Disease at Ft. Nisqually – Journal of Joseph Heath

From: The Journal of Joseph Thomas Heath (1848)  Eyewitness at Ft. Nisqually

 Monday, January 31st- Sent to the Fort for goods for my people. (Received a) note from the Doctor saying that there is great mortality among the Sandwich Islanders and Indians at Vancouver and elsewhere from dysentery following the measles. Many (are) ill here now with the latter, but none of my people at present.

Tuesday, Feb. 1st- Sent Ben to Mr. Smith’s for a plough which I lent him sometime since. (A) large party of Kla-ka-tats (Klickitats) arrived, who were gambling all night with the Indians here and losing horses, guns, blankets and property to a great extent. (I) gave them some potatoes. (Have been) visiting the sick and I believe there is only one lodge that has not two or three. (Have been) giving them provisions. 

Wednesday, 2nd- Indians (were) horse racing and gambling, at which the losers of yesterday regained nearly all their losses. One of the shepherds (is) laid up with the measles, the number of sick daily increasing.

Friday, 4th- Brought home three cows to give milk to the Indian babies, their mothers, ill with the measles, having none and the poor children (are) almost starving.  Made a bottle with a cow’s horn to feed them with, which answers admirably. Sent plough to the Fort and brought back a barrel of flour, the sick people having nearly finished the last.                                                         

Saturday, 5th- Killed a fat hog. Sent half a dozen fowls to the Doctor. Gave some to the sick. Visiting and driving them into their lodges.

Dr. Tolmie said the measles appeared at Fort Nisqually the first week in January and spread to the Indian camps before the end of the month. After being ill with the malady some Indians died of inflammation of the lungs as well as dysentery.

Sunday, 6th- Visited and gave provisions to the sick, the number of whom is daily increasing. (I have) great difficulty in preventing them (from) going into the cold water.  Rode out with four Indians to try for deer to make broth. Found only three and neither of us getting a shot, (was) much disappointed. 

Monday, 7th- Moved sheepfold. Hauling fence poles and firewood. Finished planting three roods of potatoes for early crop. Cut up and prepared (a) pig for salting. (It) had only been put up five weeks and was three inches and a half thick in fat. Traded a quantity of salmon from the Scatchets and, what with visiting and giving medicine to the sick, (it) made a busy day. 

Tuesday, 8th- Made biscuit and visited the sick. Sent to the Fort for plough. (Received a) present of a loaf of bread from the Doctor, upon which and a piece of roasted shortbones I feasted prodigiously. (Had a) note from him saying the typhus fever was raging at Vancouver, causing many deaths.

Wednesday, 9th- Making and hauling fence poles. Salted bacon. As usual, visiting the sick. (Have) much trouble in keeping them in their houses and preventing them getting into the cold water as well as drinking it. Two who have done so and would not follow my advice are now suffering more than any of the others. Gales. 

Thursday, 10th- Joe, one of my ploughmen, laid up. Melted down the lard. 

Friday, llth- Began ploughing, but from the alterations they have made, cannot work with it. Ben and Jemmy, the cook, (are) laid up. Put hams into pickle. Attending to the sick. Rain. 

Saturday, 12th- (The) number of sick (is) increasing daily, many of the poor creatures in a sad state, the strongest men suffering the most. Much of my time (is) taken up with them. Took “Count D’Orsay” to cook for me whilst Jemmy is ill. 

Sunday, 13th- Visited the sick and gave them provisions. Fed the oxen and cleaned up the house. Two more of my people laid up. Rode out alone in the afternoon and killed a fine doe, making an excellent shot at full speed and in thick cover. 

Monday, Feb. 14th- All my people now laid up, excepting the shepherd. Turned the oxen out, as there is no hope of doing any ploughing for a fortnight. (It) will throw me back greatly in my sowing, but thank God I have a large quantity of wheat sown, which is more promising than I have ever yet seen since I have been in the country. 

