Criminal Annals, Part 14 – The Placer Times: The Cholera

vol1no17p1 headAlthough crime of all sorts was becoming a problem in parts of California’s gold mining area, something was being done about it through the creation of a civilian government. At the same time, there was something of greater concern, something about which they could really do nothing: cholera.

This deadly disease had run rampant throughout Europe and had come to the United States, probably with the immigrants. Now it was slowly coming to California overland and by ship. Although the number of cases in Europe were by this time declining, within a couple of years it would be the major killer of immigrants on their way to California, some families being almost completely wiped out on the plains. Later newspapers would estimate the death rate among immigrants in the early 1850s to be as high as 50 percent.

Medicine and the ideas about contagious diseases being what they were at the time, some immigrants believed that if they moved their wagons and families away from the populated areas rapidly, they would be okay. Unfortunately, the disease travelled with them and many hundreds of miles into their trips they came down with it.

The September 1 issue of the “Placer Times” describes what it has learned from the newspapers brought by ship from various ports around the world:

“The Cholera. – The ravages which this disease is making at this moment in nearly every part of the civilized world, (as appears from the European news, added to the most recent communications from various sections of the Union,) present the most awful and imposing spectacle of which the human mind can conceive. The great Œumenic pestilence of the nineteenth century has become a topic whose interest to ‘all living’ transcends the of even the stupendous Revolutions now in progress. Political events lost their interest to men in view of death.

“The cholera at New York on Thursday (5th) had 54 cases and 26 deaths. In Philadelphia on Wednesday, 47 cases and 19 deaths. In Cincinnati on Thursday there were 137 deaths of cholera, and 33 of other diseases.

“At St. Louis on the 29th June, there were 131 interments, with 93 deaths from cholera. On the 39th June and 1st July, although no accurate returns had been made, still the impression was that the disease was decreasing. The papers state that nearly or quite three-fourths of the deaths occur among newly arrived immigrants, and the establishment of some quarantine regulations is strongly insisted upon.

“In New York City on the 30th June, there ere 39 new cases and 18 deaths by cholera.

“In Philadelphia, June 28, 40 new cases and 13 deaths occurred.

“Albany generally continues healthy, and no cases of cholera have as yet been reported.

“The cholera is fearfully increasing in Cincinnati. The weather is wet and the atmosphere oppressive. The Total number of deaths for the day ending at noon on the 24th June was reported at 150, of which 130 were foreigners, mostly German and Irish. On the 25the, the interments for the twenty-four hours ending at noon, where of cholera 98 and other diseases 38 – not including 6 cemeteries from which reports had not been received.

“The remains of one of the victims of cholera in Cincinnati was placed in the vault of a graveyard, where it remained about 24 hours, when in the presence of friends and relatives it was taken out for burial, and, awful to behold, the features of the corpse were found to be hideously distorted, his shroud torn, and his fingers – which were between his teeth – bitten and gnawed to the very bone.

“At St. Louis, June 26, eight cemeteries reported yesterday 118 interments, of which 88 were deaths by cholera. The full report of the previous week’s interments is not yet made up, but they will doubtless be over 700 from cholera alone.

“A tremendous meeting of the citizens was held on the 25th, for the purpose of adopting measures for the mitigation of the cholera.”

In the September 22 issue of the Placer Times is a small, front page article pointing out how very seriously everyone was taking the problem of the epidemic:

“Proclamation of President Taylor. – The President of the United Sates has issued a proclamation recommending that the first Friday in August be observed by the people of the United States as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, to avert the ravages of the pestilence that is now threatening to sweep throughout the land.”


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