1870 Smallpox Epidemic in Ogden, Utah

The Death of Lurania Eggleston

Lurania Powers Burgess Eggleston

I had known from family records that Lurania Powers Burgess Eggleston, the wife of Samuel Eggleston and my great great grandmother, had died July 6, 1870. This date is on her headstone in the Ogden City Cemetery. The circumstances of her death took some time for me to unravel and understand.

A notice in The Ogden Semi-Weekly Junction of Wednesday Morning July 6, 1870, stated:

“Died. In this city, of scarlet fever, at 3 o’clock this morning, LURANIA P., wife of Mr. SAMUEL EGGLESTON, aged 61 years and 11 months. The funeral will take place a 5 o’clock this evening, when the friends of the deceased are invited to attend. Mrs. Eggleston was born in Cayuga County, New York. She was baptized in June 1841, moved to Nauvoo in 1842. In 1847, she went with her family to Winter Quarters and in 1862 she came to Utah.”


The Ogden Semi-Weekly Junction 6 July 1870

This seemed pretty straight forward, that Lurania had gotten sick and passed away. It was not unusual at the time to bury someone quickly after their death. This newspaper was a semi-weekly paper, being published on Wednesdays and Saturdays. At that time, Lurania’s sons Reuben and Orson would have been working for the paper. I assume they rushed word soon after her death and had the notice written shortly before the paper was printed that day. Perhaps they actually went in and typeset it themselves.

At some point, I visited the Ogden City Cemetery and stopped in the office to see the Sexton Records. The sexton record indicated the cause of Lurania’s death as smallpox. This was different from the “scarlet fever” stated in the paper. Of course, the family may have been unsure of exactly what disease she had and reported what they thought. The other option might have been that they and/or doctors realized it was smallpox but intentionally did not want to alarm the public.

More Deaths in the Family

I remember learning that Orson had purchased cemetery plots at that time. Also listed in the sexton records were the death of two of Reuben’s children during that same summer. Four year old Cora Gladys died July 26 and seven year old May Julia on August 6, 1870. The cause of death was given as smallpox for one and the other was blank on the record.

I found a biography of Emeline Eggleston, wife of Reuben, written by Disey Eggleston Richardson in the DUP files. This mentioned that two of Reuben and Emeline’s children, Cora Gladys and May Julia were stricken with black small pox in 1870. It added that they were quarantined at Farr’s grove, as were others who were exposed. These two girls could have been easily infected by their grandmother.

In a Biography of William Nicol Fife, I found information about the Smallpox epidemic in 1870. According to his account the disease was brought into Ogden by an Indian Squaw in May 1870. He indicated that “the first person taken down with it, a Mrs. Eggleston died.” Later a few others became sick and were sent to Brick Creek [Burch Creek].

Mr. Fife indicated that he personally built a lumber room for the afflicted and furnished them with food and necessities. He also “followed up the disease with disinfectants” and personally placed yellow flags in front of every affected house. By July, forty cases were quarantined at Farr’s Grove. He indicated that the Mayor assisted him with this and later became sick himself. His case was mild, yet he was also moved to the grove. By the end of July there were 89 cases.

Quarantine Sites

There were two quarantine sites set up during 1870, both of which have connections to the Eggleston Family. Farr’s Grove was land owned by the Farr family near the mouth of Ogden Canyon and not far from where I grew up. Samuel and Lurania’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth, had married Enoch Farr, a son of Lorin Farr. This was his family’s land. I remember the orchards that were still there during my childhood. Created on this land was Lorin Farr Park, which is very familiar to me and everyone around. The swimming pool there was even made famous through the movie “The Sandlot.”

The other quarantine site was Burch Creek, which is actually the neighborhood where I have lived for the past 40 years. Before our marriage, my husband lived in the basement of his Aunt and Uncle’s home which has Burch Creek running through their back yard. Our home is a couple of blocks away. This area was originally settled by John Stephens, the father of Constance Stephens who was Orson Eggleston’s first wife.

Care of the Sick

Though Mr. Fife mentioned building a lumber room at Farr’s Grove, this quarantine may have consisted mostly of tents being set up with some medical people there to care for the sick. The locations suggest that the main idea was to get these people away from the general population and public places where people might gather. At that time, these places were outside of “town.” Mr. Fife stated:


“[I] got good kind nurses for the sick, and by strict regulations in the camp and the city the contagion was prevented from spreading any further. About half the people in camp I furnished with supplies from Z.C.M.I. at the expense of the city. A great portion of the time I was on the move day and night, and though handling most of the sick people in taking them to the grove, I was not attacked by the disease.”

Autobiography of Wiliam Nicole Fife cited in Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, Vol 4, p. 163, Utah , Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah 1998 (Geo. Q. Cannon & Sons, 1904)

I learned by scanning through microfilm of the 1870 Ogden Junction, that this epidemic afflicted Ogden and the surrounding area for much of the year. Having the quarantine site on their land was not good for the Stephen’s family, having afflicted sixteen of them, according to Mr. Fife. John Stephens died Dec 3, 1870 at his residence near Burch Creek of smallpox.


The Ogden Semi-Weekly Junction,
3 December 1870

End of the Smallpox Epidemic?

An article in The Ogden Semi-Weekly Junction of December 14, 1870 stated:

Burch Creek–

The small pox at Burch Creek has, up to date, attacked sixteen persons, all members of the Stephens family. “Doctor” Ryle who has them in charge, pronounces them all, with the exception of Father Stephens whose death was announced last wee, in a state of convalescence, and expects that in a few days they will have entirely recovered.


The Ogden Semi-Weekly Junction, 14 December 1870

These accounts have some conflicts about the timing of this epidemic. Mr. Fife indicated the beginning of this epidemic as May, suggesting that Mrs. Eggleston would have died earlier than her July 6 death date. People would have been people quarantined by the time of her death, according to Fife’s account, so it would seem they would have known what Lurania died of, and she should have been quarantined as well.

Mr. Fife indicated that “ Only seven of the 89 cases were fatal and the epidemic was over by the end of October,” which doesn’t fit with the newspaper accounts that John Stephens died in December and his family members were still recovering. Of course, these accounts are based on the recollections of individuals.

If the numbers reported are correct – 89 people became sick, 16 of those were members of the Stephens family; and 7 died, including Lurania, Cora Gladys, May Julia and John Stephens. With four of the seven deaths being connected to the family, I wonder how many other family members got sick but recovered.

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