World-Wide Flu Kills 50 Million; North Dakota Deaths Near 1,400

November 30, 1918

The worst of it seems to be over. After being closed since early October, the state’s churches, schools, and movie theaters are again open. The ban on public gatherings has been lifted, and residents are trying to return to normal lives after several terrifying and fear-filled weeks.

The Spanish influenza spread from nation to nation and town to town with unbelievable speed. Sixteen million people died in India, a half-million in Germany, over a half-million in the United States. It moved like a wildfire from the East Coast, killing 9,000 in Boston and 12,000 in Philadelphia during late September and early October.

Then, like lightning it struck North Dakota. On September 27 Fargo’s health officer reported no flu cases in the city. Six days later more than 100 people had contracted the deadly virus. In Jamestown, the count was more than a thousand in three days. Eighty percent of Dickinson’s population became sick. Even the remotest of communities could not avoid the Spanish flu. Apprehension gripped the state as health officials handed out masks, ordered fines against those who coughed in public without covering their mouths, and closed down public gathering places. Hospitals overflowed with flu victims. In Ramsey County six nurses died while attending to patients. Death from this aggressive flu strain has been commonplace: 173 in Fargo, 76 in Dickinson, 123 in Jamestown, 36 in New Rockford, and 1,378 total in North Dakota - all within a few weeks!

Those who have tended to the dying describe flu death in words such as horrific and gruesome. A very high fever and terrible shakes accompany the shutting down of bodily functions and the buildup of fluid and blood in the lungs. Some bleed from the ears, nose, and mouth. Most gradually turn blue as they seemingly drown in their own bodies. No one knows why 70 percent of the flu fatalities have occurred among young adults between the ages of 18 and 35. North Dakotans have gone through weeks of torment.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

3-5, 7, 9-10

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

Related Media

  1. Dakota Datebook: 1918 Flu Epidemic
    Audio: In 1918 a worldwide flu pandemic killed more than 20 million people worldwide.