Dr. John B. Anderson: A Hero from Spokane’s Last Pendemic
On October 5, 1918, James Alphea Howe died after a bout with pneumonia. Howe, a retired merchant and farmer, was 79 years old. Due to his age and the prevalence of respiratory illness, not much thought was put into the cause of his death. The 1918 flu virus had been spreading across the country and western Washington, but there were still no confirmed cases of the virus in Spokane. But, two weeks later, Spokane doctors would connect the dots, James Howe was the first Spokanite to die from the 1918 influenza outbreak. Spokanites were dying before the City Health Officer knew the virus had arrived.
Spokane’s City Health Officer in 1918 was Doctor John Birckhead Anderson. Dr. Anderson was born in 1868 in St. Louis, Missouri, to a salesman and a housewife. He attended Washington, University in St. Louis where he studied to become a physician. After graduation, Dr. Anderson married Ophelia Le Marchal and the two moved to the Inland Northwest in the late 1890s. Dr. Anderson began his medical practice in Spokane, but shortly after he moved south to the Palouse and took the position of City Health Officer in Rosalia, Washington. This move initiated a career of public service that he continued throughout his life.
The City of Rosalia employed Dr. Anderson as their Health Officer from 1900 until 1909. He then moved back to the heart of the Inland Northwest where he was hired to be the Health Officer for the City of Spokane. He was an active health official who pursued various public health campaigns, from encouraging women to wash the germs from their wigs and false hair “rats” to discouraging Spokanites from purchasing unproven medical treatments advertised in newspapers. He led an effort to improve sanitation conditions at the County Poor Farm in Spangle, an issue that not many were interested in addressing. Anderson and his team were responsible for ensuring that the city’s food supply was not contaminated, and during WWI he was a member of the food conservation board.
In 1917, Dr. Anderson and his team at the Health Office developed a pandemic preparedness plan that divided the city into forty districts meant to help track the spread of any communicable diseases that were introduced in Spokane. The Health Office maintained “health maps” showing outbreaks of different diseases across the city using color-coded pins. According to Anderson, whenever an outbreak was discovered in a certain district a “special sanitary corps” was sent to the district and tasked with “cleaning it up and forestalling further spread of the disease.” The preparation for a possible outbreak proved useful sooner than the Health Office had anticipated.
In August of 1918, Spokane newspapers warned readers about a disease outbreak that was spreading across the world, but that had spared Spokane thus far. On October 6, 1918, Dr. Anderson announced that there were still no confirmed cases of the disease in Spokane. But, one day later, on October 7, Dr. Anderson confirmed the first case of the flu virus (although, it had almost certainly been spreading in Spokane for some time before the announcement). The same day that the first case was announced, Dr. Anderson, enacted “quarantine regulations” by ordering the cancellation of all public gatherings including schools, universities, churches, mining and stock exchanges, all club and social meetings, YMCA activities, and all jury trials in superior court. As the virus progressed, Dr. Anderson put limits on public transit and elevator capacities, and he even banned Halloween masks.
Taking these actions were swift and effective, but they were met with some resistance. On October 11, 1918, health inspectors arrested a clairvoyant and a pool hall operator for hosting groups of more than 10 people. Dr. Anderson took one of the most notable enforcement actions on October 21, 1918, when he was issued a warrant for the arrest of A.R. Wilson, the Superintendent of Washington Water Power’s streetcar company. Under Dr. Anderson’s mandated “quarantine regulations,” streetcars were ordered not to fill beyond their seating capacity with standing-room-only riders, but W.W.P. cars had been ignoring that directive. Anderson also received pressure from religious organizations that wanted to continue their in-person services, but the doctor remained steadfast in his position.
Despite Dr. Anderson’s strict social distancing measures and enforcement actions, the number of Spokanites with the flu virus quickly exploded. The first case was announced on October 7. One week later, Spokane reached 500 cases, and two weeks later the count had surpassed 1000. By the end of October 1918, Spokane was counting over 3000 cases of the 1918 flu virus including 76 deaths. The total number of cases doubled every seven days, a stunning rate of spread.
The flu spread quickly and caused devastating loss of life. By the end of February 1919, five months after the virus arrived in Spokane, more than 10 percent of the city’s residents had fallen ill and 562 had died. Although these numbers seem high, Spokane escaped the pandemic in better shape than most American cities, likely due to the strict social-distancing measures Dr. Anderson enacted. In Spokane, the death rate was 482 per 100,000 residents, whereas the average for cities in the American West was 529 per 100,000.
