Reporting the Spanish Influenza Epidemic in Nevada

Reporting the Spanish Influenza Epidemic in Nevada

Peter Michel, Director of Special Collections & Archives, UNLV University Libraries

“Grippe or influenza are always with us. Ancient records show that influenza epidemics were quite common. This spread has always followed the lines of human travel and commerce and covers widely separated countries with such rapidity as to have produced the superstition that its onset is due to a malign “influence,” hence its name.” 

“Keep Well”, The Daily Missoulian, [Montana] February 28,1918

The last great global pandemic before COVID 19 was the Spanish Influenza of 1918-20 which killed by some estimates over 30,000,000 people, 675,000 of those in the United States, ten-times the number of Americans who died in World War I. In another historical comparison, more people died of the Spanish Influenza in one year than died in four years of the Black Death of 1347-1351 in which a third of Europe’s population perished. In the early days of mass communication by telegraph and newspapers, compared to our own age of instant, constant streaming information, how did people know what was happening and how to respond to a catastrophic public health crisis? Using Nevada newspapers digitized as part of the NEH National Digital Newspaper Program and available on the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website we can tell the story of the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 as it spread to, and across Nevada, as it was reported in Nevada newspapers. [1]

The newspapers: statewide coverage

The papers selected by the advisory board of the Nevada Digital Newspaper Project represent the leading newspaper from each county, often published at the county seat, and having the longest continuous run of publication up to 1922. The papers currently online and searchable published in 1918-19 are the Carson City Daily Appeal, the Elko Independent, a weekly, the Eureka Sentinel, a weekly, the Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, the Las Vegas Age, a weekly, the Pioche Record, a weekly, and the Tonopah Daily Bonanza.  There are unfortunate gaps in the surviving issues of some of those papers for this period; there are no surviving issues of the Las Vegas Age for the critical month of October 1918, no issues of the Tonopah Bonanza from October 8, 1918 to January 2 1919, no issues of the Elko Independent from July 15, 1918 to May 1921; and no issues of the Pioche Record from April 26, 1918 to February 14, 1919. Fortunately in the case of Tonopah, the neighboring Goldfield Tribune carried news of Tonopah, and while the southern counties of Clark and Lincoln (Pioche) and the north east (Elko) are underrepresented, other newspapers carried news from these counties either directly from their local newspapers or from state-wide summary reports. While not all counties are represented by their own newspaper, the state is fairly well represented by this small but significant group of what were the major newspapers in the state at the time. [2]

The newspapers: news sources

While much of the charm and interest in historical newspapers are the local, community and personal news items, and of course the advertisements, most newspapers, even in remote rural districts carried regional, state, national, and even international news. And where did these local editors acquire timely international reports from the Western Front, or the rumors of German submarines carrying influenza germs to the coast of Spain? By the early twentieth century most regularly published papers subscribed to larger regional or national news syndicates, such as the Associated Press (AP) or the United Press Association (later UPI) or, in the west, the Western Newspaper Union. Newspapers advertised the fact that they belonged to a news syndicate and therefore were providing the most up-to-date news from all over the world.

These syndicates provided their members complete news stories, synopses, and photos from which an individual newspaper editor  then  chose which stories to print, often as written by syndicate reporters, or re-written or summarized  by the editor as they came off the wire.  So, when searching Nevada newspapers for stories about the Spanish Influenza epidemic, one finds national and international reports (the latter often interwoven in news of the war) as well as regional and local news. In a public health crisis such as an influenza pandemic a number of federal, state, county and municipal agencies issued official reports and public announcements which would be published  in the local newspaper, especially if it was the official “newspaper of record” for the county. All the newspapers used in this study belonged to a news syndicate. The smaller papers in Eureka, Pioche, Yerington, and Goldfield belonged to the Western Newspaper Union. The Las Vegas Age belonged to the Goodrich News Bureau; a service provided by the B.F. Goodrich Company initially distributed through its local dealers.  Of the two dailies, the Carson City Daily Appeal belonged to United Press (UP) and the Tonopah Bonanza belonged to AP. Most of these papers also subscribed to film services such as Underwood & Underwood, or International Film for photographs. The syndication of news meant that the same story often appeared in several newspapers on the same, or close to the same date depending on when the paper was published, most weeklies on Saturday. Each editor might edit the story to fit the paper’s layout, re-write headlines, and decide on which page it should appear. Smaller papers tended to run local news on the front page with national or international news relegated to page 2 or 3. Other larger papers like the Carson City Appeal, the closest to a statewide paper, ran national and international news on page one.

Newspaper editors had other sources for news outside their own towns. A major source was other newspapers. Nevada newspaper editors formed a small professional community, and as they tended to move from town to town, mining camp to mining camp, and newspaper to newspaper, they formed a close-knit, sometimes congenial, sometime hostile newspaper fraternity. Most editors agreed to share copies of their papers with other editors with the understanding that news items or stories might be re-printed if the source was credited. Failure to credit the source of a “borrowed” story often led to bitter clashes between rival editors, but for the most part editors were conscientious in citing the source newspaper.  Such a network of course depended on the reliable delivery of newspapers usually via railroad and auto. Some editors in more remote locales found other means of communication. The Eureka Sentinel headed one of its stories about the influenza epidemic with “Headlines of morning newspapers reaching Palisade at 10:30 am and telephoned to the Sentinel”.  After the November 1918 general election, the Sentinel boasted, “Fast Telephone and Auto Service gives Eureka Returns from all county precincts in Record Time”. [3]

Geographic location also defined a newspaper’s “news radius”. The Carson City Appeal was not only the state capitol, its proximity to California made it a primary source for relaying news from San Francisco (one of the cities hit hardest by the influenza epidemic) and California. Eureka looked to Salt Lake City and re-printed stories from its papers. Newspapers located in towns serving dispersed mining districts relayed their region’s mining news. The county newspapers collected and published news from across their county as well as providing official reports from the county government. And many provided summaries of news from across the state.  Editors selected items from their wire services or other sources which would be of most interest to their readers, reflecting their regional outlook.

The Epidemic: Nevada takes note

Historians have the luxury of hindsight when searching for warnings, causes, contributing factors or circumstances for historical events which contemporary observers, even journalists, did not have. As in the debates that will no doubt preoccupy us in the aftermath of the current Coronavirus pandemic there are questions we can also ask about 1918: were there warning signs, were there dots that were not connected,  and why did they/we miss them?  So, what did the people of Nevada know about the Spanish Influenza before it struck their hometowns and then spread beyond? Rather than summarizing modern accounts and post facto analyses of the epidemic we will simply follow the narrative provided by the newspaper accounts as their readers would have read it.

For the most part, news of the Spanish Influenza did not make most American newspapers until April of 1918, and then it was simply a back-page footnote to the general war news. The United States had entered the war in April 1917 and by January 1918 over a million American soldiers had been transported to France and Great Britain and had been engaged in critical campaigns at the front. The news on the home front was of American troops pushing back the Hun. Reports of the severe effects of an apparent influenza epidemic in Spain and England appeared in some isolated US newspapers as early as January, but winter outbreaks of influenza were common, so other isolated local reports, such as a miner hospitalized in Tonopah with influenza, or the bizarre outbreak of influenza or “shipping fever” among mules and horses being transported to France raised no alarms in the US.  The April 12th issue of the Tonopah Bonanza cited a War Department report of the outbreak of influenza among recently drafted soldiers with a rising death rate. While this was the first notice of what was later identified as the Spanish Influenza, no particular note was made of this particular occurrence, although two weeks later the Bonanza reported what it now referred to as an epidemic in National Guard camps in the south, and in regular army camps, with 800 new cases and 278 deaths, thus introducing what became the standard statistic that tracked the course of the epidemic: number of new cases and number of deaths.  [4]

This first wave of the epidemic, milder in form than the wave that hit later in the autumn, was only mildly reported and dropped from Nevada newspapers, until June and July when the story shifted from US military bases to the Western Front where reports of an epidemic devastating the German armies started to appear in European newspapers. In June, the Carson City Appeal ran a story which was appearing in many US papers about German submarines introducing the flu into Spain. This story, one of the earliest to identify the influenza as “Spanish” predictably blamed it on the Germans. In another story the Spanish claimed that the disease was introduced from the battlefields, from the Germans who had contracted it in Russia. (The influenza pandemic of 1889-91 was thought to have originated in Russia.) These reports of the influenza epidemic were so closely entwined with the war that neither editors nor the public separated them from the general war fever and violent anti-German sentiments. It was gleefully reported in the Tonopah Bonanza in early July that the “Spanish Grippe” (grip or grippe was a colloquial name for influenza) “prostates” the hated Kaiser and his family and was prevalent in the German army.  A week later it reported that Berlin, “A City of influenza . . .took chill from the strength of the American draft”.  And the Yerington paper carried a story about the declining morale of the German army. [5]

After weeks of no reports of what was still seen as a European epidemic suddenly at the end of August stories began to appear of the epidemic reaching American shores. On August 24th the Goldfield News & Weekly Tribune reported a “strange disease attacks US sailors” which was identified as a “peculiar European disease” peculiar because it attacked young and healthy sailors, but, according to this report, the disease is not dangerous if taken in hand quickly, and (it confidently reported) “it has virtually disappeared now.”  On September 11, The Carson City Appeal reported 1000 cases in Boston, with local officials desperately trying to prevent its spread. The two daily papers, in Carson City and Tonopah now were reporting on the progress of the epidemic, to army training camps in New York and Virginia, a 40-day quarantine imposed on Mare Island naval base in California, and 100,000 quarantined at Camp Upton on Long Island. Soon the epidemic was reported spreading to naval bases at Philadelphia, Quantico and Great Lakes, from where it spread to Chicago, with 1000 reported cases. On September 24, 1918, the Carson City Appeal reported that Boston had closed its schools and all “places of amusement.” There were 10,000 cases of influenza in the nearby Camp Devens. It was the beginning of a nation-wide shut-down and quarantine. By September 26, according to a story in the Appeal, it had spread to twenty-six states, but “in most localities it was not serious.” But it was serious enough for the US Congress to pass a relief bill of $1 million on September 28 as reported by both the Appeal and the Bonanza. On September 27 the Carson City Appeal reported that the epidemic in army bases had reached the west coast, at Camp Lewis in Takoma Washington,  and that the US Adjutant General had cancelled  a train scheduled to carry recruits to Camp Lewis, on which there were to have been seventy-five men from Nevada. The same day, and no doubt from the same wire service story,  the Tonopah Bonanza reported that there were to be no more call ups for men until the epidemic was under control also noting the postponed  call for men going to Camp Lewis. [6]

By October, the Spanish Flu was approaching Nevada. On October 2, the Carson City Appeal ran on page one a “Spanish Influenza Precaution.” “There is no reason for alarm or anxiety”, its readers were advised, “but abundant reason for carefulness.” But the Appeal’s daily reports of the epidemic provided plenty of reason for alarm. On the 3rd Winslow and parts of Flagstaff Arizona were quarantined where 80 cases were reported at the State Normal School (the later Northern Arizona University). The next day its headline was “The Spanish Influenza is working its way Westward” a story that included national statistics of 175,000 cases in the US, 105,000 cases in army bases — Boston, the worst affected with 30,000 cases and New York with 6,000. Then the reports from California started to come in, all public places of amusement closed in Vallejo and Dunsmuir, 650 cases in California. The October 7th issue of the Tonopah Bonanza reported that the Nye County Board of Health had received urgent instructions from the US Health Service and the State Health Board to mobilize all medical personnel “for the purpose of combatting the epidemic of influenza which is now ravaging the east.”  “So far as known the disease has not made its presence known in the inter mountain country but the authorities believe the best way to fight a menace of that kind is to be ready with a fully organized force to meet it.” On October 11 the Carson City Appeal reported that Governor Boyle of Nevada cancelled a Liberty Bond Parade in Reno, after two deaths and a number of cases were reported in Washoe County and that the County Board of Officer had ordered the closure of all playhouses, public meeting places, churches and schools, and the university quarantined. The next day the Goldfield Tribune picked up the story from the Reno Gazette, “Spanish Influenza Reaches Reno; 3 Cases” which it buried on page 6. According to the story the closing of all churches, schools, and places of amusement would “probably take place in a very few days.” [7]

The Appeal was now running daily stories from its wire service of the epidemic’s spread across the country, with those ominous numbers of cases and deaths. The October 14 issue included reports from Arizona, Los Angeles, and San Francisco where there were now 736 cases as well at the United States Public Health Service Official Bulletin, “Uncle Sum’s Advice on the Flu. Latest Word on the Subject.” It was the first and most comprehensive statement from the United States Government about the epidemic and was published in most American newspapers. It was lengthy, and included, under a headline “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases”, an illustration of a man sneezing in a crowd with the caption, “As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells“; it filled two full columns in the Appeal. Because the epidemic was competing with the increasingly triumphant war news — the Appeal’sfront page headline proclaimed GERMANY VIRTUALLY ON KNEES, SUING FOR PEACE — most papers ran it in its back pages (it was on page 3 of the Appeal). As this was the “authoritative statement” as of October 14, 1918 it is useful source for what people who read newspapers knew about the influenza epidemic at the time: “Epidemic probably not Spanish in Origin – Germ Still Unknown – People Should Guard against “Droplet Infection” – Surgeon General Blue make Authoritative Statement.” The report is in the form of an interview with the Surgeon General who answers a series of questions. What is the Spanish Influenza, is it something new and where did it come from? begins with a brief description of the disease, “resembles a very contagious kind of ‘cold’ accompanied by fever, pains in the head, eyes, ears, back or other parts of the body and a feeling of severe sickness”. There follows a brief history of influenza epidemics in the United States going back to 1647 up to the most recent outbreak in 1889-92.  No one knew where it came from, not from Spain, maybe from the Far East. How can it be recognized? There follows a detailed list of the physical symptoms, “In appearance, one is struck by the fact that the patient looks sick . . .” What is the course of the disease? Do people die from it? The surgeon General provides an optimistic answer: after three or four days the patient ordinarily recovers. “But while the proportion of deaths in the present epidemic has generally been low, in some places the outbreak has been severe, and deaths have been numerous. When death occurs, it is usually the result of a complication.” The complication was a particularly virulent form of pneumonia which, before the discovery of antibiotics, was almost impossible to treat. What Causes the Disease and how is it spread? The theory at the time was it was caused by Pfeiffer’s bacillus, pneumococcus or streptococcus. (The actual influenza virus type, H1N1 influenza A virus, was not definitively identified until 2005 from preserved 1918 tissue samples.) The Surgeon General identified coughing and sneezing as the main vehicle of transmission. What should be done by those who catch the disease? “It is very important that every person who becomes sick with influenza should go home at once and go to bed.” Will a Person who has had influenza before catch the disease again? In a word, it appears it is possible.  How can one guard against Influenza? “In guarding against disease of all kinds, it is important that the body be kept strong and able to fight off disease germs. This can be done by having a proper proportion of work, play and rest, and by keeping the body well clothed, and by eating sufficient wholesome and properly selected food.” And avoid overcrowding. “It is especially important to beware of the person who coughs or sneezes without covering his mouth and nose.” The report was published in the Yerington, Eureka and Goldfield Saturday weekly papers on the 19th. [8]

The Carson City paper also reported optimistically, in the same October 14th issue, that Reno had the situation “well under control . . . there is no but little fear of its spread” with few cases and no deaths since previous Thursday, although there were reports of its spread into the White Pines mining District and the Ely copper mining district. The State Board of Health declared the Ely District under quarantine, threatening the critical copper industries there. [9] 

The epidemic was now front-page news. The day after printing the Surgeon General’s statement, a headline in the Appeal read “No Abatement of Influenza Epidemic” quoting recent numbers from New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. Schools were closed in Santa Barbara and Pasadena. The next day “Epidemic Growing All over the Country”. On the 16th it reached Carson City: “Stringent Resolution Is Passed. Board of Health Orders Schools, Churches, Theater and Poolroom to Close for ten days as a precaution with fifteen cases in town several patients in serious condition. Parents are advised to keep their children at home”. Two day later the Appeal reported from Sacramento, “The Whole Town is Influenza Victim” with 400 cases and 13 deaths, “depopulation is threatened.” In San Francisco church services were being held on the sidewalks and the libraries closed, and Los Angeles was quarantined. Fifteen new cases were reported in Carson City “saloon and hotel men requested not to allow any large crowds to collect in their resorts”, the courts were closed, and all grand and trial juries excused. [10]

On Saturday October 19, the state’s weeklies all ran major influenza stories. The Yerington Times ran a front-page notice “Yerington Takes Precaution” by which the City Council, acting as a Board of Health ordered all public gatherings prohibited, including churches, lodges, moving picture shows, political speaking, etc.” All saloons and pool rooms were to remove all tables and chairs “to prevent lounging in their places oi business.” Three doctors were appointed health officers “with full power to inspect places needing attention, to look into the sanitation of public buildings and to attend to the isolation of the cases and suspects. The schools will remain open for the present.” The Times further reported its spread in Utah where there were 1200 cases, but “no occasion for hysteria exists”, but “trips to Salt Lake City and other infected cites ought not to made.” With two cases in Yerington, “now is the time for care.” Readers were urged to follow the directions of the U.S. Surgeon General in his official bulletin which the paper printed in toto. The Goldfield Tribune reported national and state campaigns to combat the spread of influenza and that the number of new cases in army camps showed a slight decrease, leading army medical officials to believe that the epidemic had peaked in the army camps, although it continued to spread in the civilian population. The Carson City Appeal reported that in San Francisco all employees of hotels, restaurants, banks and department stores and barber shops have been ordered to wear influenza masks. Two days later the Appeal reported “No Abatement of Spanish Influenza” and that it was on the increase in Carson City and that the local hospital was full. Physicians in each county were now required to report the number of cases and deaths every twenty-four hours via telegraph to the Chief Surgeon of the U.S. Army. Nevada was now joining the other states in providing the daily influenza statistics that were already being reported in Nevada’s newspapers. [11]

The Spanish Influenza was now becoming a local story in Nevada newspapers. The Appeal’s front page story on October 22 was “But Little Change in the Influenza Situation in this City”; according to city health officials there were only a couple of well-defined cases in the past 24 hours, there were cases of colds and “grippe” where patients “have gone to their beds but have not yet developed symptoms . . .  many patients from outlying districts but all are said to be on the mend . . With the improved climactic conditions, the medical fraternity is hopeful that the worst is over.” But city officials remained vigilant, “At a meeting of the police judges this morning it was agreed to pass a three months jail sentence on anyone found guilty of expectorating on the sidewalks.”  

In its October 23 issue the Carson City Appeal ran one of the first stories to address and assess the full impact of the Spanish Influenza epidemic, couched, not surprisingly, in the context and language of the war, which was now clearly nearing its end.  “Influenza Claims More Victims than War.” – “Hun bullets, poison gas, liquid fire and shrapnel have not succeeded in killing as many Americans since the beginning of the war as the Spanish Influenza germ has since September 14.” American war deaths numbered 13,645, 20,000 deaths from flu.” Meanwhile the Governor of Nevada, on the advice of the Mayor of Reno ordered all trains on the borders of Nevada should be screened, agents to be appointed in Elko, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento to stop the further spread in Nevada. That day there were no new cases in Carson City, but on the next day there was an alarming increase of cases in San Francisco, as well as new cases in Carson. City officials were considering additional means to control the epidemic, the local Red Cross was making masks, and “the situation is getting beyond the control of local physicians and the local hospitals” as arrangements were being made for additional facilities. [12]

One might sympathize with readers who may have been confused by the often conflicting or inconsistent stories. On the same page there may have been an alarming story from the national news wire about severe outbreaks across the country while in the next column readers were being assured that there was no cause for concern because there were no cases in their town, only to read the next day that there were cases in their town and the health officials were considering shutting all public places. Stories would report the decline of the disease in one city or army camp only to report its increase in another place.  It was the nature of news reporting and reflects the disparate sources from which newspaper editors culled their content. There was little heed to presenting news in any coherent or consistent way. 

As the epidemic seeped into Nevada towns, it became personal. Lists of prominent residents who had fallen sick began to appear as a regular column. Reports of local outbreaks in neighboring ranches where entire families were stricken leaving young children to care for dying parents became common. In Yerington, where its newly created health department had already taken “drastic measures” a good-faith attempt by local Indian agents to protect the local Paiutes by sequestering them in the reservation, caused consternation among the local potato ranchers who relied on Paiute labor to dig the potatoes. “The Flu in Yerington” story reported “no alarming developments, a strict quarantine is being maintained”, but “The news from outside is so bad that everyone is hoping to be spared like trouble.” [13]

On the same day that Yerington papers reported its strict quarantine, the Eureka Sentinel’s front page headline was “Influenza Attacks Pine Valley Residents Fatally — Alarming conditions as developed there occasion immediate action to prevent spread of the disease in Eureka County, County Health officer closes schools (except remote districts) moving pictures, dances, political meetings or public gatherings in the Eureka Theater. All chairs and tables have been removed from saloons, and gambling and all games stopped.” Like many Nevada towns Eureka was reluctant to totally close down saloons, relying instead on removing tables and chairs to prevent “congregating”.  Suggestions were offered to keep the epidemic under control: “Look with suspicion upon all persons coming from outside communities as possible carriers of infection even though they present no symptoms. They should not be allowed to associate indiscriminately with the local population. Let them transact their business and move on. All trains coming into Eureka will be carefully watched. Wear masks. Let no one sneeze or cough in your direction.” The city also took measures to protect voters in the upcoming election. A special notice “Sanitary Polling Places” was published in the November 2 issue, that the Health Department was arranging to have the polling places “strictly sanitary” to prevent the spread of disease. “The hall used for voting purposes will be thoroughly disinfected; the members of the election board will be furnished with masks; and every voter is requested to secure his ballot, cast his vote, and leave the room as quickly as possible. Spitting on the floors or within the polling places is absolutely forbidden.” [14]

Farther south in Goldfield, yet to be touched by the epidemic, the Tribune reported cases in Death Valley Junction, to the south of Goldfield, where a brakeman on the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad had recently died. The Tribune also reported via the Pioche Record that Democratic candidates Senator Henderson and Governor Boyle were unable to enter Pioche for a political rally owing to the epidemic. A few days later the Carson City Appeal cited another report from the Pioche Record of five deaths in Pioche and a general quarantine, as well as 23 cases in nearby Dayton “mostly in the Italian population”. A local Carson City merchant placed a notice in the Appeal that “positively no goods exchanged or sent on approval during the present epidemic.” On Thursday October 31, the Appeal reported 15 cases in Carson City, and, citing the Goldfield Tribune (which would not be published until Saturday November 2) the first case in Goldfield was reported the previous Tuesday, and schools were closed, public meetings banned, and the wearing of masks ordered. Here is an interesting case of the Tribune editor sharing information with the editor of the Appeal, before it was published in Goldfield. The full story ran in the Goldfield Tribune’s next issueon November 2nd in the back pages of its Saturday weekly edition. There were three cases in Goldfield, the county commission passed an ordinance requiring the wearing of masks “wherever two or more persons are liable to congregate, and persons violating it will be arrested and tried on a misdemeanor charge. In general, the ordinance means that masks must be worn on the streets, in business houses and in homes and violations will be severely punished. Per the city Health Officer Dr. McCarthy, the Lyric Theater will close after tonight and no one allowed to attend the dance to be given that night for the people from Fish Lake Valley unless wearing a mask.” Dr. McCarthy himself set the fashion by sporting a mask. “He looked well”.  While stocks of gauze were low, masks need not be made of gauze, McCarthy added, ”even if it were necessary for a man to cut up his best shirt, the best thing to do will be to secure a mask of some kind in a hurry.” The Red Cross was making masks as quickly as possible and starting on Monday all school children and teachers would be compelled to wear masks. There also started to appear reports of the deaths of prominent local residents, Charles Mauer, a claims adjustor for the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad and “prominent in the Elks and Odd Fellows” died in San Francisco of the Influenza, and Jonnie Morrison a popular local prize-fighter died in an army hospital in Hoboken, New Jersey before he was to ship for France. But, at the same time, it was reported that the epidemic was subsiding in many parts of the country. [15]

While the daily Carson City paper now ran a regular column “With the Sick” listing local residents who had contracted influenza, the weeklies were beginning to fill columns with stories of the spread of the epidemic across the state. The November 9th issue of the Las Vegas Age is the first extant issue of that paper since the beginning of the epidemic. “Influenza situation becomes more serious” was the report from Las Vegas, with 125 cases in the city, twelve deaths in the past week, people required to wear masks and the city arranging for temporary hospital facilities in the High School. And quoting the Goldfield Tribune, while the State Board of Health was reporting situation in general was greatly improved, conditions in southern counties of Nye and Lincoln were still bad. The epidemic was declining rapidly in the northern part of the state with few cases in Carson City “where the disease has been particularly severe.” [16]

The Age ran a lengthy notice by Dr. Roy Martin the City Health Officer “How you can Help the Health Department Control the Epidemic” “We are in the midst of an influenza epidemic which has been sweeping the country for several weeks. It must be controlled, or a great loss of life will result. The public must cooperate and observe the regulations of the Health Department or little will be accomplished. If you do your duty you will have but littler to fear. See to it that the following regulations are observed to the letter.” There follows a list of the very familiar do’s and don’ts. “Assist in preventing gatherings and crowds. Insist on isolation of people with symptoms of influenza. Demand that all people who care for influenza cases wear masks. Save all possible energy, thus avoiding fatigue, save energies for necessaries. Brush your teeth, gargle you throat, and spray your nose with antiseptic solution. Remember that people can carry influenza for several days after they think they are well. Do not stand close to or directly in front of one while talking. We respectfully urge every person to wear a mask as required by the order of the City Commissioners. The wearing of masks has proven in army camps and other places to be beneficial in restricting the spread of influenza. Let us benefit by willingly entering into this public duty without being forced. (there follow detailed instructions for making a mask) The success of this campaign against influenza depends upon your co-operation. Intelligent people will – others MUST cooperate. We ask your assistance in enforcing the regulations.” [17]

On the same day, the Yerington Times reported that the epidemic was under control, but that care was still needed, and all the schools in Lyon County were closed. The city and county together rented the Reno Lodging House in Yerington as a hospital for $10 a day: the patients paid the room rent and the city and county paid the remainder. In Eureka, the Sentinel’s column, “The Influenza Situation” reported “The Reoccurrence of the disease in Eureka County and adjacent Sections Cause Stringent Measures to be Taken to Prevent its Spread”. In mid-week, according to the story, when it was thought that the epidemic was under control and when people were starting to assemble and meet together, apparently paying little heed to the instructions of the County Health office forbidding public gathering as a precaution against the spread of the disease, it was decided to reopen the schools and rescind the instructions regarding the meeting together of people in public places. The Eureka Theater had also been notified that it could reopen, and a particular show and dance had been arranged for Friday evening. Thursday afternoon and evening reports were received in Eureka that the disease was again spreading in an alarming way  in the north and western portions of Eureka County and in Elko County, where a number of patients had been violently attacked and several deaths occurred. In view of these conditions, the County Council of Defense took steps that evening toward again guarding against the disease and requested that the Trustees again close schools. The county health officer was asked by the council to notify saloons to close their places of business by noon Friday. The schools and saloons were closed as ordered, and the moving picture show and dance called off. “The cooperation of the people is urgently requested in all measures”. [18]

That same Saturday, November 9th, the Goldfield Tribune ran the same report that ran in that day’s issue of the Las Vegas Age about the influenza situation in the state adding their local news of fifteen deaths in Tonopah and one in Goldfield and announcing strict new health rules “to Guard Goldfield”: schools and churches closed, saloons made “chairless” and card games prohibited. In neighboring Tonopah the Elks Hall was converted into a hospital with 20 beds and in the Knights of Columbus Hall space for 75 beds were placed at the disposal of doctors (an interesting comparison of the relative sizes of the assembly halls of these two fraternal organizations, the Knights being an organization of Roman Catholic men). It was also noted that a large percentage of the cases were among the Mexican and Indian populations, “the Mexicans who take no precautions”. [19]

As the influenza continued to spread and claim lives the enforcement of health restrictions and regulations became a more pressing public issue, epitomized by the regulations about the wearing of masks. Some editors such as L.V. Ricketts of the Goldfield Tribune and former editor of the Reno Gazette made it a personal campaign. On his editorial page on November 16, (mostly filled with the story of the election to Congress of an avowed socialist whose platform had been declared seditious) filling the last column on the page headed, “some Criminal Carelessness” Ricketts, citing a Scientific American article drawing an analogy to the Yellow Fever pandemic,  proceeded to castigate US Port authorities who through carelessness allowed the Spanish Fu epidemic to enter the United States via infected passengers on foreign ships. “Goldfield has suffered but lightly so far,” he warned his readers, “but that is no reason to relax our vigilance. Tonopah has had twenty-nine deaths. Ten thousand preventatives have been suggested and nobody cares how many of them you use as long as you comply with the regulations the authorities have prescribed. And those regulations tell you to wear a mask in the presence of others, not under your chin nor under your nose but over your mouth and over your nose. And while you are observing the law just keep in mind that you have a right to demand that others observe it. And don’t be afraid to assert your right. The individual who hasn’t respect enough for others to avoid exposing them to danger hasn’t any feelings that are worth respecting. Don’t be afraid of hurting them.” “Does this Mean You?” Ricketts continued, “In many cities where individuals were indifferent, they have been arrested and fined. In other instances, the people have taken the punishment in their own hands, and in those cases the penalties were not limited to fines. We have already lost more men by influenza than we have lost by the war, and most of those losses were unnecessary. If the editor of the Tribune felt that he had, through carelessness or neglect spread contagion and caused death he would believe himself a murderer and properly subject to trial as such.  Any employer who will needlessly, or for profit, expose his employees to contagion, is a criminal and should be treated and regarded as such. The Tribune will not ask nor knowingly permit any of its employees to wait upon any customer who does not comply strictly with the orders of the health authorities in relation to the wearing of masks, and for their protection and for that of the public it respectfully asks that no patron enter the office without a mask properly worn” Ricketts then offered to print placards for display in any place of business free of charge to assist in enforcing the rule.  “Observe the law and see that others do.”  And as a final dire warning there was the story of the miner in Tonopah who took off his mask in a saloon after being warned, and died the next day.  [20]

As the stories from the national news wires seemed to confirm that the Spanish Influenza was indeed on the wane in much of the country, we can appreciate the skepticism of the public to the conflicting and sometimes contradictory local reporting about, and official responses to the epidemic that now seemed to be slipping into some areas previously unaffected while disappearing in others. Not surprisingly city and county officials were themselves uncertain how long to maintain quarantines as they watched the numbers of new cases in their respective jurisdictions rise and fall and rise again. 

By mid-November reports were starting to appear of the apparent abatement of the epidemic. The Carson City Appeal reported that the quarantine of Camp Lewis in Takoma was lifted and that the wearing of masks was to be abandoned in San Francisco, where, “Influenza is about to abdicate” and schools, churches, theaters and movie houses re-opened.  The optimistic editor of the Yerington Times reported on November 16 that Influenza was “on the wane”, that control of the epidemic had been perfected, the order to wear masks rescinded, and places of worship and entertainment have reopened and the schools to reopen the following Monday. But only a few days later, and before the weekly Yerington Times went to press, the Carson City Appeal reported that there were new cases in Virginia City and Yerington and the schools had been closed, as they were in Reno, although the Health Board in Reno had announced that the epidemic had passed in that city, despite protests from citizens against the reopening of theaters and cafes. And in Tonopah, again as reported in the Appeal, undertakers had reported 39 deaths since October 31. [21]

In his weekly edition of November 23, the editor of the Yerington Times had lost some of his optimism about the epidemic. “Death Summons Three” was a headline in the middle of his front page; “Much sickness in Town” with a list of the sick. The state news was also foreboding; almost all the schools in Nevada were now closed, the schools in Reno which had recently reopened, were now closed. In Ely, McGill, Ruth and Kimberly, the disease has reached an alarming condition and Tonopah reports many new cases. “Health officers make it plain that desperate chances are being taken here through lack of proper restrictions being observed.”  The frustrated health officer in Eureka stated to the County Council of Defense that because people were still congregating and ignoring all the restrictions, he advised lifting the ban on schools and moving pictures altogether because everyone was already exposed. The School Trustees, notwithstanding his sarcastic advice, decided to keep the schools closed for another week while the Eureka Theater was still undecided whether or not to reopen. A week later the paper announced that “the Influenza is Now in Eureka” with seven confirmed cases in town others reported in the outlying district. The Spanish Hotel was quarantined, and the District Court postponed. The same day the Yerington Times noted, “It is to be regretted that influenza is still prevalent in our community.” it was hoped that the wearing of masks will improve the situation. In Goldfield teachers would not be returning to work with no definite date when the schools would reopen. [22]

By early December, the Spanish Influenza seemed to be retreating. Again. Virginia City and Carson City were reporting no new cases, and, according to the Appeal the Flu was under control there although Reno, which had reopened earlier than most places, was still “In Throes”. The quarantine in Carson and Virginia City were still in effect “so there will be no reoccurrence as has happened in Reno, Elko, and other places.” Eureka reported that the disease in its most current outbreak was not “the violent form” and was not spreading as quickly as before, the quarantine of the Spanish Hotel was lifted, although the situation in Lovelock and Battle Mountain was very serious and exacerbated by a shortage of nurses, according to urgent telegrams. But farther south in Goldfield the situation was still uncertain. In his December 14 edition, the editor of the Tribune again issued stern warning about Goldfield dropping its guard.” Flu ordinances will be enforced. — as other places have suffered where preventative measures have been relaxed so too Goldfield is suffering now as a result of carelessness.” Eight new cases have appeared in the past few days, so the opening of the schools was postponed until the New Year. “Again, enforce mask ordinances, arrests will surely be made.” And the editor added that people should wash their masks and replace them “when they get so raggedly that they are nothing short of a disgrace — Influenza has gained a second hold on the town and will reach epidemic stage if drastic action is not taken.” [23]

The outbreaks of what was clearly a milder form of the Spanish Influenza (the virus mutated as it passed through the population, but at the time its pathology was still unknown) provided some basis for optimism but also presented the same uncertainties especially around the issue of reopening schools. The Eureka Sentinel in its December 14 edition reported a continued spread of a few new cases a day, it was thought by some to be in check, with all patients getting on well, no dangerous cases. “It is conceded that the influenza disease here is in a mild form” but the schools were ordered closed for another week, and all possible precautions against the disease should be taken, “a recrudescence of the disease now tends to occur more frequently around school children.”  In Carson City officials debated whether or not to keep the schools closed “now that the flu has reappeared” after having decided to open but to limit the winter break to Christmas and New Year’s Days. “It seems useless to close the schools and allow the picture show to remain open and the children to play about the streets.” In Eureka, the District Court was again postponed as the flu there continued to spread at the same rate. There was a shortage of sheepherders and that week the first death was reported in Eureka, “a young woman of the restricted district known as Pansy Ellis, a resident of a year, real name Mrs. Charles Burkell, 33, from Georgia.” [24]

The medical profession throughout the epidemic was baffled by its cause and uncertain as to its treatment. And in the absence of hard medical facts and information, the public was susceptible to claims of the “popular medicine” of home remedies and tonics.  The US Health Service issued warnings about so-called flu “vaccines” that have been found to do more harm than good, referring to “exaggerated and misleading statements that have appeared in the public press” “There is as yet no specific cure for influenza” and chief reliance should be placed on “fresh air, nutritious food, plenty of water, cheerful surroundings and good nursing.” For a public afflicted, to judge by the advertisements that filled the newspapers, with chronic constipation, persistent dyspepsia, bad breath, back ache, hair loss, and depression (and women from nervousness, “the blues” and worry), it is not surprising that advertisements for standard home remedies should make claims for their effective relief of the well-publicized flu symptoms.  Some of these advertisements borrowed the appearance, language and advice of official public health announcements. A two-column article on page 7 in the November 2, 1918 Yerington Times had the headline “Spanish Influenza – What it is and how it should be Treated”.  It reproduced parts of the Surgeon General’s report and advice of the previous October with an additional new section dedicated to “External Applications” – “In order to stimulate the lining of the air passages to throw off the grippe germs, to aid in the loosening of phlegm and keeping the air passages open thus making breathing easier, Vick’s VapoRub will be found effective.”  And in the section, “Keep free from Colds” the advice was “Use Vick’s VapoRub at the very first signs of a cold.” Vick’s, a combination of menthol, camphor and eucalyptus was the discovery of a North Carolina druggist, and in 1918 was only at the beginning of a national marketing and distribution campaign which would eventually make it a household name.  A campaign boosted by the pandemic, and in fact by November 16 it was reported (in an ad) as being “oversold”. [25]

