Historic Resource Study
Life is more than work and leisure, even at a frontier military post. The fitness and discipline of every soldier contributed to the effectiveness of each military unit and the overall mission of the army. The health of every enlisted man and officer was affected by diet, water supply, sanitary conditions, protection from the elements, and medical care provided by surgeons and their staffs. Illnesses and injuries were constant threats and claimed the lives of many more soldiers than did battle casualties, of which there were few. The army provided free medical and dental care for every soldier, and a surgeon was almost always assigned to each military post. A surgeon frequently accompanied troops into the field on extensive campaigns.
Healthy soldiers could be most effective in all duties assigned to them, too, if they were well disciplined, followed prescribed patterns of action, and obeyed their commanding officers. Military regulations were numerous and precise, and soldiers were regularly punished for breaches of conduct. Health care and military justice were indispensable components of army life, essential to the physical and social potency and performance of officers and enlisted men. The capability and fortitude of every military unit resulted from the combined fitness of each individual and the structure and teamwork of all those who comprised it. The functions and contributions of the medical department (post surgeons, hospitals, and medical staff) and disciplinary actions (usually implemented through the institution of courts-martial) comprise salient elements of the history of Fort Union and the army in the Southwest.
The post surgeon and hospital were important to the health and well being of the garrison, troops in the field, and citizens (employees, residents of nearby communities, emigrants, and others).  Sometimes the surgeons left the post to treat civilians. In 1875 Post Surgeon Peter Moffatt, as he put it, attended "a case of midwifery at Mora."  Occasionally the post surgeon was called on to treat Indians. 
The Fort Union hospital served many patients in addition to those from the garrison, depot, and arsenal, as Post Surgeon Moffatt explained in 1875:
"For the reason that this post is located on the thoroughfare to and from New Mexico, and that it is the base of supplies of the district, it occurs that there are at almost all times men in the hospital not belonging to the command at Fort Union, but who have been taken sick or hurt while en route to or from other points, and been detained at this post for treatment or discharge on surgeon's certificate of disability." 
This factor explains why the Fort Union hospital was the largest and best equipped such facility in the region.
It should be noted that not every soldier who reported to the post surgeon was actually ailing. According to Eddie Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, who frequently denounced shirkers and deserters in his letters to his family, "a great many soldiers go on the sick report just to get excused from duty, half of them are not sick."  The surgeon had assistance from hospital stewards, matrons, and enlisted men assigned temporarily to duties at the hospital. Many of the attendants were assigned on a rotation basis from the companies stationed at the post. Thus most were inexperienced when assigned to duty and were rotated off duty about the time they gained essential experience. Their duties included nursing care for the sick and wounded, administering medications, preparing meals, providing proper diet, changing bandages, bathing hospital patients, changing bedding, and cleaning. In 1874 the secretary of war was authorized to appoint hospital stewards who became permanent members of the medical corps.  This policy was instituted at Fort Union in 1887. 
The surgeon and hospital attendants had other duties in addition to seeing patients, diagnosing and designing treatment, prescribing and mixing medications, and performing surgery. The surgeon and his staff were responsible for such health-related duties as sanitation at the post, living conditions in the barracks and guardhouse, diet, examination of recruits, issuing certificates of disability which authorized the medical discharge of soldiers, sending severe cases of mental illness to appropriate institutions, and maintenance of medical records. In addition, the surgeon was required to administer the hospital, supervise all other medical personnel, dispense drugs, act as coroner, keep zoological and botanical records of the region, and record daily weather conditions. The primary concern, however, was always the health of soldiers and their families. Overall, the health of the Fort Union garrison was good, especially in comparison to some other forts in New Mexico,  and the health care facilities were the best in the Southwest. For a few years after the Civil War, the Fort Union hospital was the best equipped such facility between Fort Riley, Kansas, and California.
