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12:35 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

In 1918, two local soldiers were among victims of worst flu epidemic in history

Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier<p>
Will King died from the Spanish flu while training for WWI just two weeks after the first U.S. flu death in March 1918.

Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier<p> Will King died from the Spanish flu while training for WWI just two weeks after the first U.S. flu death in March 1918.

When the first World War I soldier from Yavapai County (named William King) died in March 1918, a huge crowd turned out for his funeral at Citizens Cemetery in Prescott.

But when fellow WWI soldier Stephen Vaglio died in October 1918, only his family was there for the funeral at Citizens Cemetery.

Why the disparity?

By the fall of 1918, authorities basically had warned people to avoid public gatherings because of the deadly Spanish flu.

The first cases of Spanish flu in Prescott occurred on Oct. 3, 1918, the day before Vaglio's funeral, according to research conducted by the Yavapai County Community Health Services Department in the Prescott Journal-Miner newspapers. Eight soldiers at Fort Whipple became ill Oct. 3 after arriving there three days earlier from Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Fort Whipple went under quarantine because of the flu on Oct. 4, and by Oct. 8, the city health officer issued an order banning all public gatherings, including churches and school, according to the county research. On Oct. 10, all pool rooms were ordered closed.

Both King and Vaglio died of that flu, which took the lives of at least 50 million people between March 1918 and June 1920. More than half were between the ages of 20 and 40. The Spanish flu killed at least a half-million Americans, more than the number who died in WWI, WWII and Vietnam combined.

While county officials couldn't find any statistics about how many people died in this county, the Journal-Miner reported at least 35 deaths in Jerome and two at Fort Whipple. The newspaper stopped reporting cases of the flu by December 1918, according to the county research, so apparently the illness was extremely short-lived here.

Citizens Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the Prescott-area victims of the Spanish flu.

Vaglio was a miner at the Humboldt mine who died at the age of 23 on Sept. 25, 1918, at Camp Dix, N.J.

His brother and father are buried next to him at Citizens Cemetery, and his family remains in this area.

While the origin of the disease is not definitive, one theory is that it began on Kansas poultry farms and then passed to nearby soldiers at Army camps, as noted by Carol Powell in a recent Daily Courier "Days Past" article.

The first recorded U.S. case was at Fort Riley, Kan., on March 4, 1918.

King, who was 30 when he died on March 17, had been training at Camp Funston in Kansas when he caught the flu.

At that time, the general public was not yet aware of the horrors to come from the deadliest known flu outbreak in history. They were focused on the war.

The Prescott Journal-Miner of March 24, 1918, described King's funeral as "one of the largest and most impressive funerals ever witnessed in this city." The Welfare Committee of the Chamber of Commerce brought a 6x3-foot U.S. flag made of carnations. A choir, high school cadets and a bugler participated in the service.

King was black, but that didn't make any difference to the mourners.

"The overwhelming response to the young soldier's death noted in this (Journal-Miner) article was a testimony to the allegiance of Prescottonians to their neighbors, friends, and families; blinded by neither color nor creed," observed former Sharlot Hall Museum archivist Ryan Flahive in a 2005 Days Past article.

The American Legion Post 6 Honor Guard has adopted King's grave. Members cleared out weeds around the grave last week and placed a flag and bouquet on it.

"Every veteran deserves to have some maintenance on his gravesite," Honor Guard Commander Dan Tillmans said. "It's part of history. These people are part of what keeps us free."

It was no less honorable to die of disease than in combat, Tillman said. In fact, less than 10 percent of active-duty military die in combat, he added.