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10:57 PM Sun, Dec. 16th

Days Past: The Miller family and the Spanish flu of 1918

Carol Powell/Courtesy photo<p>
Anna Miller, left, is photographed just weeks before her unexpected death in 1918 to the flu epidemic. Also pictured are Anna's two young daughters, Clara and Pearl (in matching coats), and her sister and her children.

Carol Powell/Courtesy photo<p> Anna Miller, left, is photographed just weeks before her unexpected death in 1918 to the flu epidemic. Also pictured are Anna's two young daughters, Clara and Pearl (in matching coats), and her sister and her children.

In 1918 children would skip rope to the rhyme:

I had a little bird,

Its name was Enza.

I opened the window,

And in-flu-enza.

When the Spanish flu began to cut its deadly path across the country in 1918, it did so with such efficiency that some believed sinister forces to be at work. In March of 1918 an Army private at Fort Riley, Kan., reported to the camp hospital complaining of a sore throat, fever and a headache. As the day advanced more soldiers became sick. The U.S. was at war, which provided a convenient target upon which to heap suspicion. Had the Germans used germ warfare?

The name Spanish flu is misleading, suggesting that the influenza outbreak began in Spain. In actuality, it is thought to have started on Kansas poultry farms, and then passed to the nearby soldiers at army camps, though the origin of the 1918 influenza has not been pinned down definitively. The close troop quarters promoted transmission of the virus. The troops were shipped to other army camps and on to Europe, carrying the virus with them. The pandemic spread to nearly every part of the world. Spain was particularly hard-hit by the influenza virus, hence the name given the disease. In all, it is believed that 500 million people were infected between 1918 and 1919, with greater than 50 million deaths, most within a period of nine months.

By fall, Prescott was shut down but not yet officially quarantined. The public was warned that there should be "no public gatherings of any sort." The bird flu rode into the state along the rails of the Santa Fe railroad. One of its engineers was William Service Miller, who had been reared in Prescott. William was transferred to Wickenburg from Prescott and his family moved there with him.

By December the flu was all but gone; it seemed the rate of illness was truly in decline. Many towns lifted their quarantines.

During World War I, the Spanish flu had rocked the world and, though Wickenburg was remote, it was still affected. The Miller family did not escape. William's young wife Anna contracted the disease and died.

From the Prescott Journal Miner:

"From Wickenburg comes news which will occasion universal sorrow in this community, the death of Mrs. Anna Miller being announced as occurring there on Dec. 23, from influenza pneumonia. She will be remembered as a resident of this city for many years. She was the wife of William Miller, an engineer of S.F.P.&P., who until a short time ago was assigned to this division of the road. To add more sorrow to this home, Mr. Miller is ill with this affliction, while the nurse also has been stricken, two small baby girls are left motherless, and the once happy home is clouded by that sorrow which is inconsolable. Mrs. Miller enjoyed a large acquaintance in this section, having also many friends who will regret that one so young and of such a pleasing personality should be called away. The funeral was held at Wickenburg on Dec. 24. The attendance was large, reflecting on the estimable character of the deceased."

My mother-in-law, Clara, was one of those little girls left motherless. The emptiness showed throughout their lives. William was left a widower with the two small girls. With Anna's bright light gone from the world, he left the railroad for awhile and spent a year or so working as a miner. But mining was not really his cup of tea, so he returned to the railroad. He remarried and had another daughter by his new wife, Mary. Memory of Anna faded, but her stunned family would never fully recover from the sorrow.

Carol Powell is an historian for the Olmstead/Miller families. Please see the Days Past article for April 8, 2007, for more information on William Miller at Sharlot.org.

Your stories and experiences are important. The public is welcome to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Scott Anderson at Sharlot Hall Museum Archives at 445-3122 for information.