Idaho History Apr 19, 2020

Idaho 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic

(Part 1)

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1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic in Idaho

Pandemic influenza arrived in Idaho sometime before the end of September, 1918. The Public Health Service did not require states to report influenza before September 27, 1918. On September 30th, officials reported several cases of influenza in Canyon County. Less than two weeks later, the number of cases had grown to such an extent that the state was unable to track the disease accurately. By late October, influenza cases were reported from Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Wallace, and many other towns.

In 1918-1919 most of the population of Idaho lived in rural areas (1920 census = 431,866 with no cities or towns having a population of more than 70,000). Rural Idaho suffered terribly from the pandemic. Russell Clark, a resident of Paris, Idaho remembered the impact of the pandemic this way: “There was a feeling of depression and sadness because neighbors, you see, were passing away.” The mortality rate was nearly 50 percent in Paris, Idaho.

State officials and newspapers urged calm. In Rexburg, the local paper insisted that there was “no occasion for panic” but then went on to discuss the need to enforce the town’s quarantine. The Northern Idaho News of Sandpoint also urged calm, but then noted that, as a precautionary measure, schools would be closed indefinitely, and churches, picture shows and all public gatherings of every kind would be prohibited. The newspaper also issued a warning to parents to keep their children away from the railway depots as a precaution against infection. To their dismay, many officials found that quarantines had no real impact on the spread of the disease.

Watkin L. Roe from The Franklin County Citizen Newspaper wrote to Surgeon General Rupert Blue on the behalf of “many prominent citizens” in January 1919. He wrote “this county has been closed tight, that is so far as schools, academy, theaters, and picture shows are concerned.” But, he noted, “In looking up similar conditions in other towns, we find that the said towns have been opened in spite of the prevalence of the epidemic. And reviewing these cases, we find that the conditions in those places have been much worse that what we have had in this section.” Roe wrote that 1,300 of the county’s 7,500-8,000 residents had been sickened by the flu and 31 had died. Mr. Roe asked the Surgeon General if there was “any virtue in the vaccines and serums which the doctors are using.” What was a community to do? How could officials know when the disease had truly run its course? The Surgeon General did not send an answer.

Though social distancing measures likely helped, many Idahoans were still afflicted. In Idaho, as elsewhere, the disease simply ran its course, unchecked by actions taken by state, local or federal officials. While influenza rates lessened during the late fall, it was not until the summer of 1919 that the disease began to disappear from the state.

At the Idaho State Pandemic Influenza Summit held in Boise on March 27, 2006 the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt warned Idahoans:

“The final toll that the pandemic took in Idaho will never be known. But the echoes of suffering and loss remain. When it comes to pandemics, there is no rational basis to believe that the early years of the 21st century will be different than the past. If a pandemic strikes, it will come to Idaho.”

Influenza Among the American Indians 1918-1919

Native Americans suffered disproportionately from the 1918 influenza pandemic. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was overwhelmed as influenza swept through rural reservations, killing thousands. During the period from October 1st 1918 to March 31st 1919, there were 73,651 reported cases of influenza and 6,270 deaths out of a total Indian population of 304,854. This case mortality rate of 8.5% was substantially higher than that of the general population (2.5%). The reporting of the attacks is probably incomplete, suggesting even higher mortality in the American Indian population. The mortality varied in different localities especially being high among the Indians of the Mountain States (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming). Out of a total Indian population in these Mountain States of 91,475, the attacks numbered 32,285 and of these 3,553 or 11 per cent, died. The highest mortality occurred among the Indians in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, and New Mexico. Out of a reported population of 4,208 Indians in Idaho, there were 650 influenza cases and 75 deaths (case mortality of 11.5%). These figures are taken from a statement furnished to the U.S. Public Health Service by the Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior.*
(* U.S. Public Health Reports, 9th May 1919.)

A second wave of influenza developed among the Indian population in April 1919.

source: Idaho Health and Welfare
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caption: A nurse wearing a mask as protection against influenza. September 13, 1918. (Photo/National Archives)
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A little slice of history: When the Spanish Flu came to Idaho

by Rick Just Mar 8, 2020 for the Idaho Press

I know, you’re getting tired of hearing about the current pandemic. Maybe reading about one more than a hundred years ago will be of interest.

In September of 1918, Treasure Valley residents were focused on the war raging in Europe. They were involved with drives to raise money for that effort and young men were leaving regularly for the fight. But there were lesser headlines in the papers that were starting to capture the attention of readers. There was a plague moving into the United States from Europe. It was sometimes called the Army Plague, because it was infecting army camps and shipyards where returning soldiers were billeted. It would soon be known widely as the Spanish Influenza.

