Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Cholera Strikes the Upper Missouri River:

Starting during the winter of 1832-1833 a Cholera epidemic swept across both North America and Europe.  In North America, the disease made its earliest appearance in Canada, gradually moving southward into Chicagou [Chicago], and New York before spreading out across the continent.  In the early 1800's medical science could do little prevent the disease, or save the lives of those who had been infected. 

In October 1832, the American Fur Company had contracted for the construction of a second steamboat in Cincinnati, the S.S. Assiniboine, to be ready for delivery by February 25, 1833.  It soon became apparent that the schedule could not be met because the appearance of Cholera in Cincinnati made it difficult to find workmen. Bernard Pratte Jr. who was overseeing the project for the American Fur Company wrote, "I do not think the boat will be ready within 15 days of the time specified...about 42 citizens are dying here every day."  

Pierre Didier Papin wrote from St. Louis to his brother Millicour, who was among the Osage Indians "I do not urge you to come down this year because of the terrible illness that is visiting the entire globe at this time, whose ravages are greatest where the population is most nombrous...cholera has not yet come to our country & yet we suppose that it will make us also a visit..."

The disease eventually spread throughout the Missouri and Mississippi River regions.  George Davenport wrote from the trading post at Rock Island to his partner, Russell Farnham, who was at that time visiting his wife and child in St. Louis "the terrible disease that has broke out amongst us.  The Cholera-our island is now a burying ground.  More that one-sixth of the troops stationed here have died during the last 6 days.  The disease is yet raging.  I am not very well.  If I do not see you again God Bless you."  A few days later Davenport wrote to Pierre Choteau Jr. that nearly 100 of 400 men at Rock Island had died of cholera.  He warned that should the disease reach St. Louis that everyone should leave.  

Russell Farnham, whom Davenport thought would be safe in St. Louis, contracted the disease on October 23, 1833.  Within hours Farnham would be dead. 

The last Spanish governor of Upper Louisiana, Charles Dehault Delassus, who had retired to New Orleans wrote a friend in St. Louis.  "Here it has also made frightful ravages amongst all classes, and especially amongst the colored and unfortunately on the farms, among the workshops of the negroes where it is not yet over...I flatter myself that you have not had the same horrors before your eyes as we and hence the great number of corpses strewn in every direction before being taken to the cemeteries, where a great part remained twelve hours before being buried.  The authorities could not find for gold nor silver anyone who would come near."

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