How the influenza pandemic of 1918 affected Uinta Co.

(Editor’s note: This is part three of an eight-part series to be published once a month, recognizing significant milestones and events over Evanston’s 150-year history.)

The fall of 2018 will mark 100 years since the most devastating epidemic recorded in world history. The influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1919, known as the “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe,” was a global disaster. It infected an estimated 500 million people, about one-third of the world population and killed an estimated 50 million victims.

More than 25 percent of the United States population became sick and some 675,000 Americans died during the pandemic. Ten times more people were killed by the influenza pandemic than the Great War, World War I.

More people died of influenza in a single year than in the four years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347-1351. Within months it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.

On April 6, 1917, America declared war against Germany. In the fall of 1918, WWI was coming to an end. Nations were making attempts to deal with the devastation caused by war when the deadly influenza pandemic erupted. When it seemed that life couldn’t get any worse, the influenza virus began to ravage the earth.

Crowded in trenches and living in some of the worst conditions in life, men fighting the war were subject to an environment where the influenza virus could mutate and become a lethal strain. The virus thrived among the soldiers crowded aboard ships and in barracks.

The Deseret News, a Utah publication, printed, “Of the U. S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy. An estimated 43,000 service men mobilized for WWI died of influenza. The flu devastated men on both sides of the fight. The year, 1918 went down in history as the unforgettable year of suffering and death and yet of peace.”

The flu came in three waves. In the spring of 1918, the first wave of flu in the United States was reported in Kansas and in the military camps throughout the United States. It was known as the “three-day fever.” Most people recovered from it with very few deaths.

It seemed to retreat but struck again in August, virulently, in Boston among dock workers. The second wave of the flu, the deadliest, was brought back into the U.S. by the war. The mass movements of men in armies carried the virus throughout the world. The virus came fast and furious, and with a vengeance. It eluded treatment and defied control.

The sick suffered with fevers as high as 105 degrees and severe muscle and joint pain. Some victims died within hours after contracting the disease. Others survived only a few days. The sick suffocated with the most vicious type of pneumonia ever seen and died after their lungs had filled with fluid. 

The flu did not discriminate — it hit rural areas as well as densely populated cities. Young adults were among the hardest hit as well as the elderly and young children. The general population was devastated.

The disease spread from Boston to California, North Dakota, Florida and Texas. On Sept. 18, 1918, influenza was diagnosed in Philadelphia. Six hundred sailors were diagnosed with Spanish flu the following day.

Physicians and nurses were serving overseas with the military or tending to military patients coming home with battle wounds. Medical personnel were taxed to the limits. This created a shortage of medical help, so the civilians turned to volunteers to tend to the sick. Emergency hospitals were created to care for the sick. Many of those tending to the sick also succumbed to the disease.

The flu epidemic raged in Evanston. On Oct. 3, 1918, the newspaper printed the first death caused from the flu. Ralph Chapman, a soldier, died from influenza at Camp Gettysburg. It was noted in the following week’s paper that so many deaths had never been reported in any previous newspaper. Not only had the war changed the lives of the citizens of Uinta County, but the Spanish flu left no one untouched. Everyone had lost a loved one or friend or had helped administer to the sick.

There was a shortage of doctors and medical help in Evanston as well. There were so many sick people it was difficult for the doctors to visit everyone. A local physician, Dr. Fosner, and his wife, a graduate nurse, spent hours working together visiting homes and treating the sick.  Because they were Unable to travel to all the homes of the sick by automobile, Joe Lester of Hilliard drove Dr. and Mrs. Fosner in a horse-drawn buggy to administer to the sick residing at Hilliard.

The week of Oct. 10, 1918, another Evanston physician, Dr. Wicks, received close orders from the State Board of Health in Cheyenne. It gave instructions to close all public schools, all places of amusement and discontinue all public meetings. On Jan. 23, 1919, Rev. Kagey canceled services at St. Paul’s Church.

Mrs. John R. Rennie, Mrs. Carrie Coey, Rev. Guy E. Kagey and Dr. F. H. Harrison opened an emergency hospital on the third floor of the federal building (now commonly known as the old post office) to care for the flu victims.

There were instances of great heroism on the part of many of the women of Evanston who put their own lives at risk to administer to the sick. Many of these same women had given their husbands as well as their sons to the service of the country with the same bravery they took care of the sick.

Dave and Mary Dean operated a dairy on 2nd and Center streets. Every day Mary took five gallons of milk to the makeshift hospital as well as assisted with caring for the patients. She volunteered along with her friend, Cady Mills, at the makeshift emergency hospital. Every morning they walked to the hospital, treated the patients and helped fix the meals. They worked tirelessly without pay then returned home to care for their own families.

Grieving citizens tearfully read the death roster listed in each issue of the local newspaper, searching to find friends or family who had succumbed to the flu: Mrs. Bart Atwood, mother of seven sick children; William F. Baden, Union Pacific Railroad engineer; Bruce F. Baird, 3 years old; George Bate, age 32, married and father of seven children; Baby Bateman; Thomas B. Bebb; Benjamin Bell, 44, Lincoln County Sheriff; Mrs. John H. Bate, 26; and Baby Biggs, infant.

Six women were pallbearers for Christene W. Spowart-Bowns, 46. Bertha Brandsitter, 36, died at Red Cross Emergency Hospital.

Other deaths caused by flu included Isabelle Moslander Brough, 29, husband serving at Camp Taylor, Kentucky; Alexander Brown, 38; June Brown, married with 3 children; Rev. Hirum Bullis, minister; Robert Butterfield, 24; Frank A. Cargo, 35; Joseph Cashin, 30; and A. P. Castlebury, 45. W. O. Carter, 35, of North Evanston, and his sister died of the flu. So did Susie B. Cliver, age 30; and Nellie Cole, 32, married with a 10-year-old son. E. W. Cook, 35, died at Hilliard. Walter Coughman, 35, sheepherder, and many more were all listed on the death roster.

On Oct. 26, 1919, City Health Officer J. L. Wicks made a statement regarding the flu epidemic. The flu situation had greatly improved within the last few days. There had been between 600 and 700 cases in Evanston and surrounding areas since the beginning of the flu epidemic.

Researchers today are still trying to determine the exact cause of the virus.

More In Homepage