The Antelope Valley is no stranger to influenza. In 1918, the Western Hotel was transformed into a clinic in response to the Spanish Influenza pandemic that infected approximately 500 million people worldwide.
Despite its name, the Spanish Influenza did not originate in Spain. Research during the late 20th and early 21st century indicates that the Spanish flu first developed in Haskell County, Kansas in March of 1918. The 1918 influenza’s namesake stems from the fact that the Spanish government was the first government to officially recognize the pandemic.
Haskell County was home to a large United States Army base called Camp Funston. Later renamed Fort Riley, the base housed all army personnel from the county. The first case of the Spanish flu within Camp Funston was reported on March 4th, 1918. A total of 1,127 cases were confirmed to have developed among the enlisted personnel at Camp Funston. The exact number of soldiers infected with influenza was likely much higher.
The development of the Spanish Flu coincided with the latter portion of World War One, which had been raging in Europe since 1914. The United States officially entered the war in April of 1918 and was making preparations to mobilize the troops in early March. As such, army personnel from Camp Funston were being transferred to other army camps throughout the United States and overseas to Europe. It is within this context that the Spanish Flu was able to spread across the world so rapidly.
Despite its relative isolation and lack of development, influenza eventually made its way to the Antelope Valley.
Western Hotel owner Myrtie Webber assisted Mom Evert and Dr. Arwine in the treatment of locals afflicted with influenza. Mom Evert was universally admired by the residents of early Lancaster as she often helped to care for the sick and personally aided many townsfolk in the delivery of their children.
Dr. Arwine was one of two doctors known to have resided in early Lancaster. As one of the few medical professionals available to the fledgling community, Dr. Arwine relied heavily upon volunteers willing to put themselves at risk for the community. Due to the generosity and courage of individuals like Mom Evert and Myrtie Webber, many early Antelope Valley residents were able to recover from the Spanish Flu.
Ultimately, the Spanish flu presented as only a minor setback in the development
of the Antelope Valley. It did not take long for the various industries of the Antelope Valley to bounce back from the pandemic. The railroad and aqueduct, as well as the mining and agricultural industries, would continue to serve as sources of employment and income for local residents.
The Spanish Flu not only serves as a case study for how to respond to a modern pandemic but also as a message of hope. Despite the Spanish Flu's massive impact throughout the world, society recovered and life returned to some semblance of normalcy. Through collective sacrifice and generosity, society persevered.