In the spring of 1892 diptheria ravaged Utah communities. Talmage had returned home on Memorial Day from ministering to people when he learned of the plight of the non-Mormon Martin family, who had been unable to get anyone to go to the house to help for fear of catching the disease. James immediately left for the Martin home. He recorded:
One child, two and a half years old, lay dead on a bed, having been dead about four hours and still unwashed. Two other children, one a boy of ten and the other a girl of five, lay writhing in the agonies of the disease. A girl of 13 years is still feeble from a recent attack of diptheria. The father, Mr. Abe Martin, and the mother, Marshia Martin, are dazed with grief and fatigue; and the only other occupant of the house, a man named Kelly who is a boarder in the family, is so ill and weak as hardly to be able to move about.
He cleaned the house and prepared the young child for burial. Food and clothing had been donated by the Relief Society. The soiled clothing and rags had to be burned. A woman came by and offered to do the work for $5 a day, which she then lowered to $4.50, still a large sum for a family so destitute. Talmage dismissed her as a “vulture.”
When he returned the next day, he found that the ten-year-old boy had died during the night. The five-year-old girl was now near death. Talmage took her in his arms. “She clung to my neck, ofttimes coughing bloody mucus on my face and clothing, and her throat had about it the stench of putrefaction, yet I could not put her from me. During the half hour immediately preceding her death, I walked the floor with the little creature in my arms. She died in agony at 10 a.m.”
The three children were placed in wooden coffins and buried in a local cemetery. Talmage delivered the graveside blessing. After seeing to the well-being of the grieving family, he bathed in a zinc solution, burned his soiled clothing, and quarantined himself from his family for several days to prevent spread of the disease.
I was sick, and ye visited me…