Fort Worth oilman, 98, remembers heavy toll of 1918 flu

Given his age, H. Byran Poff figures he has seen just about everything that can happen to mankind. Fire. Famine. Floods. Flu. The last of those is nothing new.

When Poff was 8, a global pandemic hit Fort Worth. The child and his parents and five siblings weren’t infected, but Poff hasn’t forgotten the magnitude of the human toll it took and the rising fear that gripped the city of 106,000.

"Sure, it was scary. The talk of the town," the 98-year-old Fort Worth oilman recalled last week.

His memory of that fall and winter of 1918 is vivid, real, part of the widower’s life — a blessed life he now quietly shares with an aging border collie, Katy, dozing at his feet.

"All those boys . . ."

In Poff’s mind, he sees the tent rows at Camp Bowie.

"That winter they died out there in droves."

In 1918 the nation had plenty of physicians, some of whom touted medicinal remedies in Star-Telegram advertisements. Dr. Caldwell and his Syrup Pepsic. Dr. Tutt’s Liver Pills. Dr. Edwards’ Olive Tablets. The bottled products promised to relieve a wide range of maladies, from rheumatism to irregularity.

But no pill or potion could fend off or stop the spread of Spanish influenza.

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