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Bowbells Reopens Amid Influenza

Last month we heard how the 1918 influenza pandemic struck Bowbells, North Dakota. Local boards of health closed schools, churches and places of public gatherings. Dozens of families and residents were sickened. Many died, including a newlywed couple who were 26 and 18 years old. Red Cross workers cared for the sick and urged residents to help out.

After 36 days, Bowbells’ city board of health lifted the lockdown on public places. Newspapers announced the flu had run its course “and the danger is over.” On this date in 1918, plans were underway for showing films and hosting a Thanksgiving ball at Bowbells’ Royal Theatre. Many schools had reopened, but students from households with influenza cases were urged to stay home. Bowbells and nearby Portal, North Dakota, reportedly had no new cases for the past few days, but neighbors’ flu and pneumonia recoveries and deaths were still being reported. Burials were held privately to avoid funeral gatherings.

But more cases of flu and deaths would emerge in coming weeks. Couples and entire families were sick. A five-month-old baby from Columbus died. The town of Larson lost three people in two days.

The Thanksgiving ball went on in Kenmare with more than 200 couples attending. The Bowbells Tribune reported “This is the first dance held in this section of the state since the lid was put on nearly two months ago by the health boards, and it seemed that everyone wanted to take it in.” Bowbells and Flaxton residents attended the grand ball.

School basketball practice began, but one third of Bowbells’ 212 high school students were out sick with flu in early December. Some schools closed. Some stayed open. A farmer isolated himself on his farm and came into town for the first time in months to borrow a rifle to shoot coyotes. A local skunk trapper disappeared for a month and was so weak from flu he could hardly walk and trapped nothing. During the week of Christmas, the Tribune’s publisher was the only one of the paper’s staff not sick in bed. Bowbells’ Community Days in January were not well attended as many people stayed home due to flu or the bad weather.

Less than a month after Bowbells reopened, the paper reported in early January that the flu “seems to have spread more than ever here … the flu epidemic is not abating.” However, the newspaper noted that a continued outbreak seemed unlikely “for the reason that practically every family in town has already been hit.” However, the flu would linger for more than a year.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


The Bowbells Tribune. 1918, November 22. Pages 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bowbells Tribune. 1918, November 29. Pages 1, 3

The Bowbells Tribune. 1918, December 13. Pages 3, 5

The Bowbells Tribune. 1918, December 6. Page 3

The Bowbells Tribune. 1918, December 20. Page 5

The Bowbells Tribune. 1918, December 27. Page 3

The Bowbells Tribune. 1919, January 3. Page 4

The Bowbells Tribune. 1919, January 10. Page 1

The Bowbells Tribune. 1919, January 17. Page 6

The Bowbells Tribune. 1920, February 6. Page 1

The Bowbells Tribune. 1920, February 13

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