A Different, Deadly Beast. . .
The 1918 Flu Epidemic 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, none so much as young adults, Indigenous people, nurses, and African Americans.
What follows are some of the stories this film can tell.1
The early 1910s brought tragedy to Loyal Stewart’s life, but by 1918, he and his bride Myrtle were finally settling into a new life with their young children. When rumors of a deadly flu began circulating in the papers, it almost couldn’t seem real…
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…
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…
This film explores the untold stories of young adults, Indigenous people, nurses, and African-Americans 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.
This documentary film doubles as a creative project and a learning experience for university students. We will offer a filmmaking internship in the Academic Year 2021-2022 at the University of Montana-Missoula, in which students can apprentice with 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.
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.