February 18, 1860: Nearly every family in Oneota stricken by Scarlet Fever

On this day in 1860 in what would become Duluth, Methodist minister Reverend James Peet recorded in his diary that, “There are one or more sick in almost every family in Oneota, five or six in one family, mostly scarlet fever among the children.” It was one of many notations regarding the disease he would note over the winter of 1859–1860, when an epidemic swept through the townsites that would later form the Zenith City. Peet himself may have been part of the problem, as he (and others) were unaware of how the disease was spread and did not realize that its victims should be isolated. While tending to his sick children, he also attended evening prayer meetings, did not miss a Sunday service, and visited to the other towns to provide Methodists services to the faithful in Endion, Portland, Rice’s Point, Upper and Lower Duluth, Middleton, perhaps even Fond du Lac—and may well have spread the affliction as he went. His sons Olin and Robert fought the disease in December, 1859. Robert lost his battle and was buried five days after Christmas; only eleven people attended the funeral, as it was ‘bitter cold” and most people were sick with Scarlet Fever. One historian went as far as to say that, “Probably others were just as careless [as Peet], otherwise one would be inclined to think that Mr. Peet was the principal carrier of the disease.”

This 19th-century image was used to help people distinguish between measles and scarlet fever. (Image: Public Domain)