A Story of the Red Cross

by Clara Barton

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Chapter III: Yellow Fever in Florida

Chapter III: Yellow Fever in Florida from A Story of the Red Cross

During the same year the yellow fever broke out in Jacksonville, Fla., and was declared epidemic in September.

An arrangement had been made between the National Association and the Auxiliary Society of the Red Cross of New Orleans, which society embraced the famous old "Howard Association," that, in case of an outbreak of yellow fever, they would send their immune nurses from the South, and we of the North would supply the money to support and pay them.

This arrangement was carried out so far as could be, under the very natural differences of a medical department of active, professional men, taking up the treatment of an epidemic of which they knew very little experimentally, but filled with the enthusiasm of science and hope, and the unprofessional, fearless, easy-going gait of the old Southern nurses, white and black, whose whole lives had been spent in just that work.

The Red Cross sent no Northern nurses. But eighteen or twenty "Howard nurses," mainly colored, went out from New Orleans under charge of Col. Fred. F. Southmayd, their leader of twenty years in epidemics. A part of his nurses were stationed at Macclenny, and a part went on to Jacksonville. Under medical direction of their noted "yellow fever doctor"—a tall Norwegian—Dr. Gill, they did their faithful work and won their meed of grateful praise.

Our place was in Washington, to receive, deal carefully with, and hold back the tide of offered service from the hundreds of enthusiastic, excited untrained volunteers, rushing on to danger and death. Their fearless ignorance was a pitiful lesson. In all the hundreds there was scarcely one who had ever seen a case of yellow fever, but all were sure they were proof against it. Only three passed us, and two of these had the fever in Jacksonville.

When the scourge was ended we met our nurses personally at Camp Perry, paid and sent them back to New Orleans. All that are living are at our service still, faithful and true.

During the fourth week in November a dispatch to national headquarters announced that the last band of Red Cross nurses, known as the "Macclenny Nurses," had finished their work at Enterprise, and would come into Camp Perry to wait their ten days' quarantine and go home to New Orleans for Thanksgiving.

That would mean that seventy-nine days ago their little company of eighteen, mainly women, steaming on to Jacksonville, under guidance of their old-time trusted leader, Southmayd, of New Orleans, listened to his announcement that the town of Macclenny, thirty-eight miles from Jacksonville, Fla., and through which they would soon pass, was in a fearful state of distress; a comparatively new town, of a few thousand, largely Northern and Western people, suddenly-stricken down in scores; poor, helpless, physicians all ill, and no nurses; quarantined on all sides, no food, medicine, nor comforts for sick or well.

"Nurses, shall I leave a part of you there; the train can not stop in, nor near the town, but if I can manage to get it slowed up somewhere, will you jump?"

"We will do anything you say, colonel; we are here in God's name and service to help His people; for Him, for you, and for the Red Cross, we will do our best and our all."

"Conductor, you had a hot box a few miles back; don't you think it should be looked to after passing Macclenny?"

"I will slow up and have it seen to, colonel, although it may cost me my official head." And it did.

One mile beyond town, the rain pouring in torrents, the ground soaked, slippery, and caving, out into pitchy darkness, leaped three men and seven women from a puffing, unsteady train, no physician with them, and no instructions save the charge of their leader as the last leap was made, and the train pushed on: "Nurses, you know what to do; go and do your best, and God help you." Hand to hand, that none go astray in the darkness, they hobbled back over a mile of slippery cross-ties to the stricken town. Shelter was found, the wet clothes dried, and at midnight the sick had been parceled out, each nurse had his or her quota of patients, and were in for the issue, be it life or death. Those past all help must be seen through, and lost, all that could be must be saved. The next day a dispatch from Southmayd went back to New Orleans for Dr. Gill to come and take charge of the sick and the nurses at Macclenny. It was done, and under his wise direction they found again a leader. Their labors and successes are matters for later and more extended record.

It is to be borne in mind that these nurses found no general table, no table at all but such as they could provide, find the food for, and cook for themselves, for the sick, the children, and the old and helpless who had escaped the fever and must be cared for. No patient could be left till the crisis was passed, and many are their records of seventy-two hours without change or sleep or scarcely sitting down. As the disease gradually succumbed to their watchful care, experience, and skill, they reached out to other freshly attacked towns and hamlets. Sanderson and Glen St. Mary's became their charge, and return their blessings for lives preserved.

On November 1st it was thought they could safely leave and go into camp for quarantine; but no regular train would be permitted to take them. The Red Cross secured and paid a special train for them, and, as if in bold relief against the manner of their entry seven weeks before, the entire town, saving its invalids, was assembled at the station at seven o'clock in the morning to bid them good-by and God speed.