A couple of weeks later the Times ran a column on page 3 entitled “Health Talk” by Dr. Lee H. Lee. After introducing the “old enemy” influenza Dr. Lee advised, “If we keep the system in good condition and throw off the poisons which tend to accumulate within our bodies, we can escape the disease.” Further homey advice followed “Remember these three C’s – a clean mouth, a clean skin, clean bowels.” Dr. Lee suggested the use of Dr. Pierce’s “Pleasant Pellets” made from May-apple, leaves of aloe, and root of julap “to carry off poisons and keep the bowels loose”;  Anuric tablets “to flush the bladder and cleanse the kidneys”, and after an attack of influenza (or that debilitating regimen of purgatives)  an iron tonic, “Ironic” Tablets to “build up the system” or the well-known tonic, Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery for “impure and impoverished blood.” All discovered by the amazing Dr. Pierce and now available at the local drugstore.  The next week again in the Yerington Times Dr. Pierce’s wonder drugs were advertised this time in a column “How to Fight Spanish Influenza” by Dr. L.W. Bowker, and the following week a Doctor M. Cook advised in an article entitled, “Spanish Influenza: Do not Fear When Fighting a German or a Germ! – The cool fighter always wins and so there is no need to become panic stricken. Avoid fear and crowds. Exercise in the fresh air and practice the three C’s” etc. etc. and, of course, buy Dr. Pierce’s wonder drugs and “Golden Medical Discovery.” And we learn that “Acid-Stomach victims are sickly, weak, unfit, depressed” (symptoms more of the Spanish Influenza than heart burn) and relieved by Eatonic tablets. And, finally, we are asked, “After the Grip What?” “Did it leave you weak, low in spirits and vitality? Influenza is a catarrhal disease, and after you recover from the acute stage much of the catarrh is left. This and your weakness invite further attacks. The Tonic Needed in Peruna”. [26]

By the end of December, the worst of the epidemic had run its course in Nevada. In the December 28 edition the Goldfield Tribune announced,” Last flu bug defeated in Goldfield.” The Lyric Theater had reopened, and the schools would reopen in the New Year. “And if “we” see a “flu” bug “we” will swat it, because Goldfield without even a picture show running is – well, it’s bad enough . . . “. And, the same day in Eureka Sentinel reported that the schools would reopen the first of the year, and the Eureka Theater was permitted to reopen. Schools, churches, and theaters were the centers of town life (and saloons), and their closing and reopening signaled the beginning and end of the crisis. The many mentions of the “movie houses” and “moving pictures” often with a dance afterward is proof of how popular Hollywood’s silent movies had become by 1918 even in rural Nevada. They were major social events where people gathered for a night out and as the editor of the Goldfield Bonanza pointed out, without a picture show running what was there to do? The week after reporting that the Eureka Theater was reopening the Sentinel reported that conditions in the town were “wonderfully improved, business and social conditions will soon be back to normal.” However due to the non-arrival of Friday’s train which was carrying the film scheduled to be shown in the theater opening night, the reopening had to be postponed. “the picture will be shown this (Saturday) night and the play “The Lily and the Rose” (a 1915 silent film starring Lilian Gish) and one comic reel will be presented. On Sunday night, January 5, the play “Market of Vain Desires” (a 1916 film starring H.B. Williams and Clara Williams) and one reel of comics. The next week’s edition reported the theater’s successful reopening on January 4 for three evening performances “to fair houses . . . On Friday, a social dance followed the pictures, the first in about three months and those participating had a jolly time.” Besides this entertainment news, it was reported that the schools would reopen January 6 for one week and if attendance dropped below 50% they would close again. The janitor was instructed to build fires throughout the buildings. It was also noted that most schools in Nevada were reopening except in Tonopah where the flu was still spreading. According to the Tonopah Bonanza the “second visit” of the flu (30 cases in 4 days) was “extremely grave” although it was “the lighter form”. A ban was placed on all public gatherings, theaters, lodges, churches. “Light drink establishments” were ordered to remove all tables and chairs. (Nevada had passed its own prohibition legislation in December 1918, a month before the 18th amendment was ratified). On January 4th, the Las Vegas Age reported that the influenza situation “very satisfactory”. In the Moapa Valley where it had broken out the previous week “with considerable violence” the cases were all doing well. “The epidemic has practically run its course.” [27]

As the crisis receded and life slowly returned to normal there was time for a certain amount of recovery and reflection on the impact of the epidemic. The Carson City Appeal in February 1919 in its editorial summarized a report by the chief actuary of the New York Life Insurance Company on the death toll of the Spanish Influenza. “Everything considered, Spanish Influenza has been the most virulent and mysterious visitation that has ever afflicted the modern world. It has had all the aspects of the mediaeval plague. Before the end of its second decade the twentieth century has had to endure not only the most destructive war in all history, but also one of the most disastrous of epidemics.” In March, the Yerington Times carried a national report of the total death count from the Spanish Influenza: 6,000,000 world-wide, 400,000 in the United States. (More recent estimates exceed 30,000,000 world-wide). [28]

The war saw a boom in the languishing Nevada mining industry that was now supplying the chemicals and ore for war production.  Nevada newspapers, not surprisingly boosters of their respective mining districts, devoted much front page news to optimistic reports of new mining development. But the influenza epidemic hit mining districts hard, and while not widely reported the effects on production could not be totally ignored. In late November 1918, the Goldfield Tribune carefully reported that copper production was lagging due to the flu and the shortage of men due to the flu in the Tonopah District had caused “temporary diminution in the amount of development.”  In the reports of the various Tonopah mining companies published on the front page, it was noted that while the Tonopah Mining Company (the largest mining company in the district)  reported lower profits “This is gratifying showing when one considers the serious handicaps against which the company has had to contend during the last month or six weeks since the influenza appeared with its harassments and unavoidable labor shortages, which of necessity caused a falling off in mines production and other damaging embarrassments.” In early December, the Eureka Sentinel reported that the Nye County Defense Council had notified the Federal Industrial Commission that 100 men can be given employment immediately at local mines. “There is not a property in the camp that has not suffered from a shortage of labor, so that when the influenza struck there the mines sustained a solar plexus which was quickly reflected in their reduced tonnage. And in Lincoln County, the Pioche Record reported cryptically in February 1919 that John R. Cook had resumed operations in the Yuba East Group, owned by Mascot Mining Company, with a small force, which will be increased in the near future. Work at the mine ceased some time ago owing to the influenza epidemic.”  It was one of the largest mining operations in the county. With the end of the war and with it the demand for Nevada’s mineral deposits, mining in most of Nevada collapsed pushing the state into a post-war depression. [29]

In Goldfield teachers volunteered for half-day Saturdays for the rest of the school year and to teach an additional week to make up for the school time lost. In Carson City a legislative bill was prepared that would give the State Board of Health “such power that is enacted it would prevent any future epidemic.” In Yerington, in a case brought by theater owners and the Church of Christ Scientist, the Superior Court upheld the recent city ordinances closing theaters. (Similar Court decisions upholding local public health restrictions were handed down across the country.) The Austin Reveille reporting “no sickness, not a single case” boasted that Austin had passed through the epidemic without a single death, that is not a single death “among the white population . . . though Indians, through lack of proper shelter and care, suffered severely.” The acute susceptibility of Native Americans to the Influenza epidemic was starkly reported in an AP story from Salt Lake City picked up by the Tonopah Bonanza on January 22, 1919, “Utah Indians Decimated by Ravages of Influenza. . . The scourge is said to have caused the death of at least 2000 of the different tribesmen on a part of the Navajo reservation in southern Utah and Arizona.” Other Utah tribes were affected including the Uinta, Uncompaghre, Willow Creek and Bitter Creek Utes. According to state health officials, “it is feared that one or two small tribes may have been wiped out entirely.” A story “Ghastly spectacle” that appeared in both the Yerington Times in February  and the Pioche Record in March, 1920, reported that every inhabitant of a Piute Indian village in Inyo county, California near Dyer, Nevada has been stricken by the influenza, according to a report brought by rural mail carrier. “He said that here had been more than 100 deaths and none had received medical attention.” The Spanish Influenza in its later phases was to have similar horrific effect on aboriginal peoples from the Innuit in Alaska to the various South Pacific Islanders as did earlier European epidemics of smallpox and measles. [30]

