For the past six months or so, the Delta County Independent has had lots of local historical references to World War I as presented in the From the Past section. I have been particularly interested in the manner in which the Delta County community had approached this war with German, not realizing the patriotic fervor which developed then, and again in World war II.
When the United States entered the war in later 1917, there was no hint at the horrendous flu outbreak soon to come, and which did not appear until October, 19198. On the eve of the outbreak of the worst epidemic in local history, Delta County citizens read a one-inch article in the local paper entitled “Soldier suffering from pneumonia” printed on the front page. It was the first of many articles documenting a period of unforgettable suffering.
The 1918 influenza epidemic, also known as “La “Grippe,” claimed the lives of at least 100 million people worldwide. Scientists today calculate that the flu killed between 8 to 10 percent of the world’s young adults. Some 675,000 Americans were killed by the virus, more than were killed on the battlefields in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.
One out of four people who got the flu died, with from the flu itself or from a bout with pneumonia that often followed it. But to Delta County residents the flu was something that was happening somewhere else. Many were saddened to learn of two county soldiers who had died of the flu elsewhere in early October, but within a week, all hope that the local area would be untouched by the flu was shattered. Two young local women had died from the flu, but neither were in the county at the time.
Louise Amsbary, daughter of a local pharmacist, was a nursing student in Philadelphia, and Sallie Gilmer, then living in Grand Junction, had both died. The deadly disease was showing up closer to home.
Nearly every family in Delta County was affected by the flu epidemic. When the State Health GBOard ordered the closure of “all places of amusement, the pool halls, churches, schools, the lodges, picture shows, etc.” in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease, it only slowed it temporarily. Family members living in separate households in Delta County could communicate only by mail since postal carriers were not subject to prohibitions regarding the movement of people in and out of town. It was from one such letter that the Rev. James Hunsicker, pastor of the Eckert Presbyterian Church, learned that this daughter’s Ruth and Margaret had succumbed to the flu and were suffering at their apartment in Delta.
In the county, the loss of life due to the flu epidemic far surpassed the losses resulting from the battlefield during World War I. The exact number of Delta County citizen deaths from the flu is not known but is known to be far greater than the war-related deaths. Let us hope such a pandemic never occurs again! Hopefully, current medical technology wins on that issue.