Diphtheria Was Big Killer

Diphtheria epidemics could kill an entire community back in the homesteading days.

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Diphtheria was the most dreaded disease of the frontier. Nathan and Mina Beecham lost two children when an epidemic broke out in the community around El Reno, Oklahoma, where they had established a foothold about 1880.

Two-year-old Nita was stricken, and although the doctor was summoned at once, she died after only three days. Mina dressed her in white; Nate bought a wooden casket. The family chose a site for the grave on the schoolhouse grounds, and neighbors dug the little grave, but the disease was so contagious and so greatly feared that only the family was at graveside for the funeral.

Within a few days a little son died of the same disease and was buried beside his sister. As other children in the neighborhood died of diphtheria or other diseases, they were buried beside the Beecham children, and thus the Beecham Cemetery came into being. The pioneer burial ground has been declared a historical site by the state of Oklahoma.

Elsie M. Davison Newman Hall
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.