October 27, 1850: Cholera in Sacramento, California. “Alas for Sacramento in 1850, cholera is a disease that thrives in conditions of urban filth. The bacterium can be transmitted from one host to another through unwashed hands or raw sewage. When raw sewage containing the bacteria finds its way into the public water supply, cholera spreads rapidly. Its symptoms include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The disease strikes without warning. In the course of a single day, cholera can be fatal to a previously healthy person. Perkins wrote on October 27, ‘Some have been taken who were to all appearances in good health and have died in a few hours.’ Likewise, on October 23, Lord noted in his journal, ‘A man walking down J Street last evening, dropped suddenly, and lived only long enough to be carried into the nearest door.’
The first death from cholera occurred on October 20. The number of cases rapidly multiplied over the next few weeks, radiating into the city from the commercial riverside district….Public health measures proved to be worse than ineffective. A city ordinance passed on October 21 ordered residents to burn their garbage or face a $500 fine. Lord wrote that the ‘filth is burned in the middle of the streets—old shoes and boots and clothes by the ton, and cart loads of bones, and raw hides, and putrid meat, and spoiled bacon—so that the end of the matter is worse than the beginning.’ By the end of the month, half of the population of the city had either succumbed to the disease or fled the city. By the end of the first week of November, it was 80 percent. ‘In this pestilential reign of terror and dismay the most dreadful abandonments of relatives and friends took place’….”
Reference: Isenberg, Andrew C. Mining California: An Ecological History. New York:Hill and Wang, 2005, p.66.
Commentary: The Sacramento 1850 epidemic was one of the worst in U.S. history.