Small Pox Near Markerville
As Carl Morkeberg tells it, by the early 1900s John and Oliver Benedictson ran a thriving business just north and west of the Red Deer River. The furs of weasels, coyotes, muskrats, lynx, and the hides of cattle and horses were prime trade goods, especially with the Cree and Chippewa bands of Indians that lived near the area.
In 1906, Gudmunder Gudmunderson and Gudmunder Sveinbjornson watched as a traveling band of 1,500 Natives set up tipis a few miles distant from their own secluded homesteads. The sound of drums and tom toms kept the Icelandic homesteaders awake all through the night. The next day the two men decided to travel to the site to see what all the fuss had been about. But when they arrived, all they could find were the poplar poles from what had once been Indian tipis. Poplar poles - and corpses. Underneath some trimmings lay several bodies: victims, the settlers knew, of "Stora Bola," or smallpox.
The settlers deduced that the Indians, confounded by the European disease, had been holding medicine dances in appeal to the Great Manitou. The band had kept traveling, repeating the ceremony as they went, until they arrived at a place about 40 miles north and west of Rocky Mountain House. By that time, the severe winter of 1906-07 had hit, and temperatures were dipping to sixty degrees below zero. With smallpox, the cold weather, and lack of wild game, only 300 members of the band survived.