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Gregg, East Texas in Panic Over 1873 Fever (August 2014)

Gregg, East Texas in panic over 1873 fever
By Van Craddock

Yellow fever. Just mention of the words could set off panic. Such was the case in Gregg County and East Texas in October 1873.

The dread disease was sweeping across the South - Nashville, Memphis, Mobile, New Orleans … and Shreveport.

By August, people were dying in the Caddo Parish, La., community of 10,000. Thousands of Shreveport residents fled town. In mid-September, 30 victims were being buried daily at the Red River port city.

By Sept. 29, according to one contemporary newspaper account, more than 400 Shreveport residents had died with "at least 700 sick, of all ages, sexes, color and nationalities."

Panicked Louisianans poured across the state line into the Piney Woods. A couple of yellow fever cases were reported in Marshall. East Texas communities began to issue quarantines.

J.W. Boring, mayor of the new railroad town called Longview, urged the Gregg County Commissioners Court to consider a quarantine. In mid-October, Gregg County Judge T.D. Campbell and commissioners established an ordinance limiting travelers and trains arriving from Hallsville, Marshall and Shreveport "for a distance of three miles from the corporate limits of each said place."

In mid-October, Gregg County Judge T.D. Campbell and commissioners established an ordinance limiting travelers and trains arriving from Hallsville, Marshall and Shreveport "for a distance of three miles from the corporate limits of each said place."

According to the ordinance, no people, wagons, trains or buggies "shall be permitted to come within or pass through that part of Gregg County embraced within a distance of two miles, North, South, East and West from the center of the depot of the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company in the town of Longview."

The county's action prohibited delivery or sale of "fruit, goods or merchandise" inside the Longview city limits. Those in violation of the quarantine could be fined up to $100 and given a 30-day jail sentence.

To ensure the quarantine was followed, Gregg County Sheriff M.L. Durham was ordered to hire additional deputies. The "deputies" were more properly night watchmen assigned to watch the county's train depots for any illegal arrivals.

The annual fair at Jefferson, Marion County, was postponed from mid-October to November because of yellow fever at Marshall.

n October the Galveston News erroneously quoted Mayor Boring as saying Longview had a yellow fever case. That prompted his honor to write the paper: "There is no yellow fever here. I am guiltless of having reported that yellow fever existed here, as you stated in your issue of the 13th."

By early November Gregg County lifted its quarantine against traffic, food and merchandise from Hallsville, Marshall and Shreveport.

By Dec. 14, 1873, local officials were telling Texas newspapers, "The health of Longview was never better. The streets of Longview are thronged with country people and business is good, not withstanding the inclement weather, which is warm and unpleasant."

Longview was spared, but such was not the case at Shreveport. Sadly, some 700 to 800 residents there died in the 1873 yellow fever epidemic.

For two centuries, yellow fever had been one of the great plagues of the world, along with cholera, smallpox, influenza, whooping cough and dengue fever. Every few years, yellow fever paralyzed trade and killed hundreds - if not thousands - in the American South.

At the time of the 1873 epidemic, yellow fever was thought to be caused by contaminated water, heavy rains or even humidity. Scientists eventually figured out it was a viral disease spread by certain mosquitoes.

Experiments conducted by Army Major Walter Reed in 1900 established proof of how the infectious virus was transmitted. The last major yellow fever outbreak in the United States occurred in 1905.