Idaho History May 3, 2020

Idaho 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic

(Part 3)

Oakley, Idaho

Oakley is a city in Cassia County, Idaho, United States. The population was 763 at the 2010 census, up from 668 in 2000. It is part of the Burley Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Oakley is located at … an elevation of 4,570 feet above sea level. It is at the very southern limit of the Snake River Plain, and close to Goose Creek, between the Middle and Albion Mountains.

The city was named for William Oakley, the proprietor of a 19th-century stagecoach station located at a spring currently located about 2 miles west of the present townsite known as Oakley Meadows.

Wikipedia:
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Main St. Looking West, Oakley Idaho

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courtesy: Oakley Valley Historical Museum
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102 Years Ago: Quarantines in Oakley Installment 1

Quarantines and school closures are nothing new for the town of Oakley and the greater Cassia County region. Quarantines were actually a fairly common occurrence 102 years ago. We seem to hardly know what to do, but our progenitors of a century ago had down a well-worn routine. In 1911, for instance, the Burley Bulletin published rules about following quarantines noting that there were fines of up to $300 [~$5000 today) or jail time of up to 3 months for violating those rules (1). Very serious, especially considering things like smallpox, typhoid, diphtheria, and scarlet fever were still common. And then there was the Spanish Influenza.

On October 16, 1918, all public schools in Idaho were closed “to prevent the spread of disease” in order to protect those willing “to see to it that their children are kept at home and not allowed to run wild over the city” (Burley Bulletin, as cited in 1). Just 8 days earlier, on October 8, 1918, the Idaho State Board of Health had issued statewide orders to halt all public assemblies, effective October 10. This order occurred after reports made their way into Idaho of Spanish Influenza causing significant deaths in army camps [WWI] and large eastern cities (1). The order included the cancellation of theater shows, church meetings, town assembly hall meetings, and local dances.

Dr. A. F. O. Nielsen of Oakley gave the following instructions (2):

– “No visiting, no parties…”

– “No loafing on the streets…”

– “Let children be kept home… and let the adults do the shopping”

– “If you have a so-called cold, call a doctor; it may be influenza; you may have a light attack — your neighbor may catch it from you and die.”

– “If you don’t call a doctor, stay in your home 3 days after you are well…”

– “Our young people should refrain from joy rides…”

– “No public funerals inside or out.”

The consequences of the Spanish Influenza were quite personal for many Oakleyites. Fred Halverson, an almost 19-year old son of Oakley and current student of the University of Utah, had his funeral held on Sunday, October 27, 1918, just before the “No public funerals…” order went out from the local Board of Health. His death was caused by pneumonia after having contracted influenza (2).

There is more to come because, just like our 2020 ‘pandemic’ is constantly evolving and changing our lives, the people of 1918 Oakley and Cassia County still had their lives to lead as they began coping with bans on gatherings, their own versions of social distancing, quarantines, and the tracking of death tolls nearby and throughout the nation and world.

1. Hedberg, K. (2005). Cassia County, Idaho: The foundation years. Burley: Cassia County Commissioners.
2. Oakley Herald. (1918/11/01, p2). “Directions From Health Board” & “Death of Fred Halverson”

source: Oakley Valley Historical Museum

Many thanks to the Oakley Valley Historical Museum and to Brent Hale for sharing. FB page:
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The Oakley Herald. (Oakley, Idaho), 11 Oct. 1918.

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On account of the State Board of Health order prohibiting public assemblages, during the Spanish influenza epidemic, the splendid Liberty Day program, arranged for Oakley on Saturday, has been cancelled.

source: Chronicling America
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Oakley, Idaho

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Howell Mansion 1909. Victorian house in Oakley Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. by Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD

source: Wikipedia
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102 Years Ago: Quarantines in Oakley, Installment 2

If the back page presence of flu information in the Oakley Herald is a good indication of Oakley citizens’ state of awareness of the Spanish Influenza pandemic, then October 1918 was a bit like late February and early March 2020 in our present COVID-19 pandemic. Locals knew about the 1918 pandemic and its deadly epidemic proportions, but up to that point it was something impacting big eastern cities and military camps where people were often in poor health, in poverty-stricken, unsanitary conditions, or severely fatigued or injured. The consequences were not really personal, yet. Or, if the consequences were personal, it was because a family member or dear friend was back east or in a military camp exposed to conditions completely foreign to Oakley or Cassia County life.

Just as we today better follow lock-downs and quarantines the closer the epidemic gets to us, the people of Cassia County in 1918 became more serious about following epidemic guidelines as the illness became more personal. Further, those people of 1918 were noting other critical impacts of lock-down that we are just now coming to grips with in our response to COVID-19. Here is the summary of primary sources provided in Cassia County, Idaho: The Formative Years (1, 126).

“Though the quarantine may have prevented the spread of disease, it created a hardship on sick families. Often the father left home so he could continue with his employment, leaving the mother to manage as best she could with the sick children. Mail and groceries were delivered outside the house. Sometimes the quarantine would last for weeks as the children came down with the disease one at a time.”

