The North Bend Eagle


In December 1918 the Nebraska Board of Health declared the Spanish flu a quarantinable disease. The North Bend Board of Health posted notices similar to this on infected homes.

Spanish flu returns for one more deadly go

by Nathan Arneal
Published 1/30/19

It is late October 1918.

World War I is in its final weeks, but another world war is raging in homes and hospitals around the globe.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from 1918 or 1919 North Bend Eagles.


• Read Part 1 of the Eagle's story on the Spanish flu.
Read more on the theory that the 1918-1919 flu pandemic began in January 1918 in a rual Kansas county.
More information on the Three Waves of the epidemic, and why the Spanish flu attacked healthy, young to middle aged people more than other flus.
See Nathan's research notes from contemporary coverage of the epidemic from the North Bend Eagle. (pdf)

In North Bend, 16 people have died of Spanish flu in less than three weeks. One day, Oct. 18, saw four people die. It is estimated that half of all the homes in the area are infected with influenza. Some family members are too sick to attend the funerals of their children, siblings or parents.

For two weeks now, since Oct. 5, public gatherings have been banned in North Bend. No school. No church. The streets are eerily quiet as interaction with friends and neighbors is all but abandoned.

By Oct. 24, more than 25,000 cases of the Spanish flu statewide have been reported to the state board of health in Lincoln.

Halloween comes and goes in North Bend with very little fanfare.

The most recent draft of 7,000 would-be Nebraskan soldiers is put on hold after Governor Keith Neville sends a telegram to the U.S. War Department informing it of the influenza situation. All future drafts are put on hold as well.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

After a string of six deaths in six days from Oct. 18 to Oct. 23, no one dies of the flu for the next week.

The state board of health declares that it will lift the statewide ban on public gatherings as of Saturday, Nov. 2, though local boards of health may make their own decisions. North Bend mayor Alexander Thom, who was also the chairman of the local board of health, announces that North Bend will follow the lead of the state board and lift the ban on public gatherings that has been in place for 28 days.

Shot after refusing to wear flu mask
From the Oct. 2, 1918, Bellingham (Washington) Herald.
A man was shot after refusing to wear a mask, then charged for not wearing a mask.

Life begins to return to normal.

The North Bend Presbyterian Church says it will resume services Nov. 3: “Our churches ought to be crowded that day with a devout and worshipful people, thankful for spared lives and many other blessings.”

North Bend’s Lyric Theater resumes showing movies on Nov. 9. The Eagle is full of updates of people returning from the hospital having survived the fight against influenza.

Area schools reopen after a month of being closed. There was talk among state educators on how to make up the lost time, with the possibility of eliminating Christmas and spring vacations and even holding school on Saturdays “in order to complete the required amount of school work as early as possible to re­lease students for work on the farms.”

School boards around the state debate whether they should pay teachers for the time off during the flu outbreak.

Nebraska Attorney General Willis Reed ruled that school teachers were not legally entitled to draw salary for the time lost to the influenza outbreak.
Not every one agrees with that ruling. The Lincoln school board orders its teachers to be paid for the time lost to the flu because it planned to make up that time during Christmas and spring breaks. A few weeks later, in early December, state superintendent of schools William Clemmons ruled that teachers should be paid for the time schools were closed because of the flu. Fremont schools even hold classes on New Year’s Day.

“The Nebraska board of health estimates there are fewer influenza cases in the state at the present than at any time since the disease became prevalent,” writes the Nov. 7 North Bend Eagle.

Flu victims
Spanish flu victims are scattered throughout area cemeteries, including Katherine Kelly and her 4-year-old daughter Bernadette, above, buried in St. Patrick’s of Clyde Cemetery northwest of North Bend.

Some areas of the state are still fighting the flu fight. As of Nov. 21, O’Neill and Holt County were still in rigid quarantine. School in Richardson County, closed now four weeks, would remain closed for another two.

The Dec. 5 Eagle reports that federal aid for combating Spanish influenza in Nebraska will be withdrawn at once. But elsewhere in the paper, an ominous note is included in the Webster Notes section: “The influenza seems to be increasing again in this vicinity.”

Far from being over, the epidemic becomes fatal again after a five-week reprieve from local deaths.

Orville Hatch, an Army private from Webster training at Fort Omaha, dies of influenza-related pneumonia Nov. 27.

On Dec. 4, 10-year-old Herman Hudson dies from the Spanish flu. He and his family were up from Kansas visiting his uncle Henry Hudson in the Clyde area northwest of North Bend for Thanksgiving.

