By Hannah Combs
The Bonner County Historical Society has created a portal where you can share your stories, photos, and artifacts about the COVID-19 experience. Your personal histories will be archived in the Museum’s collections so that years from now you can remember what it was like, and so that future generations can understand what we are all going through.
BCHS has been collecting personal histories since its inception in the early 1970’s. Most of these can be found recorded in the oral histories collection. These are two stories about the Spanish influenza that were recorded as part of longer life histories.
Vernice Stradley, interviewed by Ann Cordes in 1978, was in high school during the winter of 1918-1919. She said they closed her school before the year ended, and she was home with her family for the remainder of the year. A hundred years ago, there was no way to go to school remotely. Several of her family members got the flu, and though she and her brother recovered quickly, her mother had to be transported to a larger hospital for treatment for a lung infection complication. Vernice said, “They took her away sick. They had a Dinky [a short shuttle train] that went through here, and they stopped the Dinky right by the house.” During her mother’s three-month hospitalization, the family received infrequent updates on her condition and were not allowed to visit. “They didn’t think she was going to live for awhile. [...] they said it was only a matter of time,” recalled Vernice. But her mother overcame the flu, went on to have one more child, and Vernice went back to school the following year and completed her high school degree. Vernice said she “never gave up. I bet I got as good an education then in high school as they get now when they get out of college.”
Frances Wendle Miller’s family was in the process of moving from Chicago to Hope at the beginning of the flu epidemic. Her father had moved first to establish a home and business (he was a doctor for a lumber mill in Hope), and Frances recalled, “We’d come to visit and we’d have to wear masks on the train.” They had a set of clothes they would wear on the train, then immediately change when they reached the house and wash all of the train clothes, for fear of infection. Shortly after the family settled in Hope, they relocated to Sandpoint, because her father’s medical skills were needed to help treat flu patients at the Page hospital. Frances said, “We could climb the tree [in front of the hospital] and watch them operate in the operating room.” She acknowledged that the flu hit the area hard and that “it made us more careful.” Frances Wendle Miller was interviewed by Nancy Nelson in 1978.
In addition to sharing current COVID-19 experiences, please let us know if you have family stories about the Spanish flu in Bonner County. What was the experience like for your parents or grandparents? Have you ever visited the “Little Lambs” section of Lakeview Cemetery, dedicated to the children who died during the Spanish flu? If you have something to share, please feel free to include it in your portal submission and help enrich the Museum’s collection.
Research courtesy of the Bonner County History Museum.
By Hannah Combs
Since the last of the snow melted, I have been scattering small piles of birdseed around the lawn, trying to lure songbirds to a newly established birdfeeder. Every now and then, a quartet of mule deer stroll through and nibble bits of corn from the piles of seed. So sweet and fuzzy, I thought. I felt like Snow White, friends with all the forest creatures. Then I planted a beautiful tulip, its blossoms a delicate purple that stood out as a beacon of spring. The next morning, it was chomped to the ground, bulbs scattered haphazardly, a tender treat for the mangy, dastardly creatures that dared to step foot in my garden. Sound the alarm, I cried. Dispatch the sentries! The villains will surely be back to wreak havoc again!
Throughout our history, we have had a tendency to dramatize animals, whether by reading into the fiendish motivations of hungry deer or by putting costumes on our dogs. If you think that our obsession with humanizing and befriending animals is a new phenomenon born of technology-aided boredom, think again. In the early days of Bonner County, our ancestors maintained quite the menagerie of wild animals.
Frank Clements was known far and wide for his two pet deer, Babe and Buster. They were a regular sight around Sandpoint, pulling a custom-made buggy. Clements entered the dynamic pair into exhibitions around the northwest, and as BCHS historian Dan Evans says, “Boy, could this guy tell stories.” Buster and Babe allegedly could read, walk a tightrope, and enjoyed listening to ragtime music. Clements once told a newspaper that he refused an offer from a circus manager of $50,000 for Babe and Buster, “the equivalent of $1.3 million today,” said Evans. In 1915, Clements set out with Buster and Babe on a world-record expedition from San Francisco to New York. It appears that they made it at least as far as Chicago, where Frank eventually settled and began training reindeer.
Equal to Clements as a master of drama, both in her cinema and real life, Nell Shipman kept several pet bears at Lionhead Lodge at the north end of Priest Lake, which she used in some of her film projects. The most famous bear-keeper of all, however, was Ms. Mary Matilda (Timblin) Hunt, who owned the Great Northern Hotel in Sandpoint. One August day in 1910, when a Sandpoint Interurban Railway street car was stopped and unattended on the tracks, one of Ms. Hunt’s pet bears broke out of its enclosure, climbed aboard the street car, and ate over six pounds of butter that were destined for local deliveries. When motorman Dick Turpin returned from an errand, he “was thunderstruck at the audacity of the bruin, but lost no time in hastening to the car and assisting the bear out one of the side doors,” according to the local paper.