But their fame had gone before them, and "Enterprise," a hundred miles below, just stricken down among its flowers and fruits, reached out its hands for aid, and with one accord, after two days in camp, all turned back from the coveted home and needed rest and added another month of toil to their already weary record. At length this was ended, and word came again to us that they would go into quarantine. Their unselfish, faithful, and successful record demanded something more than the mere sending of money. It deserved the thanks of the Red Cross organization in the best and highest manner in which they could be bestowed; it was decided that its President, in person, should most fittingly do this, and I accordingly left Washington on the morning of November 22d in company with Dr. Hubbell, field agent, for Camp Perry, the quarantine station of Florida. Two days and one night by rail, a few miles across country by wagon, where trains were forbidden to stop, and another mile or so over the trestles of St. Mary's on a dirt car with the workmen, brought us into camp as the evening fires were lighted and the bugle sounded supper. The genial surgeon in charge, Dr. Hutton, who carried a knapsack and musket in an Illinois regiment in '62, met us cordially and extended every possible hospitality. Soon there filed past us to supper the tall doctor and his little flock; some light and fair-skinned, with the easy step of a well-bred lady, others dark and bony-handed, but the strong, kind faces below the turbans told at a glance that you could trust your life there and find it again. They were not disturbed that night, and no certain information of our arrival got among them. It was cold and windy, and the evening short, as nine o'clock brought taps and lights out. In spite of all caution the news of our coming had spread over the surrounding country, and telegrams bringing both thanks for what had been received and the needs for more, came from all sides, and the good Mayor of Macclenny made his troubled way to reach and greet us in person, and take again the faithful hands that had served and saved his people.

Surgeon Hutton's headquarter tent was politely tendered for the first meeting, and as one could never, while memory lasts, forget this scene, so no words can ever adequately describe it. The ample tent was filled. Here on the right the Mayor, broad shouldered, kind faced and efficient, officers of camp, and many visitors, wondering what it all meant; in the center the tall doctor and his faithful band—Eliza Lanier, Lena Seymour (mother and daughter), Elizabeth Eastman, Harriet Schmidt, Lizzie Louis, Rebecca Vidal, Annie Evans, Arthur Duteil, Frederick Wilson, and Edward Holyland.

I give these names because they are worthy a place in the history of any epidemic; but no country, race, nor creed could claim them as a body: four Americans, one German, one French, one Irish, three Africans, part Protestant, and part Catholic, but all from New Orleans, of grand old Howard stock, from Memphis down, nursing in every epidemic from the bayous of the Mississippi to Tampa Bay; and hereafter we will know them as the "Old Guard."

Here, in the winds of approaching winter they stand in the light garb of early September in New Orleans, thin, worn, longing for home, but patient, grateful, and glad, some trifling "nubia" or turban about the head, but only one distinguishing feature in common. A pitiful little misshapen Red Cross, made by their own hands, of two bits of scarlet ribbon, soiled, fringed, and tattered, pinned closely upon the left breast of each, strove in mute appeal to say who they were, and what they served. A friendly recognition and some words of thanks from their President, opened the way for those anxious to follow. The rich, warm eloquence of Mayor Watkins plainly told from how near his heart the stream of gratitude was flowing, and his manly voice trembled as he reverted to the condition of his stricken people, on that pitiless night, when this little band of pilgrim strangers strayed back to them in the rain and darkness. "I fear they often worked in hunger," he said, "for then, as now, we had little for ourselves, our sick, or our well; but they brought us to our feet, and the blessing of every man, woman, and child in Macclenny is on them."

It was with a kind of paternal pride that Dr. Gill advanced and placed before us his matchless record of cases attended, and life preserved. "This is the record of our work," he said. "I am proud of it, and glad that I have been able to make it, but without the best efforts of these faithful nurses I could not have done it; they have stood firm through everything; not a word of complaint from, nor of, one of them, in all these trying months, and I thank you, our President, for this opportunity to testify to their merits in your presence." The full cups overflowed, and as we took each brown calloused hand in ours, and felt the warm tears dropping over them, we realized how far from calloused were the hearts behind them. The silence that followed was a season of prayer.

Then came opportunity for some conversation, questions, and explanations. "We wish to introduce to our President our chief nurse, whom Colonel Southmayd placed in charge of us when we left the car, and directed us to obey him; he is younger than any of us, Ed. Holyland." A slight young man with clear, olive complexion, and dark-browed earnest eyes that looked you straight in the face, came forward; his apparent youthfulness gave rise to the first remark:

"How old are you, Mr. Holyland?"

"Twenty-nine, madam."

"And you have taken charge of these nurses?"

"I have done what I could for their comfort; I think that was what the colonel desired; he knew they would need only care and advice, they would do their best of themselves. During the few days that Colonel Southmayd remained in Jacksonville," he continued, "he was able to send us some such comforts as we needed for the sick, and some nourishing food for ourselves; but this was only a few days, you know, and after that we got on as well as we could without. I know that after he left the nurses gave to the sick, the children, the old and the helpless, what they needed for their own strength."