Diseases and injuries affected many more soldiers and resulted in far more fatalities than did gunshot wounds. A few soldiers were hospitalized for gunshot wounds, but some of those were not inflicted by enemy combatants. A few resulted from fights with other soldiers and civilians, many were from accidents, and some were self-inflicted. After a Fort Union soldier died from a gunshot wound in the head that occurred during a drunken brawl in 1873, Eddie Matthews wrote: "It is too bad that a young man should be killed in that manner, but nearly all the deaths among Soldiers on the frontier occur in that manner. Very few die from sickness or at the hands of Indians."  Actually, Matthews was mistaken about the statistics regarding the causes of death, except that few soldiers died from engagements with Indians. In New Mexico, during the period from January 1849 through December 1859 (which included Fort Union, 1851-1859), a total of 40 soldiers died from gunshot wounds. During those eleven years less than two percent of all soldiers in the department received gunshot wounds and fewer than one-third of those were fatal. By comparison, during the same years, 249 soldiers died from diseases and injuries (or, put another way, gunshot wounds were the cause of death in fewer than one of every seven deaths recorded). Combat, as noted in previous chapters, was a rare experience for most enlisted men, and it was a minor cause of disability and death. During the period identified, 1849-1859, 30 soldiers died from fevers, 59 from digestive diseases, and 41 from respiratory diseases. The remainder, 119 men, succumbed to other causes. 
Many health problems resulted from the environment. Crowded and poorly ventilated quarters fostered respiratory illnesses, unsanitary water induced diarrhea and fevers,  inadequate bathing facilities contributed to boils, and the prostitutes at and near the post spread venereal diseases (considered by some historians to be the most common affliction of soldiers).  Post Surgeon Moffatt confirmed that, when he wrote: "Gonorrhoeal and syphilitic affections are probably the greatest scourge we have to deal with." Although he treated many white males for these afflictions, he noted that he had "not been called upon to treat a single native, man or woman, for either of these affections." He believed the reason they did not come to him was because "they use two native plants which have a very high local reputation in these diseases." 
A ready supply of liquor, as noted in previous chapters, contributed to drunkenness and alcoholism. There were occasional fights while under the influence, resulting in injuries and even death. Cavalrymen were injured by their horses. There were a few epidemic diseases that occasionally affected the garrison, including smallpox and cholera. No cases of cholera were reported in New Mexico prior to the Civil War, and there were very few afterward. On a few occasions the post was quarantined, mostly for smallpox. Inoculation was available for smallpox, which tended to affect more natives of New Mexico than soldiers who received vaccine.
The epidemic diseases were rare, however, and other problems usually confronted the medical staff, such as blisters, cuts, bruises, colds, bronchitis, coughs, tonsillitis, influenza, pneumonia, fevers, diarrhea, dysentery, constipation, ulcers, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, broken bones, venereal diseases (predominantly gonorrhea and syphilis), nervous disorders, and many others.  During the period from 1849 through 1859 a total of 3,470 cases of venereal disease were treated among troops stationed in New Mexico, of which only seven were fatal. In those same years a total of 4,908 wounds and injuries were treated, of which 63 were fatal (40 of those fatalities, as noted above, resulted from gunshot wounds). With an annual average death rate from all causes of 21.4 per 1,000 troops stationed in New Mexico during those eleven years, soldiers in the department fared as well as the general population in the nation which had an estimated death rate of 21 to 22 per 1,000. 
A summary of the medical records of troops garrisoned at Fort Union, 1868-1869, revealed that a total of 852 were treated for diseases by the post surgeon during those two years. The statistics did not include injuries. The cases were categorized as follows: tonsillitis, 1; scurvy, 2; tuberculosis, 11; malarial diseases, 32; rheumatism, 94; diarrhea and dysentery, 147; venereal diseases, 152; and respiratory diseases, 170. Only four soldiers died during that time. 
The death rate at Fort Union was lower than at many other frontier posts. It should be noted that the remains of those who died were quickly interred in the post cemetery, usually within 24 to 48 hours, because of rapid deterioration. Little was written about funeral ceremonies or burials. Private Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, reported in the autumn of 1870 that a soldier of the regimental band had died of typhoid fever at Fort Union. The day after this death, Matthews wrote to his family, noting that the remains were "to be buried this evening." He continued, "While am writing can hear the Band practicing the funeral dirge. Oh how solemn it sounds. There is nothing that makes me feel so sad, and home sick, as to hear the Band playing in front of one of their comrades, the Dead March. All the Soldiers in the Garrison have to turn out for this funeral this evening."  The medical department, however, was mostly concerned with the health of the living rather than the disposal of the dead.
