1918 flu swept through North Fork

| April 8, 2020 6:03 AM

It is a lot easier to practice “social distancing” on the North Fork than it is in town. Up here we can always go for a walk, play with the dog outside, or even sit on the riverbank and watch for geese. As an old guy I have never experienced anything like this coronavirus. Nor have the few folks older than I am. However this is not the first pandemic to affect the whole country and the world -- even the North Fork.

The monster flu epidemic of 1918 killed many more people than the coronavirus has to date. At that time the North Fork was much more isolated than it is today and no doubt medical knowledge was much more limited.

Whatever the differences, the 1918 flu epidemic affected most North Fork residents and caused at least one death. Most North Forkers that caught the flu contracted the disease either while visiting the valley or from a “carrier” from the valley. Among those infected were Gene Sullivan, Johnny Walsh, Charlie and Mabel Wise, Mrs. Ewald, Louise Dutcher, Josiah Rogers’s family, Mrs. Sam Sansavere, Charles Wiseman, Mr. and Mrs. Finley Arnett and their daughter Elma.

Most tragic was the death of Mabel Wise. Her little daughter had died only a few weeks before, the result of swallowing a button. It was while at the hospital with the little girl that both Charlie and Mabel contracted influenza. Mr. Wise recovered and lived on the North Fork until his death in the 1960s. Mabel’s maiden name was Dutcher so I assume the Louise Dutcher that had the flu was a relative. The Wise homestead is known today as Square Peg Ranch and is owned by Oliver Meister who also owns the Polebridge Hostel. Both properties are former properties of the late John Frederick.

Another sad reminder of the 1918 flu epidemic is that it came back again in 1919 and 1920, although not as deadly, and again in 1922. Of course, we still have the flu in 2020 but medical science has advanced and we have vaccines, but the little devils mutate and still cause hundreds and thousands of deaths.

One bright spot in 1918 was a letter from Matt Brill in the upper North Fork. It says, “Have finished building our house and barn and am now busy building a bridge across the river. The weather has sure been coming our way, and have been going too fast for the “flu” so far.”

Matt’s house burned in 1947 but his barn still stands. I never heard of him bridging the river before, but he and wife, Mata, did build 14 cabins and owned and operated the Kintla Guest Ranch until after World War II.

I sure hope that what the guy said when he swallowed the marbles applies to the coronavirus — “This too shall pass.”

Wash your hands, bump elbows and maintain your distance from others. P.S. Thanks to Lois Walker for researching the 1918 flu.