From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 25 - 2/15/01
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The Joy of History

The town of Pinedale is 89 years old. The celebration was stunning for the lack thereof. We passed this historical milestone on Monday, February 12th.

On that date in 1912, the combined eligible residents of Pinedale, who numbered a whopping 39 at the time, voted almost unanimously to become an official Wyoming town. There were just two dissenting votes. The town's total population then was 183. The whole state was barely 20 years old.

In comparison to now, Pinedale in those days must have seemed a remote outpost barely clutching a hold in a chill wilderness. It may still seem that way to visiting urbanites today.

Reading reports of what occupied Pinedale's first Mayor, Zeph Jones, and his councilmen leads a person to think not a whole lot has changed since those days. The council faced the same concerns that have occupied community organizers since the time of Hammarabi: fire protection, policing, beautification, and of course among the first orders of business, the sale of licenses to dispense intoxicating liquors.

To be fair, the very first ordinance passed by the new Pinedale town council was the adoption of a town seal. The second ordinance was a tax on and licensing of dogs.

What is surprising in this is all the many meetings and organizing it must have taken to get Pinedale psyched-up and rolling toward incorporation took place during a smallpox outbreak. First to catch the disease was "Rube" Boulter, who was immediately quarantined by then deputy county health officer Dr. Alexander. Rube's house was boarded off from the adjoining post office which was then fumigated. Rube's clothes were burned.

In a case of outrageous understatement, the suggestion was made to receive and deliver the mail from another location because of what was quaintly called a "timidness" mail patrons might feel about carrying smallpox home to their families.

It was reckoned at the time the smallpox germs had spread to Pinedale through the U.S. Mail, probably from Big Piney where the disease had been prevalent most of that fall and winter. Some blame was leveled at travelers staying at the Becksmith Hotel in Pinedale, but the source of the outbreak was never determined.

I doubt published reports of disease outbreaks today would have the legal gall to print the names of the infected, yet it was a matter of course back then. Imagine the lawsuits now.

Trying to quell concern, published accounts at the time yawningly explain the only dangerous time for contagion was when the smallpox sufferer was in the scaling stage of the disease noticeable by its disfiguring of the face.

There was apparently a little unpleasantness that went with this. Ho hum.

Were you fortunate enough to catch just a mild case of the disease (smallpox-lite) and survive, you'd then be immune and only have lost some maybe valuable time due to the isolation of quarantine. As to how you knew beforehand whether yours was just a mild case of smallpox was not made clear.

The situation worsened to the point that a pest colony was set up on the south side of Pinedale, probably near the present day town park. Smallpox sufferers were "stored" here until their return to health (or not).

The pest colony consisted of a tent and a small red cabin. Drafty and brisk, I bet, in February 1912. In a dutiful display of housing chivalry, the ladies with smallpox were given the cabin while the gents made do in the tent. This makeshift hospital became known as the yellow-flag colony.

Some people with the disease tried to mask their symptoms to escape the rigors of quarantine. When discovered, these reckless ones were grabbed off the street by the coat sleeve, escorted to the pest house, and their names mentioned in the local newspaper. Other folks were unaware they had the disease.

It was a heck of a way to usher in a new town. Our forefathers came from hardy stock. They hacked a community out of the wilderness and put it on the map for all to enjoy to this day. And got it done in the midst of a smallpox outbreak that was, hey, no big deal. Our current problems pale somewhat.

It gives the mind pause and is the joy of history.

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The Sublette County Journal, PO Box 3010, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3713
Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul