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Butte dealt with deadly pandemic more than 100 years ago

Posted at 10:17 PM, Jul 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-18 00:19:15-04

It seems like difficult times during the coronavirus pandemic, but Butte has been through this before.

More than 100 years ago, Butte, along with the rest of the world, was dealing with the First World War as well as the Spanish Flu pandemic. Difficult times, indeed.

“In those days people were just dying so quickly, I don’t think people had a real understanding what was happening to them, but it must have been terrifying to have war, shortages and a pandemic,” said Butte Archives Director Ellen Crain.

When the pandemic his Butte in September of 1918, the head of Butte’s Health Department took action.

“Closed the schools, he closed the theaters, he closed the churches, made it illegal to congregate,” said Crain.

Like today, there were those who resisted. Initially, bars were allowed to stay open.

“The bars and saloons were really lobbying to stay open because the economics of their livelihood, however the churches got angry and they demanded and finally he closed them,” said Crain.

A fascinating artifact, the logbook from Butte’s Department of Health in 1918, it shows they were monitoring the Spanish Flu every day. An entry on Nov. 15th shows the number of deaths: Nov. 11th, eight, Nov. 12th, seven, November 13th, ten. So they were taking this very seriously.

“We know we got through 1918-1919 and we survived, and our community recovered and our economy recovered across this country, so we know once we get this virus behind us and wear our masks and wash our hands we can move forward with rebuilding our economy and our community,” said Crain.

Historian estimate about 1,500 deaths from the Spanish Flu in Butte. Today, there have been no reported deaths in Butte-Silver Bow due to Covid-19.