Glendive History Though not a major focus in early Glendive, public health issues caused problems

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Glendive History

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series about Glendive history based on city archives.

Public health issues took a back seat to infrastructure and law enforcement priorities in early Glendive City Council meetings but definitely presented challenges for city officials.

Two early ordinances, 103 and 104, dealt with garbage disposal and control of large domestic animals, identified as horses, mules, asses, cattle, sheep or goats. A “general dumping ground” was also established, according to a summary of council minutes provided by researcher Vicki Zoll.

A little later in Ordinance 113 “the existence of any unwholesome or decaying or putrid animal or vegetable matter, the nature or condition of which tends to contaminate the atmosphere, or endanger or injure the health of persons; or which is indecent or offensive to the senses, or interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life and the happiness of any residents or sojourners in this City” was declared a nuisance.

While a dumping ground was supposedly established, later records indicate residents were unaware of it and those who did know of it considered it to be too far out of town to be useful, Zoll noted.

“Solid waste problems persisted,” she wrote. In May 1907 property owners were notified to clean alleys and take all dirt, ashes and rubbish to the city dumping grounds. The street commissioner was also instructed to notify city residents as to the location of the dump grounds.

This initiative must not have been effective as a month later the council created the “Office of City Scavenger.” The scavenger’s duty was to keep private yards and yards behind businesses clean. Rates for this service varied from 50 cents a month for private yards to $4 a month for restaurants and $6 a month for hotels.

The location of the dumping ground seemed to continue to present problems and in 1919 the city clerk was asked to write the Registrar of State Lands about leasing a quarter of half a section of school land east of the old Hilliard Dairy for a new dumping ground. The city leased the land from the state for $6 a year until a sale of state lands in Dawson County was held.

While the city worked on its water and sewer systems, their primitive nature also caused health issues. In May 1910 the council was presented with a bill of $350 from a P.J. McKinzie for “damages sustained by reason of his wife falling in sewer ditch.”

City water was full of silt and even as late as 1915 dead fish and other foreign substances were entering the water and contaminating it. These problems persisted until a filtration plant was built, Zoll said.

One of the first health crises the city dealt with occurred in June 1906 when Dr. R. E. Hathaway, Secretary of the Dawson County Board of Health, informed the council that several cases of measles had been recorded in the city. He asked the council if the city could assume jurisdiction of quarantine for measles and punish anyone failing to observe quarantine regulations.

A month later the chief of police reported a diphtheria outbreak within the city and told the council that county health authorities had established a quarantine. He asked the council to place a guard near a residence to enforce the quarantine. The council agreed to provide police patrol as necessary but made it clear the city would not assume responsibility for maintenance of anyone quarantined.

The city faced another public health crisis in October 1918 when Dr. Melville G. Danskin informed the council that there were 15 cases of Spanish influenza in the county. There had been one death and three or four more were seriously sick.

In response to the influenza outbreak, the State Board of Health ordered all schools closed and prohibited all public gatherings. Danskin suggested closing saloons, pool halls and club rooms and the council agreed to support him in whatever measures he thought necessary.

In late October 1918, a special session of the council considered an ordinance “prohibiting persons being on the Streets, Alleys or Public Places in the City of Glendive, without wearing a gauze mask; providing for the size, material and kind of mask, and providing a penalty for violation thereof.”

On advice of the city attorney who considered the ordinance unconstitutional, the council rejected it.

“At its peak, the flu would cause up to 13 deaths a week, a great number given the population of the region,” Zoll noted. “The Red Cross would establish an emergency hospital; the city responded with widespread closures and extra street sprinkling.”

City and county efforts to combat the flu epidemic seem not to have been well coordinated as in January 1919 the council refused payment of $114.90 to Hughes Oil for the purchase of oil during the flu epidemic and of $7.50 to the Dawson County Review for printing flu notice cards. Both were told to present their bills to the county for payment.

Reach Cindy Mullet at crmullet@midrivers.com

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