Many stories are told by tombstones in the cemetery without other written history. Visiting the older cemeteries in the county and studying the tombstones, one finds that in the early days of the county, most communities that each cemetery served had 2-5 deaths a year. However, for the years of 1918-1920, each of these communities lost 15-20 people or more. That was because of the Spanish Influenza pandemic that raged world wide. Every family in Brown county was affected by a case of the Spanish Influenza, if not here, then back at home in the states or countries where the families were from. Diaries and stories of the times as well as oral histories past down through the families tell of many losses of young mothers and children.
The Spanish Influenza was a very deadly influenza pandemic that lasted from January 1918 to December 1920. It may have three different waves of the virus. Estimates are that 500 million people (about a quarter of the world's population at the time) were infected. The death toll estimates ranged from 17 million to 50 million people, and possibly as high as 100 million people, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. Real accurate records were not kept, and some of the deaths were not diagnosed. Various historical research places have widely different amounts.
To avoid a panic after World War I, newspapers deliberately gave much smaller reports at first of the illness than what was really occurring in places such as Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and even the United States. The real effects of the pandemic were first accurately reported in Spain, including the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII. These stories created a false impression of Spain being especially hard hit by the influenza, giving rise to the name Spanish flu or Spanish Influenza. Correct data is not available to say with certainty the pandemic's geographic origin, with different accounts given in different research tools. Studies are still being done about the origin and how it moved so quickly. Even today, the origins of the disease are still being studied.
Traditionally, influenza outbreaks tend cause more deaths in the very young and the very old, with those in between surviving better, but the Spanish influenza pandemic resulted in a higher than expected death rate for young adults, especially pregnant women. In many studies, scientists have presented several possible explanations for the high death rate from the 1918 influenza pandemic. Some analysis have shown the virus to be particularly deadly because of the way in seemed to ravage the stronger immune system of young adults. Other studies of medical journals from the period found that the viral infection was no more aggressive than previous influenza strains. Instead, malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, and poor hygiene promoted bacterial "super infection." This "super infection" killed most of the victims, typically after lingering “death bed.”
A large reason usually given for the worldwide occurrence of this influenza was increased travel. Modern transportation systems made it easier for soldiers, sailors, and civilian travelers to spread the disease. Many soldiers were returning from being sent around the world during World War I. Also, the governments of various countries were in denial of the massive ability of the influenza to move form place to place and intentionally misleading the public to avoid a panic. This mind set left the population ill-prepared to handle the outbreak. The Spanish influenza was the first of two pandemics caused by the H1N1 influenza virus; the second was the swine flu in 2009. Although the death rates were so large, the Spanish Influenza faded from public awareness as generations that were affected passed away over the decades until the arrival of new outbreaks of the “ bird flu” or “swine flu” and other pandemics in the 1990's and 2000's.
Back then, the public was already familiar with pandemic disease in the late 19th and early 20th centuries since typhoid, yellow fever, diphtheria and cholera had all occurred in people's recent memory. These previous outbreaks made the significance of the influenza pandemic less for the public, at the time, and the Spanish Influenza was not reported on as widely at the time. Also, the pandemic occurred at the same time as the deaths and media focus on the first World War. The number of war-related deaths may have overshadowed the deaths caused by Spanish Influenza.
The Spanish Influenza killed more people in 24 weeks than HIV/AIDS killed in 20 plus years. The “Black Death,” the name given to the bubonic plaque, that stuck the populations of the world through many generations in the past, lasted much longer and killed a much higher percentage of the world's population.
Even this pandemic was not a new event. History shows many pandemics have occurred over the ages, world wide and some localized. Wikipedia has a list of 200 or more pandemics some being recorded back before the time of Christ. The COV 19 pandemic facing the world today is nothing new.
For instance, the “Great Plague of Marseille” was the last of the significant European outbreaks of bubonic plague. It was first detected in Marseille, France in 1720. This outbreak of the disease killed an estimated total of 100,000 people, 50,000 in the city itself over the next two years and another 50,000 in the outer regions. At that time the city of Marseille had a population of 90,000. This attack of the plague was the last recurrence of a pandemic of bubonic plague, following the previous breakouts here in this region of France which began in the early-fourteenth century. The first known instance of bubonic plague in Marseilles was in the autumn of 1347.
The first recorded epidemic of the bubonic plaque affected the Eastern Roman Empire and was named the Plague of Justinian after emperor Justinian I, who was infected but survived through. The pandemic resulted in the deaths of an estimated 25 million by the outbreak in the 6th century to 50 million people during two centuries of recurrence.
In the Late Middle Ages, Europe had the most outbreak of the plaque in history when “the Black Death,” as it has since been labeled. First appeared in 1347, killing a third of the European population. Some historians believe that "the Black Death" originated in Central Asia and spread from Italy and then throughout other European countries. Arab historians believed that “the Black Death” originated in Mongolia.
The bubonic plague appeared again for a third recorded time in the mid-19th century. Like the two previous outbreaks, this one also originated in Eastern Asia. Beginning in January 1894, the disease killed 80,000 people by June. The third pandemic of the disease spread to port cities throughout the world in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. This time, the plague infected people in Chinatown in San Francisco from 1900 to 1904, and in the nearby locales of Oakland and the East Bay again from 1907 to 1909. The last major outbreak in the United States occurred in Los Angeles in 1924.
These statistics were taken from articles from Wikipedia.
Although the history of man, as well as the history of Brown County, is full of these pandemics and epidemics, one theme illustrated by the Brown County Museum of History is the strength and resiliency of the people of Brown County. Exhibits in the museum show that, if nothing else, the people of Brown County have been able to get up and dust them off and start over again. Exhibits in the museum, like the log cabin and one room school house, tell stories of people who had to clear the land and cut logs to build a house to live and to save pieces of cardboard to nail over the cracks in the wall in the school house to keep out the wind. There are war ration books from World War II when standard household goods like eggs, sugar, flour etc. were rationed. Each family had “coupon books” with certificates for these items because of the war efforts. Families could not buy new automobiles or even tires.
Other exhibits in the museum also show how these struggles went side by side with institutions of faith. Many of the churches that are still in existence today began within a few years of the arrival of Welcome W. Chandler and the other first white men to settle here. Many of the churches have celebrated one hundred year anniversaries. An article from the Brownwood Bulletin in 1895 says that the Baptist church was the first church in 1885. and the Catholic church, the Christian church, the First Presbyterian church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, The M.E church with 350 members listed, and St. Johns Episcopal church were already in existence in 1895.
A study of the past shows us that we as a people and a nation can come through this current pandemic with strength and courage. We have done it before and have met all the challenges thrown our way.
Maybe one of the first things to do is to come to one of these places of worship (when we are allowed to come together again) and get on our knees.
Maybe it is time to have county wide prayer services, even if it is by Zoom or Skype or something the way we did after the 911 event.