Another perspective on the health of the garrison was provided in a compilation of consolidated sick reports at the Fort Union hospital, 1871-1874, summarized in the following table. 
Fort Union Consolidated Sick Report, 1871-1874
(Note: Statistics show number of cases treated; deaths are shown in parentheses.)
|Mean Strength of Post||322||222||164||195|
|Accidents & injuries||92||79 (1)||46||55|
|Diarrhea & Dysentery||99 (1)||81||33||67|
|Homicide||1 (1)||1 (1)||1 (1)||1 (1)|
|Other Local Diseases||250||130 (1)||52||117|
|Respiratory Ailments||160 (1)||84||21||72|
|Typhoid Fever||9 (4)||3 (1)|
|TOTAL||974 (7)||522 (4)||239 (2)||439 (4)|
Because diet is so important to health (for example, Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, a disease that at times plagued troops everywhere, including Fort Union), military posts and post hospitals were required to plant gardens to provide fresh vegetables. Fort Union had gardens most years it was occupied, but the results were not always satisfactory. Even the most successful gardens produced fresh vegetables for a small portion of the year. Citizens from the surrounding area sold vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and other produce at the post to those who could afford it. Improvement in diet, with foods containing antiscorbutics, was the major treatment for scurvy.
In the summer of 1855 three recruits arrived at Fort Union from Fort Leavenworth with severe cases of scurvy. They remained in the post hospital while the other recruits were assigned to their stations. When the three were able to report for duty they were sent to department headquarters at Santa Fe for assignment. Post Commander Fauntleroy encouraged Department Adjutant Nichols to provide the three recruits with a couple of months' pay "to enable them to purchase some little necessaries fruits, &c, as they have had the Scurvy very badly, and have not yet quite recovered." 
Even though the health of the soldiers was considered of prime importance in the army, facilities provided for hospitals were frequently inadequate until after the Civil War. At the first Fort Union the post hospital suffered from the same problems as most of the other structures built of unbarked logs without adequate foundations or roofs. When the building originally planned for the hospital in 1851 did not, as the post quartermaster explained, "exactly answer the purposes for which it was intended," another hospital was erected. The building first designated as a hospital became a storehouse. 
Construction of the second building designed as the post hospital at Fort Union was completed in late 1851 or early 1852. Post Surgeon Thomas McParlin performed his duties in a hospital tent until the permanent hospital was occupied. It was a log structure, 48 by 18 feet, with a wing, 46 by 16 feet. It originally had an earthen roof which was later covered with boards. Although Inspector Mansfield described the hospital as "comfortable" in 1853,  others declared that it was, like the other buildings at the first post, "badly built" and constantly in need of repairs. Post Surgeon Letterman complained in 1856 that the "dirt roof" leaked whenever it rained. He stated that, during the late summer rainy season, "not a room . . . remained dry . . . and I was obliged to use tents and canvass to protect the property from damage." Presumably tents were also used to protect the patients. 
In addition to the post hospital, the department medical depot was maintained at Fort Union for a few years. Although the medical depot and chief medical officer were left in Santa Fe at the time Fort Union was established in 1851, the depot and chief surgeon soon joined the other department depots (quartermaster, commissary, and ordnance) at the new post.  Soon after Brigadier General Garland transferred the quartermaster and commissary depots from Fort Union to Albuquerque in 1853, he directed that "the medicines, hospital stores, bedding, surgical and other instruments, books, stationery, dressings &c of this Department will be transferred from Fort Union to the depot at Albuquerque." The chief medical officer was also moved to Albuquerque.  A few months later the medical depot was relocated at Santa Fe, where it had been prior to the founding of Fort Union and where Garland established department headquarters. The post surgeon at Fort Union was not affected by those changes, except that his requested supplies and medicines were not so readily available.
