NARRATIVE OF THE CHOLERA EPIDEMIC OF 1873 IN THE UNITED STATES.
43D CONGRESS, 2d Session, House of Representatives. Ex.Doc.No.95
Images Contributed By: DEB HAINES
Transcribed By: CHERYL WILSON
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The epidemic of cholera in this county was confined almost exclusively to the town of Lancaster, and to refugees from that town, after the development of the disease.
Lancaster is situated nearly in the center of the county. In 1870 this town had a population of about 1,200 inhabitants, one-third of whom were negroes. Among the people of this town the memory of the epidemic of 1833, at which time the town had been almost depopulated by the ravages of cholera, had been kept green, and this fact accounts for the terror which the disease occasioned in 1873.
In 1833 the cholera had been directly introduced into the town in a way so patent that, among the older inhabitants of Lancaster, it would be difficult to find an intelligent person who doubted the infectionusness and the portability of the disease.
On the 18th day of June, 1833, late in the evening, a wagon, laden with merchandise for the store of Mr. William Cooke, who was at that time the principal merchant of the place, arrived at Lancaster. These goods had been purchased at the city of Philadelphia, Pa.; they had been transported the Wheeling Va.; from thence by steamboat on the Ohio to Maysville, Ky.; from thence to Lexington, Ky. At the last named town they were loaded on the wagon from which they were delivered to Mr. Cooke. The wagon was unloaded the evening of its arrival at Lancaster; the goods were unpacked and placed upon the shelves in Mr. Cooke's store, and before noon the next day Mr. Cooke, the wagoner, and two or three men who had handled these goods, were dead from cholera.
Prior to these cases there had been no sickness in the town, but from them the disease spread, became epidemic, and from the 19th of June to the 8th of July one hundred and sixteen deaths occurred. Of these, fifty-eight occurred in the persons of whites; of them, thirty-two were males, twenty-one were females, and five were young children. Two fatal cases occurred in the persons of medical men, and duplicate cases occurred in many families.
Forty years later the same disease visited this town, concealed in the person of a sick stranger. This man, as will be shown hereafter, came directly from an infected district in the State of Tennessee. He was taken with cholera after his arrival at Lancaster; he lingered for twelve days and died; but before he died, cases of the same disease occurred among persons who came in contact with him; from them the infection spread to others, and eighteen fatal cases occurred.
The town of Lancaster is built upon undulating ground, some 600 feet above the level of the Ohio river. The business portion of the town is high and well drained. On the eastern side of the town, Richmond street descends abruptly into a valley through which a small stream flows in a northeastern direction. This stream is fed by some small springs which issue from the foot of a hill occupied by a cemetery, and affords drainage for the main portion of the town. Its banks are marshy and overgrown by wild grasses and weeds. Beyond this stream the Richmond road ascends a considerable hill, upon the summit of which is located the barracks of the United States troops. The space between the barracks and the town is occupied by private residences. Upon the east side of the drain, and upon the low ground in which it empties, after crossing the Sugar Creek road, a number of cabins are occupied by negro families. Upon the banks of the drain, outside the limits of the town, was a filthy slaughter house, the efflavia from which at the time pervaded the entire town.
In the month of August, 1873, the sanitary condition of this town was very bad. No attention had been paid to its police. Filth of all kinds was scattered around the negro-cabins, and human excrement was entirely upon the surface of the ground. The water-supply of this town is obtained, in the main, from wells. Those wells in public use are so situated that after each rain-fall they inevitably received a large amount of surface-washings. One of these wells, that of Richmond street, to which frequent reference will be made, is directly on the line of the eastern drain. Above this well, on the slope of the hill, at the foot of which the well was dug, are stables, cow-sheds, pig-pens, and privies; and it is notorious that after each rain-fall the water of this well has been found to be tainted. When the fact is taken into consideration that throughout the Southwest the stables and their adjoining premises and invariably used by the males as privies, it is clear that the fluid contents of this well must have been contaminated by a certain amount of fecal matter.
On the 10th day of August a man named Bewley, who had traveled from Russellville, Tenn., which town, at the date of his departure, was infected with cholera, arrived at Lancaster and lodged at the house of a friend who resides on Richmond street, upon the hill-side, and immediately above the well and the eastern drain. We are informed by Dr. C.D. Riggs, of Russellville, Tenn., that prior to Bewley's departure from that town cholera had become epidemic, and that Bewley himself had been the subject of a "suspicious diarrhea" before he started for Kentucky. Bewley was ill when he arrived, and stated to his firends that he had been sick several times on the trip, which he had made on horseback. He was so ill that he was obliged to at once go to bed. Vomiting, purging, and cramps were soon developed; the man became collapsed, remained in that stage for several hours, reacted, passed into a typhoid condition and lingered until the twelfth day of his illness, when he died. the excreta of this case were not disinfected, but were thrown out upon the ground in rear of the out-houses.
This case was not recognized as cholera by the attending physicians, although one gentleman expressed himself as being suspicious, but having no knowledge of the epidemic from which the patient had escaped, and not having informed himself of the gradual northward advance of the disease, concluded that the case was not one of cholera.
