Gunnison, Colorado was identified as a potential escape community through our readings of several of the secondary sources. After conducting primary source research (mostly newspapers), we quickly learned that Gunnison officials enacted one of the most ambitious and successful protective sequestrations of all U.S. communities.
At a Glance:
- Type of Site: Mountain town and county.
- Population: 1,329 in town; 5,590 in Gunnison County.
- Pop. Density: 414 pp./sq mi in town; 1.8 ppl./sq. mi in county.
- Geographical Considerations: Gunnison was a small mountain town, far removed from Colorado’s major population centers, but on a major rail line.
- Influenza Cases: 0 in town; 2 in county.
- Influenza Deaths: 0 in town; 1 in county.
- First Reported Case: Uncertain, but late October/early November.
- NPI Implemented: protective sequestration with barricades of roads; rail travel restricted; quarantine of arrivals to county; isolation of suspected cases; closure of schools; prohibition on public gatherings (as per state law).
Gunnison, Colorado, was first settled by whites in the 1870s, as the native Ute Indians were forced off of their land. Ranchers, farmers, and miners came to the area to take advantage of the surrounding valley’s open land and vast coal deposits. On May 22, 1877, the town of Gunnison became the seat of Gunnison County. Three years later, in 1880, the railroad came to Gunnison. By the mid-1880s there were two railroads operating in Gunnison, linking the town with Denver, Salida, Durango, Montrose, Grand Junction, Crested Butte, Lake City, and even Salt Lake City.
Despite its diminutive size, Gunnison’s location and natural resources made it an important cultural, educational, and economic center for the area. In 1909 the Colorado Normal School was founded; its name changed to Western State College in 1915. The county was rich in silver and coal deposits, and Gunnison began its early years as something of a boom and bust town. As in other towns in the area, silver mining was an important economic activity. In the early 20th century, however, the dominance of silver mining began to give way to coal mining. In addition, ranching and farming were also widespread in the county’s vast valleys. In 1918, most of the area’s residents were employed in one of these three sectors.
Gunnison is located in southwest Colorado. It is a mountain town, sitting at approximately 7,600 feet in a high valley at the base of three mountain ranges. According to 1920 census data, the population of the town of Gunnison was 1,329, and that of Gunnison County 5,590. The population density of the county was one of the lowest (although not the lowest) for all Colorado, with only 1.8 people per square mile. The town of Gunnison had a population density of 414 persons per square mile. It is reasonable to assume that, given the low influenza death rate for the county, the change in population from the 1918/1919 period until the 1920 census was taken was minimal. Therefore the numbers above most likely provide an accurate demographic representation of the county and town in 1918.
Colorado’s Response to the Influenza Pandemic
According to a State Board of Health report, influenza arrived in Colorado on or about September 20, 1918, when 250 Montana soldiers arrived in Boulder for special training at Colorado University. Thirteen of the soldiers arrived seriously ill, and from them the disease spread quickly across the campus and the town. By the end of the first week 91 cases had developed. At the same time, a small detachment of 200 Montana soldiers arrived in Colorado Springs for training there; 25 of them were ill with influenza. From these two areas, according to the report, influenza spread across Colorado.
On October 7, the State Board of Health and Governor Julius C. Gunter issued an executive order calling upon all health officers and members of the press to advise citizens of the danger of public gatherings, and to urge city and town officials to take appropriate action to halt the spread of the disease by closing public places. On October 16, Governor Gunter proclaimed all public and private gatherings prohibited across the state. In addition to these measures, the Board of Heath asked the press to issue requests for physicians and nurses, and the US Public Health Service was called upon for aid. Dr. Erlo Kennedy, Executive Secretary of the State Board of Health, was made the Public Health Service representative for Colorado during the pandemic.
Unlike most other western Colorado towns, Gunnison took a very early and active interest in the spread of influenza across the United States in 1918. If newspaper reportage is any indicator of a more general concern, Gunnison’s residents took the threat of the pandemic reaching their county quite seriously. The first article on influenza appeared in the September 27, 1918, issue of the Gunnison News-Champion, in advance of the pandemic reaching that part of the state. From this point until January 1919, the News-Champion included at least one front-page article on influenza in each of its weekly issues.