The Fort Union post hospital was left without a surgeon in the spring of 1859 when Acting Assistant Surgeon John H. Bill was sent into the field with troops. Major Simonson, post commander, requested Dr. W. W. Anderson at Cantonment Burgwin near Taos to come to Fort Union to see about "a patient affected with a very dangerous illness."  Anderson was unable to go because he could not leave the number of sick soldiers at his post. Ten days later the new Fort Union commander, Captain Robert M. Morris, begged department headquarters for permission to hire a civilian surgeon (Dr. J. M. Whitlock of Las Vegas) to treat "a non Commissioned officer lying at the point of death, thirteen men on the sick report, in addition to these there are several Officers and their families here, who may require medical attendance."  Morris received no reply.
On July 3 Captain Morris appealed to Surgeon Anderson at Camp Burgwin to "come with as little delay as possible" to treat "Mrs. LeRoy a camp woman at this Post" who was "in a very critical condition." The woman had been sick for about two weeks.  The situation was more critical by late July when Morris again requested a surgeon for Fort Union and reported that there were "now two dangerous cases in Hospital and have lost two from the want of proper Medical attendance." On July 31 he wrote to department headquarters, "I now for the third time earnestly and respectfully ask the attention of the Colonel commanding the Department to send a Medical Officer immediately to this Post, or grant me the authority asked for" to hire Dr. Whitlock. He enclosed a list, not located, of those who had died without benefit of a surgeon. Almost 10% of the garrison present was on the sick list. 
A response was finally sent in August. The director of the medical department sent the callous word that "it is absolutely impossible to furnish a Medical Officer to each Post and every Detachment in the field, in this Department, nor do I know of a Citizen Physician who would give up his business and go to Fort Union." He recommended that Surgeon Anderson be sent, "temporarily," to Fort Union. That would leave Cantonment Burgwin without a physician. Apparently Anderson never went to Fort Union. On August 11 Captain Morris sent an urgent request to Dr. Whitlock to come to Fort Union and treat Captain Wainwright, department chief of ordnance, who had what the hospital steward believed was "billious fever." He also had the quartermaster make a "Mosquito bar" to protect Wainwright. Captain Whitlock was again called out two weeks later to attend a man with a compound fracture of the leg. The absence of a post surgeon was alleviated when Assistant Surgeon Elisha I. Baily arrived about September 1, 1859. 
In November 1859 Lieutenant Julian May, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, became ill while returning to Fort Union from Santa Fe. He died at Tecolote on November 22 under the care of Dr. Whitlock, who had been sent for at Las Vegas. The cause of death was apoplexy (commonly known as a stroke).  In 1860 the department medical director, Dr. William J. Sloan, recommended that arrangements be made at the Fort Union hospital to supply the sick with vegetables. The department commander, Colonel Fauntleroy, directed that a hospital garden be planted and a gardener from the garrison be detailed for that purpose.  The hospital garden was in addition to the post garden.
By the time of the Civil War the Fort Union hospital had deteriorated until it was considered uninhabitable. While the earthwork was under construction, the old commanding officer's quarters at the first post became the post hospital and the "old hospital building" was assigned to the ordnance department in 1862 to store ordnance supplies arriving for the department.  The old officer's quarters were an improvement, but that structure was also in a bad state of repair and inadequate for the medical demands of the Civil War era.
The increase in military activity and in the number of troops stationed in New Mexico during the Civil War placed increased demands on the post hospital and other medical facilities in the department. Surgeons accompanied troops into the field. A temporary field hospital was established at Kozlowski's Ranch after the engagements at Glorieta in March 1862. The wounded were treated there until they could be moved to the hospital at Fort Union. The old commanding officer's quarters at the first post were inadequate for the enlarged task. In 1862 Post Surgeon James T. Ghiselin reported that "the building used for a Hospital at this post is old and so badly out of repair the sick are made very uncomfortable after every rain storm by the excessive dampness of the walls and flooring." He recommended building a new hospital because the old one was practically beyond repair. Post Commander Wallen endorsed the request, mentioning the "decayed" condition of the building and the need for a ward to isolate patients with contagious diseases. There were several cases of smallpox at the hospital at that time. 