The flu picks up steam again. One hundred new cases are reported in Lincoln in one early December day. Beemer reinstitutes its ban on public gatherings, a move that is controversial because it includes churches and schools, but not pool halls or soft drink emporiums. After 31 deaths in one day, Omaha health authorities warn not to gather in large groups of people. Dodge and Snyder reestablish their influenza bans, with Snyder limiting gatherings to six people, Dodge to 12.

The state board of health calls for a big meeting at the state capitol on Dec. 17 to discuss how to battle the reenergized influenza epidemic. North Bend sends George Millar and Harry Cusack as delegates to the meeting in Lincoln.

Among the recommendations of the conference, which is led by state board of health chair Dr. W.F. Wild, is for “all gatherings for pleasures and unnecessary public meetings to be discontinued.”

Public schools are to commence medical inspections and send home every child showing signs of illness.

“Dancing, promiscuous nursing, visit­ing, crowding, sneezing, coughing, the use of roller towels and the common drinking cup were cited by Dr. Wild as agencies in spreading the flu,” the Dec. 19 Eagle writes.

Not every idea proposed at the convention is adopted.

“Sprinkling the streets with formaldehyde was impractical,” Wild said, “while eating fried onions or wearing medicated bags were simply foolish.”

Another big development to come from the Dec. 17 conference in Lincoln is the state board of health declaring the Spanish flu a quarantinable disease.

“Many homes in North Bend will be closed,” writes the Dec. 26 Eagle, “and no members of the house­hold will be permitted to leave the premises, as the result of the state de­partment of health’s decision that Spanish influenza is ‘an absolutely quarantinable disease on a par with smallpox and scarlet fever.’”

The state board says only one-fifth of Nebraskans have had influenza by this point, so there was still plenty of opportunity for the disease to spread. “If allowed to continue, business will become seriously demoralized, and all communities will suffer heavily in loss of life.”

Thom and the North Bend Board of Health print up notices that are provided by the state board to tack onto the doors of infected houses. The quarantine on a house is to last four days after the fever has ended. Violating the quarantine is punishable by a fine of between $15 and $100, a penalty equal to $250 to $1,600 in today’s dollars. Thom says the local board will rigidly enforce the quarantine.

Not everyone is on board with the quarantine. A group of businessmen in Omaha protest the act. “It was stated at the [Omaha] Chamber of Com­merce that a protest will be sent to the state board just as soon as possi­ble, in view of the fact that practi­cally all doctors agree that this is a useless measure.” The Dodge County Medical Society passes a resolution calling the quarantine “absolutely worthless.”

While the details of the state board of health’s quarantine are being reported in the Dec. 19 and 26 Eagles, those same pages hold obituaries for four more North Bend flu deaths.

Among the deceased is Hattie Peters, who dies Dec. 16, two months after her daughter Emma died during the October wave. Sisters Hazel and Mary Kizer, ages 16 and 8, respectively, die six days apart. The rest of the Kiser family was so sick no funeral was held.

As the calendar flips to 1919, Fremont has more than 100 homes under quarantine. Omaha reports 92 deaths from the Spanish flu in the final week of 1918, “which was about the same as in previous weeks since the epidemic started.”

But things are looking up in the new year. The Jan. 2, 1919, Purple Cane News section of the Eagle says, “The ‘flu’ situation seems to be improving as no new cases have been reported.”

The Maple Grove section agrees: “The ‘flu’ has flown from Maple Grove. May it never return.”

Omaha reports conditions in the city are better than they have been at any point since the outbreak began. As a result, Omaha begins the new year by lifting its ban on public gatherings, except for dances. “Due to perspiration and the prox­imity of the bodies, dancing is one of the surest ways to spread the disease.”

The final known North Bend-area Spanish flu death occurs on Jan. 29, 1919, when James Bryan passes away, bringing the local death toll to 23.

Even though it is peak traditional flu season, the Spanish flu is losing steam.

“New influenza cases in Nebraska reported to the state board of health ran as low as 131 a day during the past week,” the Feb. 6 Eagle reported. “For several weeks the number of new cases have run close to 500 a day, and when the epidemic was at its height as many as 3,000 cases have been reported daily.”

Flare ups occur over the next few months as the “third wave” of the epidemic peters out. On Feb. 13 the Eagle says influenza was still causing authorities in Cuming County a “great deal of concern.”

In April an outbreak is causing problems in Platte County, especially Leigh and Humphrey.

“The state health department at Lin­coln reports that minor flurries of the ‘flu’ still are breaking out sporad­ically over the state,” the March 27 Eagle says, “with new cases daily totaling from a mere nominal figure to 300 or more.”

The world has seen flu epidemics several times since 1919, most recently the 2009 swine flu pandemic, but none of them have approached the scale of the Spanish flu.

For that, North Bend and the world are thankful.


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