The following letter was written
in 1920, by Albert Warren Newhall, Superintendent of the Jesse Lee Children's
Home in Unalaska, Alaska.
He describes the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza outbreak known as "the big
sickness" during that time. It was an extremely virulent form of influenza
that people had no knowledge of or treatment for, and it spread like wildfire
throughout coastal Alaska, wiping out entire villages within days.
Newhall's letter is a chilling account of the devastation
in a village called Kinigin, which is the Inupiaq name for Wales, Alaska(on
the Seward Peninsula, 111 miles NW of Nome, Alaska);nearly 200 people died,
from the flu, the first week!!
letter written by Albert Warren Newhall 1920
and 1919 will long be remembered as the time when the "flu" came to Alaska,
although it has made a passing visit to places missed on the first round.
It came to Unalaska in the spring when one of the boats came from
the States and in less than two days all the village was laid low. The doctor
was among the first victims and at the Jesse Lee Home, the family of 75
were laid low, all except two boys and one girl. In the village proper,
out of a population of 300, forty five died in less than ten days, but in
the home, one teacher and a girl passed away.
In the Bristol Bay region, whole villages were devastated and in one place
every person had died while the ferocious dogs, having finished their ghoulish
work, ran wild. A relief vessel came to that place and the sailors
had to shoot the dogs before they could enter the village, a desolate place
indeed and only half gnawed bones lying about on the ground told the story.
In another settlement, whole
families were found dead in the houses. In one home a mother dead
upon the bed while upon her breast a little baby that had died from starvation.
A woman went in to one house and found the mother lying on the bed,
life was extinct and close beside her a little baby still living but emaciated,
weak and trying to get some nourishment from its mother.
Dead bodies were pulled out of houses, rolled in blankets and disposed
In the Eskimo village across
Snake River, about all the adults died and more than 100 little children
were left as orphans. In order to protect the dead bodies from dogs,
the bodies were piled up in small rooms until no more could be put in.
It was the same everywhere, the pestilence spread from place to place and
at last drew near to the village of Kinigan. The flu had appeared in a village
some 60 miles from Kinigan and many of the people had died. It was cold
weather, bitterly cold and much snow upon the ground. The mail carrier came
with his sled and dogs, left his load and made ready for the journey to
the next village...the village of Kinigin.
The mail sacks were placed upon the sled and the dogs restlessly awaited
the order to go. Ki-tuk and his companion Tek-tuk were used to winter storms.
They did not care about the wind that blew so hard or the blizzard that
might rage and cover up the path. They both knew no fear and could
trust their huskies to carry them through. Ki-tuk and his companion
laughed at the storm but before long, Ki-tuk began to feel sick. His
head began to ache and he felt dizzy. All of his bones were aching
and he was burning with heat from within even though it was cold. All of
his strength was fast going and he could not sit up to guide the dogs anymore
so he laid down on the mail sacks in his sled. At the next stopping place
Ki-tuk was dead.
Tek-tuk was now driving the dogs faster and faster, anxious to reach the
next village where a short stay would be made. His head was dizzy and his
bones were aching. Chills were going up and down his backbone, he was burning
up with fever and could hardly sit up to guide his load.
Once Tek-tuk got to the next village, he stepped off of the sled, staggered
to a house, entered it and died.
An Eskimo was found who would take the mail on to Kinigin. Since Ki-tuk
was from that place, his frozen body was laid on the sled full of mail sacks
and the journey was made in due time. The people of Kinigan were all
ill with the flu. Soon many were dead and among them was Wey-ak-k-new, the
mother of Ad-loo-at. While her son had been an earnest Christian for
many years, she had never turned from her old superstitions, the belief
in evil spirits and faith in the power of the witch doctor. She died
without a knowledge of God's love and saving grace.
All of Kinigin was ill with the flu and none were left to care for the
sick. Ad-loo-at was at Shishmareff, teaching school and helping in
mission work. He had left his wife and children well and happy. Food
had been laid in for them, wood gathered, chopped and stored away for winters
use. Then came a day when he said good-bye and took the trail for
his winters work at
One day a dog sled appeared in Shishmareff and a young man went hastily
to the mission house where Ad-loo-at lived. The man told him that everybody
was sick at Kinigin and plenty people died. Your wife and all the
children are very sick and there is no one to care for them. Friends told
Ad-loo-at to stay in Shishmareff so he would not get sick, but he went back
to his family.
Ad-loo-at found his village deserted, all was still as death, but his family
was spared, but very ill. He worked to save them and little by little they
were getting better. A baby was born but it passed away shortly. Ad-loo-at
prayed to God for his loved ones and believed that all would come out for
the best. He paid the price when the chills, aching bones, fever, chills
and weakness came upon him.
The superintendent of schools at Nome heard of the illness in Kinigin and
sent Mrs. E. W. Tashner, a Christian nurse from the Mission Hospital to
help them. She went to Ad-loo-at's home and cared for his family. She bathed
his fevered brow, spoke words of cheer and comfort, however he died. Ad-loo-at
had done his best, he gave his life for the ones he loved.
A. W. Newhall