One of the pioneers who passed through the cholera epidemic of 1834 was Rev. John Scripps, who wrote the following graphic account of that deadly pestilence:
“Brightly rose the sun on Thursday, the third of July, 1834. Hailed with pleasing sensations by our whole community as the precursor of a day of joy and festivity, which the morrow–the jubilant Fourth–our national festive day was appointed to be. We intended to commemorate it by the first Methodist Sunday school celebration ever held in the place, to which the whole country was invited, and for which this was the day of arrangements, and busy hands were early and late at work making due preparations. The youths were particularly animated and active. The place for the festival was selected and put in order, and everything arranged. The day seemed to close auspiciously on our highest anticipations for the morrow.
“It came. But O! what a gloomy reverse of all we had meant! The first salutations of that morning announced to our ears the soul-harrowing fact that the destroyer had come, and the Angel of Death was among us. Two of our halest and most robust citizens, William McCreery and C. V. Putman, had been cut down, and the insatiate foe was grasping at other victims. The two had spent the evening together in social converse. That they were almost simultaneously attacked and sunk, no more to rise to the busy scenes of life, is all that can he said of their demise.
“Before the day closed another, a Miss Smith, was numbered with them, and others had received the fatal summons which, on the following day, swept from us four more to the oblivion of the grave–a Mrs. Withers; James Haggarty, a carpenter; Ruel Redfield, a blacksmith, and his child. They yielded to the stern mandate and passed away.
“On Sunday death seemed to pause in his execution. None on that day died. But this gloomy pall still hung sullenly over us, and there was no pause in the threatening horror that invested us. The heart-rending wailings of survivors for their departed ones; the dark presages of what might yet lie before us, portending greater evils: the agonizing groans and moanings of yet other victims, writhing in excruciating pangs, all combined to incite intensest terror.
“On Monday the venerable parents of the first named victim, William McCreery, both lay shrouded in death. But to them no doubt death was bereft of its terrible aspect and had lost its sting, and the grave lighted up with a heaven-inspiring hope of glorious immortality. They were as shocks of ripened grain, ready for the sickle, full of days and devotedly pious. Another victim in the person of a Mr. Gay closed the mortalities of that day….
“On the first breaking out of the cholera our town began rapidly to depopulate, not only by death, but by flight: a panic seized the inhabitants and some sought refuge from its ravages among their more distant country friends, others in encampments in the far off woods, by which many houses became vacated and our streets literally deserted. There seemed scarcely enough left of human life to die or to feed the rapacious maw of the ‘fell monster.’ We, however, fitted up for a temporary hospital the two story frame building on East Jefferson street, to which were conveyed all the patients who could not otherwise be cared for, to be nursed and attended to under the general superindentency and medical treatment of Dr. VanZandt.”
We omit the detailed description of the scenes in the cholera hospital, as related by Rev. Scripps, but cannot leave unnoticed the valiant service performed by four young men who volunteered their services as nurses. Never did a soldier on any battlefield show more bravery than did these young men, who, without hope of reward or glorious renown, went bravely to their death. They were Daniel Sherwood, John R. York, William Willis and a Mr. Wilson, and the first three were martyrs to the cause.
Rev. John Scripps was untiring in his ministrations to the sick and afflicted, and was at the bedside of the dying until he was himself stricken. After the death of Rev Jewell, who aided him in the work, he was the only minister left in the village. Rev. Scripps ascribes his recovery to a strict observance of dietetic restrictions and careful nursing by his devoted wife, who was a valiant aid during the dreadful scourge.
The following list of deaths from cholera in Rushville during the year 1834 was kept by Samuel Hindman in that memorable year, and is correct:
July 4–C. V. Putman, William McCreery, Miss Smith.
July 5–Ruel Redfield, child of Redfield, Mrs. Weathers, James Haggerty.
July 7–Mr. and Mrs. McCreery, Mr. Gay.
July 8–Child of Mr. Angel.
July 9–Mr. Ayers, child of George Henry.
July 10–Mr. Barkhousen, Mrs. Smith.
July 11–Mr. McCabe.
July 12–Mr. Sherwood.
July 13–Mrs. Dunlap.
July 14–A German lady, John R. York, William Willis, Mr. Campbell.
July 17–Mrs. Basil Bowen, Mr. Barkhousen.
July 26–Rev. Mr. Jewell.
July 30–Madison Worthington.
Aug. 1–Major Upton. A total of 27.
Mr. E. H. O. Seeley, now living in Rushville at the ripe old age of ninety-four years, was in the undertaking business when the cholera scourge of 1834 came, and he was one of the few who were brought into close contact with the disease and escaped its contagion. No soldier for cross or crown did more exalted service than he in attending to the burial of the cholera victims, and oftentimes it was a difficult matter to secure help enough to deposit the body in the tomb.
According to Mr. Seeley’s remembrance the cholera was brought to Rushville by the family of a Mr. Wilson, who emigrated here from Maryland. They came by boat from New Orleans, accompanied by Basil Bowen and family, and on the way up the Illinois River Mrs. Wilson died of cholera. Wishing to give his wife a civilized burial, Mr. Wilson and the Bowen family were landed on the west bank of the river opposite Beardstown and notice was sent to Mr. Seeley at Rushville to prepare a coffin. Messrs. McCreery and Putman assisted in the burial, and they were the first victims of the pestilence that was destined to claim more than a score of lives, and bring terror into a community that had never before known by experience of the cholera plague.
There was a recurrence of the disease in the spring of 1841, and it continued throughout the summer with a large fatality, although not equaling that of the year 1834. From Mr. Hindman’s list of deaths of that year we get the following names and dates:
March 18–A child of Mr. Metz.
April 16–Mr. Blood.
May 22–J. Eads.
July 31–Mrs. McCroskey.
August 4–Child of D. Huff.
August 31–Mr. Gasper.
August 31–Mr. Brown.
September 21–Child of Hart Fellows.
October 4–Mr. Moore.
November 1–Mrs. Joseph Leonard.
Source: Historical encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, p. 761 – 763. Chicago: Munsell Pub. Co., 1908. Transcribed by Karl A. Petersen for Schuyler County ILGenWeb.