From August to November of 1867, the yellow fever epidemic ravaged the little town of La Grange, decreasing the town’s population by nearly a fifth. As the bodies began to pile up, the people of La Grange had to make use of mass graves to stay on top of the carnage—they often buried six to seven fever victims in a single grave. There were multiple speculations as to how the epidemic made its way to the town. One theory was that the yellow fever was brought by a peddler. Another was that germs carrying the epidemic were sent to La Grange from New Orleans in a box of books—a theory which we now know to be incorrect, as the virus is spread by mosquitos, not germs. However the epidemic arrived in La Grange, its appearance was to shake the town’s very foundations.
A report in the Brazos Signal (Richmond, Texas) declared on September 28th, “Letters from LaGrange, Texas to be laid before the Howard Association here, state the number of citizens remaining in town is barely five hundred, yet internments reached 24 in two days, average mortality 8, those attacked almost sure to die, disease proving very fatal, nine in ten cases dying. Every house is filled with sickness and death; whole families are swept away, in some cases no one left to bury the dead, and the disease spreading into the country. No provisions in town. Country people will not venture in with produce, on the ninth not even meal could be had to make gruel for the sick; business ceased entirely, stores closed, newspapers ceased publication, jail emptied of inmates who fled in terror from the scene of desolation.”
By the time the fever subsided in LaGrange, a confirmed total of 204 residents had died, though it is thought that many more went unreported. Prisoners being held in LaGrange were either relocated or discharged.