The South Dakota Town That Was Nearly Wiped Off the Map by Smallpox
It all was almost lost - the entire town - to a hideous epidemic: Smallpox.
Jefferson, South Dakota is a 'gateway' of sorts to many folks driving up Interstate 29 from Iowa.
Jefferson is home to 500+ friendly folks and is part of what's called the Sioux City, IA-NE-SD Metropolitan Statistical Area.
For high school sports fans (and historians) in the Mount Rushmore State, the first phrase that comes to mind when they think of Jefferson is, perhaps, 'girls basketball'.
If you love great food, racing, maybe their annual 'Days of '59' celebration, or just a relaxing time visiting with friendly South Dakotans, well, make a stop in Jefferson and say 'Howdy'!
And it all was almost lost - the entire town - to a hideous epidemic: Smallpox.
The town was founded in 1859 (hence the annual 'Days of '59' celebration), and by 1867 twenty-five or so French-Canadian families called Jefferson home. All was going well in this small rural community. Then came the winter of 1880-81 and a smallpox epidemic.
Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by one of two virus variants...The initial symptoms of the disease included fever and vomiting. This was followed by formation of ulcers in the mouth and a skin rash. Over a number of days the skin rash turned into characteristic fluid-filled blisters...The disease was spread between people or via contaminated objects. - Wikipedia
How did smallpox arrive in Jefferson, South Dakota?
Well, as the story goes, in late 1880 people arrived in a town called Yankton on their route to settle in the Dakota Territory (South Dakota wouldn't become a state until 1889). And they apparently brought smallpox with them
The virus made its way to Jefferson and ravaged the town, nearly wiping it off the map. The town was quarantined for weeks. No one in, no one out. No railroad service. No mail service. No nothing.
By February of 1881, about 150 cases of 'black smallpox' were reported in and near the community of Jefferson, Dakota Territory. More than 82 people died.
But Jefferson survived. And thrived. Was it the hearty will of these people, these folks that dreamed of building a new life on the plains of this new place, this 'Dakota Territory'?
I'd say yes.
So you might want to take some time soon, pull off that busy 'ol Interstate 29, stop into the town of Jefferson, South Dakota, maybe have a cup of coffee and some warm conversation.
Oh, and ask them about those girls basketball teams that dominated the state tournament 'back in the day'.
Wikipedia Contributed To This Article
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Know Your South Dakota College and University Mascots
- What does it take to be a mascot?
- "Losing a bet or filling an opportunity!" Welch says, "An internal energized desire to love life. After meeting great performers who are introverts out of costume, they become the center of attention when they take the stage. And also feeding off the performance of others."
- Why does the mascot never talk?
- "Know your role and shut your mouth. You are there to entertain. Tell the story with your actions and not your voice."
- Advice to someone putting on that costume for the first time?
- "Remember you are now in a costume. Have fun. Otherwise, you're just a dork in tights. If the fur ain't flying you ain't trying."