What was Plumas County like during the Spanish flu outbreaks?
As a growing number of people throughout the world were either experiencing or fearing what would become the modern world’s leading pandemic — the Spanish Flu 1918-1920 — there was no hue and cry within the pages of the Plumas National–Bulletin.
Four pages of weekly news included heavy coverage of World War I, letters home from soldiers overseas, mentions of scarlet fever and German measles outbreaks in California, and the spread and growing concern for tuberculosis. Wheat and then sugar rationing to assist the war effort were also headlined. Even early efforts toward prohibition take precedence over any concerns over the flu.
The Spanish flu was first noted in Northern China in 1917. Its first appearance in the United States was March 11, 1918 in Kansas.
Its first mention in the pages of the Plumas National—Bulletin came on page seven under the headline, “Epidemic in Spain is Growing More Severe.”
The epidemic that was then sweeping Spain reportedly had 150,000 cases in Madrid alone. Mortality at that point was said to be low.
“The epidemic, is found to have been spread, intentionally, by German sailors.”
Titled “Uncle Sam’s Advice on the Flu,” it offers information from the U.S. Public Health Service.
“Washington, D.C. — Special — Although King Alphonso of Spain was one of the victims of the epidemic in 1893 and again this summer, Spanish authorities repudiate any claim to influenza as a ‘Spanish’ disease. It the people of this country do not take care the epidemic will become so widespread throughout the United States that soon we shall hear the disease called ‘American’ influenza.”
The disease, for many, began as a contagious type of cold signaled by coughs, fever, sore throat, and pain in the head, eyes, ears, back and other parts of the body, according to the health service.
In many cases the patient was better within three or four days. But others experienced pneumonia, inflammation of the ear and meningitis.
By Oct. 24, the Spanish flu made it to the front page of the Plumas National–Bulletin. “Swift Moving Disease Strikes at Many Points Surrounding Quincy.”
By this time it was reported that several residents were stricken with the disease and one person was dead.
“Serious as the situation is, it is not so bad as many would believe. Dr. Bolton, health officer for the county, ably assisted by physicians in the different towns, is waging a relentless fight against a further spread of the disease.”
Reports indicated that the epidemic would be eliminated from the county within two weeks.
“In Quincy, all public gatherings have been forbidden until the danger point has passed.” The Quincy theater closed and the Quincy Methodist Church discontinued services. A serious trial and public hearings were postponed.
“Strict enforcement of the law concerning sterilization of drinking glasses and the use of common towels is urged.”
In that same issue, also on the front page, it was announced that a 6-year-old boy was quarantined with the disease.
The following week, a woman in the Spring Garden area died from it. She was 37 and succumbed to pneumonia.
By Nov. 7, the newspaper announced that the disease was attacking the county at many different points. “Physicians and Nurses are Fighting Deadly Invader with Grim Determination — Many Die.”
All saloons, schools and church services were suspended. All public meetings were canceled. Barbershops voluntarily closed. Businesses reduced their hours.
Health Officer Bolton said that masks should be worn by all individuals.
By Nov. 14, a news story says that the Spanish flu was gradually being checked in the county. In that same issue, however, a mine foreman at Engelmine (then a major operation) was a victim, and a Portola engineer died.
The following week, the news arrived that the son of a local resident was among 120 that died of the flu aboard a transport ship en route to France. His death came in late October. He was one of 160 aboard who contracted it.
Despite the news and other reports, life went on. The Plumas House sold; there was a mining boom announced near Johnsville.
As quickly as the Spanish flu hit the county, it began to fade. A snippet of information in the Thursday, Nov. 21, issue stated that Engelmine was seeing a downturn. A week later, a front-page story declared that Portola was flu free. By Dec. 5, Greenville was feeling some relief, but La Porte was “still in the grasp of Dread Spanish Flu Epidemic.”
Although things were looking up in the county, by Dec. 19, it was reported that the Spanish flu once again was in Quincy. “Because of the reappearance of the disease the supper dance scheduled at the Plumas House for new year’s eve has been called off.”
In Taylorsville, a couple lost their third child to the Spanish flu.
At Engelmine, resurgence with 25 cases were also reported. One death also was reported to the county’s health officer. Walker Mine also reported 16 cases. La Porte was experiencing the same down turn other places reported just weeks earlier.
In the issue just marked December 1918, the U.S. Health Service issued a new warning: That an increase in all respiratory diseases following the Spanish flu was probable.
1919s Spanish flu
In the early months of 1919 what reporting there was concerning the flu generally moved to the inside pages.
Under the Indian Valley column heading, a short list of who was attending to whom during a bout of the flu was reported. By this time, the relatively new publisher and editor of the newspaper, George Edwin Secour, was eliminating the word Spanish and calling it just the flu.
Influenza again hit Engelmine, this time in the upper camp, closing the school. By March 11 in the same Indian Valley column, an item appeared stating, “Engelmine residents were once more happy. Dr. J.E. McCue has ‘lifted the lid,’ which was so firmly screwed down because of the outbreak of influenza.” As many as 57 cases were reported at one time in that area alone.
By the beginning of 1919, headlines focused on a new route through the Feather River Canyon by road and the building of the new Plumas County Courthouse.
It was 1919 and 1920 that the Spanish Flu hit Plumas County hardest recalled Plumas County Museum Director Scott Lawson.
But past March 1919 there is little information about the Spanish Flu. Life appeared to go on as usual with school events, dances held, folks enjoying each other’s company and reporting it to the newspaper.
Epidemic continues into 1920
The year opened with a report of two deaths from Spanish flu in the Jan. 9 issue. These were in the town of Clio. “Attacks Every Home in Village,” said the subhead.
The next week, it’s reported in Indian Valley where there are 40 cases in Greenville and Taylorsville.
And a couple just married Jan. 1, were at home in Massack with the flu, the newspaper reported.
Also a family at Walker Mine was being nursed by a young woman. In Quincy, the wife of Judge J.D. Moneur was also very sick with the flu.
“Influenza is fighting to keep a strong foothold in Plumas County but so far its efforts have been checkmated by the watchfulness of the county health officer and physicians of the different communities.”
Other individual cases were reported during the remainder of January, into February and then by March it’s back again in Quincy. “Disease Appears in County Seat Attacks Many Residents — All Precautions Being Taken.” It seems to remain off the pages of the newspaper until late August.
While some serious precautions were taken during various weeks during 1918, picnics, school and school outings continued. Dances were still many and popular and tourists were coming into the county. Reports of the number of campers seen at Bucks Lake were noted as well as the Johnsville Hotel needing to turn potential guests away.