StudyBoss » Cholera » American Westward Migration Thesis Essay

American Westward Migration Thesis Essay

American Westward migration during the nineteenth century was a difficult journey for various reasons. Emotionally many of the migrants were leaving the majority of their friends, family and belongings behind. Additionally there was the stress of having to lighten the load by walking the journey or leaving behind precious belongings along the way. Emigrants traveled in wagon trains banded together with other single men heading to gold rushes, or in groups of extended family and neighbors.

The hardships of the journey stressed those traveling and added to fears from reported attacks, disease and many other disasters imagined and real. {THESIS STATEMENT:? }Disease was a major part of American life, and while it affected life on the overland trails, it did not act as a deterrent; even the dreaded cholera. Heightened stress, declining nutrition and difficult conditions along the trail created an environmentripe for the prevalence and spread of diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhus, fevers and the fever and ague or malaria as we now call it.

During the era of Western migration the world was facing the deadly challenge of Cholera. “… before 1812 cholera does not appear to have extended beyond Asia, but it spread rapidly in the nineteenth century, with three especially virulent outbreaks in the United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. ” Disease was ever present in nineteenth century America, in urban and rural environments as well as being carried along the overland trails. In Richard White’s New History of the American West we are reminded that the American West was peddled as a land which created good health. Before the outbreak of the fearsome cholera epidemics of 1850, 1851, and 1852, some of the… literature led a reader to believe that no disease had the stamina to make the journey to the coast; germs withered and dropped off by the way. ” This was false as evidenced by the scores of deaths and the various diseases that prospered along overland trails. The lack of sanitary conditions in the crowded winter camps, in which emigrants gathered at prior to the trip west, provided the concentration of people necessary for cholera to continue its epidemic proportions.

Since cholera is spread through contaminated drinking water, as are typhoid and dysentery, these preparatory areas were perfect breeding grounds. “The spread of disease was aided by an improving transportation network, with rivers, railroads, and roads serving as conduits. ” Most overland trails generally followed rivers and all needed access to whatever water sources were available along the route. The distance between wagon trains lessened over the years and they tended to congregate at rivers and military camps but what distance existed was not long enough to kill the bacteria. [Asiatic cholera] could live as an independent organism in water for lengthy periods of time. ” Along the trail you can find evidence of the ravages of the journey. In the case of Sarah Keyes, an elderly mother traveling with one son in the hopes of at least seeing her other son before she passed, she was buried beside an oak tree a little ways off the trail with a carved headstone.

More often wood from the wagon or a bed was used. “The end-gate from my wagon had been shaped into a grave-board and, with his name cut upon it, was planted to make his resting-place. Often the graves were placed at a distance of anywhere from a few feet off the trail to the nearest recognizable landmark, a tree, ridgeline or oasis were common requests of the ill and dying. The members of the group would often aid in construction of a coffin and accoutrements as well as participate in a brief service before continuing travel. “Erecting above his grave head and foot boards bearing a suitable inscription, we turned sorrowfully away from the lonely mound, leaving our friend… ” Those left behind would be memorialized in diaries, journals and once the arty reached their final destination obituaries and census records as well as on the markers themselves.

The inscriptions could include any variant of name, birth and death dates, original homeland, destination and often what they died of. As George Gibbs is quoted as having said “We now pass the graves of emigrants daily along the road, their inscriptions generally giving cholera or dysentery as the cause of their death, and on inquiring (we find that] almost every company has lost one or two members. If there was room or a poet in the group an epitaph could be added as well. In a brief speech in 1997 the Church of Latter Day Saints cited four common reasons for death along the Mormon trail. “Hundreds died on that long trail. They died of cholera and black canker, of sheer exhaustion and hunger and the bitter cold. ” The speech illustrates how common, how regular and how deadly disease was on the Overland Trails. Mormon migrants had a huge advantage in communal support from the church body and still many perished.

