Trachoma on the Stillwater Indian Reservation

Photograph Courtesy of Pam Nelson.

Instructors and their students gathered at the Baptist Indian Mission to work on varied projects. One-on-one guidance was provided in the use of sewing materials and techniques, as well as pattern making, design, and different quilting styles.

Photograph Courtesy of Pam Nelson.

Baptist missionary women such as Lillian R. Corwin and Mary Brown offered classes on sewing and quilting to Paiute women and young girls. Almost all of the clothing, quilts, and other practical items crafted during these sessions were intended for family use or as personal gifts.

During March 1910, Superintendent Creel of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation warned surrounding area populations not to employ Native American women to do the family laundry. This warning was the result of the spread of trachoma among the Native American reservations of Western Nevada.

The population of the Stillwater Indian Reservation, located near Fallon, Nevada, was not immune to the effects of this disease and many tribal members became infected. Attempting to contain this disease to the reservations and prevent its spread to the white population, an article in the Churchill County Eagle warned local white residents that Paiute tribe members should be kept at a distance and should not be employed as domestics unless they had been examined by a physician and found to be free of the malady.

Trachoma, one of the oldest infectious diseases known to mankind, is a disease that affects the eye. It usually begins during childhood as a simple infection in the eye. After years of repeated infections, the inside of the eyelids may be scarred so severely that the eyelid turns inwards, with the eyelashes rubbing on the eyeball.

Trachoma is most prevalent among people of underdeveloped areas that have poor sanitary conditions and lack proper hygiene. Unfortunately, these conditions existed on many American Indian reservations of the day. The disease is transmitted by contact with infected eye secretions, most usually by the fingers, handkerchiefs, towels, and washcloths, used, or handled by, an infected person.

While treated successfully today with oral antibiotics, trachoma on the American Indian reservations of the 1800s and early 1900s often led to blindness.

Further Reading

Pam Nelson. Across the Road: Fallon Indian Day School and the Baptist Indian Mission. In Focus, 2000-2001 .

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