Influenza Epidemic of 1918

Submitted by Lyle Hinz, Genealogist at Brown County Genealogical Society

Fall is coming and that means “flu!” We have the flu shot now which helps prevent a flu epidemic. In our country’s past history epidemics of the flu, measles, smallpox, cholera, etc., were common. With modern medication these diseases are almost a “thing” of the past.

Missing ancestors? Do you have ancestors that just vanished? These epidemics had a great influence on people and genealogists trying to trace them. It is often found that the people who disappeared from county, state, etc., records are those who died in an epidemic or maybe moved away from an area where an epidemic took place.

The last big epidemic that affected our area of Brown County, Kansas, was in 1918. Then there was a world-wide epidemic of influenza. Records show that there were more people hospitalized during World War I with influenza than from wounds, with an 80 percent death rate in some camps.

In Brown County, the epidemic hit in October of 1918. The city and county officials had to make rules and regulations to be followed to try and help contain this disease and prevent it spreading. They put the word out to use a handkerchief when coughing and sneezing; avoid crowds and do not spit on the floor or sidewalk. Do not use common drinking cups and towels. Avoid excessive fatigue, and most important see a doctor.

The motion picture shows were closed as were pool halls, churches, lodges and all public gathering places. Even at Christmas time there was no church services and no holiday parties. Horton and Hiawatha had to put a curfew of 8:30 for anyone under the age of 16 years to be off of the streets.

The doctors were to ensure that if someone under their care was sick or even had died of any disease that was dangerous to public health, that a red or yellow cloth or card not less than twelve inches square with the name of the disease written or printed on it was to be placed on the front door or other conspicuous part of the building.

On Oct. 11, 1918, there were 19 cases of influenza reported in Brown County, Kansas, and by the 22nd of October there were more than 150 cases in the county. The newspapers were full of death notices and obituaries of the victims of the epidemic. A few of them were: Lucile Barnes, Albert Bender, F.M. Bevans, Louis Bichlmier, Roland Brewer, Carrie Brewster, Walter Brien, Earl L. Brim, Wiltrude Bruning, Emile Brunner, Mattie Brunt, Beulah Butterfield, Stella Clifton, Frederick R. Cole, Clarence Culp, Don Devilbiss, Mildred Fordyce, Chrystal Hill, Leopold Hayum, Cecilia Herrick, Carl Hetherinton, Webster Housh, Ethel Jackson, Grace Jones, E.W. Joslin, Mrs. Frank Kessler, Warren Kitymiller, George Kumpf, Elmer Larson, Everett Leach, Henry Lemon, Ross McGee, Mrs. A.M. Minnier, Mrs. Ed Noffsenger, Henry Orr, Carl Petty, Carl Prouty, Blanch Richards, Conna Schuetz, Rex Stewart, James Strahan, George Strube, Ralph Syster, Raymond Taylor, Mrs. T. Tetyak, Cecil Troxel, J.H. Warfel, Bessie Wassenfallen, Elisabeth Wassenfallen and Grace Spencer.

The first epidemic in this country was the Boston Measles in 1657. The last major epidemic was the Worldwide Influenza in 1918. We pray that there will be no more such epidemics in this country.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in September 2003.

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