Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Research Vol. 13, No. 2, 2003. Copyright © 2003 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


During the spring of 1884 the livestock industry in Kansas was faced with financial ruin when a veterinarian diagnosed foot and mouth disease (FMD). The highly contagious FMD was widespread in parts of the US, and an outbreak in Kansas would have resulted in quarantine for the state's beef, swine, and sheep herds. Experts later determined that the correct diagnosis was non-infectious ergotism, caused by ingestion of prairie hay (primarily Elymus spp.). The panic and turmoil surrounding the ergotism incident launched subsequent investigations into poisonous plants by the newly-formed Bureau of Animal Industry within the Department of Agriculture.