Tick Fever, aka Spanish Fever, Texas Fever and Poisonous Halitosis
was first noticed in 1814 in South Carolina. Little attention was
paid to the disease until Texas trail drivers began driving herds
of Longhorns from south Texas to Kansas railheads for marketing.
Southern livestock were immune to the fever, but when driven out
of the tick areas mysterious things began to happen to local northern
herds after the southern herds passed. Approximately 30 percent
of the local herds died an agonizing death. The problem was so serious
that five states eventually passed quarantine laws against southern
herds. It was devastating to the Texas livestock industry.
Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch and the U.S. Department of Agriculture
proved the lowly Texas tick carried the fever. There was a solution,
but it required more than thirty years of constant effort to rid
the south of the pest.
Dipping vats were filled with concentrate into which livestock were
totally submerged, killing the ticks instantly. At times, local
law had to be called to enforce owners to comply. Protestors even
dynamited dipping vats in what was called "The Dipping Vat Wars."
Eventually, the Texas pastures were proclaimed clean and in 1906
the USDA established The Fever Tick Eradication Program along a
narrow strip of grasslands on the Texas/Mexico border.
Since the start of the program more than one hundred years ago,
approximately sixty tick inspectors ride these lands, working four
ten-hour days each week, living in remote camps while watching for
stray livestock in their specific zone. After patrolling by horseback
each day they fill out their work forms each night in detail. On
weekends, they return to their families and home.
If Mexican-owned livestock are found, they are turned back across
the Rio Grande to Mexico. If American livestock are found in the
zone, they are inspected for ticks immediately. If clean, they are
turned north back to private lands. If ticks are found, the owners
are notified and his ranch quarantined for six to nine months. No
livestock, hides, sand, dirt, gravel, posts or firewood are to leave
the ranch unless inspected. Even ranch equipment must be sprayed
before leaving the property.
This strict program will remain in place until the Mexican government
rids their land of ticks.
Strangely enough, there is a "tick line" drawn across the middle
of Texas. Higher altitudes, cold freezing weather and good old Panhandle
weather are too tough for the tick. Below the line, ticks abound.
Above the line, there are no ticks.
As Paul Harvey would say, "and now for the rest of the story." Texas
Fever has the distinction of being the first disease discovered
that is caused by a micro-organism proved to attack its victim exclusively
through the agency of an intermediate host (tick) or carrier of
This discovery and its elimination by dipping led to great triumphs
later in sanitary science. For example, the French were smart enough
to design and build the Panama Canal. However, they were stymied
by the constant ravages of Yellow Fever among construction workers.
over the job and with the knowledge gained fighting the Texas Fever
tick completed the project merely by controlling the mosquito which
carried the Yellow Fever germ.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" March 13, 2008