Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

SICKNESS AMONG THE PIONEERS

Probably the greatest fear among people who ventured onto the frontier was survival. Money was scarce, doctors were few and usually they lacked the skills, knowledge, and medical supplies of modern physicians. Illnesses often became chronic, and diseases quickly spread by flies, mosquitoes and unsanitary conditions into epidemics.

A letter written by a pioneer in Van Buren County in 1851 addresses this matter and describes the problems residents were facing at the time.

William Franklin Paxton was born February 23, 1816 in Rockbridge Co., Virginia and died during the Civil War, fighting for the Confederacy. The letter was written from Oak Point in Van Buren County, to Williamís brother Thomas in Virginia. It makes reference to several people by name and numerous places in the area.

The grammar is bad, and the writing is difficult to decipher, as is often the case with letters written long ago. Many people had little or no formal education. Words were "sounded out" as best they could, and spelling was inconsistent. Nevertheless, the letter is very informative.

Troy (Davis County) was a town three miles above Oak Point. "Missaugua" was the county seat (Keosauqua.) He had received a letter from Brother Thompson who had settled in Louisiana, Missouri.

"The health of this country is not good," William said. There were several deaths in the neighborhood recently from cholera and fever. An epidemic of some sort was in progress in Troy, 60 people were sick of diarrhea and flux in Keosauqua and there was danger of disease spreading over the entire state.

The late spring and summer was very wet, the river had overflowed, and pools of water were left that became stagnant, followed by a chilly summer interspersed with a few days too hot to work. Itís no wonder that there was so much sickness.

Also included in the letter were some prices. Corn was selling for forty cents/bushel; oats for 2.5 cents/bushel; and wheat for 65-70 cents/bushel. Also, the family had attended a camp meeting on Sunday about four miles from their home and he expressed surprise that no black people attended.

(contributed by descendant Margaret Paxton by email)

- -
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick
http://iagenweb.org/vanburen/