Stories of these difficulties, especially those of the infamous Donner party, filtered back East to gathering places as emigrants prepared and waited for spring to begin their own trek. Disease struck regardless of support, wealth or any other factor. Abigail Scott Duniway, “… began writing… to compose the journal of their 1852 trip to Oregon. During that six-month journey, she faced the death of her mother from cholera, of her “young man” from drowning, and [others]… ” Her entries report more accounts of deaths along the trail. Mrs. Duniway certainly was not the only one to create multiple journal entries of death by cholera.

The details of illness, disease and disaster added to the trepidation all emigrants shared. There are more accounts written by women, but men certainly recorded cases at regular intervals as well. “At that very moment there was lying concealed in our midst a grim monster, only awaiting a favorable opportunity to seize upon and cut down without a moment’s warning some of the bravest and noblest of our little band. ” Emigrants were no strangers to disease but when the knowledge that one was lying in wait emerged, the diaries reflect their understanding.

While the entries sound dramatic, they are muted in comparison with the emotional and physical tax the disease presented and natural reaction to it. As part of the California gold rush Gilbert Cole recorded events of his journey as part of a wagon train heading west in 1852. His party consisted of all men, with the notable exception of the captain’s wife. Lyrically written, the book In the early days along the overland trail in Nebraska territory, in 1852, recounts the overall trip through journal entries, highlighting the aberrations rather than the monotony.

He writes about the first death of their company, a young man by the name of Robert Nelson. Cole tells us that “… he rapidly grew worse, and it soon became evident that his disease was cholera, which was already quite prevalent thereabout. ” Add another death to the total for cholera. Even if one survived cholera, often they were weakened and more susceptible to a recurrence or another illness. Emotionally straining on the entire caravan, one would fall ill then “Another case of cholera now developed, followed by still others. ” These stressors created additional fear and worry.

There were remedies available for sale, some were reputable and seemed to work well while there were others which would fall under the category of snake oil or scams. “A few days after our arrival at Bidwell’s Bar Tom Fristo was attacked with cholera morbus and died within a few hours. ” Despite stories touting the health of the West, reaching whichever western destination did not necessarily equate to a respite from diseases. This common occurrence is evidence of the second global cholera epidemic. The Asiatic strain of cholera was a regular part of the Hindu pilgrimages in India and later Islamic pilgrimages.

The increase in European contact through trade and empire expansion offered the same pathways that the bubonic plague used centuries earlier. Traditional protections were no longer effective as travel expanded and illness spread. “The isolation of rural life was much less of a protection than in the past; although mortality continued to be lower in the countryside than in cities until the twentieth century. ” The overland trails were a unique mix of high traffic with frequent gatherings at waypoints and rural isolation between trains, with concentration of people and contaminants growing over the years as more emigrated.

On the trail the difficulties of constant motion during the day, inadequate water for washing and cleaning coupled with the physical strains of the trip, and varying levels of nutrition contributed to the spread of cholera between wagon trains. As did many physicians during the cholera epidemics, Dr. J. A. Beigler from New York, made a case for homeopathic remedies after witnessing their effectiveness, being previously against the practice in general. After presenting supporting evidence for his theories Dr. Beigler gets to his prescription. Additionally, he specifies treatment of the homes’ sanitary conditions.

The good Dr. bserved that residents obtained their water from the same small lakes that, due to geography, act as basins collecting runoff and contaminants. The runoff, in turn, contaminated the drinking water. To reduce illness Beigler advised filtering the lake water with charcoal and gravel. Emigrants did what they could along the trail with the knowledge they had. “We fought the enemy hard and were successful in effecting cures in three-fourths of the cases, but found it impossible to save all… ” One aspect of the difficulty in treatment at the time was an ongoing de bate about the cause of disease and how best to treat it.

