Benton County Pioneer Life

US GenWeb Image
Washington State GenWeb logo of spiderweb and state

Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Oh For Days of Pioneers!/Flies, Mosquitoes, Bedbugs, Fleas

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, February 26, 1961, page 19

The pioneers of the Tri-City Region had to endure many hardships due to the scarcity of food, clothing and shelter. They were harrassed also by the abundance of insects and vermin such as house flies, horseflies, fleas, ticks, body lice, mosquitoes, and bedbugs. The house fly was screened, trapped, or poisoned. The flea, because of its small size and agility, was poisoned with flea powder. There was no known preventive for ticks. Continual personal examination was necessary. When a tick was discovered attached to the skin, the pioneer would drop some turpentine or coal oil on it. It could then be detached in entirety. This was necessary as the dreaded spotted fever was caused by tick bites.

Body lice were eradicated by bathing the body and boiling the clothes. The bites were treated with blue ointment. The mosquito, Oh! that dreaded female with her nosey nose. Why couldn’t she have been as harmless as her mate?

The pioneers used mosquito netting and house lining to fence her out. They anointed their bodies with essence of pennyroyal, the odor of which was as objectionable as the mosquito bites.

The bedbug, Ah! here was the real pest. The pioneer would dose him with corrosive sublimate, which is mercury chloride. It sterilized the bedbug eggs and made the bedbug sick, but it did not always kill him. The bedbug could exist on pine lumber. The houses that the pioneers built were very conducive to the bedbugs. The walls and ceilings were constructed of pine lumber. The cracks between the boards were covered with cloth strips pasted on with flour, paste, then house lining and wall paper were pasted over that. The flour in the paste gave the bedbug a great diet. The bedbug, dastard that he was, showed his appreciation to his host by sucking the pioneer’s blood while he slept. The bedbug also entered the social etiquette of the times. It was permissible to have bedbugs as transient guests but they must not become permanent boarders. The pioneers all envied the railroad section foreman as the section house was given live steam treatment from the locomotives twice a year.


I Goethe did the words of “The Song of the Flea,” Mussorgsky the music from base to high 'C', And many a Big Basso his tonsils strained In hopes of renown that he seldom attained

II But how can a flea that hops here and there With a husky bedbug in any manner compare which crawls on the ceiling, high over head Then drops Kerplunk on the Pioneer’s bed

III Who sound asleep and in sweet dreams lost The bedbug eats his fill without any cost Next morn the Pioneer all sore does arise With lips puffed up and red smarting eyes

IV He rows rengeance for what that insect ate And gave it a dose of corrosive sublimate Sure, mercury chloride is quite hot stuff But with all its heat it was not hot enough

V Not until the modern bed with rubber foam Did this pesky bedbug lose his happy home His large tummy refused the rubber to use So now he is rubbed out from further abuse.

Return to Index of Burton Lum Articles