During the late 19th century annual reports of the Kansas State Board of Health included reports from the county health officers to the Board. The reports were sent in infrequently by some counties. Those sent in were usually one paragraph long and consisted of complaints by the health officer on the inability to gather vital statistics with short statements about incidences of croup, diphtheria, etc. in the county within the previous year.
This report from Dr. E. C. Loomis is the exception. Dr. Loomis not only gives us a look at the state of health in Graham County but also reports on a county seat battle, the topography of the land and, of course, the weather.... after all... this is Kansas!
Dr. Loomis' writing style is friendly and informative and makes this a wonderful look at Graham County in the 1880's.
Millbrook, Graham Co., January 1, 1889.
J. W. Redden, M. D.
In submitting to you my annual report of the condition and public health of this county for the year 1888, I would be glad to be able to make said report more complete and interesting. No records of any kind were turned over to me for the months preceding my appointment, in April, 1888, by the retiring County Health Officer. The difficulty of getting full returns from resident physicians since, makes the report unsatisfactory and incomplete. The birth, death, and marriage returns, as shown by the yearly report, are much too low. The yearly report is based upon the actual returns from physicians, and will not tally with the card statements of each month, which are much more accurate; such statements were made up of births and deaths which came to my knowledge from other sources than those made by physicians merely. It takes some time in a border county to get things in good working order. If I retain the office another year, I am confident of a better showing of the actual facts.
The topographical features of Graham county do not differ materially from those presented by the surrounding counties. Elevation above the sea, about 3,500 feet. There are three great "divides," extending east and west, formed by the Saline river in Trego county on the south, and Brush creek; second, that lying between Brush creek and the south fork of the Solomon river, which runs through the middle of the county; lastly, that lying between the Solomon and Bow creek on the north. There are several other small water-courses without water, and waterless creeks, with innumerable smaller "divides" and pockets leading into the common valley. The Solomon is from four to ten rods wide, having a depth of water of almost two inches. The channel would drown a Jersey mosquito, if well ballasted with rock. The river is frequently licked dry by hot winds. Moisture seems to have a grudge against the soil for long periods. This dryness is not wholly confined to the soil. Selah!
The weather is subject to sudden and extreme changes of temperature. In the early spring and summer appalling storms of wind with sometimes rain sweep over the country. During the winter months it is not uncommon to have a hot sun, at the same time a certain icy or undercurrent of cold air being noticeable, conditions favoring congestions and inflammations. Pneumonia and tonsillitis follow in successive crops. Ulcerative tonsillitis often assumes a malignant form closely resembling diphtheria, for which it is often mistaken. Bowel disorders have carried off many children. Improper diet for infants must stand as the prime cause for an alarming death-rate here as well as elsewhere. I make this statement, that women bear children because it is natural for them to do so; for if to bear children depended upon knowledge, but few children would be born. A babe less than six months of age that has the audacity and impudence to live after being continually fed upon pork rinds, bacon, hog fat, and hominy, deserves the severest censure of its nurse. Long-continued drouths favoring low water in wells is, without doubt, another factor of the causes of dysentery, diarrheal diseases, and typhoid fever. Water from some of the wells would give the dysentery to a fire-brick. On account of expense or a 2x4 almanac knowledge, many are in the habit of treating these bowel troubles with patent medicines or home remedies; sometimes with success. By the workings of this method, physicians often have a chance to "father" a funeral. Following closely in the wake of summer complaint, came typhoid fever. In the fall of 1888, like the preceding year, this disease first made its appearance at Hill City, on the opposite side of the Solomon from Millbrook, about two and one-half miles; apparently, these towns look much closer. Hill City is on an eminence, while Millbrook is located on the second bottom of the Solomon valley. The water supply of Millbrook is constant and never-failing.
March 10th, 1888, the county records were taken from Milibrook to Hill City. For several years this county-seat "racket" has been waged with great vigor and bitterness between these rival towns; the uncertainty retarded growth and improvements. HilL City had but two wells, and those chiefly in shale rock. To offset this deficiency, water was hauled in barrels (and is yet) from what is known as the Duck Pond, located three-quarters of a mile directly south of that town, near the river. This pond is supplied by springs, and has no visible outlet. It has frequently been used by both towns as a bath tub. There is a green scum around its border such as is seen in ponds generally. To a considerable extent the water from this fever incubator has been used by the people of Hill City to drink, and is yet. Their ice supply is also obtained chiefly from this pond. It is not at all singular that I should be able to trace a large number of cases directly to the water supply from suspected wells, the water being low, murky, favoring the accumulation of a muddy slime on the bottom and sides of the bucket.
The fever first appeared there about the middle of August. A number of cases at Fremont, fourteen miles west, later on; population of one hundred. Also at Bogue, a town not yet four months old, some four cases; one death. Nicodemus reports a few cases, with two or three deaths; population about two hundred, mostly negroes.
I have not heard of any case outside of a radius of six miles from any of these towns. Millbrook has had four cases, and one death. I am unable to state the number of cases of this fever at Hill City, but would be safe in putting the number as high as fifty, and a proportionate number of deaths; population now about five hundred. The population of Millbrook was about the same last March; since that time, however, Hill City has enjoyed a "boom," and has grown rapidly, while Millbrook has become beautifully less. The sanitary condition of both towns is the same. The water theory may account for much of the sickness; certain it is, there has been an element at work over there, from which Milibrook has been nearly exempt. The reckless disposal of evacuations has not helped their case any, and may add to their distress another fall.
Since March a number of wells have been bored, the water coming through a stratum of coarse gravel and sand, and apparently of good quality.
The construction of a branch of the Union Pacific Railroad through the Solomon vaUey gave the county a large transient population, and increased the birth and death-rate. One child died with whooping-cough; the disease spread in a mild form so far, and has resulted in one other death. Consumption has claimed a number; nearly all of them were brought here from distant points. Persons with weak lungs should provide themselves with a galvanized lining before venturing a residence.
Three papers having the largest circulation willingly published the pamphlets upon typhoid fever, diphtheria and scarlet fever. Printed matter always has more weight with the masses than the wisest spoken words. The publication and distribution of those small books ought to and will have a salutary and beneficial influence. Some people never read anything. Nothing but the severest afflictions will open their eyes in place of the mouth.
In June, 1888, the number of school children in the county was 2,389. The County Superintendent estimates the number at present to be about 2,000. A large number of families moved away during the fall. Of this number, I am informed that some 5 per cent have been vaccinated. None have been vaccinated this past year.
I sent a circular letter to all physicians in the county requesting them to give the number of cases of typhoid fever occurring in their practice for the fall and winter of 1888. Dr. E. M. Brown, of Fremont, Kansas, reports thirty-four, and from other sources of information, one hundred cases will hardly cover the number. Out of this number there have been from twenty to twenty-five deaths, although the report shows only twelve. I know some physicians have failed to report all their deaths to cover up as far as possible, I presume, the mortality of a certain town. I am quite satisfied that some other element than impure water merely must be looked for as a cause or causes of this disease.
The county now has a new court-house 60x60, and a new jail adjacent. The jail has all the modern appointments.
I shall be pleased to send you as soon as I can get returns from the Probate Judge, his report of marriage permits for the year 1888. Like the rest, it will be incomplete.
Very truly yours,
E. C. LOOMIS, M.D, County Health Officer.
Transcribed by Bill Sowers
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--Contributed by Bill and Diana Sowers, March, 2000
Gayle M. Garrett ....WaKeeney, KS