Visited the sick, cut up the deer and divided (it) amongst them as well as giving them other provisions. Fed the pigs and cut up wood and set casks to catch rain water.  Sent to the Fort and got some blankets to lend the poor wretches, who suffer from want of covering, many of them having nothing but mats. 

Tuesday, 15th- The shepherd (is) laid up and the shepherd boy recovered just in time to take the sheep. Went my “medical rounds” and afterwards rode out with three Indians to try for deer. 

Wednesday, 16th- No work whatever going on. Visit from the Doctor, who remained a couple of hours (and) walked over the wheat which he thinks (is) better looking than his own

,War (has been) declared between the Americans and Indians. (The Cayuse War, resulting from the Whitman massacre.) Should not be much surprised if eventually it reached here, as should the Americans suffer the slightest defeat, it is not improbable that a general rise of the Indians would take place throughout the coast, in which case the whites, I fear, would have to abandon the country.

Thursday, 17th- Four or five of my people (are) beginning to recover and no new cases today. (A) woman (is) ironing and mending stockings and skin trousers.

Friday, 18th- Volunteers came and cut up firewood for me and removed (the) sheepfold. Walked out with my gun and three Indians, found two old bucks, one of which I killed, much to their envy, after it had been shot at and missed by one of them.  Divided it amongst them and the sick. 

Saturday, Feb. 19th- Went my “medical rounds.”

Tuesday, 22nd- As usual, seeing all the sick. Only three fresh cases and most of the others getting well.

Wednesday, 23rd- Nothing to do. Tired of having no work going on. After going to all the sick, wandered about the farm.

Sunday, 27th- Went my medical rounds. Rode to the Fort and dined with the

Doctor. Much talk about the Indian war.

Monday, 28th- Thank goodness, some of my people (are) at work again, ploughing, cleaning up peas, hauling and cutting up firewood. Cleaned up (the) small barn, ready for thrashing oats. Commenced writing (letters) for home. Several fresh cases of measles. 

Friday, 3rd- Attending as usual to the sick, the greater part of whom are now recovering, not having more than 14 or 15 cases. A baby which they would wash whilst the eruption was upon it died, and a woman, daughter of the great medicine man, will most probably share the same fate from the same treatment. 

Saturday, 4th- Sent to the Fort for beef for my people, got only 40 pounds, also salt and medicine. (Had a) visit from a young American of the name of Chambers (one of the brothers Tom or Andrew), who came to purchase wheat and peas. (He) remained the night. Had fortunately got a chicken in the house intended for my Sunday’s dinner. 

On my return found that a woman, daughter of the great medicine man, had died. They would not attend to my instructions and five medicine men have been trying hard to kill her the last week, have succeeded and now wish they had followed my advice. 

Thursday, 9th- Almost all my people away at the funeral. Cut up pigs.

Friday, 10th- Three or four more attacked with measles. Was in hopes that it was nearly over. Salted bacon and put the first to dry. 

Sunday, 12th- Visited the sick. Rode out about ten miles from home to visit a patient who had been under my hands for about three weeks, apparently in a consumption. (He) had greatly recovered whilst here, but left on a cold day, contrary to my wish and is now nearly as ill as ever. 

Joseph Heath.  Memoirs of Nisqually.  Fairfield, Washington:  Ye Galleon Press, 1979.

From:  Kathryn Marie Troxel.  Fort Nisqually and the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company.  PHD Thesis, Indiana University Thesis, 1950

During the first week in March 1836, there broke out a severe epidmeic among the Indians, which soon infected the Hudson’s Bay company employees, then apparently subsided only to break out again in early 1837 and exact an appalling loss of life,  This infection is described by Kittson as a severe throat ailment.,  He attempted to treat the Indians who would come to him with purges, Dover’s powders, blistering the neck, and the app tobacco give n to them by Kittson, and hew in turn denounced the medicine men as murderers.

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