Cholera.Pathologists describe the malady known as Asiatic cholera as "a malignant disease due to a specific poison which, whein[sic] received into the human body through the air, water, or in some other way, gives rise to the most alarming symptoms and very frequently proves fatal to life. An attack of cholera is generally marked by three stages, though these often succeed each other so rapidly as not to be easily defined. There is first a premonitory diarrhoea stage, with occasional vomiting, severe cramps in the abdomen and legs, and great muscular weakness. This condition is succeeded, and often within a remarkably short period, by the second stage, which is one of collapse, and is called the algid or cold stage. This is characterized by intense prostration, great thirst, feebleness of circulation and respiration, with coldness and blueness of the skin, and loss of voice. Should death not take place at this, the most fatal period, the sufferer will then pass into the third or reaction stage of the disease. This, though very frequently marked by a high state of fever, with a tendency to congestion of the internal organs, as the brain, lungs, kidneys, etc., is a much more hopeful stage than that which has preceded it, and the chances of recovery are very much increased."
It is called the Asiatic cholera because it has for centuries had its home in the East, though some medical writers insist that under another name it has been epidemic in other parts of the world. In his History of India, Mill says: "Spasmodic cholera had been known in India from the remotest periods, and had at times committed fearful ravages. Its effects, however, were in general restricted in particular seasons and localities, and were not so extensively diffused as to attract notice or excite alarm. In the middle of 1817, however, the disease assumed a new form, and became a widely spread and fatal epidemic."
This is said to have been the first great cholera epidemic recorded in history. In 1830 the disease made its first appearance in Europe, where its nature was recognized the following year, and in 1832 it crossed the ocean to the United States. The coast cities in the northern states were the first to suffer, after which the disease extended westward to the Ohio river, then descended that stream and the Mississippi to New Orleans, where it wrought fearful havoc, as many as 500 deaths occurring in one day. The disease also reached some of the western tribes of Indians, the Sacs and Foxes losing many of their "braves" through cholera. A few cases appeared along the rivers each year until 1835, but at no time was the mortality any where near as great as in 1832.
In 1848 there was another visitation of cholera, beginning at New Orleans late in the year. In April, 1849, it reached St. Louis, and before the close of the year over 4,000 deaths from cholera were reported in that city. Gold seekers, on their way to California, came in contact with the malady at St. Louis, and several of the steamboats ascending the Missouri carried cholera patients, thus aiding in the spread of the disease. One of these boats, the "Sacramento," arrived at St. Joseph on April 21 and reported one death on the trip. The "James Monroe" left St. Louis with a large number of California emigrants, but by the time Jefferson City was reached the epidemic on board had become so alarming that the officers and crew deserted the steamer, which lay at Jefferson City for several months before being taken back to St. Louis. In September the news was received at St. Louis that the cholera was raging among the Indians of the northwest as far north as the headwaters of the Mississippi. The Eighth United States infantry, which was on duty in the West, lost about one-third of its members, Gen. Worth being one of the victims. About 900 deaths from cholera occurred at St. Louis in 1850, and a few deaths were reported in 1851. Among those who died in the latter year was Father Christian Hoecken, the Jesuit missionary, whose death occurred on board the "St. Ange" while ascending the Missouri river to the scene of his labors. In the summer of 1855 the steamboat "Golden State" left St. Louis for the trip up the Missouri river with several hundred Mormons on board. Cholera broke out in the steerage and a number of the passengers died.
It was in this year that the cholera appeared among the white people of Kansas for the first time. On Aug. 1, 1855, a case was discovered at Fort Riley. The disease developed rapidly, and on the 2nd there were several deaths. Panic seized the troops and the citizens in the vicinity of the fort, and all who could get away left at the first opportunity. Even the surgeon at the fort abandoned his post, leaving Maj. Ogden to act as both commander and surgeon. Fifteen deaths occurred on the 3d, among them the gallant Ogden. His remains were later taken to New York, but the attaches of the fort erected a monument there to commemorate his fidelity and his unselfish efforts in striving to check the ravages of the disease and administer comfort to the sufferers. Various estimates have been made as to the number of deaths, but at this late day accurate figures are difficult to obtain. It is possible that not less than 100 lost their lives as victims of the scourge in 1855.
Another epidemic, and one more wide-spread and more fatal in its results, occurred in the summer of 1867. On July 1 the first case was reported at Fort Harker. At that time the population of the town of Ellsworth, not far from the fort, was about 1,000. As soon as the news reached the town there was a general hegira, and in a few days the population was less than 100. The Eighteenth Kansas battalion was at the fort, and Company C lost 13 of its members, the other companies suffering less severely. About a week later the battalion was ordered to the southwest, and on the 16th encamped on Walnut creek, about 10 miles above Fort Zarah. Col. H. L. Moore, commanding the battalion, in an address before the Kansas Historical Society on Jan. 19, 1897, said:
"The day brought no new cases, and everybody felt cheerful, hoping that the future had nothing worse in store than a meeting with hostile Indians. By 8 p. m. supper was over, and in another hour the camp became a hospital of screaming cholera patients. Men were seized with cramping of the stomach, bowels, and muscles of the arms and legs. The doctor and his medicines were powerless to resist the disease. One company had been sent away on a scout, as soon as the command reached camp, and of the three companies remaining in camp the morning of the 17th found 5 dead and 36 stretched on the ground in a state of collapse."