Dr. Anderson’s success in Spokane did not go unnoticed. In 1919, shortly after guiding through Spokane through the flu pandemic, he was appointed to be the Washington State Health Commissioner. Spokanites were disappointed to lose their long-time health officer, but they were proud to send their city doctor to Olympia. After his time as State Health Commissioner, Dr. Anderson took a job with the United States Government working as chief surgeon at two Veteran Hospitals, first in Wyoming then in Illinois. In 1951, after a long life of public service and dedication to public health, Dr. Anderson passed away at 82 years old.
Herbert “Red” Jackson: Bandit and Escape Artist
Just before midnight on September 23, 1924, Jasper Gruwell walked under the railroad viaduct on Washington Street in Downtown Spokane. As Gruwell, a salesman, walked into the darkness cast by the railroad overpass, a pair of bandits held him at gunpoint and attempted to rob him. Instead of handing his valuables over, Gruwell wrestled a revolver from one of the bandits which sent the thieves fleeing but not before Gruwell was shot in the groin with a .38 caliber bullet. The bandits ran from the scene, and it would be a while before they were seen in Spokane again.
Although the criminals got away, local police detectives had a hunch as to who was responsible. In the months following the Gruwell hold-up, officers identified crimes they thought were connected to the robbery, including a streetcar heist and multiple automobile thefts. In the fall they got their break when they arrested two other criminals who belonged to the same gang. The gang members provided police with enough information that they were able to locate the fugitives they had been hunting. In November of 1925, more than a year after the Gruwell hold-up occurred, police detectives in Los Angeles, California arrested the ringleader of the gang, Herbert “Red” Jackson.
Jackson was born in New York in the mid-1890s. It is unclear what brought him to the West Coast, he may have come in pursuit of new criminal opportunities, but we cannot be sure. In 1922, at 27 years old, Jackson was arrested for highway robbery. He was convicted but served only a short sentence as it was his first offense. By 1925, Jackson was preparing to stand for his second criminal trial, this time for serious charges associated with the Gruwell hold-up and streetcar heist, in which he stole $18 and a gold watch from the conductor.
It is hard to piece together the timeline of Jackson’s life, because as soon as he was released from prison on pardon or parole, he promptly found himself in custody again. In 1930, Jackson was convicted of Grand Larceny in Chelan County and was sentenced to one to three years in prison. Washington State granted Jackson parole, despite the fact that he had served three prison sentences in the previous eight years. In 1935, Jackson and an accomplice rattled off a string of robberies over a one-week period. They robbed a drive-in coffee shop, the Jennings Pharmacy, and the Pacific Hotel amounting to more than $500 in stolen cash. Spokane Police arrested Jackson for the thefts, but when his trial date arrived, he was suffering from Tuberculosis. Jackson’s attorney advocated that he be spared a long term in the penitentiary due to his medical condition, but the judge was not convinced. He convicted the long-time bandit as a habitual offender and sentenced him for up to 20 years in prison.
The long sentence did not keep Jackson locked down. Just 10 months after arriving at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Jackson and seven other inmates made a daring escape. They tunneled some forty-five feet below the prison foundation in search of freedom. Newspapers explained that the convicts “dug a hole through the cement floor of a cell and worked from there, concealing the hole with a board covered by cement, which was cemented in nightly. They used old clothing for working in the hole and the dirt was discarded by being flushed through the sewer.”
Most of the convicts were arrested on the same day they escaped, but Jackson and a fellow Spokane inmate successfully evaded authorities and made their way back to Spokane. Local police feared that Jackson might seek retribution on the department as his brother, Ed Jackson, was shot and killed by a Spokane Police Officer just a week before they escaped. Jackson and his partner led police on a two-state car chase complete with speeds over 70 miles per hour and exchanges of gunfire. The pair went from Spangle to Coeur d’Alene and from Sandpoint to Newport, with police trying to stop them in every town. They evaded police and returned to Spokane where they settled in for the night in an abandoned home in Peaceful Valley. Police located them the next morning and took them into custody. Both men were returned to the penitentiary.
Jackson would finally serve a meaningful prison sentence, this time waiting seven years before his next parole. But, yet again, Jackson violated his parole and was returned to prison like a boomerang with no other option. In 1945, after spending twenty-three years in and out of prison, Jackson was released at which point he broke the cycle of incarceration. He was 40 years old and he was done being locked up.