The Idaho Statesman’s medical columnist, Dr. William Brady wasn’t much concerned about it. He was certain it would be no worse than any other flu that had come and gone in the preceding decades. He recommended that his readers prepare for it by taking long walks out of doors. Getting fresh air and plenty of exercise would not prevent the flu, but it would give one the strength and vigor needed to combat it.

The first reports that really hit home were of area soldiers who were quarantined at their bases, either in training or on their way home. Sickness followed for many, and death for a few. Reports of traveling citizens in eastern cities coming down with the disease soon followed.

On October 2, 1918, the Spanish Flu had hit the valley. Six families, consisting of 15 persons in and near Caldwell came down with the disease. The carrier was identified as a woman from Missouri who had visited the families. Quarantines were put in place.

Most of the stories about the flu in local papers were from back east where cases were growing rapidly. A health commissioner in New York was recommending gauze or chiffon masks. Another helpful suggestion he had was to avoid kissing unless you did it through a handkerchief.

As concern about the Spanish Influenza mounted, advertisements started popping up offering preventions, cures, or symptomatic relief. Tanlac Laxative Tablets were said to contain the very elements needed by the system to give it fighting strength. Lister’s Anteseptic Solution was billed as “First Aid to Prevent Spanish Influenza.” This on the same page as an ad for Danderine, claiming that dandruff makes hair fall out. These were alongside ads such as that from the California Fig Syrup Company lauding their product as a cure when your child was cross, irritable, feverish, or had bad breath. Another ad went after the flu fear market, claiming Kondon’s Catarrhal Jelly applied inside the nose would give antiseptic relief.

By October 6, a boy in Star had come down with the flu. On October 9, Dr. E.T. Biwer, secretary of the state board of health, ordered a ban on all public gatherings, including theaters, dance halls, churches, the Natatorium, Liberty Loan rallies (raising money for the war), and political rallies. Only public and private schools were exempted.

This ruffled a lot of feathers. Lodge representatives, members of men’s and women’s clubs, ministers, and pool hall owners made the phone ring constantly at the state board of health, a usually quiet office. Dr. Biwer stood firm, saying that only open-air meetings and private and public schools were exempt.

The Boise Ministerial Association took another tact, saying that if there was danger enough to close churches, then schools should also be closed.

Meanwhile, the Boise City Council questioned the state official’s authority to ban meetings and asked for a legal opinion. An opinion came quickly, but in the form of a Statesmen editorial on October 12. The editors opined that such stringent measures should not be put into effect until “there were 400 or 500 cases, or at least more than our physicians could control.”

Meanwhile, the state began citing pool hall owners for defying the order.

On October 13, the Statesman reported 90 cases of influenza in the state. On October 15, the secretary of the board of health ruled that a state land board meeting should be closed after seeing that 25 people had showed up for the event. That was the same day the paper reported Boise’s first influenza cases.

Mrs. Ray Shawver, 1317 North Twenty-second Street was named as the first person in Boise to catch the disease. Her house was quarantined, and a yellow flag was put out front to visually mark it. When the Statesman next reported state statistics, the number of influenza cases had risen to 161. New cases were reported in Star and Nampa.

It was about this time that the motion picture industry suspended delivery of films to theaters to assure that patrons would not be gathering in infectious groups.

On October 16 the Statesman reported a statewide total of 209 cases. On the 17th, the number was up to 471. On the 18th, the story broke that there were 300 cases of Spanish Influenza in the town of Nez Perce, population 600.

Ada County Civil Defense began gathering the names of nurses, calling for “graduate nurses, pupil nurses, undergraduate nurses, trained attendants, practical nurses and midwives.”

On October 19, the state statistics came in again. Ada county had only 15 cases, but there were 1008 infected statewide. Seven had died.

On October 20, the state health board gave a general closing order for schools statewide. Courts began rescheduling cases.

A rumor spread quickly that Boise was under quarantine, as some smaller towns such as Challis, were. The secretary of the state board of health moved quickly to quash that one.

On the 23rd the statewide toll of confirmed cases reached 1711.

Boise dragged its feet on closing schools. Even so it was costing $20,000 a day statewide to pay teachers who were not working.

By October 28 the Statesman reported 11 new cases in the city, and six deaths in a single day. St. Anthony and Rexburg were under quarantine. Halloween was cancelled in Boise.

The Spanish Influenza would ebb and flow over the coming months until The Statesman was able to declare in a headline on January 19, 1919, “Schools Free of Disease.”

Because of haphazard reporting it is difficult to determine an exact number for those who succumbed to the disease. In Boise, it was probably about 75. Other areas of the state were hit much harder. Paris, Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, had a mortality rate of nearly 50 percent. Native Americans were hit especially hard in Idaho, with 75 deaths out of a population of just over 4,000. Worldwide estimates are between 20 and 50 million who succumbed to the disease.

source: Speaking of Idaho
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caption: A woman in a flu mask during the 1918 flu pandemic. Getty Images
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Warning … the 1918 pandemic

By Diana Baird Emmett Messenger Index Dec 24, 2012

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more than 600,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide, according to Center for Disease Control historians. Scientific technology improvements made it possible to identify pandemics in later years compared to the 1918 tragedy.

