OPINION: The Way of Nature

There have been moments, terrible moments, in the history of our species that have pushed the fabric of human endurance to the very breaking point. Our ancestors have witnessed and endured great and horrific wars, natural weather-inspired catastrophic disasters, and, yes, there have been horrendous plagues and epidemics.

The Alvarez Hypothesis, by father and son Luis and Walter, proposes that a mountain-sized meteor struck Earth some sixty-six million years ago. This strike sent gas and bits of Earth's crust into the atmosphere, which in turn changed the climate, thus causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, not all scientists find this proposal plausible as it relates to the extinction. Although the meteor strike did most likely occur, it is believed that another factor contributed to the end of the species. That idea suggests that a virus, an epidemic if you will, took the lives of many species.

The "Black Death" of the fourteenth century reduced the population of Europe by one-half. It is estimated that the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1919 killed between forty and fifty million people worldwide. The recent covid-19 pandemic has cost the lives of more than six and one-half million people worldwide.

I'm sure the friends and relatives of the poor souls who called McDonald County home before succumbing to the recent covid virus outbreak care little or nothing about the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic. Those of us who have been witness to nature's most recent way of repeating history are sorrowful over the loss of those we knew and loved. However, the Spanish flu outbreak was so terribly horrific.

This influenza was inaccurately given the name "Spanish flu" as the first reported case of the virus can be traced to a United States Army cook. Albert Gitchell, a soldier stationed at Camp Funston in Kansas, is thought to be the first person to become infected.

This plague, this infectious virus, influenza type A subtype H1N1, spread from continent to continent, country to country, state to state, and, yes, county to county. The people living in the sparsely populated county of McDonald in the southwestern corner of the state of Missouri were not spared the epidemic's, the killer's, wrath.

For some two long years in the early part of the twentieth century, the harbinger of death brought sorrow and despair to the folks living in the towns and on the farms in the small Ozark County of McDonald. The sad news of the deaths was reported weekly.

On a clear Wednesday afternoon in October 1919, Mrs. Sullivan of Pineville received a telephone call. It was from a nurse working at the Pittsburg, Kansas, hospital. The nurse said her husband's condition had worsened, and Mrs. Sullivan needed to hurry to his bedside. The Spanish flu had caused W.W. Sullivan to come down with pneumonia, and he was not expected to survive. Mr. Sullivan died shortly thereafter.

Mr. and Mrs. H.T. Skiles were heart-stricken. In January 1919, they stood on the cold ground in the Pineville cemetery as their three-year-old child was laid to rest. The child died of pneumonia which was brought on by Spanish influenza.

Mrs. Charles Roberts was a long-time resident of Rocky Comfort. She died after contracting the Spanish flu and, in January 1919, she was buried in the Rocky Comfort cemetery.

Merely 13 months old, Carl Howell of Granby became gravely ill. Sick for only a few days with the Spanish flu, he succumbed to the illness in November of 1918. Carl's sister, Goldie died a mere seventeen days before him and, as was only fitting, the two children were buried next to one another. For years there were fresh flowers on the graves of the two who died so very young.

Another Granby resident became ill. The diagnosis was the Spanish flu, and the outcome was all too predictable. Ed Grant was buried in the local cemetery in November 1918.

Thirty-seven-year-old Anderson resident W.R. Bonebrake left a wife, two daughters, and a son after he was called to the great hereafter. He passed away at his home on December 14, 1918, after a brief battle with the Spanish flu.

The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Willie Russell of White Rock became ill. The doctor said it was the flu and explained that the Spanish flu was going around. Mary Doss died in October 1918. Sadly, the doctor also stated that her husband and infant had the same illness. Mary Doss was buried in White Rock.

Fred Carter had been ill for about 10 days. He was told that he had the flu and care should be taken as his condition might worsen if he developed pneumonia. As was far too often the case with the flu, he did become inflicted with pneumonia and died on October 12, 1918, a Saturday evening. Fred Carter was forty-two years old.

Walter Jones was buried in the Macedonia Cemetery. In October of 1918, he became ill. The diagnosis? Spanish influenza. Jones lived in the Erie Township and, by all accounts, was well thought of by those who knew him.

In October of 1918, the Pineville democrat newspaper reported that forty cases of influenza were reported in the Pineville area alone. The story recommended that extra precautions should be exercised by those with the illness and by anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.

For as long as this universe of ours has existed and for all living things within it, there have been two things that have remained constant. There has been life and there has been death. There have been viruses and pandemics throughout the history of our planet and, sometime in Earth's future, there will once again be a virus-born epidemic. It is inevitable.

When all is said and done and after the statisticians and bean-counters have had their say, I believe the names of the husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters and grandmothers and grandfathers are what's important to remember.

Like many of you, I know the name of someone who was victimized by the covid-19 virus. I don't consider the fact that he was one of the 81 folks from McDonald County who died of the virus. I remember him as Steve.

-- Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents, who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. The opinions expressed are those of the author.