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Disease and Health:
Insanity, Smallpox, and General Health Attitudes

By Errin R. Edlin



The 1860s in Walla Walla were a time of transition. Early pioneers who first established a European presence in the frontier of the Walla Walla Valley were joined by waves of new settlers after the end of the Indian Wars in 1858; first the gold miners and fortune seekers, and then the immigrants and other settlers with their determination to turn the frontier camps into civilized towns and cities. In less than a decade, Walla Walla went from a ramshackle mining town near the military fort to a city with grand hotels, lawyers’ and doctors’ offices, and balls and social clubs. With the increase in population came an increase in medical issues and concerns, including a couple of smallpox epidemics which swept the West, the establishment of provisions for the insane (who had previously been ignored or jailed), and judicial oversight of the same. General attitudes and beliefs about health issues also fueled emigration to Washington Territory, as many persons suffering from Tuberculosis and ‘consumptive’ diseases “back-East” were counseled to head West as a cure.


“Insanity and Asylums in Washington Territory” Determination and treatment of insanity in Washington Territory, focusing on the 1860s from when few resources for treatment and care existed in the west.

Insanity Cases in Walla Walla County: 1860s” A summary of all 1860s Insanity cases for Walla Walla County on file in the Frontier Justice archives.

“Smallpox and Vaccination in the 1860s” Conceptions and treatment of smallpox on the frontier, and the practice of vaccination in the 1860s as well as its availability on the frontier.

“The Westward Cure” A brief examination of the attitudes and beliefs of settlers who migrated West for the primary purpose of improving their health.


Overview: Contemporary attitudes towards health issues are most clearly illustrated by primary sources. To better understand the prevailing attitudes of the time, I have included newspaper clippings from the Washington Statesman, and its successor, the Walla Walla Statesman, consisting of health-related articles, ads for various health-related products and professionals, and miscellaneous excerpts which reflect opinions, actions, and beliefs of 1860s Walla Wallans. I have also included transcripts of several health-related cases to both illustrate the types of documents to be found in the archival cases and the issues surrounding this topic.

Dorsey S. Baker, et al. vs. the City of Walla Walla,” a group of concerned citizens seek to persuade the City of Walla Walla to build the community pest house for smallpox-afflicted citizens outside of the living and business areas of the city. Their concern is that those living downwind from the already-chosen site will also end up suffering from the affliction.

“The Dreaded Smallpox” Washington\Walla Walla Statesman smallpox-related clippings, including a posting of vaccination requirements for the 1869 outbreak, reports of other outbreaks, ‘cures’, and a smallpox-related quip.

Washington Territory Insanity Laws” A compilation of the territorial laws regarding the determination, treatment, and legal status of insane persons.

The Case of Fannie Campbell,” a minor intending to cohabit with a man without the benefit of matrimony; her brother and only relative seeks a determination of insanity in order to prevent her from said action.

The Case of James W. Bowers,” a man determined to be insane by both consulting doctors, yet with differing opinions on his candidacy for treatment in the Insane Asylum.

The Case of Elizabeth A. Pilcher,” a destitute woman determined to be insane, but not a candidate for the Insane Asylum.

“Causes of Illness” A collection of Washington\Walla Walla Statesman newspaper articles dealing with causes of illness and recommended measures of prevention and treatment.

“A Guaranteed Cure!” A collection of Washington\Walla Walla Statesman newspaper ads for various patent medicines and other cures.

“Bring Your Business Here!” Washington\Walla Walla Statesman newspaper advertisements for doctors, dentists, and pharmacists.