Gunnison took immediate action. On October 8, immediately after the first precautionary warning from the State Board of Health, the schools were closed across the county, with the order that they would remain so until at least October 21. County officials also implemented social distancing measures, decreeing places in the county closed for at least four weeks. Lest its readers take the situation too lightly, the local newspaper reported on the seriousness of the pandemic, adding that the disease was rapidly spreading to nearby towns. New cases were appearing in Sargents, although on a reduced scale; the News-Champion surmised that nearly everyone in the town had already been stricken with influenza. Rail workers reported that Salida, a mountain pass town 65 miles to the east, had 200 cases, with 40 of them appearing on October 15 alone. Two weeks later that number had reached 500. The newspaper acknowledged that this information was merely rumor, but nonetheless added that it indicated just how dangerous the disease was.
With news from nearby towns that were being hard hit by the pandemic, Gunnison residents had plenty of reason to worry that the disease might soon wend its way into their county. On October 31, Dr. Hanson, the county physician, enacted a strict protective sequestration of the entire county. We do know, as discussed below, that for the time being rail passengers were allowed to travel to Gunnison, but were required to enter a two-day quarantine period once they disembarked. Barricades (cordon sanitaire) were erected on the main highways near the county lines, and lanterns and signs were used to warn automobiles to go through the county without stopping or passengers would be forced to submit to quarantine. Residents were allowed to leave the county freely, but no one was allowed to enter unless he or she first went into quarantine. Travel between points within the county was also temporarily prohibited. Violators, Dr. Hanson added, would face the full force of the law, “and to this we promise our personal attention.” Gunnison, at least, took its protective sequestration very seriously, as two Nebraskan motorists found out when they tried to bypass the barricade and enter Gunnison County en route to Delta. They were promptly arrested and jailed. A Pitkin man was later fined for attempting to evade the quarantine.
Local politics and legal matters quickly, if only temporarily, interfered with the effort, however, as it was determined that Dr. Hanson’s authority as county physician did not extend to the county’s incorporated towns, namely Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Pitkin. Believing in the ability of strict measures to keep Gunnison County safe, on November 1 local officials placed Dr. J. W. Rockefeller of Crested Butte in charge of the protective sequestration/quarantine policy, with full authority to enforce it across the county. It seemed to all a necessary and timely measure, as there were two cases of influenza in the county already, the result of a woman, Mrs. Ellen Gavette, meeting her infected sister at the train station as the latter returned from a recent trip. The two ill sisters had retired to their ranch above the tiny town of Parlin to rest and recover. A few days later, on November 4, the 25-year-old Ellen Gavette died of influenza.
In mid-January, after consulting with a State Board of Health physician called to Gunnison to review the situation, the decision was made to re-open all the county’s schools on January 20. Attendance would not be mandatory, however, to appease those parents who feared for their children’s safety. Because the quarantine order would remain in effect, all students who had to enter the county to attend school would be required to spend two days in quarantine.
Finally, on Monday, February 3, 1919, Dr. Hyatt called for an end to the protective sequestration and closure order for the town of Gunnison. On February 4, the town council met and agreed to lift the measures. The rest of the county was kept under the order for an additional two days by Dr. Hanson. The protective sequestration ended across Gunnison County on the morning of Wednesday, February 5. The county’s incorporated towns, as well other camps and settlements so desiring, were given the authority to continue the NPI if they saw fit to do so. After almost four months under protective sequestration, Gunnison residents could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
In mid-March 1919, the third wave of the influenza pandemic did reach Gunnison County, with at least 100 cases in Gunnison, 40 more in Pitkin, and and unknown number in other parts of the county. This time, however, no additional NPI were enacted. In the end, at least 5 young residents of Gunnison County died from pneumonia.
