Joke's Backstory Rooted in Smallpox Outbreaks

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

| Good Old Days

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

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