The influenza epidemic in 1918 was the story of the worst epidemic ever known in the U.S.

The nation was at war and in the middle of draft call-ups, troop shipments and bond drives when the epidemic hit.

American soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas carried the disease to the trenches of Europe where it mutated into a killer virus. When they returned home, they brought the flu home with them. One soldier complained of fever, sore throat and a headache and by noon they had over 100 cases. A week later there were 500 and that spring brought the death of 48 soldiers. Across the country thousands of soldiers fell ill quickly and dead bodies were “stacked like cord wood.”

The disease spread to the civilian population and people could be healthy in the morning and dead by nightfall. Some died more slowly and doctors were baffled and hopeless to stop the influenza. Many officials found that quarantines had no real impact on the spread of the disease.

National public health officials distributed masks and forbade spitting in the streets. In Emmett, health officials threatened punishment of fines or imprisonment if the law was not followed. But, the disease spread across the nation. More than 195,000 died in America in October 1918.

The nation had a shortage of caskets on the east coast and the dead were left in gutters and stacked in caskets on front porches. People hid and were afraid to interact with friends and neighbors.

Idaho officials and newspapers urged the community to remain calm. In some Idaho counties, public gatherings were prohibited.

As suddenly as the disease came … it vanished. It ran out of fuel and people who were susceptible to it, according to the CDC. In Idaho, the disease ran its course and influenza rates decreased by the late fall.

Idaho pandemic timeline

The US Department of Health and Human Services

On Sept. 30, 1918, officials in Idaho reported that there were several cases of influenza in Canyon County. In less than two weeks, the state admitted that the number of cases had grown to such an extent that they were unable to track the disease accurately. By late October, cases of influenza were reported in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Wallace and a range of other towns.

source: Idaho Press © Copyright 2020
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Boise’s Forgotten Pandemic


by Todd Shallat, Ph.D., with Mistie Rose and Molly Humphreys October 4, 2016
This essay is excerpted, in part, from The Other Idahoans: Forgotten Stories of the Boise Valley, Investigate Boise Community Research Series, Vol. 7 (Boise State University School of Public Service, 2016).

The Great Pandemic of 1918 spread through a fatal cough. Vomiting and delirium followed. Victims spat blood, then suffocated. Most died within 24 hours.

Known as the Spanish flu — elsewhere as the Spanish Lady, the Blue Death, the Fever of War, and the Great Influenza — the terror hit Boise at the vulnerable, fatal moment of America’s triumph at the close of the First World War. Boise, by then a city of 19,000, had streetcars, opera houses, a Gothic cathedral, and a Moorish spa, but no reliable system of medical reporting. Mysteries continue to cloud the way deaths were recorded. Quarantines, mostly voluntary, were loosely enforced. Only graves and a few brittle public records hint at the murderous toll.

Origins of the Pandemic

The killer may have originated in China as a lethal strain of H1N1 influenza. Or it may have begun as bird or swine flu in Kansas, where the pandemic was first diagnosed. Shifting and drifting with genetic mutation, the influenza devastated the killing fields of Europe at the close of the First World War. By October 1918 it had swept the globe from France to New Zealand. By February 1919, when suddenly the phantom vanished, the wartime epidemic had killed more soldiers than died under enemy fire.

Epidemiologists have estimated that a third of the Earth’s population may have been exposed to the airborne infection. Perhaps 1 in every 200 people died after exposure.

Wartime suspicion clouded every aspect of the great pandemic. How did it kill? Where was it born? Cures were also elusive. Doctors worldwide were slow to acknowledge the devastation. The Red Cross could do little more than provide surgical masks to swaddle faces in cotton gauze.

Doctors in Idaho were as dumbfounded as any. “I myself came down with the disease in January 1919,” said Leonard J. Arrington, a historian raised in Twin Falls. “Every hamlet was stricken,” he continued. “Every neighborhood lost children, parents and grandparents. Almost everyone old enough to have memories of it recalls with the grief the passing of a relative, a friend a respected official.”

Sadly, few records exist for Ada County. In 1919, when the U.S. Surgeon General conducted an influenza census, Boise was outside its scope. In 1920, Ada was one of 22 Idaho counties that frustrated health officials by failing to tally and carefully label causes of death by infectious disease.

Perhaps the worst of the fever bypassed Boise. Or perhaps in the Boise Valley, where nostalgia clouded misfortune, the trauma was subconsciously blocked for a city’s self-preservation. Perhaps it called into question the fables of frontier progress with memories too horrific not to repress.

