Editor’s note: This is part three in a multi-part series taking an historical look at the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.
On Nov. 16, 1918, the Calaveras Prospect reported several deaths from the Spanish flu, including the first fatality in Sheep Ranch.
“The deceased was employed in the Sheep Ranch mine and a few days ago visited the home of his parents at Paloma, who recently lost their home by fire,” an article reads. “While in that town he evidently contracted the disease as there were several cases in that place. … He leaves two small children, besides a widow.”
Four fatalities were reported in Tuolumne County, including the death of a mother who had lost her daughter to influenza a week before.
“This double sorrow is a hard blow to the husband and father whose home has been completely wrecked by the cruel invader,” an article reads.
It was reported that a soldier from Milton had died “from an attack of the influenza” while at Camp Fremont near Palo Alto.
“The young man was an exceptionally bright lad and was well liked by all who became acquainted with him,” an article reads. “He leaves to mourn his death a wife, a father, a sister and brother.”
The Prospect’s Murphys correspondent reported that “no meetings are being held by our local fraternal organizations on account of the influenza.” In addition, the semi-annual meeting of the Calaveras and Alpine Livestock Association was “indefinitely postponed” due to “the prevalence of the Spanish influenza throughout the county.”
A short article highlights some of the questionable medicinal practices that were employed in combating the epidemic.
“An old doctor of European training in practice of over forty years, had never lost a patient with pneumonia: his treatment gave immediate and permanent relief, and was so simple as to be within the reach of all without calling in a physician,” the article reads. “It was as follows: Make a ball of cotton about as large as a small marble, saturate it thoroughly with alcohol, then drop about six drops of chloroform on it, then cover it lightly with dry cotton, hold to the mouth and inhale the fumes, inflate the lungs and it will open and expand every lung cell instantaneously.”
In Sonora, the city’s board of trustees passed an order “compelling the saloons to close.” A mask ordinance had already been passed.
“The majority of saloons (in) town had paid no heed to the warnings of the City Board of Health for men not to congregate in bar rooms,” an article reads. “Since the lumber camps have closed down the saloons and street have been filled with drunken men. The jail was full to overflowing of drunken men who had refused to comply with the mask ordinance. The closing of the saloons (seemed) to be the only means of overcoming this disgusting state of affairs.”
The paper also carried the news that “the great world war” had come to an end.
“The news of the signing of the armistice by the German representatives was received in San Andreas early that morning by telephone,” an article reads. “When the morning papers were received confirming the report the ringing of the fire bell, church bells and school bells were kept up for about an hour. Subscriptions were taken up and giant powder was purchased for saluting. The glad news was received with joy. The youngsters carried on the noise making, well into the night.”
After detailing the celebration of the armistice in Mokelumne Hill, in which the “old town ‘whooped ‘er up,’” and “the streets were thronged with people and the enthusiasm was kept up until after midnight,” a Prospect correspondent reported on the flu situation.
“We have been boasting for quite awhile that the town is 100 per cent proof on the Flue Epidemic, but now we will have to take it back,” an article reads. “Dr. Stuckey reports five cases of the ‘flue’ in the Davis family in this place. The public school was opened Monday, but the teachers on learning of the ‘flue’ cases at once closed it down. Constable Ratto has given notice that he will arrest any one that he finds on the street who is not wearing a mask and Judge Burce is liable to give the offenders the limit. Seriously though, the mask is almost a sure preventative, and for your own protection, as well as that of others, you should always wear them when in public.”
The correspondent lamented that “a great many styles” had been adopted in the wearing of masks.
“Some of them wear it around the neck, while others have it hanging over the ear, and still others who only cover the nose and leave the mouth exposed to the germs,” the article reads. “The ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors says you must keep the nose and mouth covered and some of you violators had better ‘look a little out.’”
The flu was spreading in Copperopolis as well.
“There is quite an epidemic of Spanish influenza in the Copper City at the present time, tho’ no very severe cases,” an article reads. “Clarence Questo, a young man born and reared in this place met his death from the ‘flu’ on the 2nd of this month at the Naval Hospital in San Francisco and was buried on the 5th from the I.O.O.F. hall at this place.”
Like other towns across the country, Copperopolis held a large celebration when the armistice was signed.
“The town was in an uproar all day yesterday,” the Prospect reported. “The whistles were blowing, bells were (rung) and every youngster in town that could find a tin can was banging away on it, and in the evening the band played, and a dance was given at the hall – Spanish Influenza being at the time forgotten.”