Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1992 Page: 133
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The Epidemic of 1873, in Columbus, Texas
Yellow fever got its name because it commonly causes jaundice in its
advanced stages. Those afflicted with it experience fever, chills, back pains, headaches,
rapid heartbeat, and extreme prostration. After the third day of suffering, the symptoms
often recede, only to return with increased severity shortly thereafter. The final stages
are marked by hemorrhaging. Then the patient falls into a coma and often dies.
At the time of the Columbus epidemic, it was widely believed that yellow
fever was transmitted when an uninfected person came in contact with articles that had
been used by an infected person. The citizens of Columbus seemed to believe that the
disease stemmed from an overflow of the Colorado River, which left rotting vegetation
and fish behind when it receded. In fact, they were close to the truth. In 1900, a research
team headed by Dr. Walter Reed proved that yellow fever was carried by certain types
of mosquitoes and thus that the disease could be controlled by diligent mosquito
eradication programs. The Columbus epidemic had indeed been touched off by the
overflow of the river, which left many stagnant pools of water in which mosquitoes bred
Dr. Harrison's paper, which includes graphic descriptions of his patients'
symptoms, is the most complete account of the Columbus epidemic known. In addition
to providing a count of those who died, he tells where and when they died. Further, the
article contains many details about the city of Columbus and the conditions under which
its citizens lived in 1873.
For clarity, the original prescriptions and the uncommon abbreviations used
by Dr. Harrison have been written out. The prescriptions, which were originally in Latin,
have been translated. Latin in the text has been translated parenthetically. All the original
footnotes have been retained and some new ones added. The original footnotes are
labelled "Original note, " the new ones, "Editor's note. " All italics in the text are original.
Mention should also be made of four errors in the manuscript. Except for
the first two instances in which it is used, Charter Street is called "Chester Street"
throughout. This error probably resulted from a typesetter's inability to read Dr.
Harrison's handwriting. This, and Dr. Harrison's two other spelling errors, have been
left undisturbed, except for parenthetical corrections. The fourth error is the inconsis-
tency of the spelling of a medicine Harrison refers to, Simmons' Liver Regulator. It is
called both Simmon's and Simmons' Liver Regulator. This error too has been left
The occurrence of various epidemics in different parts of the State during the
latter part of last year; their extreme virulence, and the great death rate that marked their
progress; the obscurity of their origin, and the conflict of opinion among medical men
as to their intrinsic character, furnish important material for the consideration of the
profession. The prevalence, simultaneously, of like epidemics in some of our sister
States should likewise engage our attention; and if, upon comparison, we find a
sufficient coincidence of circumstances, we may possibly obtain the clue to their causes,
and thus enable ourselves to ward them off in future, or arrest their progress in case of
their development. To promote this object is my purpose in the present paper, and to
that end I propose to submit, briefly as possible, a history of the epidemic as it occurred
in Columbus, during the months October, November and December- the term of its
endurance - interspersed with such facts and clinical observations as may seem
conducive to a just appreciation of its character.
Before I proceed, however, it is proper to note the fact, that while Marshall,
Denison, Calvert and Columbus, allinland, suffered severely, our coast towns and cities
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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/m1/5/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed May 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.