Monday, June 03, 2013

June 2013 Travel Photo: Cholera Graveyard along the Oregon and California Trails


Outside my old research stomping grounds of St Marys, Kansas is the 49ers Cholera Graveyard near the Oregon Trail Road bridge over the Vermilion River.


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Cholera was the major killer of emigrants leaving the eastern United States for new settlements in Utah, Oregon, and California.  The bacteria infection killed more people than any other sickness, injury, or hostiles.  The bacteria grew in water polluted by human and animal waste.  Mental Floss gives the following history of cholera along the Oregon Trail.
The number one killer of the actual Oregon Trail, cholera is an infection of the intestines caused by ingesting the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. Spread through contaminated food or water, cholera released an enterotoxin that effectively flooded the intestines with excess water. This led to continual watery diarrhea, causing severe dehydration and often death. The worst outbreaks occurred on the Oregon Trail in 1849, 1850 and 1852. The only available treatment in the game was a medicine known as laudanum—understood today to be pure opium.
Since the Vermilion River is so close to the jumping off cities (where emigrants started their journeys west) many people would reach the crossing at about the same time.  Because of this the crossing would be the site of wagon train camps for weeks.  In 1849, the year of the California Gold Rush, an outbreak broke out and claimed the lives of many people going West.

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By the end of 1849 over fifty grave stones were visible at the river crossing.  However, only three worn out slabs are visible today.  The shaded green historic site looks peaceful.  However, the peacefulness lies on top of a site of sadness and poor medical understanding which claimed the lives of people who left their homes for a brighter future for themselves and their families.  

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