The Roswell Way advertised this area as being “an ideal home for health seekers.” Indeed it drew many people here who were infected with tuberculosis and asthma. There were numerous sanatoriums in Roswell, Lincoln, Ft. Stanton and throughout this area.
During the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, tuberculosis was one of the deadliest diseases in America. It literally ate away the victim’s flesh, so much so that the disease was also called “consumption.” It was no respecter of persons, attacking all ages, social levels, races and it was the most fearsome disease.
“Sanatoria” is a term described as a medical facility for long-term illness, most typically associated with treatment of tuberculosis. Cowboys and many in The Old West described those afflicted with tuberculosis as “lungers.” One of the most wellknown from this era was Doc Holliday.
At age 21, Holliday earned a degree in dentistry from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgeons. He set up practice in Atlanta, Georgia, but he was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis, the same disease that had claimed his mother when he was 15. She acquired it while tending to her needs while she was still in the contagious phase of the illness.
Hoping the climate in the great Southwest would ease his symptoms, he moved to that region and became a gambler, a reputable profession in Arizona in that day.
Over the next few years, he reportedly had several confrontations. While in Texas, he saved Wyatt Earp’s life and they became friends. In 1880, he joined Earp in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and then rode with him to Prescott, Arizona, and then Tombstone.
In Tombstone, local outlaw cowboys repeatedly threatened him and spread rumors that he had robbed a stage. On Oct. 26, 1881, Holliday was deputized by Tombstone city marshal Virgil Earp. The lawmen attempted to disarm five “cowboys,” which resulted in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Those affected began looking toward The West for a more healthful climate. Doctors themselves contracted the disease and they, too, looked for a way to treat their own health, as well as an opportunity to build a practice in a very short period of time.
Our city promoters in those early days took advantage of this and drew in many, who were looking for dryer, cleaner air and better health.
Roswell already enjoyed a reputation for a healthful climate because of the many expeditions and explorations that have been made in this area. The travelers had given detailed reports on the purity of the air of the great prairies and in the mountains back in those early days.
“The White Plague” or tuberculosis dominated New Mexico medicine at the end of the 19th century. It was the reason for the migration of hundreds of physicians to the state.
By 1900, Roswell became a haven for tuberculars. Dr. W. B. Masten, a tuberculosis specialist, said that New Mexico possesses a climate that is not surpassed, even if it is equaled, than that of any other part of the world. New Mexico became known as “nature’s sanitarium for consumptives.”
Following is an ad from “The Roswell Way” promotional magazine advertising the “Mountain View Lodge Sanatorium.”
“Mountain View Lodge Sanatorium on East 19th Street is an ideal home for health seekers. With delightful shade, a wonderful view of the mountains, and the friendly home like atmosphere you find at Mountain View, you have not only, a splendid opportunity to get well, but to enjoy life while you’re doing it. Every modern convenience, cottages with private bath if you prefer, or rooms in main building with access to sun porch for sun baths. A spacious, pleasant dining room or tray service at a small extra cost for those who remain in bed.
“Good food well prepared with Mrs. Martin personally superintending the kitchen. Thirty-three acres of ground, ample room for our own dairy, chickens, turkeys and a garden providing fresh vegetables. Rates are reasonable and literature and complete information will be cheerfully furnished on request. You’ll like Mountain View and be glad you selected Roswell.”
Tuberculars continued to seek the high dry climate of southeastern New Mexico. Even though smaller sanatoriums around town were caring for consumptives, there was a great need for more care facilities. To solve this problem the Roswell Tent City and Sanitarium was established in 1905, as a private institution. It was located southwest of the main town on what is now about the 1200 block of West Hobbs Street.
A half-page advertisement in the Roswell Register Tribune dated Aug. 6, 1908, showed pictures of some 20 or so separate cottages of various sizes in the tent city.
The cottages were framed structures with hipped roofs, clapboard and canvas sides with windows and elevated plank floors. The cottages were placed far enough apart to avoid all possible contamination.
Dr. C. L. Parsons and his wife, Dr. Mary Parsons, osteopaths, were managers of the health care facility. They advocated the treatment of tuberculosis by the “natures way” –– fresh air, sunshine, good food and rest.
Formerly known as “Pearce Lawn Apartments” was located at 414 N. Missouri, and served as a sanatorium for many years. On the back lawn were eight white convalescent cottages of various sizes that were shaded by huge trees.
Mrs. Pearce and her staff took care of the patients who occupied the cottages, providing both meals and personal care.
One member of Mrs. Pearce’s staff was Rosa Jones, wife of Addison Jones, better known as “Black Add” of the LFD’s –– a reference to the White and Littlefield ranches east of Roswell in the late 1800s to early 1900s. “Black Add” was the most famous black cowboy in The West during the early years of this century. Rosa Jones was one of the cooks and house-help for the Pearce Lawn Apartments for many years.
There were a few other smaller sanatoriums scattered around Roswell, but in all, the Dr.’s and patients who came here, many of whom actually did survive, became active citizens and even city leaders. They contributed much to the growth and commerce of this city.
A great number of consumptives sooner or later succumbed to the ravages of this dreadful disease. However, many who came to Roswell regained their health and became valuable productive citizens. Among them are some names some may remember or at least recognize. They are Edgar L. Befell, William T. Clardy, Winfield S. Cobean, James S. Cooper, E. R. Duval, C.M.Farnsworth, the Reverend Milner Jones, Matthew Lowery, J. A. Mackay, Freeman Marsh, Swan A. Nelson, Charles A. Sparks, Dr. J. W. Sutherland and Walter P. Turner.
On the state level were J.J. Hagerman, Clinton P. Anderson, and Bronson Murray Cutting.
By 1890, the “Indian Wars” were ending and personnel at the Fort were reduced to just 15 soldiers by 1893. In August of 1896, the post was officially decommissioned.
But, for Fort Stanton, life would go on. Three years after it closed, the U.S. Public Health Service acquired it in 1899 for use as a Merchant Marine hospital, exclusively for the treatment of tuberculosis. The name was later changed to Public Health Service Hospital. Selected for its healthful climate, it served some 5,000 sailor patients between 1899 and 1953, 1,500 of whom are buried in the Maritime Cemetery on a hillside overlooking the fort. The patients lived in specially constructed tents, for fresh air and sunshine were the only known cures for tuberculosis.
During this time, many new buildings were constructed including a hospital, stables, new living quarters, and literally hundreds of tenthouses for the patients. The hospital was fairly self-sufficient, establishing a large farm on the nearby grounds with patients serving in the fields, as well as recreational activities like a golf course for the doctors, baseball fields and a theatre for the resident workers. The nearby cemetery grew to include veterans of other services as well as Merchant Marines, making it a place for current visitors to the site to engage in contemplative visitation.
Who would ever guess that a disease, one as dreadful as tuberculosis, would actually help to build a city like Roswell, and for that matter, much of the Southwest?
Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.