Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1992 Page: 158
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The Alleyton Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1867
by Bill Stein
On September 4, 1867, an Alleyton physician reported the presence of
yellow fever in his community. Throughout July and August, Colorado County had
experienced unusually heavy rainfall, creating favorable breeding conditions for the
mosquitoes that carried the disease. Mosquitoes alone, however, could not generate an
epidemic. For that, the proper serum, to be transferred from one person to another via
the mosquitoes, was needed.
The two or more people who were first reported to have the fever in Alleyton
were employees of the railroad, and had made daily trips between Alleyton and
Galveston. The latter city was in the midst of an epidemic at the time, so it is reasonable
to assume that the railroad men were afflicted with the disease there. In any case, their
blood provided the mosquitoes with the needed serum, and the fever quickly spread
throughout the small community of Alleyton. Reportedly, by October 20, "nearly every
inhabitant of the village ... except a few who fled to the country" had contracted the
disease. According to the same report, the disease was exceptionally virulent in
Alleyton, killing forty-five people out of a total of about ninety cases.'
Perhaps owing to a quarantine against Alleyton, imposed almost immedi-
ately after the first reports of yellow fever there, no one in the nearby town of Columbus
came down with the disease. Though it had the intended effect, and though such quar-
antines were common, the Columbus quarantine against Alleyton became somewhat
controversial. After all the doctors in Alleyton died, at least one Columbus physician
argued that he ought to be allowed to go to and from the afflicted community without
restriction. Dr. William Minor Byars, quoted in the September 20, 1867 Galveston News,
wrongly believed "the danger is in sleeping where the disease is, not in simply visiting
a case... I can attend any yellow fever case in safety provided I am allowed to sleep in
an uninfected locality." He went on to argue "that our fellow beings should [not] be
allowed to die for want of medical attention, so near us, to, that we may almost hear
the moans and supplications." Despite his appeals, the quarantine remained in force,
1 See report of Dr. S. W. Welsh, which quotes Columbus physician John F. Hicks, in Greensville
Dowell, ed., Yellow Fever and Malarial Diseases Embracing a History of the Epidemics of Yellow Fever in
Texas, Philadelphia, 1876, p. 67. This report casts strong doubt on the commonly accepted idea that Alleyton
was, during the Civil War, the largest town in Colorado County. This belief seems to have been first
pronounced on a Texas Centennial historical marker erected in Alleyton in 1936 and repeated, by Lee Quinn
Nesbitt, in her article on Alleyton in The Handbook of Texas (Austin: The Texas State Historical Association,
1952, 2 volumes). But, if it is true, as Dr. Hicks states, that during the yellow fever epidemic "nearly every
inhabitant" became ill and that there were only about ninety cases, then clearly Alleyton was a very small place
in September 1867. The town could certainly have been larger during the war, but the belief in Alleyton's
prominence stems from the fact that, at the time, it was the westernmost depot of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos,
and Colorado Railroad. It remained the terminus of the railroad until November 1867, when the first train
entered Columbus. Defenders of the idea that the town was once the largest in the county have never
adequately explained its demise, leaving us to conclude that when the railroad moved west, so did the
population of Alleyton. If however, the town boasted only 90-100 inhabitants before the railroad had moved
to even the nearest town, just three miles west, it is difficult to believe that it had ever been larger than
Columbus. Ample evidence that Columbus had more than 100, and indeed more than 1000 residents during
and well before the late 1860s exists. Indeed, Dr. Hicks himself refers to Columbus as "a considerable town"
and to Alleyton as "a village." Secondly, the Alleyton epidemic was all but ignored by the state's press, while
concurrent epidemics in other communities which were and are of comparitively modest population were
covered quite extensively. This evidence suggests that Alleyton was never much more than what Glidden
became in the late nineteenth century, a suburban railroad depot for Columbus.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1992, periodical, September 1992; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151386/m1/30/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed July 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.