Bodies Stacked Like Cordwood

Was it meningitis? Bacterial pneumonia? A plot hatched by Germany’s Bayer aspirin? A virus launched from a U-boat?

Europeans first scapegoated Spain because Spanish newspapers had been quick to report the story. But it was an epidemic like no other. Tamer strains of viral influenza had long been common in Europe, hitting mostly the poor, the very old and the very young. But the 1918 pandemic was more democratic. It crippled men as powerful as FDR and President Woodrow Wilson, and the virus hit young adults especially hard.

Scientists still debate why the flu became so deadly. Not until 2004 were microbiologists able to isolate the murderous H1N1 strain. Some say the virus, born in China, had been transmitted through the wartime migrants who labored behind British lines. Some say the fatal strain had mutated in the filth of field hospitals and troop ships. Others say the influenza was American born.

The killer, whatever its source, savaged the United States in three murderous waves: the first, in the early spring of 1918, the second, in the fall of 1918, and the third, in the winter of 1918-1919. “Patient zero” was said to have been Albert Gitchell, an army cook from Kansas, the first to be diagnosed. On the morning of March 11, 1918, at Camp Funston in Ft. Riley, Kansas, Gitchell had staggered into the infirmary with a fever of 103°F. By midday the camp was flooded with 107 cases. By month’s end, the number of cases had surged to 1,127. Forty-eight victims died.

Doctors at first shrugged it off as germs spread by dust storms. In September 1918, however, when the virus jumped to New England, the pandemic could not be ignored. U.S. Surgeon General Victor Vaughan reported the trauma from Camp Devens outside of Boston on the day 63 soldiers died. “The faces soon wear a bluish cast,” said Vaughan, reporting the horror. “A distressing cough brings up the blood stained sputum. In the morning the dead bodies are stacked about the morgue like cordwood.” Doctors were entirely helpless. Vaughan feared that the killer might murder every human on Earth.

Death toll estimates vary. The U.S. Department of Health has estimated that 165,000 Americans died of the influenza. Ghana in West Africa may have lost 100,000 people; Brazil, 300,000; Japan, 390,000. Worldwide estimates range from 20 to 100 million. The influenza killed more people in 24 months than HIV-AIDS has killed in 35 years.

Idaho and the Boise Valley

“When your head is blazing, burning / And your brain within is turning / Into buttermilk from churning / It’s the Flu,” wrote a poet in Idaho Falls. “When your stomach grows uneasy / quaking, querulous, and queasy / All dyspeptic and diseasy / It’s the Flu.”

But Boise doctors remained unconcerned through the summer of 1918. Dr. William Brady, the Statesman’s medical columnist, predicted the virus would be no worse than others that regularly crossed the Atlantic. “Avoid worry,” said another physician. Westerners were said to be hardy enough to stand tall against influenza. And people who lived in cities, it was said, had resistance to diseases spread in a crowd. Fresh air and exercise were recommended. A Boise Rexall prescribed a flu regimen of iron pills, hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic gargle and cod liver oil.

Tunnel vision on the war in Europe kept the disease from Boise’s headlines. “FRENCH TROOPS HOLD OFF HUNS” was the Statesman headline on October 2, 1918, when the killer struck Caldwell and Star. Fifteen people from six families had visited with an infected friend from Missouri. All were quarantined after reporting dangerous symptoms. Olive Michel Shawver of N. 22nd Street had the sad misfortune of being the City of Boise’s first reported victim. On October 15, she was confined to her North End home.

By mid-October the mayor of Boise had joined the Red Cross and the U.S. Public Health Service to ban meetings in public places, closing churches, theaters, pool halls, dance halls, courtrooms, cigar shops and funeral homes. Boise schools mostly stayed open. In Kimberly, Idaho, nevertheless, city officials refused to let Boise-bound travelers step off the train. Deputies in Custer County guarded the mountain passes, arresting travelers or turning them back at gunpoint.

Boise Public Library. The Boise School Board downplayed the threat as troops returned to Boise and the virus continued to spread. Pictured: Statesman headlines, October 15, 1918.

Idaho’s Native Americans grieved some of the pandemic’s worst devastation. In 1918, of the 4,200 natives in Idaho, there were 650 documented cases of flu. Seventy-five died from flu-related heart failure and suffocation. In Nez Perce, a town of about 600 on the tribe’s reservation, health officials estimated 300 cases.

Mormon communities received aid from Utah when the third wave materialized. The city of Paris in Bear Lake County may have lost as many as 500 people — a mortality rate of 50 percent.

Boise, meanwhile, was ill-equipped as any Western city. Boise’s Red Cross offered $75 (per month, presumably) and all travel expenses to lure experienced nurses. Gloves on their hands, gauze on their faces, the nurses delivered hot meals from sanitary community kitchens. Trolley conductors with police power had orders to prevent passengers from spitting or placing their feet on the seats.