That morning the quartermaster and commissary stores were thrown away, the sick were loaded in wagons, and the battalion resumed its march. Strange as it may appear, not a man died during the day, and when the command went into camp that night near Pawnee Rock some one shot a buffalo calf, from which soup was made for the invalids. This gave them additional strength and hope, and a little later they were all turned over to the surgeon at Fort Larned.
Concerning the epidemic at Fort Hays this year the official records of the surgeon-general's office say: "The first case at Fort Hays was a citizen who had just arrived from Salina. On the same day, July 11, a colored soldier of the garrison was taken sick and died next day. During July, August and September 33 cases and 23 deaths are reported among the colored troops, whose mean strength during the three months was 215 men. Sept. 1 a white soldier was attacked, but recovered; the rest of the white troops, averaging during the three months 34 men, escaped."
This report does not include any account of the ravages among the citizens, but it is known that the settlements along Big creek were stricken with terror and that many of the people abandoned their homes. Rumors of the fatality have no doubt been greatly exaggerated, but the epidemic was a severe one all over the western part of the state. R. M. Wright, in his "Personal Reminiscences," in volume VII, Kansas Collections, says: "The cholera was perfectly awful that summer on the plains; it killed soldiers, government employees, Santa Fe traders and emigrants. Many new graves dotted the roadsides and camping places, making fresh landmarks."
Gen. Custer was at Fort Wallace when the news of the epidemic reached him. Fearing for the safety of his wife, who was at Fort Riley, he left his regiment under command of a subordinate officer and, with an escort of 100 men, under Capt. Hamilton, hurried toward Fort Riley. For thus abandoning his command without orders, Custer was tried by a court-martial and sentenced to "loss of rank and pay for one year," though part of the sentence was afterward remitted upon the recommendation of Gen. Sheridan.
The disease broke out among the Wichita Indians, where the city of Wichita now stands, and in what is now the northern part of the city early settlers found over 100 Indian graves, one being that of Owaha, the hereditary war chief. About the middle of the summer orders came from Washington for the Indians to remove to their old homes on the Washita, but they refused to go until their crops were gathered. In the fall they started for the Washita, but the scourge accompanied them, and at Skeleton creek so many of their dead were left unburied that their bleaching bones gave name to the stream. Other Indian tribes also suffered. The cattle trade was seriously interfered with, whole herds sometimes being left without any one able to look after them because herders were stricken with cholera. This was especially true along what was known as the Abilene cattle trail, and also along the old Chisholm trail.
For a long time cholera was supposed to be as contagious as smallpox, but in the latter '80s the investigations of such eminent physicians as Koch and Emmerich of Germany, and Jenkins of New York, have demonstrated that the disease is due to certain forms of bacilli, that it is not contagious, and that it can easily be prevented from becoming epidemic by proper sanitation and the prompt isolation of cases. The theories of these men were thoroughly tested in 1892, when four vessels arrived about the same time in New York harbor, each reporting deaths from "cholerine" during the passage. The vessels were detained at quarantine, and by order of President Harrison a large number of tents were sent to Sandy Hook early in September for the accommodation of the passengers until the danger was past. The epidemic was quite severe on board the ships and in the isolation camp, but the quarantine officers were so strict in the enforcement of the regulations established that only two deaths were reported in the city of New York, thus demonstrating the efficacy of the proposed methods in dealing with the disease.
While the above mentioned conditions prevailed at New York, the Kansas State Board of Health was not idle. On Sept. 15, 1892, a circular was sent out to the local boards of health, in which was the following statement: "Asiatic cholera is today kept from our midst only through the excellence of our maritime quarantine service. The danger to us is imminent. If it does not eventually elude the vigilance which has thus far kept it at bay, it will be a fortunate exception to the usual history of the disease."
As precautionary measures, the state board recommended: 1st, Thorough sanitary inspection of every city, town and village; 2nd, The drainage of stagnant ponds and low, wet grounds; 3d, Careful cleansing and disinfection of all sewers, public drains, privy vaults, slaughter houses, pig pens, etc.; 4th, The destruction, entire and complete, of all accumulations of filth that may he discovered; 5th, Inspection of markets as to quality of food offered for sale; 6th, Advising the people not to eat unripe, partially decayed or indigestible fruit or vegetables.
On March 10, 1893, Gov. Lewelling approved an act of the legislature then in session authorizing the state board to establish and maintain quarantine stations whenever any part of the state was threatened with Asiatic cholera, and appropriating $10,000 for the fiscal years 1894-95. The act also provided severe penalities[sic] for failure to observe the regulations prescribed by the board of health. The stringency of the quarantine at New York prevented the disease from spreading to the interior, and by the act of Feb. 13, 1895, the Kansas legislature ordered the unexpended balance of the cholera appropriation of 1893 covered into the general fund. Since the successful quarantine at New York but little has been heard of the cholera in this country, and it is highly improbable that the United States will ever again experience a severe epidemica splendid illustration of the truth of the old adage, "Knowledge is power."Pages 333-337 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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