By Danica Sveda (AS, '09)
Heath Hornecker (AS, ’97) starts off Footprints’ “Bet You Didn’t Know” series by giving us a few fun tidbits about agriculture. Hornecker is in his 16th year at Casper College as an instructor and coached the livestock judging team from 2006-2008 but, most recently, teaches a variety of courses in the agriculture department. In his spare time, Hornecker attends numerous baseball games, ice skating practices, and livestock shows. Hornecker and his wife Jaime (AS, ’97) have four kids, too many short-legged dogs, and a small acreage outside Casper. Year after year, when the Casper College Alumni Association asks graduates who influenced and helped them the most during their time at Casper College, Hornecker always has words of thanks from grateful students. Hornecker tells us about Wyoming sheep and the smallpox vaccine.
Wyoming was known primarily in the late 1800s as sheep country. With the price of cattle at historic highs, some brave entrepreneurs jumped into sheep ranching. Raising sheep in the West was half as expensive as raising sheep in the East. With free rangeland, it was a stockman’s paradise. Sheep populations kept growing, and by 1909 the Wyoming sheep count passed the 6 million mark. At that time, there were more sheep in Wyoming than there are in the entire United States today — 5 million in 2016. The rapid rise of the sheep population in the West began to cause problems with large cattle barons. They found their cattle competing with sheep for grazing on public land. This began Wyoming’s range wars. Sheep finally began to decline after the Taylor Grazing Act put an end to free-grazing public land. It instituted grazing fees and land leases, and by 2011 there were only 275,000 sheep in Wyoming.
An observant young doctor is the reason that smallpox is nearly unknown in developed countries. Smallpox is an ancient disease and has been around for all recorded history and even before that. The mummified head of Egyptian pharaoh Ramses V bears the scars of a smallpox infection. Smallpox ravaged all levels of society. Rich and poor alike, the disease was indiscriminate of race or status. In 18th century Europe, 400,000 people died annually of the disease, and a third of those that survived went blind. Enter Edward Jenner of Gloucestershire, England. As a young man, Jenner overheard a dairymaid say, “I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly pockmarked face.”
It wasn’t until after a successful career as a natural scientist that Jenner returned to smallpox. Remembering the maid and her comments, he wondered if cowpox and its apparent immunity properties to smallpox were true. His research began with a dairymaid with cowpox. He used matter from the lesions of the cowpox and inoculated an 8-year-old boy. The boy developed mild symptoms of cowpox but felt better after nine days. Two months later, he collected fresh matter from a smallpox lesion and inoculated the boy again. No disease developed; Jenner concluded that the boy had become immune due to his previous cowpox exposure. It took some time for science to agree with his findings. Eventually, a ‘vaccine’ was approved. Even the word vaccine is taken from the Latin word vaccinia or cowpox. By 1800, the vaccine for smallpox reached most European countries.