Because Gunnison’s handling of the influenza epidemic was predicated in large part on the news it received from nearby mining communities and their struggles with the disease, we collected information on those towns as well. In addition, two communities—Lake City in adjacent Hinsdale County, and Walsenburg in Huerfano County (south of Pueblo)—were identified as possible escape communuties. Ultimately, however, not enough information could be found to make this determination. Digitized sources include:
- Gunnison News-Champion
- Durango Evening Herald
- Grand Junction News
- Lake City Times
- Montrose Daily Press
- Sterling Democrat
- Walsenburg World
- Governor Julius C. Gunter Papers, Colorado State Archives, Denver, CO
- Historical Board of Health Meeting Minutes, Colorado State Department of Health and Environment, Denver, CO
|9/27/1918||David A. Anderson Dies at Camp Dix, New Jersey||gnc01|
|10/11/1918||Spanish Fly Close By||gnc02|
|10/18/1918||The ‘Flu’ Is After Us||gnc03|
|10/25/1918||Flu Epidemic Rages Everywhere||gnc04|
|11/1/1918||Death Roll Is Long One||gnc05|
|11/1/1918||Quarantine Proclamation by the County Physician||gnc05|
|11/1/1918||Rockefeller In Charge||gnc05|
|11/1/1918||‘Flu” Toll is Terrific||gnc05|
|11/8/1918||Death List Still Grows||gnc06|
|11/15/1918||Flu Situation Very Encouraging. No Deaths||gnc07|
|11/22/1918||Ban Raised Tomorrow||gnc08|
|11/29/1918||Quarantine Not Raised But No More Flu Cases||gnc09|
|11/29/1918||Flu Rampant in State||gnc09|
|12/6/1918||No Flu in County||gnc10|
|12/13/1918||Additional Quarantine Regulations||gnc11|
|12/13/1918||Report as to Quarantine Appeal for Cooperation by Physician in Charge||gnc11|
|12/20/1918||Mayo Vaccine Seems Success||gnc12|
|12/27/1918||Schools Will Open?||gnc13|
|12/27/1918||How the Flu Progresses in Nearby Towns||gnc14|
|12/27/1918||No Cure for Influenza||gnc14|
|12/27/1918||Flu Ban Partly Off||gnc14|
|12/27/1918||Flu Ban Lifted at Canon City||gnc14|
|1/3/1919||A Measure of Precaution||gnc16|
|1/10/1919||All Schools top Open Again January 20th||gnc17|
|1/10/1919||State Board Inspector Advises Opening Schools||gnc18|
|2/7/1919||Quarantine Is Lifted||gnc19|
|2/7/1919||Flu at Hotchkiss and Trinidad Very Bad||gnc19|
|2/21/1919||Flu Bad in Salida||gnc20|
|3/14/1919||Flu Gets Us at Last||gnc21|
|3/21/1919||Grim Hand of Death Clutches Our Community||gnc22|
|3/21/1919||Epidemic Situation Improves; Few New Cases Reported||gnc23|
|4/4/1919||Outbreak of Flu At Cimarron Again||gnc24|
|10/5/1918||Influenza Cases Reported Here||deh01|
|10/8/1918||All Public Places Are Ordered Closed||deh02|
|10/8/1918||Loisa Bass Is First Influenza Victim||deh03|
|10/23/1918||Influenza Residences Bear Cards||deh04|
|10/24/1918||Serious Conditions at Silverton Worse||deh05|
|10/26/1918||Silverton Terror Slightly Abated||deh06|
|11/1/1918||Help Stop Influenza Epidemic, Individual Responsibility Great||deh07|
|11/4/1918||Grim Reaper Takes Heavy Toll in City Since Saturday||deh08|
|11/6/1918||La Plata County Placed Under Quarantine to Control Influenza||deh09|
|11/7/1918||Notice of Quarantine||deh10|
|11/11/1918||Help Stop the Flu||deh11|
|11/29/1918||‘Flu’ Restrictions Slightly Removed||deh12|
|11/30/1918||Quarantine Rules Made More Strict||deh13|
|12/11/1918||Quarantine Rules Are Changed Slightly||deh14|
|12/13/1918||150 Cases of Flu Reported at Ouray||deh15|
|10/12/1918||Churches of City to Be Closed Sunday||gjn02|
|10/26/1918||Seventeen New Cases of Flu Yesterday Shows Decrease in Its Spread||gjn03|
|10/26/1918||Influenza Is Thing of the Past in Some Camps||gjn03|