On the 14th day of August a negro man named Jenkins died in his cabin, nearly at the head of the eastern drain, of unmistakable cholera. this man had, up to the day on which he died, waited upon Bewley. by Jenkins all vessels containing the dejections and vomit had been emptied. this man obtained his drinking water from the well on Richmond street. The excreta of this case were not disinfected, and they were thrown into the drain.
August 15, the father-in-law of Bewley, a Mr. Turner, who resided ten miles northeast of the town, was taken with cholera and died after an illness of eight hours. This man had come to Lancaster to visit Bewley. He remained with him one day and slept in the sick-room one night; the next morning he started for home and was taken sick on the road.
August 16, a negro woman named Bailey, who lived upon the same street as Bewley, and one short block distant, in a miserably dirty cabin, was taken sick and died after an illness of twenty- two hours. The excreta of this case were added to the general mass of filth around the cabin. No disinfectants were used.
August 19, four fatal cases occurred in cabins and rooms immediately adjoining the room in which the woman Bailey had died. the disease in no case continued longer than ten hours. the same day a lady who lived in the vicinity of the slaughter-house abandoned her home and with her family fled to the house of friends upon the bank of the Kentucky River, some ten miles distant from the town. Upon the road she was attacked with the disease, and died within a few hours after reaching a place of safety.
August 20, three new cases were reported and all terminated fatally. One, Fanny Bailey, was the daughter of the woman of that name who died on the 16th. Fanny had continued to occupy the room in which her mother had died. The second case of that day, Sam. Salter, a negro, lived with his wife and sister in a cabin upon the banks of the eastern drain and close to the cemetery. the excreta were thrown into the privy which was used by the two women. The third case was in the person of a negro woman who had fled to Camp Nelson, on the Kentucky River, twenty miles from the infected district.
It has been positively ascertained that until this date all who had been attacked with cholera had not only lived in the vicinity of the house at thich Bewley was ill, but that they had obtained their drinking-water from the Richmond-street well.
On the evening of this day the writer, in obedience to orders, arrived at Lancaster, to inspect the garrison so far as its sanitary condition was concerned, and to make any necessary arrangements to secure to the troops full and competent medical attention.
The town was found to be almost entirely deserted. All who could do so had left, save a few brave men and devoted women, who remained to fight the disease, comfort the sick, subsist the destitute, and put away the dead. It is well to note that the authorities of this little town expended over $3000 in charity during the epidemic. This amount of money was not contributed by foreign charity, but was in and of the inhabitants of Lancaster alone.
Up to this date, August 20, disinfectants, outside of the barrackgrounds had not been used. An effort was made to institute a thorough system. as far as was practicable, the ground already infected was treated with a solution of the sulphate of iron, and each householder was required to supply himself with disinfectants for use on his premises.
August 21, five fatal cases are reported, and on this day the first person living out of the infected district was attacked. this was in the person of a negro named West, who had been employed by the town authorities as a cholera- nurse. A second case was husband of one of the women who died on the 19th. this man had continued to occupy the room in which his wife had died. the third and fourth cases occurred in the wife and sister of Sam. Salter, who died on the 20th. These women, had, after the death of the husband, separated. the wife had gone to her father's house, on the southwest side of town. the sister had gone to Stanford, Lincoln County, where she was taken with cholera, but was carried back to Lancaster. these women both died after a few hours' illness. The last case occurred in the person of Mrs. Temple, who had left her home, which was upon the same street as the house at which Bewley had been ill, and died in the country of cholera.
August 22, a white man, forty-five years of age, of intemperate habits, who had been constantly drunk for the past week, was seized with cholera, and died in ten hours. A negro man named Ned. Cecil, who lived in the house next to that at which Edna Salter had died, and who had used the privy in which the cholera- dejections of the women had been thrown, was taken with cholera while on the public square. He was carried into an unfinished building and carefully attended, but died after an illness of twenty hours. The excreta of this case were disinfected. The same day a young carpenter, named Spoonamore, who had been employed at work upon the new building of the national bank, died of cholera at his home near Stanford, Lincoln county. On the evening of this day Bewley, the initial case of the epidemic, died.
August 23, a fatal case occurred at the United States barracks. This case occurred in a married soldier, who lived with his wife in a room in the rear of an officer's quarters.
August 24, two fatal cases occurred. The first in the wife of the soldier who died on the preceding day.
The contact of these persons with the infection was for a time obscure. The room they occupied was scrupulously clean. The location was high and well drained. Neither of the individuals had been in the town during the prevalence of the disease. They had not used the water of the Richmond- street well, as had been charged in a history of this demon- stration published in October, 1873. It has, however, been determined by an investigation instituted by Acting Assistant Surgeon Smith, United States Army, the medical officer of the command, that the clothing of this couple had been washed by a negro woman who lived in the infected quarter of the town, and that this lot of clothing was received back but a short time before the attack. On this day a lady who had nursed Bewley in his illness died of cholera in the country.
