Backwoods Memories: Being Forced to Intentionally Catch the Measels

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Written by George Huston in 1904

And here, [Eastern Kentucky] I was born in the year that my grandfather died. There were already three children in the family, but they were all daughters. My father and mother both ardently wished for a son and there was great rejoicing over the birth of the first boy when I appeared at last on the fifth of February 1821.

There was no physician in the neighborhood at that time. Doctors were indeed few and far between in my own recollection. But trusty midwives were to be had and the most widely and well known of these was Aunt Franky McFarland, a large fleshy old woman who rode a black horse.

She was summoned from far and near and came eight miles to assist in bringing me into the world.

My earliest distinct recollection goes back to a time when I could not have been over four years old.

In the fall of that year my father, who was always fond of hunting in a country abounding in game, took me out for a little hunt. He soon found a squirrel in the top of a tree.

Pointing to the small bunch of gray fur he shot and down came the squirrel.

I ran and picked it up, but the little creature was only wounded and grasped my left hand in his teeth and firmly held on to his bite. Pain and fright caused me to scream. Father freed my hand and after killing the squirrel carried me home in his arms.

To this day I bear scars showing the marks of the squirrel’s teeth.

Another very early experience that impressed itself upon me was going with my elder sister to the house of a neighbor in order to get the measles, and this I believe occurred in the same year.

It is hard to understand the reason for taking such a step as this, possibly, may have been regarded at that time when medical science thereabouts was in its infancy, much as vaccination or inoculation is regarded in these days.

At all events, the heroic measure proves my mother to have been a woman of courage of firmness and great strength of character one who was able to do what was generally thought to be the best in the face of all her natural fears.

Accordingly, we were sent in the charge of Aunt Nancy and told to kiss the children who had the complaint which was then prevalent in the neighborhood.

We did as directed and both my sister and I forthwith took the disorder and certainly had it quite as thoroughly as could have been desired.

And during the entire time that we were ill with the measles we were confined to a dark room and allowed scarcely any food and were given nothing to drink but nauseous hot teas made out of the leaves of the sage bush or the bark of sassafras roots.

And even these drinks were without sweetening for mischief was then supposed to lurk in sugar.

Long years after my Aunt Nancy told me that the main purpose in sending us was to insure our having the disease in the spring of the year when it was thought to be less dangerous than at any other season.

If so, the purpose was served — for when we were permitted to look out of the window the apple trees were in bloom truly a beautiful and charming sight for children in our condition.

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