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Reporting on the Epizootic - Press Accounts from 1872

The Great Epizootic first attracted the attention of the American press in late September, 1872. Because the risk of contagion was not understood, a rapid spread of the equine influenza affected millions of horses across the country. Sick and dying horses were to be found in small villages and the largest cities on the continent. An estimated 2,500 horses perished in Philadelphia alone;  it prostrated 75% of the horses in Danville, Virginia, in less than twenty-four hours. In many cases injurious results were visible for a long time; in others, relapses apparently reoccurred. As a result, men were forced to pull wagons by hand, trains and ships full of cargo sat unloaded, tram cars stood empty and basic community services came to a grinding halt.

It is estimated that 80%-99% of America's horses were eventually affected.

During the course of this unprecedented equestrian disaster, newspapers were hard pressed to report on events in such a wide spread geographic area. One paper that attempted to monitor the extent of the equine disaster was the New York Times.

Here are selected extracts from that renowned newspaper.
Click on pictures to enlarge.

October 24th, 1872. The Horse Epidemic - Thousands of Horses Temporarily Disabled.

There is hardly a public stable in the city which is not affected, while the majority of the valuable horses owned by individuals are for the time being useless to their owners.  It is not uncommon along the streets of the city to see horses dragging along with drooping heads and at intervals coughing violently. 

October 29th, 1872 The Disease Still Spreading

95% of all the horses in Rochester, New York, are affected.  Large quantities of freight are accumulating along the Erie Railway in Paterson, New Jersey.  The disease is spreading rapidly in Bangor, Maine.  All fire department horse in Providence, Rhode Island, are sick.

Because the art of veterinarian science was in its infancy in 1872, many desperate horse-owners fell prey to a variety of quack remedies, including the idea of putting blistering agents on the horse's body and then wrapping him in blankets, as seen in this contemporary drawing.  Professor James Law, who was employed by the United States Federal Government to analyse the effects of the Influenza, recommended to all horse owners, "All debilitating or depressing treatment must be sedulously avoided. Bleeding, purging, severe action on the kidneys, depressing sedatives and violent blistering are alike to be deprecated."
October 30th, 1872 Alarming Effect upon the People, Total Suspension of Travel, Disappearance of Wagons.

During the early part of yesterday, a large number of persons, mostly females, gathered at the corner of Broadway and Park Row waiting for the tram.  For some time, they could not be made to believe that the cars had stopped running, but as the hour advanced and not one of the cars came in sight, each began to ask the other what to do.

November 1st, 1872 Cost of the Epidemic

What will be the effect of even a temporary withdrawal of the horsepower from the nation, is a serious question to contemplate.  Coal cannot be hauled from the mines to run locomotives, farmers cannot market their produce, boats cannot reach their destination on the canals, and bills drawn against Western shipments will be protested.  Panic will seize the community and aside from the many millions to be lost in the value of horses, the most disastrous unsettling of values is more than probable....  There seems to be no longer any doubt that the horse disease has reached Chicago and that several hundred animals are already affected.  The fatality arising from the epidemic is on the increase in Boston, with deaths averaging 25 to 30 daily.

The recently discovered and rare Federal document from 1874 points out that "it is in the close, unventilated, and undrained stables of cities, with air loaded to suffocation with the products of respiration and putrification.  In these, the mortality proves far in excess of that of the horses in the better-appointed stables or in the country."
November 15th, 1872 Horses Dying Prohibits Physicians from visiting their Patients

Because of the Epizootic, some physicians are unable to procure conveyances to visit sick people in the area of Watertown, New York.  In Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the disease has spread throughout the coal region.  The mules are also affected by the disease and several cases are reported wherein it has reached them while at work in the mines.

By 1870 there were an estimated 600,000 horses in New York State alone.  Yet when the Epizootic incapacitated 99% of them,  men had to harness themselves to wagons instead. 

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