Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1992 Page: 134
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
- many of which have hitherto been considered the home of epidemics, and, in some
instances, hot-beds for the generation of pestilence - have not only escaped but have
been sufficiently exempt from disease of every description to make them places of resort
for safety by refugees from the inland pestilence. The fact is startling and affords
material for the most careful consideration, the most thorough investigation our
profession can give it. Shreveport and Memphis, it is true, had a fresh water connection
with the coast, through New Orleans, where yellow fever prevailed, but from all the
information I have been able to obtain, to a very limited extent and within circumscribed
boundaries; while in the former places the disease spread with unprecedented rapidity,
and was marked by a most appalling mortality.
Columbus, with a population of about three thousand inhabitants, is situated
on the west bank of the Colorado river, at a point where that stream, sweeping around
a bend some fourteen miles in length, approaches the eastern limit of the town from the
northeast, and then veers off in a southeasterly and easterly direction. The bend
comprises something more than three-fourths of a circle, which is completed by a strip
of low land, or a sort of slough, which connects the river from above with Ratcliff's creek,
which empties into it a mile below the bend; thus surrounding us with a belt of low,
marshy land. The low land on the eastern side of the river where it approaches the town
nearest, is about half a mile in width, and tolerably thickly set with timber and the ordinary
undergrowth common to unreclaimed river lands. The actual site of the town, however,
may be termed high, sandy bottom land, with occasional "dips" or small basins
distributed over it, but which dry readily after ordinary rains. The entire town is admirably
located for cheap drainage, but no such precautionary measure has yet been adopted.
Isothermally, Columbus is nearly on a line with Alexandria, Gibraltar,
Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans, and has an elevation above the level of the sea of
from ninety to one hundred feet. Perhaps one-third of the town is subject to overflow
on rare occasions - every fifteen or twenty years. An extreme overflow of this
description occurred in 1869, and another in 1870,1 the first in July, and the second in
September; but neither one of them was succeeded by any material increase of sickness
in town or in country. The lower lands contiguous to the river are overflowed, more or
less, every year, particularly during the summer and fall months.
Notwithstanding these surroundings, Columbus, and indeed the country in
its vicinity for miles around, near the river and on the hills, has hitherto been exceptionally
healthful, until about the 1st of July last, when the manifestations occurred which
culminated in an epidemic, which, although trifling compared with others, was still so
fearful in contrast with all the former experience of our people, that they were at once
panic-stricken and utterly demoralized.
Of the meteorology of Columbus it is to be regretted that accurate
observations were not made and recorded, as without them I can only state, generally
and indefinitely, that the rainfall was greater probably than on any previous occasion,
and the summer heat was protracted far into the fall season; the winds, instead of the
pleasant, bracing Gulf breeze to which we are accustomed during our summers,
prevailing mostly from the northeast, east or southeast. For a month or two prior to the
outbreak of the epidemic a peculiar but very offensive, or, as some expressed it,
"sickening" exhalation from the small basins in different parts of the town was very
manifest during the night, though scarcely perceptible through the day.
1 Original note: Old citizens say these overflows almost invariably occur two years together, the last
one before this having occurred in 1853 and 1854, the predecessor of that in 1832 and 1833.
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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/m1/6/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed May 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.