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As It Was: Chicken Cholera Plagues Early Settlers

Cholera plagued early Southern Oregon settlers from the mid to late 1800s.  Caused by drinking water or food contaminated by the feces of an infected person, the dreaded disease attacked miners and others who emigrated to the West in search of gold or a new life.

It is said that Chinese mine workers largely avoided cholera because they boiled the water they used for making tea.

Chicken cholera was also virulent and could kill a whole flock.  An early remedy for chicken cholera in Southern Oregon was found on an old, handwritten scrap of paper among the archives of the Southern Oregon Historical Society.  It called for dissolving iron sulfate in a gallon of boiling water, adding sulfuric acid, and placing the mixture in a tightly corked jug.  An addendum to the scribbled note warned the remedy was “certain death for pigs.”

Chicken cholera was one of the first diseases studied by the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, who in 1879 created a chicken cholera vaccine, heralding the birth of immunology and a reliable way to save the flock.


Works cited: "Louis Pasteur and the Development of the Attenuated Vaccine." VBI Vaccines, VBI Vaccines, 23 November 2016, www.vbivaccines.com/wire/louis-pasteur-attenuated-vaccine/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2019; Sundstrand, Jacque. "The Difference Between Chickens and Pigs." Southern Oregon Heritage Today, vol. 2, no. 9, Sept. 2000, p. 5.   

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.