Tunnel vision on the war in Europe continued to dominate Boise headlines through October of 1918 as Germany capitulated. On November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, Boiseans flooded the Idaho Statehouse to hear Governor Moses Alexander proclaim the United States’ moment of triumph. A parade — fever-be-dammed — erupted on Boise’s Main Street. “Ten thousand yelling, shooting, screeching, tooting, routing, laughing, talking citizens of Boise parade the streets,” the Statesman reported. A band played “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” A small boy milked laughs with a sign: “The Kaiser has got the flu. He has flown.” The flu, aside from that sign, seemed to be largely forgotten. No health department official dared to stop the celebration. The Statesman reported that only one Boisean at the victory party had worn a surgical mask.

No one remembers whether or not the parade spread the infection. Medical records are sketchy. Brigham Young University has since compiled a “death index” of Idaho fatalities. From October through February, 1918-1919, the index reports 279 deaths in Boise. Influenza or flu is listed as the cause of death in 75 of those cases, more than half of them young adults. Flu-like pneumonia is listed as a cause of death in 60 additional cases.

But if Boise followed the pattern of other American cities, the pandemic of 1918 was dangerously underreported. Hospitals often refused to admit what seemed to be mild cases. And because the virus came in waves with ever-more deadly mutations, there was no standard diagnostic test.

Local resentment of state officials may have also blurred the reporting. On October 20, 1918, for example, state health officials denounced “unpatriotic” physicians who refused to keep careful statistics. One of the accused was Dr. George Collister, the founder of a subdivision. Officials alleged that Collister had failed to quarantine 32 Basques in their Grove Street rooming house. In 1920, the state’s Department of Public Welfare reported in frustration that half of Idaho’s counties had refused to fill out reports.

And then, inexplicably, the virus subsided. In January 1919, even as influenza rebounded elsewhere, state legislators returned to Boise to ratify the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the sale and consumption of demonic alcohol. Theaters had already reopened and, on January 19, the Statesman headlined “SCHOOLS FREE OF DISEASE.” Boise flu cases had fallen below 600. By February the phantom was gone.

Grave Misfortunes

No memorial recalls Boise’s pandemic — none but the granite in the cemeteries, marking the victims in rows. Boise’s cemetery at Morris Hill inters at least 110 bodies from the wartime virus. Laborers, housekeepers, nurses, cooks, janitors and railroad workers — they were local victims of global misfortune, more than half of them young adults.

Agnes Stites was one. Age 22 when she died in 1918, Stites had suffocated while spitting blood at St. Alphonsus Hospital. Her flu-stricken baby daughter, age 22 months, died the following day.

Ystora Yoshihara of Japan, another victim of influenza, was a naturalized citizen who worked as a cook at the OK Restaurant on Boise’s Main Street. Influenza took him at age 41.

Albert P. Smith of Boise, age 50, died from influenza and heartbreak just four days after the death of his teenage daughter, Thelma Louise. He had been a boiler inspector in the Eastman Building. She had worked as a stenographer.

Edward Jeff Brummett, a farmer, had relocated from New Mexico with his wife and children about six months before his death by influenza at St. Luke’s Hospital. His wife also died of the influenza. He was 28. She was 20. Their daughter and son took sick but survived.

What these unfortunates had in common was bad timing, mostly. Bad timing had made them too young for immunities from past pandemics, too old to benefit from coming advances in medical science that brought virus vaccines. Bad timing moreover had brought these victims to Boise at the fluke tragic moment when 12,000 Idaho troops had returned from Europe in shock and jubilation, spewing disease.

A century later it remains our own sad modern misfortune to write about common people in an era of celebrity wealth. “Sad stories are a hard sell in Boise,” says Bruce DeLaney, the owner of a downtown bookshop. Only the headstones are left to recall forgotten pandemics, marking memories collectively lost.

source: BSU Blue Review © 2020 All Rights Reserved. Boise State University
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Celebration of Armistice, Moscow, Idaho Nov. 11, 1918


source: Mike Fritz Collection History of Idaho
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November 11, 1918

by Justin Smith

On November 11, 1918 Boise celebrated the end of the Great War, but it was a dangerous celebration to attend. For four years the globe had been at war. It was a long, bloody, muddy mess in the trenches of Europe and Boise wanted to celebrate despite the danger.

America had entered late into the fight on April 6, 1917, but the United States still recorded 116,516 deaths and approximately 320,000 sick and wounded out of the 4.7 million men served. The USA lost more personnel to disease (63,114) than to combat (53,402), largely due to the influenza epidemic.


