Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, September, 1992 Page: 135
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The Epidemic of 1873, in Columbus, Texas
The low lands near the river were overflowed on four or five different
occasions between the months of April and November. One of these overflows, occur-
ring about the 25th of August, was remarkable for the enormous quantity of dead fish
floated down the stream. The column was scarcely broken during a period of two days
and nights, and the current, being strong, the quantity passed is altogether beyond
estimation. Occasionally, they were floated away from the main current, and lodged in
the drift-wood of the overflowed low land, where, covered with a thin coating of
sediment from the muddy flood, vast quantities of them were left to swelter and decay.
The source from whence they came, and the cause of their death, are questions that up
to the present time have defied scrutiny.
The recession of this overflow was not attended with any palpable increase
of sickness, citizens of the town being more than usually healthful.
But to return, for a moment, to an earlier period in our history. The health
of the country for miles around, particularly near the river, was much worse than usual.
During the months of June, July and August,2 intermittent, remittent and bilious fevers
prevailed, with nothing unusual to mark their course; but in the latter part of August and
first of September there was a manifest change in the type of the disease. Patients were
attacked with a chill, as usual, but in a great many cases the intermission or remission,
was nearly, if not entirely, absent; the heat of the surface was peculiarly pungent; the
tongue large, clean and intensely red; the eyes glassy; pulse small, hard and quick;
stomach irritable, with some tenderness, extending obscurely into the bowels. The fever
rarely abated before the twelfth day, and the intolerance of quinine in any of its stages
was universal in my experience. In some few instances the fever disappeared on the fifth
day. Cases of this general character were mostly confined to river plantations above and
below town, though some few were met with on plantations in the vicinity of Skull creek,
a small stream of considerable length and swampy bottoms, from seven to twenty miles
west and south of town. In two or three cases that came under my observation there
was a marked hemorrhagic tendency; and one that I remember was attacked on the
evening of the 26th of August with a severe and protracted chill, succeeded by fever;
small, quick, hard pulse; half comatose. In twelve hours was a deep bronze color, and
voiding bloody urine by the gallon. 27th, no abatement of fever. Medicine operating
freely; stools of dark grumous material; stomach irritable, and stupor deep as ever. Gave
a saline purgative, with directions to follow its action with full doses of quinine. 28th,
fever seems to be subsiding; stupor not so deep; pulse softer and slower; bowels have
been moved freely, the evacuations consisting of large quantities of material similar to
the first passed; has ceased to void bloody urine, but is retching and vomiting a little
matter similar in appearance to his stools. Directed brandy in milk punch.
The patient died with black vomit 48 hours after the attack.
Another case that I was called to see on the 16th of September, on Hervey
creek, nine miles west of town, terminated in an inveterate attack of purpur hemorrhag-
ica, that resisted every remedy, until I put him on bromide of potassium and ergot. The
amount of blood he lost from the nose, mouth, throat, urinary organs and bowels was
incredible. But little escaped through the skin. The patient lingered until the middle of
November before he was fairly convalescent.
These cases involved deviations from the ordinary course of the class of case
under consideration, but only in the respects indicated.
2 Original note: The winds during this period prevailed from the south almost exclusively, thus
sweeping whatever of malarial or other poison might have been developed along the river away from town,
while river plantations were still more or less exposed to it.
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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/m1/7/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed May 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.