|11/2/1918||Quarantine Should Be More Strict Says Defense Council||gjn04|
|11/23/1918||Flu Ban Lifted Here; Theaters, Churches and Schools to Open||gjn05|
|11/23/1918||City Schools Will Open on Tuesday Next||gjn06|
|11/23/1918||‘Flu’ Office Doubles Its Activities||gjn07|
|12/4/1918||Flu Office Makes Good in Handling Spanish Influenza||gjn08|
|12/28/1918||Uncle Sam’s Advice on Flu||gjn09|
|10/3/1918||Dread Malady Sweeps Camps||lct01|
|10/3/1918||Boulder Students Die of Influenza||lct01|
|10/3/1918||Centennial State Items||lct02|
|10/10/1918||Centennial State Items||lct03|
|10/10/1918||Colorado Schools Closed||lct03|
|10/17/1918||Nation Combats ‘Flu’ Spread||lct04|
|10/31/1918||Influenza Abates in Naval Stations||lct06|
|10/31/1918||Scourge Takes Way Westward||lct06|
|10/31/1918||Centennial State Items||lct07|
|11/14/1918||Health Talk: Spanish Influenza or Grip [advertisement in form of article]||lct08|
|11/28/1918||New Uses of ‘Flu’ Masks||lct09|
|12/26/1918||Centennial State Items||lct10|
|1/2/1919||Colorado News Notes||lct11|
|1/9/1919||How You Feel When You Have the Flu [poem]||lct12|
|1/9/1919||After the ‘Flu’ – Fever or Cold [advertisement for flu medication]||lct13|
|1/23/1919||Schools Will Open||lct14|
|2/6/1919||The Schools Will Open – When?||lct15|
|9/24/1918||US Fighting Influenza Hard; Rules Issued By Government to Stop Spread of Noxious Disease||mdp01|
|10/8/1918||Grand Junction Closes Schools, Churches, Theaters and Stops All Gatherings Due to Influenza||mdp02|
|10/9/1918||City Council and Health Dept. Warning About ‘Flu’||mdp03|
|10/14/1918||Quarantine on Tight, Montrose Closed Up||mdp04|
|10/22/1918||Press Hard Hit by Flu Epidemic||mdp05|
|10/22/1918||Influenza Victims Piled On Ground: Not Enuf [sic] Coffins||mdp05|
|10/22/1918||Influenza Spreading, 60 to 70 Cases Here||mdp05|
|10/24/1918||Epidemic Still Forceful Here; About 120 Cases||mdp06|
|10/26/1918||52 Deaths in 10 Days in Silverton; 500 Cases of the Dreaded Influenza||mdp07|
|11/14/1918||Although Flu Epidemic Is About Ended the Quarantine is Extended for One More Week||mdp08|
|11/20/1918||Quarantine Will Be Lifted Tomorrow; On 39 Days||mdp09|
|11/20/1918||Picture Shows To Open Friday||mdp09|
|11/22/1918||Here’s All the Facts on the Influenza Epidemic Here||mdp10|
|11/23/1918||Denver Slams Quarantine on Again; 109 Deaths in 11 Days; People Must Mask||mdp11|
|11/25/1918||Influenza Situation Growing Better All the Time Says Knott||mdp12|
|11/26/1918||Complete Influenza Record; 13 New Cases in City in 24 Hours||mdp13|
|11/29/1918||Only 9 New Cases Influenza in Two Days; Three Deaths||mdp14|
|11/30/1918||School Open on Monday||mdp15|
|12/5/1918||26 New Cases Influenza in Last Five Days||mdp16|
|12/5/1918||High School Closed Again Due to Fear of Influenza; Will Open Again on Dec. 30||mdp16|
|12/12/1918||Influenza Shows Gain in City in Last Few Days; Looks Bad||mdp17|
|12/12/1918||Influenza Is on Increase||mdp17|
|12/12/1918||Will Get Mayo Vaccine to Fight ‘Flu’ Epidemic||mdp17|
|12/13/1918||What Shall We Do? Doctors Talk Over the Epidemic Here||mdp18|
|12/16/1918||‘Small-Pox-Like’ Quarantine Has Been Established by City; Special Officer Hired||mdp19|
|12/17/1918||Dr. Knott Speaks of Influenza Outlooks||mdp20|
|12/20/1918||Dr. Blue Says Flue [sic] Won’t Be a Comeback||mdp21|
|12/23/1918||29 New Cases||mdp22|
|12/27/1918||A Call to Montrose||mdp23|
|12/27/1918||Judge Black Discusses Seriousness of the Flu Epidemic Over Country||mdp24|
|12/28/1918||City Under Quarantine Again||mdp25|
|12/31/1918||City Dads Should Be Fair in This Quarantine Matter; No Sense in Silly Edict Issued||mdp26|
