Bacterial Warriors: Ancient Residents, Both Good and Bad

(Bacteria under the microscope. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

“Viruses are stealthy predators; they cause infections by entering and multiplying inside the host’s healthy cells.

Bacteria are warriors; they are single cells that can survive on their own, inside or outside the body.

In the 1800’s it was difficult to know what caused a person’s illness because viral and bacterial infections caused similar symptoms.”  (from my previous post)

Bacteria are single celled organisms that can be found everywhere. They were the first life forms on Earth and are essential to our planet’s ecosystems. Our bodies house approximately one hundred trillion good bacteria, many of which reside in our gut. We live quite harmoniously with beneficial bacteria. Actually, they are critical components to our very survival. (

Of course, unfavorable forms of bacteria have evolved, thriving in humid environments. Symptoms of their invasion can look and feel similar to symptoms of viral diseases.  Viral diseases may even turn into bacterial diseases, prolonging a person’s discomfort.

Back in the early 1800’s, where might harmful bacteria thrive? If you traveled any length of time along the Camino Real with soldiers or your family, you’d find yourself traveling muddy and unpaved paths. Sewage disposal was non-existent, so inevitably both horse and human excrement mixed with water somewhere along your way. The San Antonio River, flowing next to your route, called to many thirsty travelers. At the time, this natural resource was also used to toss dead animals, take baths, wash laundry, and sometimes people who had perished were thrown in to its waters as well.

Ursula de Veramendi, a young beauty, married Colonel James Rezin Bowie on 25 April 1831, in San Antonio, Province of Texas, Mexico. “They were the parents of at least 3 sons and 1 daughter. Ursula died of cholera about 5 September 1833, in Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico, at the age of 21, and was buried in San Antonio, Bexar, Texas, United States.”  Her father and children were said to have perished as well. (The Bullock Texas State History Museum)  Cholera made its rounds every few years and when another epidemic kicked up in 1866, it took until 1869 to eradicate it.

That same year, 1869, over fourteen inches of rain fell in July, flooding the streets of San Antonio. The flooding unleashed two more bacterial diseases: typhoid fever and dysentery. By December 1869, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word fashioned a hospital, chapel, and convent from a two story adobe structure to help treat the rising rates of illness that often followed flooding. “Death rates rose after every major flood caused by mosquitos and damp hygiene conditions.”  (Danini, Carmina. San Antonio Express News Feb. 14, 2015.)

A lingering question remains: What disease was James Bowie suffering from when inside the Alamo before the historic 1836 battle?

Those of you who have read accounts of his incessant coughing, what do you think it was?

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