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Perspectives

Salt worth dying for in El Paso back in 1870s

Salt worth dying for in El Paso back in 1870s

Fearing for their lives after the murder of the Mexican political boss, the Anglo residents of El Paso sent for the commander of the Texas Rangers Frontier Battalion on Oct. 24, 1877. At first glance the killing of Luis Cardis looked like nothing more than the violent climax of a particularly nasty personal feud. But in reality the trouble in El Paso was all about salt. Massive formations of the natural resource were located near Guadalupe Peak 100 miles east of Texas’ westernmost town. Under Spanish rule private ownership was forbidden making the highly coveted commodity free for the taking. Generations of poor Mexicans eked out a modest living hauling salt to El Paso and into the interior of Mexico. Following Texas independence and annexation by the United States, the practice persisted in open defiance of a new law which declared that the salt was no longer public property. Anglo arrivals did not learn of the existence of the salt until 1862, but the Civil War made private exploitation impossible. On the heels of the Confederate collapse, Radical Republicans took over in El Paso and elsewhere throughout Reconstruction Texas. They formed the secret Salt Ring in 1868 for the purpose of reaping enormous profits, but dissension in their ranks and fear of the Mexican reaction postponed seizure of the Guadalupe deposits.

Poisonous patent medicine killed 10 in Texas

Poisonous patent medicine killed 10 in Texas

Two year old Alberta Yvonne Howell, the only child of a couple in Haskell, died on Oct. 15, 1937 after taking a poisonous but perfectly legal drug, prescribed by doctors and sold over-the-counter by pharmacists, that was blamed for ten deaths in Texas and another 97 in 14 more states in a six-week period. Salesmen for the S.E. Massengill Company of Bristol, Tennessee reported customers were clamoring for a liquid version of the miracle drug sulfanilamide. Samuel Evans Massengill, a licensed physician, assigned the rush job to his chief chemist, who discovered sulfanilamide dissolved in a drug called diethylene glycol. This was no secret in pharmaceutical circles. What was not as well known was the fact that sulfanilamide and diethylene glycol were a toxic combination. The Massengill chemist would have found this out, too, had he been given the time to conduct a few simple tests. But the boss wanted the product pronto, and the lab rat wanted to stay on Dr. Massengill’s good side. So he whipped up a 240-gallon batch of the concoction christened Elixir Sulfanilamide. Hundreds of bottles were quickly shipped to four doctors offices and 96 drug stores in 68 communities across Texas alone.

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Mexia News

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