Comments by Toby Anungazuk, Wales, Alaska, on "The Big Sickness."[The following is reprinted with permission from Commmunity-Based Suicide Prevention Program,Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, Division of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse [vol 5, issue 3, December, 1997]
I talked with several different people here in Wales about the article from the University of Connecticut. Almost all the people here have asked our parents or other Elders questions about the 1918 flu that went thru Wales some time in our lives.
I will use my father as an example of their response. When I asked my father a question about the flu, you can feel him withdraw into himself, see him dose his eyes, become very quiet, even start saying some names and block out (showing any emotions) when someone that was close to him dies. l have seen this in almost all the Elders who's parents died during the flu. Dad used to have a saying about when someone dies - "That if you cry too hard for someone who dies, you did not care for that person that much when they were alive." He, along with most orphans, were raised in a very strict homes.
It Is hard to put in words how that article could be changed, most of the information may be true, but is hard to verify because only a few people are still alive from that time.
The following story that you will see was told by Winton Weyapuk Sr. who was born on November 16, 1907 and died on March 7, 1997. The two people who did the illustration for the story also died shortly after this was put together. Glenn Sereadlook was in this early 50's and Tom Oxereok Jr. was in his mid 20's when they drew the pictures.
Orphaned By the Flu
By Clarence Ongtowasruk, Wales, Alaska
[Winton Weyapuk, Sr. of Wales Alaska was orphaned by the 1917-18 epidemic flu that came to Alaska.]
Winton remembers when this flu came to Wales.Lots of people died from this flu. Both his parents died at that time. He was about eleven years old when this happened in Wales. His father was Deland Kikitaaq and his mother was Kate Autasiyak. Winton's sister, Lucy Nagozruk, a retired school teacher is now living in Nome. His brother, Dwight Tevuk died five years ago at Nome.
Winton remembers there were about seven to eight hundred people in Wales before the flu came. Winton remembers that he went to school with lots of boys and girls. There were over one hundred pupils enrolled at the school. There were lots of children that went to school and they had to take turns. When one bunch of children finished school, another bunch of children went to school. The school was very crowded with school children. During the recess time the children ran over each other and there was lots of crying, because of the older children pushing the younger ones.
This happened when the teachers were not present. The children ran to go outdoors for recess, and the pushing of each other started. There were students over school age, who attended the school too.
Winston also remembers about going to church services during that time. There were so many people at the church services, there was no room for all the people. The church was filled up with many people and some had to stand up because all the seats had been taken.
Winton and his brother Dwight and sister Lucy all went to school at that time. Lucy was married to Elmer Okbaok. Elmer was working for his dad at the reindeer camp in Cape Douglas. Cape Douglas was about twenty miles southwest of Teller, Alaska.
Elmer came to Wales to see his wife who was living in Wales. The people had the epidemic flu when Elmer arrived in Wales.
Before airplanes came to Alaska, the mail run between Nome and many villages was by dogteam. The mailman started (by dogsled) from Nome, went to Teller, Wales, and Shishmaref and returned the same route back to Nome. This mail run was once a month to the three villages.
The flu had started already in the southern part of Seward Peninsula. The monthly mail by dogteam arrived at Wales, bringing a body who had died on the way to Wales. This man had died before getting to Wales, and the mailman brought the body to Wales with his dogteam.
Many people came to see the dead man that arived by dogteam. This man died from the flu. The men, women and children who came to see this body went home, and many got sick and most of them died before the next morning. This sickness was so strong that the germs spread very fast. People got the sickness and were dead within a few days.
Deland and his family got sick. Their daddy died during the first night. In the morning, Winton's mother, Kate said to her two sons, (Dwight and Winton) "We have to move to your Uncle Tom in Aqiliquq's home because your daddy died." The family moved to Uncle Tom's home. Lucy was in another home because she was married to Elmer Okbaok.
Winton remembers when their parents died. Winton and Dwight did not feel sorry and did not cry for their dead parents. There were a lot of people who died in that time. It was not many days after their parents and Uncle Tom's death, their aunt died too. Dwight and Winton were left alone in this home. They lived in that home with four dead people until some people came to help the boys.
Winton and Dwight moved to the schoolhouse to stay. There were many children and adults already in the schoolhouse.
Winton remembers that it was very lonesome and the days seemed like it didn't get bright daylight when the sun rose. Almost every home had been affected by this epidemic flu.
Winton saw the bodies of dead people taken out from the homes. There were some white men working on the dead bodies. The men made a tripod over the skylight of the sod house, the block and tackle was attached to the tripod. The bodies were hoisted up through the skylight.
The skylight is a window of the sod house and was made of oogruk and walrus intestines, the nails were not used because there was no nails at that time. The skylights were held in place with rocks.
The bodies were in sitting or laying position when they were pulled out from the houses. they were taken to the cemetery. The bodies had been frozen already when he workin crew took the bodies to the cemetery for burial.
The crew dug two big holes to put the bodies into for burial. They had to use dynamite to dig the holes because of the frozen ground.
The bodies were buried in these two holes. One on top of each other, just piles of dead bodies.
Winton remembers this was a terrible sight that he will never forget. It was a pitiful sight when the working crew pulled out the bodies from the house trough the skylights. Most of the bodies were half-naked.
Coffins were not used because there were too many dead people. The dead were put into these big holes the way they were dressed before death came to them.
The dogs were hungry and some bodies were eaten by the hungry dogs. The dogs were always loose in these days. The owners of the dogs let the dogs go until it was time to go hunting.
There were many dog fights over the food the dogs found. Some dogs were getting mad because of hunger and getting into storm sheds looking for food.
Winton remembers that when he went to school he didn't have an English name. There were many boys and girls that had no English names too. English names were not given to the newborn children in those days.