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|Yellow Jack victims delivered by steamboats in 1853|
Steamboats from New Orleans docking at Natchez on the Mississippi and Trinity on the Black (Catahoula Parish) in the summer of 1853 were filled with sick passengers.
Among them was Mr. Pearsall, whose daughter died of yellow fever in New Orleans in early July. A few days later, Mr. Pearsall stepped off a steamboat at Natchez so ill that he went straight to a hotel to rest. On July 17, he passed away, his death believed the first from yellow fever in Natchez in 1853.
If you were standing on the landings at Natchez, Vidalia or Trinity on the Black and heard the words -- "Yellow Jack" -- it would send chills down your spine. That's what the yellow fever was often called.
The medical profession didn't know then that yellow fever, caused by a virus, was spread by the mosquito, although doctors suspected that it was a water borne illness. Some also thought the disease stirred from the soil.
Yellow fever caused liver failure and bleeding in the stomach, intestine and elsewhere. Patients threw up black vomit, dark as tar because it contained blood. Hallucinations, coma and death often followed.
Locally, several doctors provided details on the yellow fever epidemic of 1853, one of many recorded in this region throughout the 19th century. They also described the communities of Trinity, Vidalia and Natchez when they answered questions for a survey by the Sanitary Commission of New Orleans.
TRINITY ON THE BLACK
Dr. A.R. Kilpatrick lived in the Lismore area of Concordia Parish from the late 1840s until the Civil War. He traded in the town of Trinity, the small community across Little River from present day Jonesville.
Kilpatrick reported that most families along the Black and Tensas rivers in western Concordia and eastern Catahoula "use cistern water, contained in wooden cisterns; but some use well water, which is quite brackish and unpleasant." Cisterns were breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
"The region is markedly paludal (marshy), being cut up with sloughs, ponds, lagoons, large lakes, and much stagnant water," wrote Kilpatrick. Stagnant water, too, is favorite place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.
While no locals died from yellow fever in 1853, Kilpatrick said that several outsiders expired at Trinity. His report noted:
"Trinity is a village of 280 inhabitants, at the junction of Black, Ouachita, Tensas and Little Rivers; and steamboats from New Orleans land there at least every week, and in busy seasons every day. Several cases of yellow fever were put off there last July and August, all of which died; and some corpses were put off for burial.
"No particular precautionary measures were used to prevent the spread of the disease; yet no one took it from these cases...There are low places in town, which hold water till evaporated. Besides this, a large space has been dug by workmen in forming a foundation for a warehouse on the bank, and the dirt (about a thousand cart-loads) is used in filling up low places in the village. Cistern water is mostly used for drinking purposes; many, however, use river water. More bad whiskey is drunk there than in any other place."
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