life in the spring of 1906.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
The Wahpeton Times. 1905. November 30. Page 1
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, January 4. Pages 5, 6
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, January 11. Pages 1, 8
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, January 18. Pages 2, 8
The Bismarck Tribune. 1906, January 23. Page 2
The Grand Forks Herald. 1906, January 23. Page 2
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, February 1. Pages 5, 8
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, February 8. Pages 1, 5
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, February 15. Pages 4, 5
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, February 22. Pages 5, 8
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, March 1. Page 8
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, March 8. Pages 1, 3, 5, 8
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, March 15. Pages 1, 5, 6
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, March 22. Pages 1, 5, 8
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, March 29. Pages 1, 4, 5
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, April 5. Page 8
The Wahpeton Time. 1906, April 12. Page 8
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, April 26. Page 1
The Wahpeton Times. 1906, July 12. Page 5