The 1918 influenza pandemic is believed to have infected 500 million people around the world, with 50 to 100 million dying, estimated to be about five percent of the world’s population. In the United States, it was estimated that about 28% of the population died. There were two ‘waves’ of the illness, though it seems Bovina saw mostly infections from the second, deadlier wave. Though deadlier, Bovina saw only two fatalities, while over forty people became ill.
Local newspapers started reporting on cases of influenza in Bovina in October 1918, when “several mild cases” were reported. By the end of October, there was enough concern that the schools and local churches closed. Two of the people contracting the illness were Dr. and Mrs. N.B Whitcomb. He was the first Bovina resident to get the disease (his wife was the second). The full list is at the end of this entry.
They recovered, but October saw the first of the two Bovina fatalities when Mrs. Loron Maxim passed away on what was then the Hewitt farm in the Mountain Brook region. Mrs. Maxim was born Jennie Graham, the daughter of William and Eunice Graham. She was 30 years old at her death. Her illness lasted about five days. She was buried in Hardenburgh in Ulster County. Jennie and her husband had been in Bovina only a brief time. Loren remarried in 1920 and left Bovina.
The Bovina Board of Health reported thirty-eight new cases of influenza in December, but for January only eight new cases. One of the cases reported in January 1919 was Louise Hilson, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Hilson. She recovered, as did all the children who got the illness in Bovina. But in March 1919, the Andes Recorder reported that a “Bovina Boy Dies in West.” The article went on to state that “Floyd Ruff, son of the late William L. Ruff, of Bovina, died in Kansas City this week and the remains arrived here Thursday evening. He had been ill for several weeks and it is reported had been afflicted with influenza and measles and typhoid fever. He had lived with his sister, Mrs. Chauncey McFarland, and only went west last fall.”
As the epidemic faded, Bovina did see one more fatality. On April 21, 1919, Lucy Alta Lee died from the flu, after being sick for six days. Lucy was married to John B. Lee and was his second wife. She had five children, including a son Donald, who was in World War One and was still in France when his mother died. Her stepson Clarence also was a World War One veteran who was gassed in the war and died from its effects in 1922. At the time of her death, her husband and three of her children also were ill, but they all recovered.
Edward Schneider, brother of Lil Hilson, was the last survivor of the epidemic in Bovina, dying ninety-seven years after being ill in 2016 at the age of 102.
From the Bovina Board of Health records, the following were reported suffering from epidemic influenza (usually abbreviated as E.I.). They are listed in order of illness:
Mrs. N.B. Whitcomb
Chas Russell (brother of Cecil Russell)
Mrs. Chas Russell
Mrs. Loren Maxim (the first fatality)
Mrs. Marshall Scott
Margaret Gordon (later social studies teacher at Delaware Academy)
The following people were all believed to have caught the illness attending a Thanksgiving Day church service and became ill the end of November/early December:
Mrs. Marshall Thomson
Miss Mable Fiero
Mrs. Geo Cobb
Mrs. Thos Graham
Mrs. Geo Russell
Other victims reported for December:
Jas. Hilson (brother to John Hilson and uncle to Alex and Jack Hilson)
Mrs. D. Davidson (mother of Fletcher Davidson)
Ruth Coulter (later married Bill Parsons)
Mrs. John Blair
Mrs. John McCune
Miss Ruth Ormiston (later married Henry Monroe)
Louise Hilson (child age 2)
Mrs. Geo Johnson – Mrs. Johnson was reported as catching the illness on a train from Alberta, Canada, thus infecting her husband and a couple of her neighbors.
Mrs. Thos Archibald
Bessie Erkson (child, age 3)
Mrs. C. Erkson
Edward Schneider (child age 5)
Lew B. Locelyn
Mrs. John Scutt
For some reason, any illnesses after January were not recorded, including the death of Lucy Lee (that information was noted in the newspaper).