Sanitation and public health, though recognized as issues of extreme importance in an urban environment, were not communally resolved. Natural drainage could not cope with the situation, and individuals were lax or negligent in self-regulation. Piles of offal, manure, and other filth accumulated in the alleys behind the business district. Trash of all descriptions was liberally scattered around the camp. The housewife, no more considerate, threw the garbage out in the backyard and allowed it to rot. Privies with shallow cesspools and vaults ranked perhaps as the greatest menace of all. In this disease-fermenting atmosphere, health was seriously threatened. The combination of putrid, rotten, decaying material and refuse produced a stench which hung over the camp and which would have been extremely offensive to later generations of Americans who were not accustomed to such conditions.A far cry from the pastoral scene of today's life in the mountains.
In the summer and fall, dust from the streets, mills, and mines added to the general discomfort. In the winter and spring, mud contributed its share. The summer months were the worst, for the warm sun brought into full strength all the odors which the cold of winter had helped to mask. With trees and natural shrubbery having been appropriated for other uses, erosion took place, so that a sudden shower might cascade mud, sand, and rocks into the camp. To be sure, the water washed away some of the filth but it was soon replaced.
Not a pretty picture, this camp scene, and the reader might be justified in declaring it too grim for any one camp. What cannot be denied is that all suffered to some extent, and in general, the larger the settlement, the more unfavorable the health conditions. Dysentery and diarrhea resulted from contaminated water, and even worse, typhoid, which swept through communities in epidemic proportions. Diphtheria. smallpox, scarlet fever, and other illnesses threatened both young and old. Before transportation improved, scurvy continued to be a menace in the winter-isolated camps. The common cold and sore throat were potentially dangerous, for even a mild cold weakened resistance and could lead to something far worse. Pneumonia, a dreaded killer at high altitudes, often resulted. These frontiersmen were not weak, unhealthy specimens susceptible to every illness, but in the crowded and unsanitary environment a host of diseases could emerge. Only the cautious and lucky citizen survived in this natural breeding ground of sickness.
Chapter Twelve: Life Was Never Easy.
Duane A Smith
Rocky Mountain Mining Camps: The Urban Frontier