“Mr. Ira Burton, who lives near the mouth of the Salmon river, about 70 miles from Salem, lost six of his eight children by diphtheria in the last ten days.” Oregon State Journal (Eugene, OR) Nov. 9, 1879, pg. 5, col. 3. University of Oregon Knight Library, Newspaper Collection.
In just a few lines we can feel the heartache of this frontier family. I can’t even imagine their pain. Today we almost take for granted the vaccine protection our children receive – but this was not the case in the 1870’s. Diphtheria was a common cause of death – especially of young children in early Oregon families. Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection attacking the mucous membranes of the nose and throat – causing swollen glands, fever, painful swallowing – and as in the Burton family even death. The disease is airborne or can spread by touching contaminated household and personal items of the sick – such as a towel or tissue.
The disease is often found where there is poor hygiene and crowded conditions. I would imagine that in 1879 the Burton family lived in a small cabin in relation to the size of the family – with no internal plumbing, refrigeration, etc.
When researching newspapers read the columns that have small 2-4 line bits of information. This often is where you will find the deaths of children or out of the area relative’s birth, marriage and death notices. I have also seen the names of distant relatives who have arrived for a funeral, etc. Even though the information given is limited – it is worth the long shot.