By November 15, 1918, influenza epidemic news was reaching the front page, but not as headlines. “The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” had just occurred, rightfully keeping WWI as the top headliner in every newspaper across the country. However, this was despite America and the world being in the middle of the worst worldwide epidemic since the bubonic plagues of the mid-1300s. So, influenza was now front page, but relegated to columns covering many topics of local and state interest like the column “IN THE GEM STATE”. In the Oakley Herald of November 15 (2), this column contained twenty-one paragraphs, each paragraph describing one bit of news. Paragraphs five, ten, and eighteen offer the following:

Paragraph five: “On account of there being no slackening of the influenza epidemic in the Pocatello district, it was decided to postpone the date of holding federal court there to November 18.”

Paragraph ten: “Owing to the influenza epidemic, and a drizzling snow during the entire day, less than 50 per cent (sic) of the vote was cast at the election at Idaho Falls. The new style of ballot also made it tedious in making the count.”

Paragraph eighteen: “The influenza epidemic has been making rapid strides in Idaho Falls and Bonneville county and stringent measures are being taken to overcome it. Every person has been ordered to wear a mask over the nose and mouth and all business houses, except drug stores and cafes, are closed at 6 p.m.”

Other mentions of the ‘flu’ on this same November 15 front page are strictly local, though important, news filler (2): “ Mrs. Violet Cummins, who is at Camp Lewis {likely a US Army camp in Montana}, has recovered from an attack of ‘flu’.”; “Leland Peterson has recovered from a severe attack of ‘flu’ and is ready to assume his duties on Route 2 again.”; “The funeral of Joseph H Boren who died last week from influenza, was held Friday. He was 52 years of age and was born in Provo, Utah.”; “Lloyd Oldham received word last week of the death of his brother with the ‘flu’.”; “Eugene Berrell who recently moved from Churchill to Burley is very ill with the ‘flu’.”

Again, there is more to come in the next installment of “102 Years Ago: Quarantines in Oakley”. The happenings then give us some much needed perspective relative to happenings now in March, April, and May of 2020.

Hedberg, K. (2005). Cassia County, Idaho: The foundation years. Burley: Cassia County Commissioners.
Oakley Herald. (1918/11/15, p1). “In the Gem State”, “Locals and Personals”, “Joseph H. Boren”, & “Churchill”.

source: Oakley Valley Historical Museum
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Oakley Stake Academy Building.

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Vintage Postcard.

courtesy: Evan Filby South Fork Companion
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102 Years Ago: Quarantines in Oakley, Installment 3

As discussed in the previous installment, Spanish Influenza was front page news in the Oakley Herald by the middle of November. The consequences were getting very personal, as well, with local deaths directly attributed to the ‘flu’. One gets the sense, however, that epidemic times were relatively commonplace in 1918; in our day (2020) what was happening in 1918 would be highly politicized front page news; an unfamiliar event with countering accusations of underreaction and overreaction. Back then it only made the local front pages as Oakley or Cassia County citizens were coming down with the disease. Further, there is an unspoken sense of “we’re doing all we can” and “we know the drill”.

The front page of the November 22 Oakley Herald seems to bear this idea out. The major headline of the 22nd was “TRAIN CRASHES INTO AUTOMOBILE”. The highest ranking headline about the epidemic was in much smaller print on the far right side with the headline “Influenza Situation Still Serious”, as if the locals still needed convincing. At the bottom of the front page, after the train wreck headline and its accompanying lede, “One Killed and Four Injured Tuesday When Train Strikes Car at Marion Crossing”, the following headline appears: “Influenza Ban to be Lifted” (1). The Spanish Influenza epidemic had arrived, but the people were prepared to ride out the situation, a situation much like what they had experienced multiple times before with illnesses such as diphtheria (2, 126). It is clear that epidemics were relatively frequent and life and occupations had to go on around the county, and country, while each local area closed down or opened up as seen fit by local leaders advised by medical practitioners on local health boards.

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Here are the brief texts of the two Spanish Influenza headlines:

Influenza Situation Still Serious: “There are still a number of cases of influenza, although it is not spreading as fast as formerly. The situation at Burley is better than last week, but still very bad. At Rupert conditions are so serious that no one is permitted to leave the town. There are twelve cases at Golden Valley in one family. This epidemic in the United States has taken more lives than we lost in this Great War. Quarantine regulations should be strictly adhered to till the disease is under control.” (1)

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Influenza Ban to be Lifted: “Orders have been issued by the state board of health to lift the Spanish influenza ban on Nov. 24. This does not indicate that the quarantine will be discontidued (sic) in every section of the state at that time. Local health boards are authorized to maintain restrictions as long as conditions may require. The Cassia Stake Academy [the Oakley High School of yesteryear] will oyen (sic) Monday for local students, but not for those from sections where the disease is still raging. The local board has decided not to open the public school next Monday. It may open a week from then.” (1)

On the November 22nd front page there are four other mentions of the ‘flu’, with two of those being deaths: “Jake Levin, a brother of Morris Levin’s, died last week at Burley, and was buried at Salt Lake City.”; “Eugene Burrell, who formerly operatek (sic) a ranch at Warm Creek, died from influenza at Burley last week.”