That’s right, more American soldiers died from the flu than from fighting. The epidemic, known as “the Spanish flu”, began in late 1917 in the troop staging and hospital camp in Étaples, France. Before it was over an estimated 500,000,000 were infected around the world and 50,000,000-100,000,000 died (3-5% of the world population). For some reason this version of the flu was not only highly virulent, it was also lethal to many who contracted it, even if they were otherwise healthy.

At the time of these photos Idaho was in the midst of the epidemic and such a large gathering was a threat to public health. This may explain why so few people are at the celebration. Still, those who were there were putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk.



The Idaho Health and Welfare Department explains how bad it was in Idaho: “Pandemic Spanish Influenza arrived in Idaho sometime before the end of late September 1918. On September 30th, officials reported several cases of Spanish Flu in Canyon County. Less than two weeks later, the number of cases [rose] to such an extent that the state was unable to track the disease accurately. By late October, Spanish Flu cases were reported in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Wallace, and many other towns.

“Rural Idaho suffered terribly from the pandemic. The mortality rate was nearly 50% in Paris, Idaho. Quarantines had no real impact on the spread of the disease. While influenza rates lessened during the late fall, it was not until the summer of 1919 that the disease began to disappear from the state.”

“Because service workers, who frequently came into contact with the public, were at a greater risk of contracting influenza, they often wore masks in attempt to ward off the disease. The masks, however, were ineffective in preventing the spread of influenza.”


The epidemic was so frightening that some towns, like Challis, posted armed guards to keep people from entering. Governor Alexander (almost certainly somewhere in these photos) was forced to step in and tell Challis to remove their self-imposed quarantine because Challis was the only route some communities could take to reach other places. Still, the fear and paranoia continued.

Nurses became ill and the hospitals, which were small and lightly staffed in 1918, scrambled to find anyone who could act as a nurse. Patients were stuck in bed for weeks. In villages, smaller towns, and on farms no medical care was available without travel and the sick were unable to do so. The Boise Visiting Nurses Association was founded and offered to send a nurse to care for homebound patients for $1.00 per day. A plea went out to any woman who had nursing experience to contact the Ada County Council of Defense or the Idaho State Graduate Nurse’s Association if they were able and willing to work. It was not enough.

There was no cure for the Spanish flu and, just like everywhere else, Idaho simply had to wait it out. How many died we will never know. Health records and death certificates were not the priority. In the spring of 1919 the number of cases began to decline and soon the epidemic was over. On November 11, 1919 Boise had its real celebration for the end of the Great War. This time the whole city seemed to attend.

1919 Clipping

1918NovBoiseNews1-aA remarkable display of community spirit, surcharged with 100 percent Amercanism, was shown by citizens of Boise today in the celebration of “Armistice” day, the first anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which stopped the guns in the great war one year ago today.

That genuine sentiment has come back into patriotic meetings to take the place of the rather ritualistic flavor to which patriotic meetings had begun to descend just before the world war awakened the national spirit, was wonderfully shown at the huge mass meeting at the Pinney this afternoon. Every speech, every song, every incident in the program was a demonstration of the great patriotic fervor that has seized the nation.


Almost to a man, Boise merchants and professional men closed their places of business and turned out with their employees to swell the attendance at the mass meeting, and the high school students attended the meeting in a body, accompanied by the teaching staff.

Henri Scott, the celebrated Metropolitan opera baritone, who appears in concert at the Pinney this evening, very graciously sang a patriotic descriptive number, “The Americans Come,” a declamatory account of the joy experienced by a blind French soldier over the arrival of hie brothers to aid in the conquering of the Hun.

The G. A. R. Fife and Drum corps and the Boise Municipal band kept up a concert of patriotic airs before the meeting, and played several program numbers. Lead by Eugene Farner the audience rang with mighty volume, the favorite national hymns. “America,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

source: History of Boise November 24, 2019 (FB) used with permission
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Pocatello and the 1918 ‘Spanish’ flu

By Tara A. Rowe Apr 10, 2020 Idaho State Journal

In the fall of 1918, a heated Senate campaign was underway in Idaho between Democrat John F. Nugent and Republican Frank Gooding. It came to a screeching halt when the Spanish flu reached Idaho. Not unlike our current environment with COVID-19, political rallies were no longer allowed. As the two camps traded barbs in the Pocatello Tribune, those stories appeared side by side with reports of influenza deaths. On Election Day, for their health and safety, voters had to enter their polling place one at a time. Nugent edged out Gooding with the votes of fewer people (970) than had died of influenza in Bannock County (1,000 plus).

As communities throughout Idaho now grapple with the spread of the coronavirus, similarities to Pocatello’s struggle with the 1918 influenza epidemic are striking. While many of the same measures as those in the early 20th century have been instituted to fight 21st century coronavirus, there are lessons to be learned from what Pocatello did during that earlier epidemic.

