YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC
–––– SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA | 1873-2023
The City of Shreveport is set to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Yellow Fever Epidemic, which claimed the lives of approximately one-quarter of the city’s population in 1873, making it the third worst in United States history.
The Yellow Fever Epidemic of Shreveport in 1873 ranks as the third worst recorded epidemic of its type in United States history.
The epidemic sharply punctuates the chronicle of Shreveport’s existence, perhaps standing out as the most transformative and significant passage of city history. From its earliest history as the Red River connector to the Texas Trail, Shreveport thrived on commerce and experienced all of the population variables that characterized river ports during the great age of the steamboat.
Shreve Town Company Commerce
From its earliest history as the Red River connector to the Texas Trail, Shreveport thrived on commerce, and therefore experienced all of the population variables that characterized river ports during the great age of the steamboat.
Every year on record, Shreveport reported a variety of communicable illnesses among its dense population, and yellow fever was certainly no stranger.
William Bennett, one of the original founders of the Shreve Town Company, now Shreveport, and one of the earliest commercial settlers in the area, died of yellow fever in 1837. Within just a few years of its establishment and incorporation, Shreveport became well acquainted with “the saffron scourge,” also more commonly known as “yellow jack.”
EPIDEMIC SERIES OF EVENTS
From late August to mid-November 1873, Shreveport witnessed a scourge that did not discriminate, with death coming in such great daily numbers that the city opened a mass grave in its cemetery to provide for the efficient disposal of the dead.
The Yellow Fever Mound, entombing more than 800 souls together, today remains the most visible and poignant reminder of the ferocity of the 1873 outbreak.
The mosquito. This was not fully realized until the early twentieth century with the groundbreaking work of Dr. Walter Reed, but the historical record indicates that in 1873, there was at least an awareness that the illness abated with cooler temperatures. For reasons not completely understood, the yellow fever outbreak that struck Shreveport in 1873 was particularly virulent and unrelenting.
Among the factors impacting this were heavier-than-normal rainfalls throughout late summer and into early fall, an abundance of commercial activity on the Red River with its resulting transient populations, and the density of population clustered near the riverfront in Shreveport.
Illness in the Newspaper
Added to this was the unfortunate reality that the daily newspaper, the Shreveport Times, was reluctant to name the illness as yellow fever, since such a public proclamation would mean cessation of river traffic, a federal quarantine, and the resulting economic blow would be severe.
Among the equally reluctant were the city’s most prominent and influential commercial brokers and businessmen.
The aggressive advance of the disease was simply yet eerily documented by mere lists of names and ages on a printed page. The Times began publishing just the year before the great epidemic.
What began in 1872 as a robust daily publication that championed and promoted the successful commercial enterprise of Shreveport, was by late September 1873, reduced to little more than a mere dispassionate death record.
The newspaper effectively ceased to report news of any nature other than providing lists of the dead, and by the third week of the epidemic, the daily list began to number in the dozens.
Anyone approaching Shreveport from the Red River during the weeks of August 20 – November 18 that year would have confronted visual confirmation of the strength of yellow fever’s grip: shuttered storefronts, burning tar pits, muddy streets, and the moaning cries of the sick and dying.
The only sound of movement in the streets would have been hearses or carriages for the removal of bodies, and the less obvious
More important, movements of the volunteers who entered the homes of strangers to offer comfort and aid.
The death toll in 1873 included approximately 1,200 Shreveporters, including five Roman Catholic priests, two religious sisters and one novice of the Daughters of the Cross convent, and countless others who volunteered to care for the sick and dying at the epidemic’s peak. Many more fled the city for safer environs, but history most nobly remembers those who chose to remain and care for others.
Lt. Eugene Augustus Woodruff
United States Army Corps of Engineers,
Native of Ohio
Lt. Eugene Augustus Woodruff, United States Army Corps of Engineers, native of Ohio, who received orders to leave Shreveport with his contingent of men once the federal quarantine was in place. Woodruff wrote a letter to his mother saying, “I am not the least afraid…”
He remained in Shreveport caring for strangers until his own death from the illness on September 30. Lt. Woodruff was 31 years old.
FATHER ISIDORE A. QUÉMERAIS
Native of Pleine-Fougeres, France – Associate Pastor of Holy Trinity Church
September 15, 1873
FATHER JEAN PIERRE
Native of Lanloup, France – Founding Pastor of Holy Trinity Church
Died September 16
FATHER JEAN-MARIE BILER
Native of Plourivo, France – Chaplain for the Daughters of the Cross Convent at Fairfield
Died September 26
FATHER LOUIS GERGAUD
Native of Heric, France – Pastor of St. Matthew’s Church in Monroe
Died October 1
FATHER FRANCOIS LE VEZOUET
Native of Brelidy, France – Priest of Natchitoches
Died October 1
For more information about these priests visit shreveportmartyrs.org
For a deeper understanding of their story, check out these publications and the Five Priests documentary.
NOVICE OF THE
Sister Marie Marthe Denes
Sister Mary Angela
(née Marie Angèle Le Nédélec)
Rose of Lima
(Novice of the Daughters of the Cross)
Press Conference at Spring Street Museum
Public Announcements and Press Kits 10:00 a.m.
Honoring the Death of Father Isidore Quemerais
Mass at St. Joseph Cemetery
Honoring the Death of Father Jean Pierre
Mass at Holy Trinity Church
Symphony in honor of the Holy Trinity
composed by Johnum Palado with movement dedicated to The Five Priests
All-night vigil at the Shrine to Fathers Quemerais and Pierre at Holy Trinity
Honoring Father Jean Marie Biler and the Daughters of the Cross
Mass at Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church
Mass Honoring the death of Father Louis Gergaud
Mass at St. Matthew’s Church in Monroe
St. Matthew’s Church
Public Symposium on Yellow Fever
Dedication of the Yellow Fever Mass Grave Memorial
With Mayor Tom Arceneaux
Honoring the Death of Father Francois Le Vezouet
With Bishop Francis Malone
Mass at Holy Trinity
“The Angels Gathered”
The symphony composed by Kermit Poling
Public Yellow Fever Tours
National Tour Association in Shreveport
1873 Themed Dinner: “The Merciful Frost”
Sponsored by Downtown Development Authority
Permanent Yellow Fever Exhibit
at LSUS Spring Street Museum
School groups are welcome.
Special curriculum provided by LSU Shreveport.
Spring Street Museum,
525 Spring Street
Open Tuesdays – Saturdays
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
It is not only important that we remember, but that we pause to reflect on the lessons of the past. In any situation, we always have a choice, and from the 1873 epidemic emerge stories of human tragedy and loss, equally punctuated by heroism and sacrifice in the service of strangers.
See our progress on the Yellow Fever Memorial at the mass grave at Oakland Cemetery (1873-2023). The city’s dedication ceremony is planned for October 7.
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