Through February and March 1919 sporadic outbreaks of the flu occurred but as the Pioche Record reported about outbreaks in Lincoln county “authorities are making no efforts to enforce quarantine” noting that the reports were “perhaps exaggerated, all cases are the mild form.” There was still flu, “not THE influenza, but plain grippe”. In other parts of the country, particularly San Francisco, and sections of the east coast, influenza continued to disrupt the return to normal. Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts was forced to close after students returned from the Christmas break and the University of California at Berkeley postponed its scheduled January reopening for two weeks. Because the influenza virus lingered another outbreak of the magnitude of the 1918 epidemic was feared and by some medical authorities predicted. In early September the Commissioner of Health for New York City Dr. Royal S. Copeland speaking to the United Press stated that an “minor flu epidemic” was practically inevitable throughout America in the fall, citing the two-year flu cycle of the last great influenza epidemic of 1890 and 1891. Dr. Copeland predicted that the epidemic would be much lighter than the previous year, adding that the number of people already affected would provide added immunity in a future epidemic. Hi fear was that the epidemic would attack another age group pointing out the “Seventy per cent of last year’s victims were between the ages of 15 and 45 due, he added, to the fact of so many men were congregated in army training camps. That the Spanish Flu proved so deadly to what would have seemed the healthiest section of the population continued to confound the medical profession. When asked what could be done to prepare for the epidemic the doctor replied with the standard medical advice of the day, out of door life, sleeping with the windows open, exercise, sensible food and avoiding those who have influenza. He also criticized some of the efforts taken in 1918 to curb the spread of influenza. “Mask are no good, it has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of scientists,” he pronounced, “We are old fashioned here. We do not believe in closing schools or churches. We did everything unconventional here in 1918 and had the lowest death rate of all.” He in fact blamed the high death rate in San Francisco to the wearing of masks, “the masks are filthy, prevent the patient from getting good air and cause him to re-breathe bad breath.” “Above all,” old fashioned Dr. Copeland advised, “let’s not get excited.” Everyone should “keep his equanimity, piety and occupation.” [31]

T.D. Vandervort, the editor of the Carson City Appeal offered his own advice for facing an impending epidemic in his editorial “Do your part to prevent an Influenza Epidemic”. “People everywhere are disinclined to discuss disagreeable subjects. They prefer not to think of epidemics. We believe, however, that now is the time when most serious attention should be given to the probable recurrence of an influenza spread as the weather becomes cooler. The influenza tragedy in the United States last fall can never be pictured in all its horror. It came in the midst of war when the terribleness of death was neutralized by the dispatches telling of our men being killed abroad. Brave men and women battled the disease here and buried the dead with steeled hearts.” Here he inserts a critique of Congress,” as usual that body has frittered away its time playing politics” “If anything is done to prevent an epidemic, the people, in cooperation with local health officials must do it. A great deal rests upon the people.” There follows the oft-repeated advice for preventing the spread of influenza. “Let each one of us show an interest in the life of our fellow beings by doing these simple things. Influenza is tragic; the sneeze is no longer a joking matter, but a forerunner of death. However unpleasant this editorial may be, attention to what it says may bring happier days for those who take seriously the simple suggestions that have been made.” [32]

The U.S. Health Service published an official report in October on the probability of a recurrence of the epidemic with suggested preventative measures. It in many aspects it stated what other health officials, such as Dr. Copeland in New York had already suggested: that an recurrence was probable, but by no means certain; that it would be milder in form than the previous year; that previous infection would bring immunity, and that while there was no positive preventative or vaccine, the enforcement of sanitation and the avoidance of personal contact were necessary precautions. It was now certain that the disease was transmitted from person to person, “Moreover, judging from experience in other diseases, it is probable that the germ, whatever its nature, is carried about not only by those who are ill with influenza, but by persons who may be entirely well.” Studies had also disproved initial theories that the Spanish Influenza had been newly imported from abroad, but had been endemic in the United States prior to its severe outbreak in the east coast in September, with a significant rise in mortality rates in some midwestern states as early as March and April. (The true origin of the pandemic remains unknown).  There was also now conclusive evidence of the relationship between the influenza and severe pneumonia that was the immediate cause of most deaths. (Modern medical research has now identified the cause of death to be cytokine storms – an overreaction of the immune system, hence its surprisingly high mortality among young healthy people.) The report concluded that based on the history of previous influenza epidemics, the Spanish Influenza may resurge again, but the fact of its severity over the course of three distinct phases, “there was the hope, if not the conclusion”, that it had, in fact, runs its course already. It had, in fact, run its course, and the deadly Spanish Influenza strain would disappear as mysteriously as it had first appeared. [33]

Most papers reported the announcement in October of exhaustive research on the causes and effects of the Spanish Influenza conducted at Harvard, and other health organizations joined the quest in search of the identity of the Spanish Influenza “germ” and the cause of its outbreak, but as the nation moved on into an exuberant if uncertain peace, the interest in, and funding for research into the Spanish Influenza waned.  The Yerington Times picked up a story from Leslie’s Magazine in London ascribing the cause to the spread of poison gas and an advertisement for Vick’s VapoRub, announcing the Vick’s VapoRub shortage overcome at last with production of one million jars a day, also modestly suggested that the thanks of the public were due to the drug trade during the influenza epidemic.  But according to T.D. Van DeVort the editor of the Carson City Appeal, it was a war waged between good germs and bad germs to be won by healthy living.

“When science starts out to find out the cause and cure of the disease every theory is exhausted by experiment until the right one is found. And some of those experiments are in the vaguest possible suggestion. Now while we are awaiting congress to make the proper appropriation that science may determine the cause and prevention of influenza, let us, everyone, try a little experiment of our own. Let us try to help ourselves. The experiment will involve no danger, no research, no expense, no appropriation. It is not known, of course, that we will have another epidemic next winter. But our experience with it last winter in suffering and death is enough to lead us to every precaution.  While many suffered, many died – far more than our losses in the world war – and all were exposed to the disease, yet it is clear that most persons, a very majority, remained in a normal state of health throughout the epidemic. If this is true, then there must be a reason why these did not suffer the disease. The reason, no doubt, is in the fact that those who did not succumb were in a general state of health high enough to resist the disease germ. Let us, every one of us, begin now to improve our general health and in order to resist the germs in the event of a reoccurrence of the flu epidemic this coming winter. Let us sleep with the windows open. Drink a glass of water for every waking hour. Eat less of concentrated foods and more of fruits and vegetables and keep just a little on the hungry side of our appetites. Keep clean inside and out. While the relief of constipation is in the drug store, yet its prevention and cure is in the orchard and garden. Let us at least walk a part way to and from work, and keep in the open on Sundays. Practice deep breathing in the open. Do not read the symptoms of influenza – leave this to the doctors. Let us not get frightened at the first of those symptoms which we may happen to know. The fear of the disease weakens the resistance to the disease – any doctor will tell you that. Let us not get angry nor entertain resentments toward anyone: for anger and hate create poisonous toxins in the body and lead to the lowering of the general health. Some of these suggestions may be foolish, but as stated in the beginning, some of the experiments of science may be on the vaguest possible theory.  Anyhow we think that the medical profession will approve of most of these suggestions as a matter of general principle. Health or disease is a matter of battle between good germs and bad germs in the body, and let us create and build up good germs for a possible battle with the influenza germs next winter.” [34]