There were two basic sides to each argument. The continuing debate between miasmic, a holdover of earlier medical theory which believed that bad humors or smells created disease, and bacterial, via germ theory, as modes of transmission delayed medical response. Medical experts stood firmly entrenched on both sides of each argument. Treatment options were just as divided between allopathic and homeopathic methods. Allopathic and homeopathic remedies, according to MerriamWebster dictionary, are opposing ways of approaching disease treatment specifically through the way they decide what treatments will produce a cure.

This is a continuing debate as definitions change and more evidence is heaped on both sides. During the nineteenth-century, practices such as improving sanitary conditions were considered homeopathic because germ theory had not been completely accepted yet. It would take years after the invention of the microscope in the 1880’s to convince the scientific and medical community. Data given by Dr. P. P. Wells was quoted in the Domestic Guide of 1885, where he reported the statistical success rate of homeopathic treatment compared, country by country, to allopathic treatments. In Russia in 1831, of ninety-three cases treated by allopathic practice, seventy-four and one-fifth per cent. [sic] died. … only sixty-seven and one-fourth per cent. [sic] died of those who were not treated at all. Of those treated homeopathically, only twenty-one per cent. [sic] died. ” Moving through similar events in Austria, Munich, Cincinnati, Marseilles, Champagne, and finally Genoa the results support the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment, especially in comparison with allopathic options. The global medical community ignored plausible treatments to maintain their allopathic connection in spite of the widespread evidence.

This stubbornness resulted in a high death rate. However, as Richard White points out the percentage rate on the trails compared to society in general was only very slightly higher. He reiterates that”… most death[s] – 90 percent – were caused by disease. Diphtheria was nearly endemic on the trail and killed many children, but the major killer was cholera. The cholera epidemic of 1850-1852 killed half of all the people who would die on the trails between 1840 and 1860. ” This reinforces that those along the overland trails faced death from the hardships of the journey as well as the continual threat of disease.

Although, it also accounts for one of the reasons emigrants were willing to face these odds; they weren’t in much more danger on the trail than they faced at home. There was common knowledge prior to Dr. Beigler’s Domestic Guide of 1885 of treatments and remedies available to counter the onslaught of disease. “All the simple remedies known to us were applied, but these endeavors came to naught, for our friend grew gradually worse and after suffering intensely, died in the middle of the forenoon next day. While not always successful, these remedies gave the people a hope, a fighting chance, at least they believed it did. “We fought the enemy hard and were successful in effecting cures in three-fourths of the cases, but found it impossible to save all… ” Applied along the trail most remedies had been tested before emigrating and were used once the arduous journey had concluded. James Abbey took part of the California gold rush; as such he traveled along the overland trails in 1850. Writing about cholera numerous times he recounts success of two remedies.

The first he documented in his journal on April 21. about 10 miles from St. Joseph. “Having some of Forwood’s cholera drops, I gave him a large dose, which relieved him immediately. I staid [sic] with him some three hours, and left him much better. ” Returning to check on his friend the following day, he “was much better. ” Five months later he notes an episode on September 1 outside of Weaverville, California. “… I came across a poor fellow lying in front of a log cabin, suffering from a severe diarrhea [sic].

I left a bottle of Brown’s cholera mixture and directions how to take it. ” Whether the medical community agreed to the ingredients of these remedies or not did not matter to the people suffering. They were just glad they worked. The commonality to disease was a function of the global pandemic that had been raging throughout the nineteenth century. “Approximately thirty thousand people died on the trails; the biggest killers were disease (specifically cholera), accidental gunshots, and drowning. ”

Thus disease is a part of the narrative of the emigration to the American West. Truly our prairies have been a stage upon which much more of tragedy than of comedy has been enacted. ” Over one hundred and fifty years later evidence continues to show how difficult the journey was and how much the threat of disease was a part of it. Cholera, for example, was so deadly because it acted so quickly. Being able to reproduce quickly, once introduced to the human gut, caused a laundry list of symptoms leading to “death, often within a few hours of the first signs of illness. ” Cholera remains a prominent part of the emigration story because of the many lives it affected.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.