"But you did not tell us this, Mr. Holyland."

"No, we were dazed and frightened by the things we heard. We felt that your organization was having enough to bear. We knew we must look to you for our pay, and we thought, under the circumstances, that would be your share. But permit me, please, to call your attention to Mr. Wilson (a stout colored man advanced), who took charge of a little hospital of six cases, and carried them all through, day and night, without an hour's relief from any person, and never lost a single case."

"And permit me," chimed in the clear-toned Irish voice of Lizzie Louis, "to tell of Mr. Holyland himself, who found a neglected Italian family a mile or more outside of the town. He went and nursed them alone, and when the young son, a lad of thirteen or fourteen years, died, knowing there was no one to bury him there, he wrapped him in a blanket and brought him into town on his back, for burial."

Holyland's face grew sad, and his eyes modestly sought the floor, as he listened to this unexpected revelation.

"I wish to speak of something else," added one of the men, "which we were held back from doing, and for which we are now very glad. We should not have thought of it ourselves. It is customary," he continued, "when a patient dies in an epidemic, to give the nurse ten dollars for preparing the body for burial; this was done in our first case, but Mr. Holyland had the gift promptly returned with thanks, and the explanation that we were employed by an organization which fully rewarded its nurses, and was too high and too correct to accept tribute for misfortune; it was enough that the patient was lost."

By this time poor black Annie Evans, the "Mammy" of the group, could hold quiet no longer, and broke silence with, "Missus President! whar is de colonel? Colonel Southmayd; dey tells me all de time he's gone away from New Orleans, and I can't b'l'eve 'em. He can't go away; he can't lib anywhar else, he was always dar. I'se nursed in yellow fever and cholera more'n twenty-five year, and I neber went for nobody but him; it arn't no New Orleans for us widout him dar. I doesn't know de name of dat place dey say he's gone to, and I doesn't want to; he'll be in New Orleans when we gets dar."

There were pitying glances among the group, at this little burst of feeling, for in some way it was an echo of their own; and Lena Seymour added tenderly: "We have been trying for these two months to convince Mammy about this, but she is firm in her faith and sometimes refuses to hear us." But the subject changed with "How many cases did you lose in this epidemic, Mammy?"

"I didn't lose no cases! Lor' bless you, honey, I doesn't lose cases if dey hasn't been killed afore dey gets to me; folks needn't die of yellow fever."

We didn't suppose that "Mammy" intended any reflection upon the medical fraternity.

"But now, friends, we must turn to our settlement, which can not be difficult. Three dollars a day for each nurse, for seventy-nine days, till you are home on Thanksgiving morning. But here are only ten. There are eighteen on our list who left with you and Colonel Southmayd; where are your comrades?" Some eyes flashed and some moistened, as they answered, "We do not know." "They remained in the car that night, and went on to Jacksonville." Swift, dark glances swept from one to another among them. Instinctively they drew closer to each other, and over knitted brows and firmly set teeth, a silence fell dark and ominous like a pall, which the future alone can lift.

The bugle sounded dinner, and this ended our little camp-meeting, than which few camp-meetings, we believe, ever came nearer to the heart of Him who offered His life a ransom, and went about doing good.

The winds blew cold across the camp; the fires shot out long angry tongues of flame and drifts of smoke to every passer-by. The norther was upon us. Night came down, and all were glad of shelter and sleep. The morning, quiet, crisp, and white with frost, revealed the blessing which had fallen upon a stricken land.

Thanksgiving was there before its time. The hard rules relaxed. One day more, and the quarantine was at an end. The north-bound train halted below the camp, and all together, President and agent, tall doctor and happy nurses, took places on it, the first for headquarters at Washington, the last for New Orleans, and home for Thanksgiving morning, full of the joys of a duty well done, rich in well-paid labor, in the love of those they had befriended, and the approval of a whole people, South and North, when once their work should be known to them.

To the last, they clung to their little home-made Red Crosses as if they had been gold and diamonds; and when at length the tracks diverged and the parting must be made, it was with few words, low and softly spoken, but meaning much, with a finger touch upon the little cross, "When you want us, we are there."

The supplies forwarded by us were estimated at ten thousand dollars. The money received was $6,281.58. Out of this sum we paid our twenty nurses three dollars a day, for seventy-nine days—their cost of living, and their transportation when needed. We paid our doctor in charge twenty dollars a day, the customary price, for the same period. We paid our office rent, assistants, telegraphing, drayage for supplies sent on by us (railroad transportation free), and all incidentals for a relief work of over three months' duration. This ran our debit column over on the other side over one thousand dollars. Our little part of the relief of that misfortune was estimated at fifteen thousand dollars, and only those relieved were more grateful than we.


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