PAT NEAL: A history of pandemics

IN LAST WEEK’S episode, we were discovering Discovery Bay, a favorite scenic waterway known for its beauty ever since Captain Vancouver anchored up in 1792.

At the time, Britain claimed the vast area we call the Pacific Northwest along with Spain, Russia and America.

The Russians went broke, Spain lost too many wars and the Americans bluffed the English, who retreated north of the 49th parallel in 1846.

With the creation of Washington Territory in 1853, people couldn’t wait to get out of Oregon, a territory said to be run by preachers and teetotalers who had prohibited liquor in 1844. Washington had a government-sponsored land rush.

With the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862, a man could claim 160 acres and his wife could, too.

That’s where the treaties came in.

Isaac Stevens was charged with extinguishing the Native American title to the land so it could be opened up for homesteading.

Stevens was Washington’s Territorial Governor, a transcontinental railroad surveyor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs all rolled into one.

Stevens used intimidation and martial law to force the Tribes to sign his treaties.

Some said he wanted to start an Indian war because then, as now, war was good for business.

The Tribes signed the treaty because they didn’t understand them and they were nervous from getting their villages shelled and burned at random by various unidentified warships transiting the Straits, and their population had been severely reduced by disease.

Vancouver had noticed abandoned villages and Native individuals with “evidence of the pox.”

That would have been small pox. Which, along with a host of other European diseases, decimated the Native Americans even before the majority of Europeans arrived.

In 1855, Captain Abernathy found a schooner adrift off Diamond Point with 32 deserting British Sailors who had died of small pox.

In 1859, the Bark, “What Cheer” sailed north from San Francisco.

Sailors were dying of smallpox. Their clothing and bedding were thrown overboard and picked up by villagers, spreading smallpox from Ozette to Port Townsend.

So many people died that they put the bodies on the beaches, where they’d be washed away with the tide.

At the S’Klallam village formerly located at Discovery Bay, only two people, a man and a woman who seemed to be immune to the disease, cooked and cared for more than 100 men, women and children.

In 1893, the Diamond Point Quarantine Station was built to prevent the spread of disease from incoming ships.

No alien could enter the country without a health examination.

If disease was detected on a ship, it was fumigated and quarantined for two weeks.

If the crew was sick, they were put in the hospital until they recovered or died.

These days, smallpox, polio and tetanus been eradicated.

Other diseases are controlled with vaccines, but simultaneous COVID-19 and opioid pandemics have overloaded our health care system to the point where people are dying from previously preventable medical conditions that we cured years ago.

In spite of this, Clallam County has managed to administer an aggressive campaign of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Ironically, it’s largely due to the efforts of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, people who suffered European diseases and a genocidal policy of ethnic cleansing we used to call, “How the west was won.”

The S’Klallam stepped up and organized an effective COVID vaccination campaign, and they are building a treatment facility for opioid addiction.

Critics suggest the S’Klallam are only trying to keep the white man alive so they will spend money at their casino — but who cares?

The life they save could be your own.

Next week: Railroad’s coming!


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].

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