|1/3/1919||Now Let’s Get Together on This Quarantine and Be Fair; Make No Enemies||mdp27|
|1/3/1919||Influenza Decidedly on Decrease, Quarantine Effect Is Being Seen||mdp28|
|1/4/1919||High School to Close For One Week to Help Complete Quarantine||mdp29|
|10/10/1918||Colleges and Public Places Being Closed Because of Spanish Flu||sd01|
|10/24/1918||Four Die of Influenza the Past Week, One Young Man Drowned||sd02|
|10/31/1918||Closing Ban Will Not Be Lifted Anywhere in the State Until After Nov. 4th||sd03|
|10/10/1918||Centennial State Items: Gunter’s Proclamation||ww01|
|10/10/1918||Colorado Soldier Dies in Camp||ww02|
|10/10/1918||Colorado Schools Closed||ww02|
|11/28/1918||Personal Mention [lists several ill residents]||ww05|
|11/28/1918||Walsen Camp News||ww05|
|12/5/1918||Advice to ‘Flu’ Convalescents [USPHS announcement]||ww06|
|1/2/1919||U.S. Health Service Issues Warning||ww07|
|Box/Folder||From/To||Date||Description or Title|
|Box 26773/F: S4||Hon. J. Sanchez, Costilla County, CO, Judge to, J. Gunter||11/10/1918||States that there is a small quantity of liquor available in the county [Colorado was a “dry” state] and wants to use it to combat influenza epidemic.||gunter01|
|“||Secy of J. Gunter to J. Sanchez||11/13/1918||Reply to above; State Board of Health has sent a physician to Costilla County, and if he thinks whiskey should be used for epidemic he will communicate that to the Board of Health.||gunter02|
|Box 26775/F: Health, State Board of Health||Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census||10/1/1918||“Weekly Health Index,” listing weekly mortality rates for largest US cities; table of influenza and pneumonia deaths||gunter03|
|“||Dr. E. Kennedy to J. Gunter||11/6/1918||Writes that Colorado lacks funds to meet influenza epidemic; epidemic has more than doubled the state’s death rate.||gunter04|
|“||Colorado Board of Health||Undated||“Statement Issued to Press by the Colorado State Board of Health, at Request of Surgeon General Blue”; epidemic has now reached Colorado; warns public that influenza is a “crowd” disease and tells people to take precautions; asks people to remain at home if sick; unnecessary to establish a quarantine.||gunter05|
|Box 26958/ F: H||Colorado Board of Health||1918||“Report of the Colorado State Board of Health, 1917 and 1918, by Dr. Erlo K. Kennedy, Executive Secretary”||gunter_bhreport|
Historical Board of Health Meeting Minutes, Colorado State Department of Health and Environment, Denver, CO
|Box/Folder||From/To||Date||Description or Title|
|Box 1/F: “March 1917 through Dec. 1918”||Colorado Board of Health||10/28/1918||Meeting of the State Board of Health, Regular Meeting, 10/28/1918; only 2 cases each of influenza and pneumonia for September 1918; text of the Board of Health resolution of 10/15/1918 and governor’s executive order of 10/16/1918 read [prohibiting public gatherings and closing public places]; resolution that all railroads provide a cuspidor in front of every seat in smoking cars passed.||co_bhmins1|
|“||“||11/4/1918||Meeting of the State Board of Health, Adjourned Meeting, 11/4/1918; report and discussion of general influenza situation; permission granted to local authorities to lift closure order if deemed safe; inspection of schoolchildren in larger communities once schools re-open||co_bhmins2|
|“||“||12/27/1918||Meeting of State Board of Health, Regular Meeting, 12/27/1918; contagious disease report for October and November; authority granted to a Board member to combat epidemic in Montrose.||co_bhmins3|
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