Spanish Flu impact on three local sisters

Dust in the Wind
by Bill Boyle

I recently was made aware of three sisters from San Juan County and how they were impacted by a previous pandemic.

They are daughters of George and Evelyn Adams, my great grandparents. These stories are from their life histories.

Della Adams Jensen

My grandmother wrote about the flu of 1918:

“I remember Mother (Evelyn Adams) was always doing something for her neighbors. She was an approved midwife, and was always available during epidemics like the Flu of 1918, when so many people died.

“During the flu, everyone wore white masks over their face to prevent spreading or getting the flu. When anyone went to the store or out in public, they didn’t know who they might run into.”

Hazel Adams Loomis

My great-aunt and Della’s older sister, recorded: “Deaths were a daily occurrence. I helped out in the improvised hospital. A handsome young Spaniard died in my arms.

“Oh, that stiff body and I had to close his eyes.

“Each day, my Mother, a nurse, came home almost lifeless for a sip of food and an hour of sleep and was gone again. She didn’t let the disease catch up with her.

“Hearing the news of war’s end and the Armistice of the World War, my little sister and I went out in the streets in our bathrobes, caught a burro, climbed on it and rode to the schoolhouse laughing until we nearly fell off the creature. We pulled on the rope of that old bell for an hour.”

Zola Adams Nielson

Another great-aunt faced an almost unimaginable fate with husband Lyman Nielson and their two children, J Lyman (age five) and Evelyn (age two).

She writes, “1918 had been a momentous year, not only for us but for the whole world. World War I, which had been raging in Europe for four years, and in which our Country had been embroiled for two years, ended and the treaty of Peace was signed on November 11, 1918.

“With the end of the war, the boys began coming home carrying the dreaded scourge of ‘Spanish Flu,’ and for the next three months most every city and hamlet in the country was infested.

“It went through families like ‘wild fire’, old and young alike. There were hardly enough well to take care of the sick. People were dying everywhere.”

Blanding escapes pandemic

“Of the very few towns in the country which escaped the epidemic in 1918, Blanding was one of that few. All winter the town was quarantined.

“No one was permitted to come into the town from the outside, nor were any permitted to leave and then come back without observing a quarantine siege for a period of time so as to determine if he was infected with the germ.

“Only one person from the outside came in with the ‘Flu’ but under this rigid quarantine, not another case appeared.”

An ill-fated trip

The next year, she writes, “Accompanied by my two children, I set out for Salt Lake to stay a few months. All went well until the children were well into school following the Christmas vacation.

“In a couple of weeks they were all down with another epidemic of ‘Spanish Flu’ and we learned from the papers that the whole state, in fact the whole country, was in the throe of a violent epidemic. All over the city people were sick and dying.

“Hospitals were overflowing and doctors and medication were almost impossible to get.

“Mother, who had had experience in the epidemic the year before, pulled all of us through. I was the last to come down and Mother escaped entirely.

“We were all on the way to recovery, but J. Lyman continued to have trouble with his lungs.

“People were so frightened they dared not go, even if they were well enough. Mother and I took turns about staying at nights with them for some time.

“By the end of the month, we were all on the way to recovery and Lyman, who had been at Blanding during our absence, decided to come up to see J. Lyman. Two days later, he arrived in Salt Lake feeling very miserable. We put him to bed hoping by morning he would be better.

“His fever continued to rise and by night, he consented to let us call a doctor. We called doctor after doctor, but no one could come. We gave him all the prescribed medication and applied packs and poultices all night and waited – waited.

“Morning found him definitely worse. The mucus from his lung showed a tinge of pink. We were panic-stricken.

“The doctor would try to find an emergency hospital room if one could be found – more waiting. We needed a bed-pan and more medication, but no one could be found to let us into a drug store.

“All afternoon we worked and waited, doing more, much more than they would have done at the hospital.

“At ten o’clock that night, the ambulance came to take him to the hospital. He was placed on a bed and so far as Mother and I could see, they did nothing for him. Our hands were tied here so all we could do was to wait and watch him suffer.

“At two o’clock a.m. he passed away, on the 9th of February, 1920.”

She continues, “With my mind practically stunned from shock, Mother and I made the preparations to have the body shipped home to Blanding.

“Father met us at Thompson Springs in a car and a truck to transport the casket. There had been a snowstorm and the going was very slow, but we made it pretty well until we got to Kane Springs.

“From there the snow became so heavy that it was almost impossible to go at all. The truck could not get through so, of course, the car couldn’t. The men shoveled and stomped to try to make a track for the cars.

“Thus, after hours of work, we had moved but two or three miles. It looked hopeless.

“The day wore on and it looked as though we were there for the night, but help was in the ‘offering.’ Charles Redd from La Sal, sensing the situation, had sent a heavy bob-sleigh out to meet us.

“With four draft horses and a loaded bob-sleigh, the problem was solved. We found the snow lighter as we neared Monticello so the car could travel by itself and by nine o’clock that night, we made Monticello.

“The burial on the 14th of February, 1920 ‘brought down the curtain’ on another episode of my life. I must admit my ‘stock in trade’ was pretty low as I made my way back to my home. Here I was a widow at 27 with my two children and nothing but debt.

“There were no special qualifications or formulas for taking care of my family and myself in my new home with the heart gone – the very thought of which made me ill to think of it.”

Impact continues for years

After a year, she writes, “Things went pretty well for a couple of months, but the heart condition which J. Lyman had carried since he had the flu began to show up and the doctor advised that he be taken out of school.

“The doctor thought the thing to do was to put him in the hospital for a few weeks to improve his condition. With many tears and misgivings, we finally persuaded him to go.

“I spent every afternoon with him and Mother spent all the time they would let her stay, but in spite of all that human help and kindness given, he did not mend, so after three weeks the doctor said to take him home and keep him in bed.

“Overjoyed at being back home, it seemed to give him a ‘build-up’ that nothing else had done and so we hoped and prayed that it would be permanent. But God so ‘willed’ differently, and on March 29, 1923, he passed away. I took him home to Blanding for burial.”

Of the circumstances, Hazel writes, “Before Zola’s husband, Lyman, died (the first death in the Adams family from the flu epidemic) we were a gay, light-hearted tribe and full of practical jokes and nonsense. The old light heartedness seemed to disappear and turn to more serious thought.”

San Juan Record

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PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
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