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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Letter 27 ~ September 29, 1918

I write my mother to tell her about my failed attempt to get a pass and make a visit home. I also let her know that Camp Republican isn't yet under quarantine due to the Spanish influenza.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, R.7.D. #8, Manhattan, Kansas

Camp Republican
Sunday, September 29, [1918]

Dear Folks,

Yesterday & today has sure been a series of disappointments for me & some of the other boys too. About the middle of the week it looked as tho we might still be here Saturday so we counted on getting passes. Saturday afternoon an order was posted that no weekend passes would be granted on account of the influenza. Well, Saturday evening we learned that that order had been revoked but they didn’t tell us because passes must be applied for before eight o’clock A.M. We thot then that we would be the first to get in our names for passes on Sunday, so Roy [Drown] and I went down there before the top sergeant was dressed & put in our names. He put down our names for from reveille on Sunday to reveille on Monday. So we sure were tickled. Our passes didn’t get thru right away so we thot we would have to wait till noon. So [James] Sparks & I went to the [Post] Exchange to phone. I thot if you folks could, you might drive up [from Manhattan] at noon & I could ride back with you & come back at night. I couldn’t get you folks but Sparks got [his girlfriend] Alice [Bobeck] & told her he was coming in & for her not to come up. She said that you folks were coming up at 10:30 so we were tickled again.

Pretty soon we learned that no passes would be issued till after 5 o’clock because every man had to be in a parade in the P.M. Well, I thot if you folks came up, I would ride back with you anyway. I would be at home 4 or 5 hours. Well, I got my pass after the parade & went down to the road & saw that you hadn’t come so that I had better not try to go home. I guess it is a good thing I didn’t because I don’t feel very well. I guess my last vaccination is taking. It is beginning to get red, and if I staid up almost all night I couldn’t stand the drill Monday. I hoped that you folks would do like Conrows did. They came in the morning, staid all day & took the boys home this evening & will bring them back before six o’clock in the morning. Of course the stay at home is so short, it hardly pays for the trouble.

Some of the boys who lived in [Manhattan] went in but I thot that by the time I would walk out home [to College Hill] or wait for you to come after me, it wouldn’t pay. And besides, I didn’t want to bother Willis in the morning because he is so busy.

It is hard to tell when I will leave this camp. It may be tomorrow or it may be a week. I may get a pass & I may not so I wish you would send me my leggings that I had in drill. I thot I could get them today but I didn’t. You might send my fountain pen also. I am pretty short on money & I am out of stamps but maybe we will be paid this week sometime.

How are all you folks and all the neighbors? I haven’t heard hardly a thing about College Hill since I have been up here. It sure made me sore to have a pass to go home & then not get there. No telling when I may get another. How is Carol [Cunningham] getting along in school? Is Willis getting the work caught up?

The camp isn’t under quarantine so maybe we will be moved some time this week. There is some talk that the 10th Division is full & that we will be put into a new division at Funston but that is only talk & there is still a chance of our being sent with the 10th when it starts to move the first of the month.

Willis, are you thinking of buying any cattle or are you going to sell the ensilage? I sure hope I can help fill the silo next fall. It would seem like heaven to get a chance at it again.

You folks write as often as you can even if there isn’t much news. Any little thing suits me. I’ll have to do quite a lot of washing tomorrow if I get time. I took a bath & changed my underclothes last night. I thot maybe I would get a chance to take some dirty clothes home but I didn’t get to. Well, it is getting most too dark to write, so Goodbye -- Ward

  • James Sparks was born 21 February 1897 in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. His parents were G.C. and Myrtle Sparks, born about 1872 and 1871, respectively. James' father was the manager of a restaurant in Manhattan, Kansas. At the time that James registrated with the draft board in the Spring of 1918, he was a student at KSAC in Manhattan. His draft registration papers report that he had blue eyes and light brown hair. His girlfriend, also a student at KSAC, was named Alice Bobeck. James and Alice were married in 1920 following the war and by 1930 they lived in Lawton, Commanche County, Oklahoma, had two children, and James worked as the County Superintendent.


  1. How like a soldier to dream of farmwork again and being able to fill the silo.

    Health officials had no idea how to control the influenza epidemic beyond quarantine. In Seattle, public gatherings, including funerals were banned. Schools, theaters, and other public venues closed. People went about with gauze face masks, but 1,000 to 2,000 people died. The statistics for Seattle are unreliable since many victims left the area only to fall ill and die. People died by the tens of thousands in the cities of the east and by the millions world wide.

    Influenza was particularly virulent among young populations like soldiers. It struck some and missed others. The controlling factor seemed to be the susceptibility of an individual to the virus. It may have run its course by the spring of 1919 just by virtue of the fact that all those who could get it, got it.

  2. Ward loved working on the farm. It seems his thoughts were never very far away from it. We'll soon see the same quarantine measures being taken in Manhattan, Kansas that you say were taken in the Northwest. Ironically, it was Ward's brother Willis (back home on the farm) who came down with the flu instead of Ward! -- wg

  3. It's ironic that this flu attacked the strongest and healthiest young men and women, rather than the very young or the very old as is usually the case. Apparently the stronger the victim's immune system, the more aggressively the virus attacked that system

  4. I read somewhere that there was a bad influenza epidemic around the turn of the century and the author speculated that this might have been a possible reason older people didn't seem to be as seriously affected as younger people.

    I have a question. I was aware of Camp Funston and Camp Whiteside beint at Ft. Riley but this is the first time I have heard of Ft. Republican. Does anyone know where it was in relationship to the main post?

  5. Slim, Ward indicated that Camp Republican was in the Republican River Valley north of Junction City upstream of the confluence with the Smokey Hill River. Apparently by the fall of 1918, the other detention camps were full and they expanded here. I believe they only had tents at this location (no barracks) and according to Ward, they were full of holes and held down with rotten stakes. By WWII, the army still used this area but it was renamed and had permanent structures. -- wg