August 25, a young man named Singleton was attacked with cholera at the residence of his brother-in-law, who lived some four miles from Lancaster, upon the Sugar Creek. Singleton had a diarrhea for some days before his attack, during which time he used the common privy of the family. In this case the disease was well marked. Dr. Berry, who reports the case, states that there was complete suppression of the urine for forty-eight hours. The system, however, responded to the treatment, and the case recovered. During this illness a brother and sister had a mild attack, which yielded to treatment and rest. The house occupied by this family obtained their supply of water from the public well to which reference has so frequently been made. The family consisted of Singleton, his wife, and four children.
August 26, Moses Doty, the father of Alice Salter, and at whose house she died, was attacked, and died after an illness of eight hours. During the evening of the same day the sister of Singleton, Mrs. Finley, was attacked and died in eighteen hours. This lady had used the privy in which the diarrheal discharges of young Singleton were deposited, but when the disease under which he was suffering became pronounced, Mrs. Finley and her husband left the house for another about one mile distant, where she sickened and died.
August 27, a negro man sixty-eight years of age, named French Smith, died of cholera after an illness of sixty hours.
August 28, a negro child thirty months old, the son of a man employed by the authorities as a nurse for the cholera sick, died of cholera after an illness of six hours.
August 29, two soldiers, named Rathjon and Hasbrouck, were taken with cholera and died, the first in sixteen, the last in twelve hours. One of these men had nursed and assisted in preparing for burial the remains of the private, Rushbrook, and his wife, who died on the 23d and 24th instant.
The second of these cases, Private Hasbrouck, had not been in direct contact with the cholera sick, but he was the "bunkee" of Private Rathjon; that is, these man occupied the same tent and bed. They were both dissipated, reckless men, and it is supposed that they had bith visited negro cabins in the infected district of the town.
Mr. and Mrs. Stephens, who lived in the infected district, occupying a portion of the house that was abandoned by the family of Collier on the 19th instant, were both taken with cholera in the country. The wife died, the husband recovered. The same day a male negor died after an illness of sixteen hours.
September 1, Ellen Lusk, the grandmother of the child who died August 28, was taken ill and died. This old woman had nursed her grandchild during its illness, but after its death had returned to her own home.
September 2, CHarity Dunn, a negro woman, who had been confined to her house with rheumatism for two months, was taken with diarrhea. At first bilious in its character, in a few hours she was in fully-developed cholera, and died in about twenty- four hours. A fatal case of the disease had occurred at a house within a few yards of the one in which this woman was sick.
At Paint Lick, some nine miles distant from Lancaster, a negress named Lucy Reid, the mother of a large family, was taken with diarrhea at 5 o’clock a.m. At 2 o’clock p.m., when she was visited by Dr. L.S. McMurtry of Danville, who reports the case, she was in collapse, and died at 8 o'clock p.m. This woman had been in no cholera-district and had remained at her house during the entire summer. She had committed no imprudence in diet. Her cabin was clean and comfortable, but its ventilation at night was very bad. A careful inquiry instituted by Dr. McMurtry into the history of this case developed the fact that a young boy was then living in the family who had some days previously come from the infected district of Lancaster after his parents had died of the disease. The only possible connection that his family could have had was through the person of this boy; after the death of the mother, two children sickened and died, but the boy who was the porter of the disease remained well. The same day a man named Robert Perrin, who lived in a distant portion of the Paint Lick township, was taken sick, and died after an illness of thirty-six hours.
September 3, Ann Mason, who lived quite near to the house at which Alice Salter had died, was taken with cholera, and died after twenty-four hours. The same day William Arnold, who is the undertaker of the town, and who lived quite near to the houses at which Alice Salter, Anderson West, and Ann Mason had died, was taken ill, but was convalescent in four or five days.
September 4, Private W. Graff was taken sick at the camp, some miles out of the town, to which the troops had been removed, but recovered after a short illness.
September 5, a negro woman name Burdett, the mother of the child who died August 28, and the daughter of Ellen Lusk, who died on the 1st instant, was taken sick. She recovered, as did also a man named Alexander Harris, who sickened the same day.
From the last date no new cases occurred. Those sick rapidly convalesced, and the inhabitants of the town who had fled from their homes to escape the disease, returned. Individuals living in the country began again to visit the town; business was resumed; but on September 21 the community was alarmed by the occurrence of another case.
An old lady named Guthrie had come from her home in the country to visit the Tate family, at whose house Bewley had been sick of cholera, and where he had died. The day after her arrival (September 26) she was taken ill, cholera was rapidly developed, and she died after an illness of thirty-six hours.
This case closed the demonstration of the disease; but it is a singular fact that initial and terminal cases of the epidemic occurred and died in the same house, the same room, and on the same bed.
The cholera sick at Lancaster were treated by Drs. Pettus, Jackman, and Hill, of the town; Drs. J.L. Warren and S.L.S. Smith, who were on duty with the troops; and by Drs. William Berry and F.C. Wilson, of the city of Louisville. Dr. Warren abandoned a lucrative practice at the Crab Orchard Springs, Drs. Smith, Berry and Wilson their professional engagements at Louisville, to render professional aid to the inhabitants of this stricken town.
Original images can be found at http://www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/ky/state/cholera