In January and February 1920, the United States experienced the last gasp of the Spanish Influenza. In February the County Health Officer in Eureka county reported that the influenza epidemic was mild in the county, but added, “It is estimated that the influenza epidemic will run its course in this country in about 4 years, growing milder each year.” While influenza, with an ever-changing arsenal of viruses, still continues in seasonal cycles, the deadly Spanish Influenza virus had run its course by 1920, as mysterious in its departure as its appearance. In January 1920 Sir George Newman, chief medical officer of the British Health Ministry Official admitted to an international conference in London that “the most mysterious disease germ of the ages – the influenza bacillus – has defeated the world’s greatest scientists.” [35]

[1] Modern estimates vary from 15-50 million which can only be guesses given the lacking or reliable reporting from many countries. The best modern accounts of the Spanish Influenza epidemic are Alfred W. Crosby, America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. Cambridge University Press; 2nd ed. 2003 (revised edition of Epidemic and Peace, Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut, 1976.) Laura Spinney, Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World, PublicAffairs, 2017. The title Pale Rider derives from the Katherine Ann Porter novella of the same title, one of few examples in American literature that addressed the impact of the epidemic. The Library of Congress, Chronicling America, 

[2] Not all Nevada newspapers selected and digitized for this project have as of this date been uploaded to the Chronicling America site. A complete list of Nevada newspapers included in the project can be found at the Nevada Digital Newspaper project website  The current list of digitized Nevada newspapers accessible on the Chronicling America site can be found at  All newspapers cited were accessed in August 2020.

[3] The Eureka Sentinel, October 5, 1918. p. 3; November 9, 1918. p.3

[4] The Okolona (Mississippi) Messenger, January 2, 1918. p.2 in a general warning from the US Health Service about the danger of tuberculosis as an after effect of influenza; Tonopah Daily Bonanza, January 5, 1918; Carson City Daily Appeal, January 28, 1918. p.4 Tonopah Daily Bonanza, April 12, 1918. p1; April 25, 1918. p.1  One modern medical theory has seen the “shipping fever” among animals on the war front as possibly passing over to the troops as the Spanish Influenza. Haalboom, F., “ ‘Spanish’ flu and army horses: what historians and biologists can learn from a history of animals with flu during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Stadium, 7(3), pp.124-139. DOI: / Others have theorized that it was avian in origin.

[5] Carson City Daily Appeal, June 5, 1918. p.1;  July 17, 1918. p.2 ; Tonopah Daily Bonanza, July 10, 1918. p.1; July 16, 1918. P.2; Yerington Times, July 20, 1918. p.2

[6] The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, August 24, 1918. p.8; Carson City Daily Appeal, September 11, 1918. p.1; Tonopah Daily Bonanza, September 20, 1918. p.1c; September 21, 1918. p. 1; Carson City Daily Appeal, September 24, 1918. p.1; September 25, 1918. p.4; September 26, 1918. p.1; September 27, 1918. p.1; Tonopah Daily Bonanza, September 27, 1918. p.4

[7] Carson City Daily Appeal, October 2, 1918. p.1 October 3, 1918. p.1; October 4, 1918. p.1; Tonopah Daily Bonanza, October 7, 1918. p.4; Carson City Daily Appeal, October 11, 1918. pp. 1 ,4; The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, October 12, 1918. p.6

[8] Carson City Daily Appeal, October 14, 1918. p.3; Yerington Times, October 19, 1918. p.5; The Eureka Sentinel, October 19, 1918. p.1; The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, October 19, 1918. p. 6

[9] Carson City Daily Appeal, October 14, 1918. p.4

[10] Carson City Daily Appeal, October 15, 1918. p.1; October 16, 1918. p.1; October 18, 1918. p.4

[11] Yerington Times, October 19, 1918. p.1,  3, 4, 7 ; The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, October 19, 1918. p.2  p.5; Carson City Daily Appeal, October 19, 1918. p.1; October 21,1918. p. 1 ;p.4

[12] Carson City Daily Appeal, October 22, 1918. p.1; October 23, 1918. p.1; October 24, 1918. p.1

[13] Yerington Times, October 26, 1918. pp. 1, 2, 6, 8

[14] The Eureka Sentinel, October 26, 1918. pp. 1, 3; November 2, 1918. p. 2

[15] The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, October 26, 1918. p.5; Carson City Daily Appeal, October 28, 1918. pp.1 , 4; October 30, 1918. p.4; October 31, 1918. p.1; The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, November 2, 1918. pp. 3,5

[16] Las Vegas Age, November 9, 1918. pp.1,4

[17] Las Vegas Age, November 9, 1918. p. 3

[18] Yerington Times, November 9, 1918. pp. 1, 4 ; The Eureka Sentinel, November 9, 1918. p.3

[19] The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, November 9, 1918. pp. 3,6

[20] The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, November 16, 1918. pp. 4,6

[21] Carson City Daily Appeal, November 16, 1918. p.1; Yerington Times November 16, 1918. p.1; Carson City Daily Appeal, November 20, 1918. p.1 , p.4; November 22, 1918. p.1

[22] Yerington Times, November 23, 1918. p.1; The Eureka Sentinel, November 23, 1918. pp. 2, 3; Yerington Times, November 30, 1918. p.1

[23] Carson City Daily Appeal, December 4, 1918. p.4; December 5, 1918. p.4; December 7, 1918. p.4; The Eureka Sentinel December 7, 1918. p.3; The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, December 14, 1918. p. 7

[24] The Eureka Sentinel, December 14, 1918. p.3; Carson City Daily Appeal, December 19, 1918. p.1; The Eureka Sentinel, December 21, 1918. p.3

[25] The Eureka Sentinel, December 7, 1918. p.1; Yerington Times, November 2, 1918. p.7, November 16, 1918. p.6

[26] Yerington Times, November 16, 1918. p.3; November 23, 1918. p.7

[27] The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, December 28, 1918. p.7 ; The Eureka Sentinel, December 28, 1918. p.3; January 4,1919. p.3; January 11, 1919. p.3; Las Vegas Age, January 4, 1919. p.1

[28] Carson City Daily Appeal, February 27, 1919. p.2; Yerington Times, March 8, 1919. p.2

[29] The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, November 30, 1918. p.1; The Eureka Sentinel, December 7, 1918. p. 4; The Pioche Record, February 14, 1919. p.1

[30] The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, January 11, 1919. p.7; Carson City Daily Appeal, January 28, 1919. p.4; Yerington Times, February 1, 1919. p.2; Carson City Daily Appeal, February 1, 1919. p.4; Tonopah Daily Bonanza, January 22, 1919. p.3; Yerington Times, February 25, 1920. p.1; Pioche Record, March 5, 1920. p.3

[31] The Pioche Record, February 28, 1919. p.1; March 28, 1919. p.1  Elise Gibson, “Echoes of a Pandemic” Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Summer 2020. p.29; Carson City Daily Appeal, January 4, 1919. p.1; September 5, 1919. p.2

[32] Carson City Daily Appeal, September 15, 1919. p.2

[33] The Pioche Record, October 10, 1919. p.2

[34] Carson City Daily Appeal, October 14, 1919. p.1; Yerington Times, September 6, 1919. p.2; March 22, 1919. p.7; Carson City Daily Appeal, September 16, 1919. p.2

[35] The Eureka Sentinel, February 28, 1920. p.1; Pioche Record, January 30, 1920. p.2


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