Spanish Flu

Oct 10, 2018

On September 29, 1917, throngs of people had stood amid garlands of red, white and blue bunting, waving flags and banners as they crowded on the railroad platforms to send off Company B of the First Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard.  Patriotic speeches and music filled the air.  For the families it had been a long, prayerful year.  At first the war news was hopeful and only a spattering of local names were among the casualty lists, but as the American Expeditionary Force took on a more aggressive role, the ranks of the dead and wounded began to swell.

On October 6, 1918, slightly over a year from the anniversary of their departure, the citizens of Fargo and the surrounding towns were to gather in the Fargo Auditorium. A memorial had been arranged to pay tribute to the sacrifices of Company B and the other area men who had paid the supreme sacrifice.  It was also a prayer service for those who were yet to meet their fate.  With the war still raging it would be a somber affair, with twenty-eight names from Cass County on the list, including eleven names from Company B dead or missing.  A thousand invitations were sent out to family members from Company B, but all area people were requested to join in the event.  It was considered a patriotic duty, as well as a moral obligation to attend.  

As Fargo prepared to honor the one-year anniversary of the regiment’s departure, the specter of death which had hovered over the battlefields of France, had now found its way to the shores of America – in the form of the Spanish flu epidemic. Carried home from Europe by returning soldiers, it had risen to such large proportions in the eastern United States that stamping it out had become an official part of the war effort.  But death rode the rails westward, and by this date in 1918, over two hundred cases of Spanish Flu had been reported in Fargo. Spreading quickly across the state, flu deaths were also reported in New Rockford and Jamestown, and several Northern Pacific brakemen who had contracted the disease in the East had died in western North Dakota.

The Company B memorial and all public events were cancelled.  As difficult as it had been for families to cope with loved ones dying on the distant battlefields of France, death had now come to their own doorstep.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Bismarck Tribune, October 7, 1918

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, September 26, 1918

Ibid; September 26, 1918

Ibid; September 27, 1918

Ibid; October 4, 1918