Posts Tagged ‘Influenza’

My Uncle’s Tragedy

May 18, 2020

Excess Mortality

Charles Benjey, one of my uncles, was born on August 13, 1919 and died on February 12, 1990. He was well known for his corny jokes and listening to opera in that Illinois farmhouse on the prairie. But he was better known locally for having survived being born with spina bifida. I remember him saying on his 45th birthday, “Nobody ever expected me to live this long.” He, and everyone else, attributed his survival to his mother’s dedication plus the tough Sawyer genes she passed on to him.

Unfortunately, Grandma Benjey was pregnant with Charles when she was struck with the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19. It is quite probable the devastating influenza caused Charles’s spine to be open to the atmosphere. She did everything humanly possible for a woman of limited means on a farm decades before electricity was available to it. She succeeded and Charles lived to be 70, an age few with spina bifida reach.

Researching the book on Lone Star Dietz gained me some familiarity with the 1918-19 pandemic. (I don’t call it the Spanish Influenza because the most likely source was Camp Funston, Kansas.) Seeing considerably different results in different parts of the country and within states themselves, brought to mind a chart I had come across for the 1918-19 pandemic. That influenza struck cities at differing rates, most dependent upon the steps taken to prevent its spread, is similar to what is happening today. That chart is shown below. The 2020 pandemic isn’t finished yet but the death will likely be far less than a century ago.

Toledo, at 0.17% of its population, experienced the lowest mortality of any city listed. With the U. S. population at 330,000,000 today, devastation of that rate would be 561,000 people, five times what is currently being projected. If the country experiences the rate of Nashville, the highest city at 0.83%, the total would be 2,739,000 souls.

 

Sampson Bird Fights the Pandemic

March 28, 2020

SamBird2The current pandemic brought to mind a favorite Carlisle Indian School football player. Sampson George Bird, son of John Bird, a white man of English descent, and Mattie Medicine Wolf, full-blood Piegan Blackfeet, lived on the Blackfeet Reservation near Browning, Montana, just east of present-day Glacier National Park before coming to Carlisle Indian School. Sam started receiving notice for his athletic ability at Carlisle in the fall of 1909, when he was elevated from the second team to the starting eleven. Because he was a lineman, he toiled in relative obscurity.

His social life, however, generated him more coverage in the school newspaper when he and his partner, Margaret Blackwood, Chippewa from Michigan, won three dance contests. After the school year ended, the couple left for Montana to be married. Their marriage barely survived the honeymoon because Margaret was stricken with spinal meningitis and died in August 1910.

Sampson returned to Carlisle, where he assisted Pop Warner in coaching the team while also playing right guard. At season’s end, he was elected captain of the 1911 team because he was “…one of the best players on the team, a heady player, a natural leader, and very popular among the players and students….” Coach Warner shifted him from guard to end and added an end-around play to the playbook. Sam led the team to its greatest season, beating two of the Big Four for only the second time in Carlisle history. The only blemish on their record was a one-point loss to an inferior Syracuse team on a wet field.

Off the field, he earned the reputation of being everyone’s best man by standing up for so many of his friends at their weddings. Soon after school’s end in May 1912, he married fellow student Margaret Burgess, Haida/Tlinget from Alaska, and operated his family’s ranches in Montana. They soon had a growing family. When the Great Influenza Pandemic struck, Sam Bird allowed no one on or off the ranch. Supplies from town were dropped off at the end of the lane for later pick up by the family. No one on the ranch got sick.

Athletic genes must run in Sam’s family because his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are stars on the Indian rodeo circuit.