A Different, Deadly Beast:
The 1918 Influenza in Montana

It began as a tickle in the throat, then progressed to a high fever and severe fatigue. Pneumonia followed and victims died gasping for breath. Montanans were not alarmed; every winter viruses came and went; “la grippe” was as seasonal as blizzards and chinooks. But the flu of 1918-19 was a different, deadly beast. The nation lost more people to this flu than to World War I. The 1918 pandemic would upend the lives of all Montanans, especially those of young adults, Indigenous people, African-Americans, and nurses.

What follows are some of the stories this film can tell.1

The Wades in the Waters

As Blackfeet tribal police officers, the Wades in the Waters served their community and shared civil leadership. When influenza struck the region, the Wades in the Waters rose to fight it…

Hazel Yoder

Rows of canvas tents lined the oval at the University of Montana. From them came the groans and coughing of the sick. Hazel Yoder, age 29, was dispatched to nurse the ailing young men, but she too was vulnerable to the disease…

Mary Garrigus

The first Indigenous woman to graduate from University of Montana law school, Mary Garrigus’ dream job was to work in juvenile law. But as she saved up money to pursue her career, the influenza struck…

This film explores the untold stories of young adults, Indigenous people, African-Americans, and nurses in Montana during the 1918-19 flu. Before then, Montana had lost only about 40 people per year to influenza. But this pandemic was different; in less than a year, 5,000 Montanans would perish. It was a flu that paralyzed towns and thinned families, raising questions about survival and responsibility, about loss, hope, and resilience.

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Production Plan

This documentary film doubles as a creative project and a learning experience for university students. We are offering a documentary filmmaking course in the Fall semester 2022 at the University of Montana-Missoula, in which students will join the production team. Click here to see how we will make this film.

What We Have Done So Far

Click below to see what we have done so far, see our production plan, meet our crew, or donate to support our work.

Filmed in Montana with generous support from the Big Sky Film Grant (Montana Film Office), the Greater Montana Foundation, Humanities Montana, and Treasure State Studios.

Co-sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, the Northern Rockies Heritage Center, and private citizen Hayes Otoupalik, who provided locations and authentic artifacts for our shoots.

1Photo citations from top to bottom of page:
a) Burned-over hills with match-stick trees, Saltese, MT. Courtesy of the Montana Historical Society (MHS) photographic archives.
b) Wedding portrait, Loyal Stewart and bride. Courtesy of the Museum of the Beartooths, James T. Annin Collection, Columbus, MT.
c) Blackfeet Group in front of tipi at Glacier Park, with Wades in the Water among them (1933). Photographed by William Roland. Courtesy of the MHS Legacy Photograph Collection, Siksika.
d) UM campus, birds-eye view, SATC tents on oval. Courtesy of the MHS photographic archives.
e) Butte Armistice Parade, birds-eye view, 1918. Courtesy of Butte-Silverbow Public Archives, Owen C. Smithers Collection 30-018-01.
f) Army Nurse Corps on Parade, dressed in white, 1918. Courtesy of Lewistown Public Library, photo 00508.