At first, leaders were calm.
“The general health situation in Dallas is good,” city health officer Dr. A.W. Carnes said.
It was September 1918.
By October’s end, more than 1,200 Dallas and Fort Worth residents lay dead.
That month, a global flu pandemic swept through both cities, closing schools, theaters, streetcars, even churches.
In an age before trans-Atlantic air travel, the Spanish flu knew no borders.
Soldiers training at the old U.S. Army Camp Bowie, then west of Fort Worth, were among the hardest-hit.
More than 1,900 were treated at once in makeshift tents.
Early in the outbreak, soldiers were barred from going to “picture shows, dance halls, pool rooms, theaters” and “gathering in canteens, in tents, quarters or other places.”
“This is the way the epidemic usually starts,” said the camp surgeon, Maj. J.G. Ingold.
Soldiers were told to sleep 5 feet apart.
Yet that Sept. 29, the Star-Telegram had this headline: “Bowie Officers Not Alarmed.”
“Soldiers all over the camp furled their tents and stayed outdoors all day,” the report read. “There have been no deaths.”
In Dallas, Carnes let crowds go ahead and line the streets for a parade.
Six days later, the Star-Telegram headline read: “Hospital Roll Reaches 1,908.”
That day, Army Pvt. Louis Warren, described as a “Negro recruit,” became Camp Bowie’s first death.
An additional 1,000 patients lay in Dallas hospitals.
With the base swept up treating the epidemic, a Col. Albert L. Hall of Indianapolis was named base commander when another colonel was reassigned.
He held command three days before going to the base hospital, and he died within a week.
By then, in mid-October, health officials in both Dallas and Fort Worth basically shut down group activities for two weeks.
Texas health officials set specific school rules: “Spitting on the floor, sneezing or coughing, except behind a handkerchief, should be sufficient grounds for suspension.”
But Dallas officials were still trying to put up a positive front.
Dallas Mayor Joe Lawther said that with schools closed, children should launch a “cleanup week” citywide.
“If Dallas is not cleaned up,” he told The Dallas Morning News, “the influenza may continue, and if it continues, it is hurting our country just as much as the German bullets.”
At Camp Bowie, fatalities grew among the base’s clerical assistants and $75-a-month nurses.
“Miss Nell Hurley also died today,” the Star-Telegram wrote about a nurse from California.
“Miss Hurley had been in the service but 1 month. While she was here she had won the highest regard of the officers and enlisted men alike.”
That was Oct. 19.
By Oct. 23, the day’s death toll was back to zero.
On Oct. 27, schools reopened.
In a news story mixing relief with hope, the Star-Telegram reported:
“It is agreed that the influenza has about run its course.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News archives.