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In Colorado, influenza was first spotted among military recruits who had reported for duty at the University of Colorado. By late October, the disease had spread throughout the state and health officials were noting with concern that the disease was widespread and especially severe in the more mountainous regions of the state. Death rates among miners were also very high.

Katherine Porter, who contracted influenza and nearly died in 1918, transformed her own experience of the pandemic into a classic of American literature. Pale Horse, Pale Rider is set in Denver during the 1918 pandemic. [Credit: The Library of Congress]
Katherine Porter, who contracted influenza and nearly died in 1918, transformed her own experience of the pandemic into a classic of American literature. Pale Horse, Pale Rider is set in Denver during the 1918 pandemic. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

Other states and cities had begun to require residents to wear masks. But in Denver, the mayor believed that it would, as he said, “take half the population of our city to make the other half wear masks.” Although no one was aware at the time, the masks of the era were generally ineffective against the influenza virus.

Among the many Denver residents who contracted the disease was Katherine Porter. A journalist at The Rocky Mountain News, Porter contracted influenza and later re-cast her own experiences into a fictional account of the pandemic titled Pale Horse, Pale Rider. As Porter’s case worsened, she was unable to gain admittance to one of the city’s many overflowing hospitals when she became ill. Fearing contagion, her landlady threatened her with eviction. A fellow boarder was more sympathetic; he nursed Porter until a hospital bed was available for her. She recovered, but her fellow boarder who caught the flu from her died.

In Boulder, desperate city officials imposed a quarantine. In La Plata County, the government imposed even more severe restrictions, prohibiting anyone from traveling in or out of the San Juan Basin. Schools, sporting events, saloons and even churches closed in the county. Despite these measures, Silverton lost nearly ten percent of its population. Morticians, who died along with their fellow citizens, were in short supply, as were coffins.

While Coloradans died in large numbers across the state, miners, whose lungs had already been weakened, died in greater numbers than their fellow citizens. Those living at higher altitudes also died in greater numbers than those living in lower regions.

Influenza continued to ber pervasive throughout the winter and spring. During the summer, the disease slowly began to disappear from the state.

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