What continues to be referred to as ‘Spanish’ flu was a particularly deadly H1N1 influenza strain that circled the globe. This strain caused the immune system to overreact. It attacked healthy young adults at unprecedented rates. No longer were children and the elderly the most vulnerable.

This flu began its spread in military camps on American soil. It was transported around the world by soldiers fighting the Great War. Attribution to the Spanish is due to lack of censorship in Spain during World War I. Americans, both civilians and soldiers, were learning of the fast rise of cases in Spain, but not other countries. This changed in the fall of 1918 when, unlike cases that spring in military camps, the disease had mutated before being brought back home by American GIs.

The fall of 1918 brought isolated cases dotting Idaho’s landscape. Counties were mandated to report both flu and pneumonia cases as 10 to 15 percent of flu cases resulted in bronchial pneumonia. Newspapers reported “brevities” daily, sometimes matching reported numbers, sometimes not. Reporting could not keep up with deaths. By Oct. 8, there were 30 known cases of influenza in Idaho. Without a confirmed case in Bannock County and with reassurance from the city physician that the health condition of Pocatello was very good, the Pocatello Tribune called for the radical measure of closing public halls to prevent spread of the disease. Fear of an Idaho city experiencing the kind of outbreak big cities on the East Coast were experiencing forced the Idaho State Board of Health to comply with recommendations from the U.S. Surgeon General that included closing public halls, theaters, churches and other indoor gatherings. Like today, ill persons were advised to stay home, but no enforcement mechanism existed. Schools were not closed immediately. Many Pocatellans wanted quick action on public gatherings, but lacked concern for schools.

Responses to the board of health’s order varied. Some feared it didn’t go far enough, and others feared it encroached on the liberties of Idahoans. Disinformation abounded. Despite what other cities were learning, voices in Idaho contended that young, healthy individuals were safe and experienced only mild symptoms. The Tribune of Oct. 4 stated that, “in the strong and well-nourished (sic), the attack is mild as a rule, subsiding in three or foar (sic) days.” As preventative measures were discussed, many believed the “malady not dangerous unless neglected.” Opinion columns questioned whether it was the flu at all and some debated the origin of the disease. Tribune readers were presented the argument that the origin was not Spanish, but German. Like Towney and Chuck in Katherine Anne Porter’s novella “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” some believed the disease reached American shores by German submarine.

Objectors to quarantine were concerned with scheduled Liberty Bond meetings. Money was needed for the war effort. Additionally, objectors argued that while no epidemic existed in Idaho, the order had “jeopardized the livelihoods” of workers. The Tribune printed one such objection: “There is every disposition to comply but there does not appear to be necessity for the order, according to those in position to speak with authority on the subject.” Like today, medical authorities were unanimous in their support of quarantine. Residents of the city did not rush to follow this recommendation.

Between the initial order of Oct. 9 and an expanded order on Oct. 10 that closed schools, a protest of the order was held in Pocatello. Some continued to fight the order, but most could see the epidemic coming and complied. On Oct. 11, Bannock County had zero known cases. On Oct. 12, there were 25 suspected cases. Despite cases in the county, Pocatello announced that outdoor gatherings like a Liberty Bond event called the “Parade of the Italians” (to be held on Columbus Day) would go forward.

A parade in the midst of an epidemic is a catastrophe-in-the-making. Today we hear the governor of Louisiana state he did not know that it was not a good idea to go ahead with Mardi Gras. His state is now being ravaged by coronavirus. In 1918, the city of Philadelphia experienced an outbreak on a horrific scale. Despite high numbers of cases, the city went forward with a Liberty Bond parade on Sept. 28 — 200,000 Philadelphians gathered. City officials said that there was no cause for concern, the contagion was “well in hand.” Within 72 hours of the parade, the beds of the city’s 31 hospitals were filled. Within a week of the parade, 45,000 people were sick. Within six weeks, 12,000 were dead. The mortality rate was unmatched.

The day after Pocatello’s parade, reported cases increased — 100 new cases were reported. Following Columbus Day festivities in cities around the state, the Idaho Board of Health issued an order banning all indoor and outdoor gatherings. It is not possible to attribute exponential growth of flu cases and deaths to a single event due to unreliable reporting of the period.

The first personal threat Pocatellans felt was on Oct. 12 when it was reported that Miss Effie Gittins, a city water employee, and Judge Frank Dietrich of the U.S. District Court for Idaho had become ill. Both were well known. Previously some knew of soldiers who had become ill or died while stationed elsewhere, but now a common connection existed. This is not unlike when Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for coronavirus — opinion changed. Additional restrictions were issued to stop dry sweeping; to require hotels, restaurants, eating houses, dining rooms and soda fountains to sterilize their establishments; to ban cups and towels for common use; and new railway rules.

