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Great Stories of the Great Plains: Crime and disease headline 1901 newspaper


Crime and epidemics seemed to be the top news stories of The Jamestown Alert in January of 1901.

One of the big stories told how a young man who had lived in Jamestown and had family here was in trouble in Minneapolis for writing bad checks.

What’s worse, he wrote many of the bad checks on a Jamestown bank.

The most interesting part of the tale is in a minor headline.

“Efforts being made by relatives of young man to save him,” wrote the editors of The Jamestown Alert. The article never actually gives the man’s name or tells who in his family was involved in trying to “save him.”

The article does say he had been in Jamestown the summer before.

“He secured a job and went out with a party of young fellows but work and him did not agree and he was discharged,” the Alert wrote.

The paper reported in just a few months of work around Jamestown, he’d convinced a number of businesses to give him credit and ran up several bills including a $50 hotel bill.

The man and his family are never named, but the Minneapolis forgeries were estimated at something less than $100.

It sounds trifling now, but that is close to $3,000 today when adjusted for inflation.

A murder in Cavalier County made headlines. It seems a farmer and his sister had a hired man helping on the farm. The hired man took advantage of the sister, “ruining her” in the words of the brother, and swindled her out of $1,500.

The brother tied the hired man up in a barn stall, gave him five minutes to pray and then stabbed him to death. The brother was charged with murder, and the crime made headlines all around North Dakota.

Epidemics were causing concern around the state as well. Smallpox in Cass County cost that government $4,000 in 1901. That’s about $117,000 adjusted for inflation.

If that weren’t enough to be worried about, there were reports of the “grip” in Chicago with 100,000 people ill.

The grip was another term for what we now call influenza.

There were no flu shots back in 1901, and diseases such as this could cause widespread illness and even death. The 1918 Flu Pandemic resulted in the death of between 3 percent and 5 percent of the world population.

In North Dakota, about 1,400 people perished.

Of course, there were over-the-counter remedies that were often touted to cure a wide variety of illnesses.

Hood’s Sarsaparilla didn’t even specify what it cured. Its ads just said it keeps people healthy.

Another advertisement in The Jamestown Alert in 1901 was for Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters. The ad proclaimed, “Try it for Malaria, Fever and Ague.”

Fever and ague were illnesses with symptoms similar to malaria and involved high fevers.

Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters also proclaimed a whole list of health benefits. The pill’s manufacturer said the bitters could prevent nervousness, keep the stomach in good order and prevent belching, sourness of the stomach and flatulency. Which, given the Jamestown climate, was probably a bigger problem than malaria.

Keith Norman can be reached at