Shreveport’s yellow fever epidemic of 1873 was the area’s original public health crisis. Lasting from August 20 to November 10, 1873, the outbreak claimed at least 700 lives, with some estimates ranging to more than 1,000. Outbreaks of yellow fever were common in the south, but Shreveport’s epidemic was particularly deadly. More than half of the residents who stayed behind during the outbreak caught the virus. About 25 percent of those infected perished.

The Talbot’s collection contains original and reproduction personal effects of survivor’s, chronical records of first person accounts, haunting contemporaneous imagery, depictions of the medical remedies used to combat the fever and even the names of more than 700 victims on the outbreak’s office death list.

Booth Yellow Fever Map


What caused yellow fever and how was it transmitted were mysteries doctors throughout the 19th Century tried to solve.  One of those medical men was Shreveport physician, Dr. Augustine R. Booth.  As a medical student Dr. Booth wrote his “doctoral thesis” on the yellow fever epidemic in Shreveport just a year after the outbreak.  Dr. Booth accompanied his paper with a hand-drawn map of the city illustrating what were at the time thought to be causes for the disease.

In the mid-19th century, medical opinion believed yellow fever among other diseases like malaria and cholera were caused by an invisible but smelly contagion called “miasma”.  So if you looked for a cause for the fever, you looked for a stench.    Among the places pinpointed by Booth was a sunken cattle boat south of town and it was likely the rotting cattle corpses might have provoked the outbreak.

Despite some evidence to the contrary, some medical experts thought yellow fever was transmitted from person to person.  In Shreveport, they blamed the performers of a travelling circus in August 1873.  Another suspect arose after two men were found dead on Shreveport's riverfront.  The city fathers believed the men might have carried  the disease up the Red River by boat.

Dr. Booth, however, continued to be interested in yellow fever’s cause during his time as an assistant surgeon in Shreveport with the U.S. Marine Hospital Service (a forerunner of the U.S. Public Health Service).  Booth passed away in December 1900, within a month of Army Surgeon Walter Reed and Cuban doctor Carlos Finlay proving it was the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes that spread the yellow fever virus.  The virus, however, would not be identified until the 1930’s, but massive mosquito eradication programs throughout the South made yellow fever’s summer epidemics a terrible memory.

Booth like so many of the victims of the 1873 epidemic is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Shreveport.


Location in Museum

Yellow Jack! Exhibit



100 Years