The overcrowded conditions of the Fort Union hospital were partially relieved by sending some patients to a military hospital which was established at the hot springs near Las Vegas. The hot mineral waters there had been visited for some time by people with a variety of ailments, including venereal diseases, who believed the soothing effects of bathing in the warm waters cured or helped cure their diseases. The site was destined to become a popular spa after the Civil War and especially after the railroad built into New Mexico. Some army surgeon or surgeons also must have considered the hot springs to have therapeutic benefits and persuaded Colonel Canby to authorize a general hospital there. A structure near the springs that had been built for other purposes was converted into a hospital, and plans were made to build a new hospital there to serve troops from throughout the department. 
Those plans changed when Brigadier General Carleton became department commander in September 1862. Carleton opposed the concept of a general hospital which was not located near a military post, and he directed that the facility at the hot springs be closed as quickly as practicable. Everything there, including equipment, supplies, medicines, patients, and medical staff, were sent to Fort Union. Because the post hospital was inadequate, Carleton directed the quartermaster at Fort Union to prepare additional facilities "for these sick and wounded."  It was not determined where the additional patients were accommodated at Fort Union, but their arrival amplified the need for a new hospital at the post. 
In June 1863 Carleton appointed a board of officers to design and select a site for a new hospital at Fort Union.  The result, an adobe structure set on a stone foundation with a shingled gable roof, was completed in the spring of 1865 at an estimated cost of $57,000. The conditions at the old hospital, during the time it took to erect the new facility, were "bad." The new hospital, as noted above, was the largest and best equipped medical center in the region. In 1866 a "dead house," 52 by 13 feet, was added to the post hospital. Other additions were made later. 
The basic structure comprised a large central hall running the full length of the building, 147 feet, with three wings adjoined on each side and an open space between each wing. There was a covered veranda on the front of the building. Each wing was divided by an adobe wall, providing a total of twelve large rooms, each of which had a fireplace. The two rooms in front and the two rooms in back were also divided in two and served special purposes. The front rooms on the west side of the hall comprised the surgeon's office and examination room, and the front rooms on the east side were used for the dispensary and storage of medicines and medical supplies. The rear rooms on the west side were used as the kitchen, and the rear rooms on the east were used for dining. The hospital initially had a capacity of 100 patients  (120 in case of emergencies), but later, when the needs were less, some of the rooms were used for storage and the number of beds per ward was reduced until there were six beds in each of six wards, a total capacity of 36 patients (figure shown on plan of hospital drawn in 1878, reproduced on the following page).
Plan of the hospital at Fort Union, 1878, Misc. Fortifications File, Cartographic Branch, RG 77, National Archives.
(click on image for an enlargement)
The hospital complex eventually included quarters for hospital stewards and hospital matrons, a cistern to store water, laundry, bath house, and an adobe wall around the compound. In 1866 a windmill and pump were requisitioned and approved by Post Commander Thompson to be placed at a well near the hospital to pump water to irrigate the hospital garden.  It may be presumed that the windmill was installed and operated but no confirmation was found in the records.
|View of Fort Union hospital from the south, 1866. U.S. Signal Corps Photo No. 88007, courtesy National Archives.|
While the records of the Fort Union hospital prior to 1863 have not been located, the records from that year until the post was closed in 1891 have been gathered at the National Archives. The medical history kept by the post surgeon, also preserved at the National Archives, covered the period from 1873 to 1891. A list of post surgeons at Fort Union is included in Appendix B. Additional information about health and medical care has been gleaned from other post records. For example, late in 1866, army medical officers were directed to "furnish to civilian employes the necessary medical attention and medicines, without additional compensation therefor."  Prior to that time civilian employees had been required to pay for such services. Selected examples from medical records and other sources provide some understanding of health and medical care at Fort Union.
In October 1866 the chief medical officer of the district, Dr J. C. McKee, requested permission to authorize additional hospital attendants at Fort Union. McKee noted that "there are at present in the Hospital at Fort Union some fifty sick and wounded men, some of them very bad cases." Army regulations provided for assigning hospital attendants on the basis of the number of troops in the garrison. McKee explained that the Fort Union hospital had "to receive many sick from passing troops not belonging to the post." The small garrison, therefore, was "not sufficient in numbers to give these men the attention they require." He asked District Commander Carleton to "furnish as many attendants as the wants of the sick require." Carleton approved the request. 
