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Melvin White's sidelong look at the cholera outbreak of 1873

By Jim

Melvin Lucien White, a native of the Tabor section of Adair County, left the most sacred hills on earth around 1882 and settled himself some 350 miles away in south-central North Carolina. Although far removed from Adair County in distance, he always it near, and his loquacious letters, liberally laced with humor, wry observations on the human condition, and recollections of people and events from his Kentucky days, frequently graced the pages of the Adair County News for some three decades, continuing until shortly before his death in 1932.

One such letter, penned from his home in Shelby, N.C., saw publication in the September 30, 1924 edition of The News. In it, he made mention of the 1873 cholera outbreak in Columbia and how Aunt Winnie from his section of the county viewed it (in his words) as
"a judgment sent on a wicked and perverse generation; and the severest penalties were in store for the stiff-necked scoffers of Columbia because all the people in towns were led by the vain pomp and glory of the world."
Melvin then proceeded to describe Columbia's "vain pomp and glory" at the time of the epidemic:

"Columbia was a place of about eight hundred inhabitants and hogs wallowed in the square. The town cow, knock-kneed and mournful of appearance, bore the wounds and scars of sundry stones and brick-bats; and her horns were often decorated with garden gates and fragments of human apparel."

Dwelling still on the terrible outbreak, Mr. White recalled an incident at Glens Fork, where "the late W.O. Murrell was holding court," informing the crowd assembled about the ailment at hand, saying in part that green corn, melons, Irish potatoes, beans, peas, butter, milk, and bacon absolutely should not be ingested, but made no mention "as to bathing and swatting flies."

Continued Melvin, "Finally, one of his auditors swore he was going to eat all the cabbage, hog meat, Irish potatoes and watermelons he pleased." He then stated of gentleman who gave voice to his gustatory defiance, "He looked like a man about fifty, and I'll bet dollars to doughnuts he is still living and vigorous" -- and segued into an observation worthy of Mark Twain:
"I believe in sanitary habits, but these fellows that chew hillside navy, eat a pound of pork every day, drink blue steel Winchester whiskey, devour green apples, go in swimming on Easter Sunday; [and] get knifed and shot in fifty street fights generally cord up at 110 mile posts on this journey of life while the good die young."

This story was posted on 2020-08-21 08:13:43
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