(1) Oakley Herald. (1918/11/22, p1). “Train Crashes into Automobile”, “Influenza Ban to be Lifted”.
(2) Hedberg, K. (2005). Cassia County, Idaho: The foundation years. Burley: Cassia County Commissioners.

source: Oakley Valley Historical Museum
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Oakley Tabernacle

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source: © 2016 Thomas Tolman Family Organization.
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Pioneering Oakley Idaho

By Lisa Dayley Jul 21, 2011

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Lots of homesteaders descended on the Oakley Basin. Here one family is shown in front of their log home. Homesteading proved popular at the end of the 19th and first of the 20th Centuries where pioneers received free land in exchange for proving up the property.

Pioneer Days means a trip down memory lane at the Oakley Museum that recently added on to its facility.

… The Shoshone-Snake River American Indians are considered to be the community’s first residents.

“We’re showing the Indian artifacts, the grinding stones, the arrowheads and other Indian artifacts that we have available,” he said.

Fast forward to the 19th century, and cattlemen and sheepmen arrived in the community.

“Probably the most interesting was the conflict between the men in the South Hills between here and Hollister in a place called Deadline Ridge,” Fehlman said.

It was in Deadline Ridge where two Oakley residents and sheepmen by the names of Cummins and Wilson died from shotgun wounds during a dispute over grazing. After their bodies were found, law enforcement targeted Diamond Field Jack, who had bragged of doing something similar while he traveled through Wells, Nevada,. Word traveled back to Idaho where law enforcement tracked him down and imprisoned him for about five years in Albion. The courts later acquitted him.

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John Wilson and Daniel Cummings. Family Archives. (courtesy Evan Filby South Fork Companion)

Cummins and Wilson are buried in the Oakley Cemetery as is Gobbo Fango, an African man brought to Utah by Mormon pioneers. Gobbo came to Oakley in 1886 where he joined friends sheepherding. That year Gobbo was shot during an altercation with cattleman. Despite being wounded in the head, Gobbo drug himself to a neighboring farm. Gobbo, realizing the end was near, wrote a will giving money to friends and also to the Mormon Church to help build the Salt Lake Temple. Gobbo died the following day at the age of 30.

Mormon explorers Heber, Thomas and Elisha Dayley, the sons of James Dayley, arrived in “The Basin” during 1877. An Indian uprising sent them back to Utah but, undeterred, the brothers returned, bringing with them numerous settlers.

Kent Hale, author of “A History of Oakley, Idaho” says that the arrival of the Dayleys “heralded the beginning of Mormon Colonization of the Goose Creek Valley.” By 1880, a Mormon Stake was organized in the region.

By 1882, the Oakley community had been officially created. It took its name from William Oakley. William operated the Oakley Meadows Pony Express Station. Very little is known about William other than this station delivered the mail between Salt Lake and Boise from 1863 to 1864.

A Mr. Foster homesteaded in the basin during the 1860s where he farmed and raised an orchard. By the time his orchard began producing fruit, travelers started venturing through the community via stagecoach on their way to the Pacific Northwest – right past Foster’s property.

“He was able to sell apples to the stagecoach passengers. He also sold farm produce to the vitamin-C-starved travelers on the Oregon Trail,” Hale wrote.

That stagecoach was necessitated by the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. A stagecoach line was required to connect Salt Lake to Boise and officials built that line at Kelton, Utah. The stagecoach line then turned west toward the City of Rocks and then north of Birch Creek. It later crossed into Oakley through the Oakley Meadows Stage Station.

It wasn’t all work in Oakley as thanks to Judge B.P. Howells, an opera house was built. Howell arrived in Oakley in 1879. Eventually, Howells grew tired of the lack of culture in the community, and, in 1904, using rock quarried from the hills surrounding Oakley, hired men to build the facility. The workers harvested trees from neighboring mountains later adding floors and window sills. By 1907, and $22,000 later, Howells had his opera house. Today, the facility continues to put on plays for the community.

In 1909, the government built the Oakley Dam. At the time, it was the largest earth filled dam in the U.S., and cost $1.5 million to build. Fast forward to 1984, and unusually high snow storms threatened the dam. Thanks to a quickly developed canal system, disaster was averted and excess water was diverted.

The community also had its own newspaper called “The Oakley Herald” which Charlie Brown managed from 1918 through 1961. He described his publication as “A first class newspaper, entered as a second class matter, in a third class post office,”

One of the more interesting displays at museum will be on the floor. Stone quarried from the mountains was used as the flooring for the original portion of the facility. Today, Oakley Stone continues to be mined and to be sold throughout the United States.

excerpted from: © Copyright 2020 News Journal, 221 West Main Street Burley, ID
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Oakley Cemetery

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by Donna Johnson Newell

Oakley Cemetery is located just outside of Oakley. It is extremely well kept and orderly. Records are located in a hinged case inside a kiosk in the middle of the property. There is also a map to help you locate the grave sites.

source: Find a Grave
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see also: Jackson Lee “Diamondfield Jack” Davis

Link to Idaho 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic (Part 1)
Link to Idaho 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic (Part 2)