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This Week in Sapulpa History – Closing of Euchee School for 1918 Influenza-Pneumonia Epidemic
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
On October 24th, 1918, it was announced that the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. ordered that the Euchee Mission be closed. All the children were sent home, due to the fact that 107 of the 118 students had contracted influenza. Of the fifteen teachers for the school, eleven teachers also contracted the flu.
In response, ten trained nurses were sent to the patients to work in shifts of five, night and day. Unfortunately, the nurses were not exempt from the disease. It is said that four of the day nurses had been bedridden, as well as, two of the night nurses.
From the October 24th report, one student had died at school. In addition, on the report, three others had passed away due to the flu in the area. “Mary Martin, 6 years old, [Native American] girl, died at her home yesterday afternoon northwest of the city. Funeral today at Baptist Cemetery. Ben Yellowhead, 12 years old, died yesterday afternoon at Euchee Mission. He will be buried west of Kellyville. Mrs. Ralph Brummett, from 20 North Oak, died at Paris, Texas. R.C. Reed, aged 57, died at Glennpool last night.”
Other students had been removed in an ambulance or waited for guardians to arrive. According to the narrative, the first students to be taken by ambulance were Sandy and Jeannette Fox. Families waited for a clean-bill-of-health, and hoped to be back in school by the beginning of November.
“The greatest danger from the disease at present lies not so much in the spread of the disease…[was] the damp weather [as] a great menace [to] all influenza patients, especially those recovering, are warned to stay indoors and avoid exposure.” Dr. John W. Duke, State Health Commissioner, estimated that there were 10,000 to 80,000 influenza cases in the state. The State Health Department and Officials did not believe the state quarantine on schools and theaters would be raised now before November 1, 1918.
The article also states that even though “the influenza-pneumonia epidemic was adjudged to be improved in the City of Sapulpa, by the city officials and medical [staff], conditions at the Euchee Mission worsened with 17 new cases” reported. By the end of the month, 8 days later, a new report read 63 deaths, 37 of which were the flu. Most of the other deaths were probably caused by patients being weakened by the flu and contracted other problems such as pneumonia.
More Sapulpa History of the 1918 Flu Epidemic: The 1918 flu epidemic began spreading rapidly in late September and early October. On October 2nd, 1918, it was stated that the doctors reported fifty cases were in town. According to the 1918 City Directory, “there are in this volume 6,636 names which multiplied by 2 ½ (to represent married women, all young people and children under 17 years of age not included in above figures) indicates a population of: 16,590.” However, based on the 1920 census, the town’s population hadn’t reached 12,000 yet.
Within three days, the flu caused three deaths in Sapulpa. City officials ordered that all public places and gatherings be closed. Schools, theaters, billiard and pool halls were included in the order. “Every store, every office, every room in every home should be fumigated every day. A good fumigation could be burning formaldehyde candles.” Many new cases had been added, with one doctor receiving over twenty new cases.
The need for a hospital was raised, even though a bond issue had been defeated in the previous summer. The flu epidemic made people realize how much they needed one. Similar to a first season episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (aired in 1993 to 1998), in which doctors, patients, skeptics, and citizens alike had to work together to combat the influenza without a proper hospital, Sapulpa began to work together. “City physicians and health officers are doing all in their power to prevent a further spread of the epidemic. It is announced today [October 8th, 1918] that the careful co-operation of every man, woman, and child in Sapulpa is solicited that nothing may be left undone to stop the approach of more serious results.” The town was fairly new, and had never experienced a city-wide, let alone a national- and world-wide, disease.
From a 2007 Tulsa World article remembering the 1918 flu epidemic, “Most of the state, including Tulsa, didn't have enough hospital beds or doctors to care for the swelling number of patients. The few available doctors and nurses worked more than 20 hours a day treating patients where they could. According to the Chronicles of Oklahoma, the most popular remedy was whiskey, which the state's prohibition laws allowed pharmacists to dispense for medical purposes.”
From the October 15th and 18th, 1918 statements, it was thought the disease was slowing down due to the closing of the schools, theaters, and other places. Quarantining was being discussed as the only remedy left to stop the spread of the disease. During the two weeks, eleven deaths had occurred in town.
The State Health Commissioner announced that the state quarantine would be lifted beginning Sunday, November 10th, 1918. Among others, churches would be opened for the first time in five weeks. Schools would start to reopen that Monday. Theaters were being fumigated and would also reopen. Everything returned to normal for it was thought that the flu epidemic was finally over. It was not.
The flu epidemic was getting worse. Mayor Bone telegraphed the Surgeon General in St. Louis, Missouri, to rush doctors and nurses to help the community. Mayor Bone asked for two doctors and five nurses. The situation in town was beyond what our local doctors could do.
It was estimated that half the people with the flu were not being treated because there were not enough doctors and beds. Numerous cases were reported of people seen leaving quarantined homes in violation of the quarantine. The mayor said that anyone seen leaving their houses in violation of the edict would be arrested and put in jail without bond.
Three more deaths were reported by December 9th, 1918. The next day, the mayor received a telegram from the Surgeon General in St. Louis that Oklahoma was out of his jurisdiction. He informed Mayor Bone that he should instead send a message to Washington, D.C.
Part of the City Officials’ problem was that the doctors did not give a report every morning. The doctors were worn out and felt like they did not have time to right a report. Mayor Bone wrote to Washington, D.C. immediately.
The first two waves of the flu epidemic began in 1918. The following year, a third wave of cases hit in 1919. By 1920, the fourth and final official wave struck the world. The earliest documented case had been in March 1918, in Kansas. Other such cases began being documented from France, United Kingdom, and Germany beginning in April that year. A third of the global population at the time (which was around 500 million people) had been infected within the four epidemic waves. This resulted in a death toll of between 17 million and 100 million.
Furthermore, Tulsa World stated that in Oklahoma “victims often fell sick at work in the morning and died by nightfall. Between October 1918 and April 1919, an estimated 7,350 Oklahomans died of the virus and secondary infections related to it.”
(Sapulpa Herald, October 2, 1918, October 8, 1918, October 11-19, 1918, October 21, 1918, October 24, 1918, November 9, 1918, December 10, 1918; Tulsa World, January 28, 2007)
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The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.