Yellow Fever in Navasota, Texas

"A City in the State of Siege"

“In 1867, Navasota seemed to be in a state of healthy growth and prosperity: trade was quite large and brisk. Numbers of buildings had been erected and many more projected. Our population was pleasing. Early in the summer the physicians encountered many cases of severe fever, some of which proved fatal, showing symptoms of yellow fever. The fatal disease showed itself in some of the northern seacoast towns; it soon reached Galveston and Houston and in August it showed itself here. In the month of August, 1867 there were 15 deaths, all white but two. In September there were 119 deaths, only 14 of whom were colored; the other 105 were whites. Nearly every one of the colored dying were mulattoes; pure blacks seldom died. In October there were 39 deaths, of whom 5 were colored. In November there were only three deaths...."
-Dr. Kilpatrick

Navasota, by 1867 a bustling town which had profited greatly from its proximity to the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, was hit especially hard when the yellow fever scourge swept through Texas in August of that year. Dr. Andrew Robert Kilpatrick, one of the doctors who remained in Navasota to treat the afflicted during the town’s “three months of woe,” and one of the few who survived such heroism, reported that by the end of August more than half of the population of Navasota had vacated the town. A city of 3000 was reduced to 1200 nearly overnight. Many of those who fled died on the road, and of those who remained, Kilpatrick estimates that only a dozen or so escaped the fever altogether. 176 people died of the fever in Navasota, among them several doctors and nurses who gave their lives to fight a disease that they did not understand.

Dr. Kilpatrick wrote in his Brief Sketch of Navasota, “The panic created by the epidemic was equal to any made by an invading army…Navasota was like a city in the state of siege.” The mayor, W.E. Jones, fled the town, and a Confederate veteran named R.H. Geisel took up his duties, governing the town, burying the dead, and ministering to the sick. Nurses were few and far between, and they charged such high prices for their services that few people who remained in Navasota could afford them.

Navasota’s course was forever altered by the epidemic of 1867. A great many people never returned to the city, which Dr. Kilpatrick attributed to “the dread they had of the fever.” The fever, he wrote, “completely revolutionized the City and prostrated it more than the four-year war had done.”