DePelchin, Kezia P. (Payne), 1828-1893, Letter from Kezia Payne DePelchin at Memphis to her sister, Sallie Payne, September 17 & 23, 1878 (September 17 & 23, 1878)
No 5. 36
Sept 17. 1878.
My dear Sister,
I must write just as I have a few minutes. Time is
now eleven at night. Place. third story of a tenement house.—
I last wrote to you just as I left the Church home: on Saturday
last, I was brought here, that day.—My patient, Mrs Calhoon
about 22 years of age: She and her husband were both taken
sick. on Friday morning before daylight. he was sent
to the hospital. and his wife and child. remained here.
A friend of hers is with her. who having lost her husband
ten days ago. is feeling very dejected. but is very kind
and is the first person I have seen. nursing, who did
not belong to some society . and receive pay as nurse.—
The first thing I needed. was a bucket of fresh water.
and found the water had to be brought up from
the yard below, up three flights of stairs, and
of course, slop water taken down the same dis-
tance. This would take too much time from my
patient; therefore I hired a colored girl who rejoices
in the classic name of Tullia, to do that work
for me.—She is reasonable and faithful;
There were abundance of quilts. but the Doctor told me
to put a blanket over her. the sick woman begged me to get
her a blanket. none at the Howards. no Stores open. I went to
my hotel. and bought the one of my bed; by 12 midnight
Mrs C. got worse. suffered intense pain. in her
bowels; had watery discharges, I rumaged in an old
closet, found a bottle of . gave a
few drops in an of Starch. I had to repeat
the dose: I applied a poultice of mush. and warm
flannel to her feet. she was relieved, and fell asleep.
when she woke, her headache was gone, but
the red on her cheek was changed to a bright orange. The
Doctor came. and prescribed exactly what I had
done.—only onion poultice instead of mush. If we could
get onions: I found a grocery open. that had some.—
She grew restless. but was rational soon came the
black vomit, in that she read her death was—
rant; “Now I must die” was her exclamation. I tried
to cheer. her. so did her friend, as soon as I could
leave her I went in haste for the Doctor. found
him. quite near. he promised to come immediate-
This family occupied two upper rooms. therefore. I got Mrs
Phips to take the child into the other room. as soon as the
woman came who was to stay with me; All we could
do now, was to give her water. and watch beside her.—
She died. that night: A short time before death, she
a person is. the more he strives. to ameliorate their condition.
and provide them with comforts in their distress: It is.
now near midnight. I will leave this unfinished. and if
spared will finish at the end of the week. I will lie down
on the pallet beside Mrs Phips for I may be wanted elsewhere
Sept23rd. Before narrating. the events of the last three days.
I will tell you how I have disposed of Arthur. for as you
have little ones of your own. I know your motherly heart will
feel an interest in this little lonely child. now an orphan.—
his father died on Thursday.—and I have also found out
the reason the Doctor did not come was, he was stricken
with the fever. before he could. get there: he now lies
very low; Mrs Phips. said she would remain in the
house with the child at least until she knew what
turn his father took. much of the provision was
hers. she had brought it with her. as she could
not leave the city. Mr Calhoon's brother and his
wife, had died the week before. an uncle of theirs
a resident of Memphis. had left. on the outbreak
of the epidemic. but there was no fuel in the
house. and no money.—I saw in the papers. notices.
of Relief committees. I went to one. but did not.
succeed in getting fuel. These committees. are very good.
they are kept up the same as the Howards. by donations.
and are to supply the wants of the destitute. they issue rations
every. day mostly to colored people. because they cannot leave
the town now; and of course must be fed.—The first time
I saw a crowd around one of the Offices. I did not know
what it was for. I asked a colored woman. what was the
matter.? She said “they're drawing rations, hadn't you
better walk up and get yours.” I replied. “I did not need them”
(but if I had not joined the Howards I expect I should.)
for I could not buy anything to eat. I tried three times.
this last week. to buy bread. could not. The Howards
employ a baker; You must excuse this digres-
sion. but I have to tell you of things just as I see
them; I found a wood and coal yard. bought some
of each, had it taken up. stairs; I felt badly at leaving
her; there was no one living in the house except a
half crazy man, down stairs. the rest were dead or
gone away; when I went back, a singular scene
occurred.—An old black woman. who had brought
for our immediate wants; The woman now returned. and insisted on
taking something out of the house for her pay; $1.50 . more. when she found I had
taken the best, to lay Mrs Calhoon out in, She was furious: She turned
to me. “You've took them Clothes. you've got to pay for them.”
I heard a footstep on the Stairs, told her I heard the Visitor
and she would be arrested. She started off, as she said, for
a policeman: but I knew no policeman could make me
settle up the estates of those I nursed; and the footstep
turned out to be the crazy man downstairs. no difference
So we got rid of her.—
I went to the Office: to draw some money. on my ticket,
while there, received a letter. from our friend Mrs S. of Sewanee.
what a comfort in this my lonely exile to know there
was some one in this state who cared enough for
me to write to me.—I here met Mrs Heckle from Houston
awaiting. transportation to Holly Springs; where the fever is
bad; quite a number of nurses are here, from Texas. also
Doctors: one thing, most from Texas are acclimated.
