The restaurant by the rail depot in Seguin was run by Joseph Richter. He had immigrated to Austin from Austria in 1910 and, a year later, started farming in Geronimo with his new bride Anna. In early 1918, the couple opened the restaurant in Seguin. On Oct. 24, 1918, the day the Seguiner Zeitung reported 9,621 cases of influenza and 1,863 cases of pneumonia, including 116 deaths, at Camp Travis and Fort Sam Houston, a small obituary celebrated the life of Joseph Richter who had suddenly and tragically died of the flu (“an den Folgen der Grippe”) at age 35. His funeral was small.

On Oct. 17, San Antonio belatedly jumped on the bandwagon when the city decided to close schools, churches and entertainment venues, to prohibit gatherings, and to order the public to stay at home. It was too late for many medical staff and overwhelmed medical facilities. The order seemed to have come exactly at the peak of the epidemic. With cases tapering off soon after, the rules were relaxed too quickly. San Antonio re-opened on Nov. 11, the day the war in Europe ended.

In Seguin, the Guadalupe Gazette reported Nov. 29 on the depression of prices for hog products due to curtailed consumption and its resulting layoffs in meat packing plants. Ads touted the emergence of a new wonder drug called “Catotabs” that promised to cut short any attack of influenza. Dr. Fanklin Duane sought to calm the nerves of people frightened by the epidemic with the advice “Go right about your business and forget it.” A “gauze” drenched in a zinc sulphate solution and worn over the face would safely prevent further spread.

In early December, the number of cases began to spike again in San Antonio, and another closure order had to be issued. Once again, it came too late. Still, San Antonio businesses openly rebelled and the city reopened around Christmas. By January 1919, there had been more than 12,000 reported cases in San Antonio, with a case fatality rate of 7.1%. There were estimates that the actual infection rates were much higher and underreported. A study suggested 86,000 cases and a 1% fatality rate.

The epidemic was not over yet at the beginning of 1919, and Americans continued to die of that particular strain of influenza for several more months. One of them was Herman Truebert, a native of Guadalupe County. He was 33 years old and owned a farm in Barbarosa. In late January, he fell ill with influenza that turned into a kidney ailment. On Feb. 6, 1919b the Seguiner Zeitung reported his death. He left behind a wife and two boys, ages 8 and 10. The newspaper now cursed the epidemic as a “plague that carries death and destruction” and predicted its re-occurrence. But healthy blood and a healthy digestive system would build up protection against the disease. And there was a new herbal remedy for that.

The flu pandemic of 1918-1919 hit all parts of Texas. It affected urban areas and rural areas, killed immigrants and native-born Texans, men and women in their prime, and left behind bereft families. It affected the economy of the country and devastated businesses that were ordered closed. Local politicians reacted unevenly, mostly due to a desire to downplay the effects of an unknown pandemic. In the absence of reliable scientific knowledge about the virus and its spread, and with a medical infrastructure that was not prepared or able to handle the large number of cases, death rates mounted, and medical quackery and folksy advice filled the knowledge gap. When the epidemic finally disappeared in the summer of 1919, its lessons were quickly forgotten.

Angie Sauer is a professor of history at Texas Lutheran University.

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