Consumption is an early term for tuberculosis. The victims were called “lungers.” Consumption was a dreaded disease, contagious and was often fatal. Doctors in the east often times advised those who’d contracted it to move to an arid place like Arizona.
Many came to Arizona and lived long lives while others succumbed to it. My own grandmother left Arkansas and came to Arizona in 1918 but unfortunately was one of the unlucky ones. The late Senator Barry Goldwater’s mother, Hattie Josephine Williams, came to Phoenix with it in 1903 and lived a long life, passing in 1966. For a time though she lived in one of the tent cities for tubercular’s. It can still be fatal if not given proper treatment.
Tuberculosis was believed to be hereditary rather than contagious until 1882 when Dr, Robert Koch isolated the tubercle bacilli. The writings of Dr. S. Adolphus Knoph helped make the knowledge of contagion widespread and led to a fear of consumptives who might spread the disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria and spread through the air from one person to another.
The question comes up from time to time on my Ask the Marshall column in True West Magazine asking why didn’t Big Nose Kate contact the disease from her paramour, Doc Holliday. Tuberculosis isn’t spread by shaking someone’s hand; sharing food or drink; touching bed linens or toilet seats; sharing toothbrushes, kissing or sex.