New railway rules impacted railroad towns like Pocatello disproportionately. Train cars had to have open and adequate ventilation and had to maintain a consistent temperature. Like city streets, dry sweeping was prohibited (i.e. everything had to be sprayed down first, an obstacle for any railroad that didn’t have easy access to water). No public spitting was allowed; the communal spittoon was removed. Riders were not allowed to place their feet on seats.

As the epidemic took hold in East Idaho, many communities did not allow passengers to disembark if they were non-residents or had traveled to hot spots. Stations from Driggs to Idaho Falls were closed. Neighboring Jackson Hole, Wyoming, closed itself to those from “infected territories.” This included Idaho. In Gooding, passengers were had their movements monitored much akin to the way China is tracking its citizens. Boise required travelers be quarantined. In Challis, armed guards blocked entry into town. The esteemed historian Leonard J. Arrington called this the “Quarantine War.” The situation in Challis ended with the Idaho attorney general determining the statewide quarantine order legally justified by the extraordinary epidemic. History repeats itself.

The location of the Oregon Short Line impacted the city in ways far more dangerous than a transient or traveler bringing the disease into town. Many railroad workers lived in packed, close-quarter company housing. To the east of the rail yard sat what is referred to as the Triangle, a neighborhood consisting of minority groups living in close proximity. The railroad employed most men of the Triangle. This diverse group often lived in multi-generational homes and in 1918 couldn’t institute necessary hygiene and sanitation to slow the spread of disease. As the map of influenza deaths shows, the Triangle was hit hard. The mortality rate among minority groups, similar to coronavirus today, was higher than in other populations. Idaho had a mortality rate of 11.5 percent among Native Americans. For a population of 4,208, there were 650 cases and 75 deaths. Names like DeFilippis, Bertasso, Valbaena, Yoshida, Orepe and Kotigos are among the names of Pocatellans who succumbed to the flu. Much of the Triangle no longer remains, but the contribution of its citizens can be seen all over town. Their story is one of great loss.

The first death in Pocatello was a 10-month-old boy named Eldon Beebe Myler. His death was reported on Sept. 16, 1918. Exactly one month later his grandfather, Charles C. Myler, died. The Mylers were only one of many families to lose multiple members. Mr. and Mrs. Luigi DeFilippis died a week apart. They had five small children, one of whom, an infant, also died. The Orgill family of McCammon had their family tragedy play out one entry in the Tribune at a time. Brothers Thomas and Samuel Orgill each lost children to the illness. Their two families combined lost five children. Mrs. Kokan Yoshida died, leaving behind a husband and three children, all of whom were ill. Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Riley died with their infant twin daughters. There was no shortage of tragedy in Pocatello. Unfortunately, this was a familiar pattern. No age, nationality, ethnicity or class was spared.

On Oct. 12, the Tribune reported 211,000 cases and 7,432 casualties nationally. Unfortunately, they believed it would soon peak. The epidemic was hardly confined to 1918. The U.S. saw its last outbreak in late spring 1920. Pocatello’s last cluster of deaths came in summer 1919. Despite attempts at vaccination, several vaccines failed, herd immunity from one-third of the world’s population being infected likely ended the spread of the disease.

What can we learn from Pocatello’s experience with the Spanish flu? First, self-distancing measures largely work. Once quarantine measures are strictly adhered to, cases slow. Pocatello benefited more from isolation than the gauze masks of the time. Where quarantine backfired was in highly dense areas like the Triangle. As shocking numbers of African-Americans die from coronavirus, we can look to 1918’s largely poor minorities with less access to health care to see they died at higher rates. The creation of home health care was Idaho’s response to rural residents and minorities needing nurses. Recruitment by the Red Cross of retired and graduate nurses was essential to maintain care for the afflicted. Idaho is doing this type of recruitment successfully today.

The two great lessons to be learned from 1918 come from two histories of the epidemic. The first, from historian John M. Barry says, when describing a Philadelphia military camp being disinfected and quarantined after an outbreak, that no matter the mitigation efforts “the virus has already escaped.” In Idaho, our stay-at-home order came two weeks after the first confirmed coronavirus case. We must believe that the virus was already spreading among us.

When this work began in 2011, myself and the late Karen Kearns, director of special collections at Idaho State University, hoped to determine the exact numbers of infected and dead. Our research in the Tribune and Idaho death certificates found no such numbers. This reflects what the oral history of the American Catholic Historical Society said in 1919: “Facts unrecorded are quickly lost in the new interests of changing time. … We have little left now, beyond material statistics, and vague impressions drawn from ‘paper accounts’ of the epidemic.” Let us hope that for posterity our current pandemic records will better reflect what it cost our communities.

source: © Copyright 2020 Idaho State Journal

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Link to Idaho 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Part 1)
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Link to Idaho 1920 Influenza Pandemic (Part 98)
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Link to Idaho 1918 Influenza Pandemic Ads (Part 100)
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