The teachers are pretty well represented. Mr and Mrs Prouden
cursed the Doctors; meantime, Death holds his grim The dead carts are piled higher than ever. and the bell
of Elmwood cemetery. is tapping all day long: Mr Langstaff
the indefatigable President of the Howards is sick: Every
time I call at the office. new faces greet me. as fast as one
Howard is taken down, another takes his place.—
Whilst waiting. the Treasurer Mr
Lonsdale. asked me to remain in
the Office until he was at leisure. he thus told me. his
wife was not well that morning. when he left home.
and with voice broken with sobs. spoke of his son, who
had died the week previous; I went with him to
his home; on the way I met Dr Easley. he still looks.
well; and I hear has worked hard. how long before his.
labor is done! I called. at my last place. handed Mrs P.
sufficient to take care of Arthur. for two weeks.—
promised to look for her when I returned: from
the place I was going to; It was a beautiful
residence on Bellvue Avenue.—Mrs L's
were the very worst; trembling with nervousness.—
the room was obliged to be kept so dark. we could scarcely
see our way about, She was suffering. great pain.—in
her head. Spoke of her children. as I kneeled down
by the low bedstead. I resolved to wait on her as I.
would have had anyone wait on my own precious mother
in my absence.—I rubbed her temples till she fell asleep.—
The Dr. came out. but had no hope. of her; there was a young
lady in the house. who assisted in caring for her. So Mr L had
all the attentions. that love, or money could obtain. Before
night Mrs L brought another nurse, a colored woman. that
we might relieve. each other: In two hours. she Mrs L took a to me. called me dear child. and seemed as if she
could not bear to have me away from her; I waited on her
faithfully. and willingly. but instead of better, she
grew worse; Towards morning. I felt the other nurse. and
went down to the kitchen : to find. coffee or tea, as
had been ordered but the servant had no very exalted
idea of nurses; and treated us accordingly:. when
she got the chance; there was no coffee or tea there.
I opened a door for fresh air. I felt faint. and
pitched head foremost out of doors; That wakened
me up pretty thoroughly; and scratched. and bruised,
I picked myself up; I was not badly hurt. half
inclined to be angry, half inclined to laugh. I went
up stairs again to my patient;
I laid down in the next room slept two hours; when I returned to
her; she held out both hands. exclaimed, My child I'm so glad to see
you again; I remained with her. and had my tea brought up stairs
so that I could see her. The Doctor told us; she would die that
night; we all sat up. By morning the silent, unwelcome.
visitant was there: He lingered not beneath the shaded
avenue. he waited not to ask admission. he had been
there a few days before. again he mocks at science.
puts love aside, wealth could not buy bribe him.
for he is the great Reaper. sent by the Master.
After death. I dressed her in white. as I did. my own precious Mother.
Two of the Howards came out and accompanied Mr L to the cemetery. also one lady a neighbor. who was
much afflicted at Mrs L's death. this was the largest
funeral I saw in Memphis; as soon as it was over Mr
L returned to town to his duties in the Howard
Office. those who were devoted had no time to think of
self; The young lady also returned to town. the other
nurse and I remained. as there was an Irish girl a
maid of Mrs Lonsdale's who might take the fever.—
We fumigated the house. on Friday after the funeral—
On Saturday morning. Bridget took the fever.—
I sent to town for orders. got a man to bring
an ambulance to take her to the Infirmary..
It looked too lonesome to let her go alone. I got in with
her. About a block from the house, the horse broke down
had to wait until another one was procured, the poor girl
vomiting, terribly. When we got to the Market Street
Infirmary. Bridget crossed herself and gave thanks
that the church was opposite. its shadow would at
least fall on the house where she was sick; This
faith was a comfort to her. I was glad she had it.
While in town this time I met Mrs Saloi, formerly of
Houston. her husband had just died of heart-
disease: she is now alone in the city; She had some
distance to walk. the man who drove me took her. round
to her place; when I got back. to Mr Lonsdale's
Lizzie the other nurse was frightened. it was
so lonesome; with the superstition natural to
her race. She fancied the place was haunted. She
is enciente and I feared the consequences.—
as she complained of violent headache.—Yester-
day she was so much worse. I got one of the neighbors.
to send to town. and tell Mr Lonsdale.—he is staying
in town with a friend: He pro-cured a man to come
and take charge of his place; he thanked us both
for our attentions to his wife; Mr L is an English-
man. resident of Memphis 30 years; He is a true
and is now. striving to put aside his own sorrow. only to
serve others: as his place in the Howards is an important one.
His residence was 3 miles from town: and in previous Epidem-
ics had escaped. now the whole neighborhood was suf-
The ambulance again brought us into town. and I had
time to go to the Infirmary to see Bridget; She has good
attentions. but is very sick; On crossing the hall.
some one called my name; I looked with amaze-
ment to see Mr Miller. formerly a teacher in Houston.
he was there when I left. Why are you here I asked?
“For the same reason you are, to help my fellowmen.”
he replied. “I run no risk I've had the fever” I said.
He replied. I've lived so long in yellow fever latitude
I hope to escape.—we chatted a little while. over the
news' from Houston. as he left there some time after
I did. I told him where my hotel was. if he needed
my friendship; we parted. Shall we ever meet again?
is a question that now arises every time I bid—good
day to any one much more to one unacclimated: Why is it
that these young men will come. when it is almost
certain death.? Some call it rash. but who censures.
him. or calls him rash. who volunteers to go upon the
field. Then the drum beats, recruits are called for. here are no
gilded trappings. no martial music to stir the blood. A true
heart felt sympathy has brought them: to contend on this
battlefield; For it is not a battle. the enemy is silent but
strong, and subtile. he carries the his ensign is the black
flag. and he gives no quarter. I felt sad as I passed out
I thought of all who had come, hoping to do so much. good. and
had. met, some with scorn instead of gratitude, and
a lowly. oft an unmarked grave; I have thought several
times that God, always willing to save the sinner, took
some of these men who came as nurses, then in their
prime, just when the noblest attributes of their natures.
were called forth. called them at a time when they
were best fitted to enter into the promised rest.—
God is more merciful than man. My letter is already
too long. but each week seems to have a greater burden
of sorrow than its predecessor—
Your affectionate Sister