Visit the Piru Cemetery at the end of Center Street and you'll find a half-dozen pretty marble headstones all in a row.
A closer inspection is disquieting.
All six mark the graves of children, ages 4 to 11, all of whom died within a span of 44 days in 1878.
The children were from two families. The grave markers show that four were the children of a D.A. Baum and two were the children of W.W.E. Snider.
First to die was 8-year-old Pollene Snider on June 20, 1878, followed by her brother John, age 5, on the 4th of July.
Next came the first of the Baum kids, Mahala, age 9, on July 20, followed three days later by the youngest of the six, Mary J. Baum, age 4.
Next was the eldest of the six, 11-year-old William M. Baum, on Aug. 1, and finally Irwin, age 7, on Aug. 3.
And that's where it whatever it was ends. There were no other burials in 1878 in the Piru Cemetery, and what became of the parents, D.A. Baum and W.W.E. Snider, is not known. They aren't buried in the cemetery; perhaps they moved away after their children died.
What killed them? Was it some sort of fever that affected only children?
Stories of the Spanish flu are well known. It infected more than one-quarter of the world's population and erased at least 3 percent of humanity from the face of the Earth. In the United States the figures are estimated at 28 percent infected; 500,000 to 675,000 dead.
But that was in 1918.
There was indeed a major yellow fever pandemic in the United States in 1878, but it was limited to the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. It entered New Orleans in July, ironically at the same time the Baum and Snider kids were suffering from something.
The year 1878 also brought the first known occurrence of bird flu, initially called "Fowl Plague" and later identified as the HPAI (H5N1) virus. But it was in Italy, and it showed up in chickens.
This writer knows of no fever or flu pandemic to hit California in 1878.
How were the Baum and Snider kids connected? As it happens, their fathers worked together and lived about three miles from one another.
The Ventura County Directory of 1875, published by L.L. Paulson three years before the mysterious tragedy befell the two families, lists Daniel Baum and W.W. Snider as farmers on the Sespe Ranch.
It gives a home address for Baum of "30 miles east of San Buenaventura" and for Snider, "27 miles east of San Buenaventura," and it lists Scenega whatever that was as their post office location.
No Snider and no D. Baum shows up in Ventura County's Great Register of 1890. Evidently by that time, the parents had moved on.
The 1890 register does list a George Baum, a Pleasant Valley (Camarillo) farmer who was 37 years old in 1884 and had come to Ventura County from Ohio. Is it possible George Baum was related to Daniel Baum and brought the yellow fever with him from the Ohio River Valley? That's baseless guesswork on our part; it doesn't even rise to the level of speculation.
If anybody knows what killed these children, please share that information with us.
Lauren Parker writes:
"All six of them died during an outbreak of diptheria in the area in 1878. They were the children of Daniel and Angeline Baum, and William Wesley and Emeline Snider (if you look carefully at the headstones, you will see there is an "and"
between the "D." and the "A.," as well as between the "W.W." and the "E."
A local physician at the time, Dr. F. Delmont, believed the cause was due to contaminated/dirty water. He further believed it was spread through sharing cups,
dishes, etc. When asked if he was able to trace the outbreak to any local cause, his reply was, "Yes; to dampness, defective drainage, sewerage, and, to
a great extent, to impure water. Diphtheria has been more prevalent, in this county, on low irrigated lands, on the banks of the Santa Clara River,
and in places where bad drainage exists." When asked if he felt it was contagious, and if so, what the cause was, he replied, "Yes; e.g., persons drinking
from the same cup or glass used by the sick, or using the same spoon or towel, have invariably contracted the disease."
Census: Baum & Snider Graves
(Birth dates reconstructed from information on grave markers)
Pollene Snider b. 15 May 1870, d. 20 June 1878
John Snider b. 20 April 1873, d. 4 July 1878
Mahala Baum b. 24 March 1869, d. 20 July 1878
Mary J. Baum 16 April 1874, d. 23 July 1878
William M. Baum 15 April 1867, d. 1 August 1878
Irwin Baum b. 29 December 1870, d. 3 August 1878