Moving between the Border
Quarantine and the Texas-Mexico
Public health professionals sought to explain the differences they identified in
the Texas-Mexico borderlands in medical terms. When public health profes-
sionals connected medical issues to the nation, they helped make the nation
real to their audiences in the United States, in Mexico, and at the border.
The border or, more precisely, the Rio Grande borderlands provided an
important place to make nations meaningful. Before 1848, the towns and
ranches along the greater Rio Grande borderlands experienced the movement
of Spanish, Mexican, Comanche, Cherokee, Texan, American, Confederate,
French, and American borders. In this period of shifting borders and open
imperial rivalries, forts, towns, cities, and states built their public health mea-
sures relatively independently from one another. The attitudes built around
these measures provided the stage for medical encounters after 1848.
Men and women in the Texas borderlands sought ways to avoid the sudden
devastation of epidemics and the less visible effects of everyday illness and
death. The sanitary emphasis on the interaction between individual bodies
and the local plants, bad airs, sanitation, sewerage, and local soil conditions
made disease prevention a question of local civil engineering, sanitation, and
disease. The royal importation of inoculation and smallpox vaccine to Texas
in 1808 created the need for an additional medical link between Texas and
urban centers like Mexico City and New Orleans. In fragmented and uneven
ways, residents in northern Mexican towns like San Antonio and Monterrey
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