Wild animal adventures may have become smaller-scale over the years, but they still abounded. In 1984, as a prank retirement gift, Idaho Fish and Game transplanted 28 eastern fox squirrels from Boise to former IFG commissioner Pete Thompson’s home in the Selle Valley. Seven years later, the non-native species had spread far and wide, thanks to few natural predators. Though Thompson defended the squirrels, saying “I can’t see they do any damage,” opinions differed, particularly among people whose gardens were munched on by the rodents. Today, the “town squirrels” have traveled at least as far as Sagle, though no one knows how they hitched a ride across the Long Bridge.
As entertaining as these stories may be, it is our responsibility to enjoy them as relics of the past and not add to the canon of questionable wildlife interactions. In recent years we have established healthier boundaries with wild animals, thanks to ever-evolving research about animals’ natural habits and habitats. We know how quickly non-native species introduction can disrupt an ecosystem. We’ve learned that we shouldn’t harness deer to our golf carts and fat bikes.
As black bears come out of hibernation, we’ll keep our garbage cans inside, so they forage for carrion instead of carry-out. We’ll remember that the neighborhood moose is a powerful and unpredictable creature, and for that matter, so are a lot of our dogs, even the ones wearing costumes. And I’ll stop channeling Snow White, in the hopes that the muleys will head back to high ground for the summer, instead of plaguing me with their tulip-devouring mischief, or as they might say, natural habits.
Research courtesy of the Bonner County History Museum, local historian Dan Evans, Bev Kee, the Seattle Times, and Idaho Fish & Game.
By Hannah Combs
Brought to you by the Bonner County Historical Society & Museum
On a fine summer morning in 1918, seven women gathered at the home of Mrs. Norman Campbell in Sandpoint. Taking advantage of the sunny weather, they finished their tea, arranged their stiff-backed chairs in the garden, tied their white aprons around their waists, and settled in for a long morning of knitting socks. One of the younger women may have cheered “Knit for Sammie!” before settling onto the lawn next to Anna Sund’s collie dog with her knitting needles and basket of wool yarn.
“Sammie,” a nod to Uncle Sam, referred to the thousands of American soldiers in France during WWII, who spent the winter of 1917-18 trudging through cold, wet trenches in Pershing boots. With iron soles, no insulation, and insufficient waterproofing on their boots, soldiers often wore two pairs of thick wool socks at once to survive the frigid weather. If they did not change their socks regularly, they could become incapacitated by “trench foot,” a fungal infection.
Receiving requests from the War Council, the American Red Cross put out an ambitious call for knitters across the country to produce one and a half million each of wool sweaters, mufflers, fingerless gloves, and pairs of socks. The Red Cross provided patterns and materials and coordinated delivery of knitted goods to the front, mobilizing thousands of American citizens to aid the war effort.
Knitting permeated through every facet of American life that year. Women knitted at home, at work, even at church. Those who didn’t know how to knit learned from their mothers, friends, and neighbors. Children were directed to do more of the household chores so that their mothers could focus on knitting. They were reprimanded for getting holes in their clothes while playing outside, because no time could be wasted on mending when so many garments needed to be sent overseas. When the Junior Red Cross was created in 1917, the organization taught thousands of schoolchildren to knit, both girls and boys, using washcloths as an initial project. At a primary school in Seattle, one teacher recalled that washcloths would be delivered to her desk covered in grime, because the children would knit while chasing each other around the playground. The washcloths would have to be washed before sending to the Red Cross, but every effort was appreciated.
By mid-1918, when Anna Sund and her friends gathered to knit together, the nation had halted the production of everything except socks, which were in more critical need than ever. Knitters had to pivot and adapt to the changing needs from the front. Yarn retailers were required to turn over any yarn dyed in service colors to the war effort, so that knitting would not be halted. But even as the soldiers were desperately awaiting supplies, their service in Europe was giving hope to the folks back home. The end of the war was in sight. After knitting all morning, the Sandpoint women talked in the garden, poring over a map and pointing out the site of the Allies’ most recent victory.
When the war ended in November 1918, the influenza pandemic that had been spreading throughout the country that summer cast a shadow on the celebrations. Finally relieved from the horrific experiences of the war, the American people were facing another devastating crisis that would take the lives of hundreds of thousands.
Now we are experiencing another global pandemic, but if we look to the past, we know how well-equipped we are to face it. This community has risen before to support our nation’s needs, and we will do so again. In the 1950’s Dr. Forrest Bird adapted his inventions in aeronautical breathing technology to help with the polio epidemic, and right now, the descendents of those inventions, ventilators, are being produced here in Bonner County to provide urgent resources for hospitals around the country.
Masks are the new socks, and people throughout the community are speedily stitching to stock up our hospital’s supply and provide protection for our vulnerable neighbors and friends. We too have to listen every day to the changing needs, as we receive new health guidelines and improved mask patterns. We have to be nimble, but we cannot forget that we are together, even when social distancing makes us feel alone. The garden party on Mrs. Campbell’s lawn is only a video chat, a sewing machine, and some comfy pajamas away. If you don’t know how to sew, ask someone to teach you, or simply stay home and appreciate those you love. Thank you to everyone who is creating history right now by generously offering your skills to our collective effort, whatever they may be. Eventually, this will end, but our sense of community never will.
Research courtesy of the Bonner County History Museum and HistoryLink.org.