CHOLERA THE UNSTOPPABLE SCOURGE IN EARLY TEXAS

by Bartee Haile 

Cholera again reared its deadly head in San Antonio on Jul. 30, 1834 causing the panic-stricken populace to flee for their lives as the second outbreak in as many years turned Texas’ largest settlement into a ghost town.

Early Texans knew from tragic experience that cholera was a killer, an unstoppable scourge which struck suddenly and spared nobody. The highly contagious intestinal ailment produced severe vomiting and diarrhea that quickly depleted body fluids. In five days or less, the dehydrated victim went into shock and more often than not wound up in the graveyard. 

Nearly two centuries ago, cholera mystified medical science, which had not yet discovered the cause — microscopic bacteria — much less a cure. This ignorance spawned half-baked theories that often did more harm than good. Texans borrowed a popular German practice by wearing copper charms around their necks to ward off the invisible menace. When this worthless ounce of prevention failed, delirious patients were given massive doses of black pepper and opium with a brandy and water chaser. The drug of last resort was peyote, the Mexican hallucinogenic, while bloodletting, that tried-and-true barbaric cure-all, was the most common death-bed treatment.

 

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