Joke's Backstory Rooted in Smallpox Outbreaks

Father uses crying children and fear of smallpox outbreaks to send unwanted guests packing.

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Smallpox outbreaks were common in the 1800s. My folks lived in a log cabin in Nebraska in 1882. Some Indians were camped on a river about a quarter of a mile away. One of the men came to our cabin every morning and begged for food for his family.

One morning, Father saw him coming, grabbed my brother and me, and put us in bed. I began to bawl and yell. When the brave stepped in (he never knocked, just pulled the latch string and walked in), he went over to the stove to warm his hands. He said, "How."

"Not so good, Johnny," Father said. He pointed to me crying in bed and said, "Smallpox!" Johnny grabbed his nose, let out a whoop and ran for the door. He left it wide open and ran all the way to his camp.

That afternoon we watched the Indians moving up the road, but they detoured around our house. They had a new wagon with red wheels, the first I'd ever seen. Their teepee poles were dragged by ponies and the women walked.

As Father fixed the latch on the door, he laughed heartily and said, "Well, that was worth it!"

C.W. Martin
Litchfield, Nebraska


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.