In November 1866 the number of soldiers treated at the Fort Union hospital was given by Post Commander E. G. Marshall as "about 100 sick men from all parts of the Territory." He noted that a library had been established in the hospital.  The number of patients continued to be high into the following year, requiring additional nurses. When Surgeon Henry A. DuBois requested that a patient at the hospital, Private Thomas King, Company I, Fifth Infantry, be assigned as a nurse when he was well enough to perform such duties, the surgeon justified the need as follows: "I report 84 beds, and have patients in five separate wards, and I cannot diminish the No. of wards occupied without placing white and black patients, and contagious cases in the same wards." At least one nurse was required for each ward. The request was approved.  A variety of cases was under treatment.
|View of Fort Union hospital from the east, 1866. U.S. Signals Corps Photo No. 87994, courtesy National Archives.|
Approximately twenty cases of scurvy were treated at Fort Union in 1866. Most of these were "recruits who had just arrived from the States and had been for months without fresh vegetables and the scurvy existed to an alarming extent." Post Surgeon DuBois directed Major Charles McClure, commissary officer, to purchase vegetables for these patients, which was done. The men quickly recovered with the proper diet.  Unfortunately, some diseases and injuries were not so easily treated.
James Keller, a recently discharged soldier of Company G, Third Cavalry, died at the post hospital at Fort Union on February 26, 1867, from a "fracture of skull and compression of the brain." The fracture appeared to have been inflicted by "a blow given from behind," although "it might have been caused by a fall on a rock, or by a stone thrown." Surgeon DuBois could do nothing to save the patient, but he urged the post commander to arrest "the guilty parties, if any."  No record was found to indicate if Keller had been murdered or was the victim of an accident.
In the summer of 1867 there was an outbreak of epidemic cholera along the Santa Fe Trail and other overland routes, with a large number of cases and many deaths in Kansas, and two companies of the Thirty-Eighth Infantry coming to New Mexico from Kansas carried the disease with them. Post Commander William B. Lane established a board of health at Fort Union in July 1867 "to establish rules and regulations to prevent the introduction of this scourge into this Post and Territory." The members of the board were Surgeon DeWitt C. Peters, Assistant Surgeon Henry A. DuBois, and Lieutenant Francis B. Jones, Thirty-Seventh Infantry. These officers were authorized to keep close watch on the disease, enforce rules of sanitation and health, and report regularly to Lane. Strict sanitary regulations were established at the post on July 27. 
Surgeon DuBois left Fort Union by stage to meet the diseased troops along the road. Those troops were halted at Ocate Creek before they reached Fort Union. They encamped there, approximately nine miles from A. J. Calhoun's ranch and stage station, under quarantine until the disease had run its course. This prevented cholera from affecting the post and settlements in the area. Major W. C. Merriam, commanding the two companies of Thirty-Eighth Infantry, reported to Lane early in August that his troops had developed no new cases of cholera since they left the Arkansas River on July 24. His command was suffering from scurvy. Surgeon Peters and Second Lieutenant Scott H. Robinson, Third Cavalry, visited the camp on August 9. Robinson had been sent earlier to help enforce the quarantine. Dr. Peters examined everyone in the camp, which included 220 enlisted men and six officers (two with their wives), six laundresses, and twenty-two civilians employed as teamsters and herders. He found no evidence of cholera. He believed it was safe to permit the command to proceed to Fort Union as soon as the troops had recuperated. 
Another battalion of Thirty-Eighth Infantry, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Cuvier Grover, came from Kansas and joined the quarantine encampment on the Ocate on August 25. The quarantine was lifted on September 20, and the companies detained there proceeded to their stations at posts in New Mexico. They passed Fort Union but none was stationed there.  There were no cases of cholera at Fort Union. The precautions would likely have prevented that, but the disease had ceased before the soldiers of the Thirty-Eight Infantry reached New Mexico Territory. The fear of cholera, which stimulated a thorough cleaning up at Fort Union, improved the sanitary conditions of the post and, perhaps, made it a more healthy place in general.
Surgeon DuBois was granted a leave of absence in the summer of 1867. He was replaced by Surgeon DeWitt C. Peters. Peters requested additional medical staff to handle the "fully 100 patients under medical treatment and a large number of families in the Garrison." Not only was he responsible for the health of the garrison, but the post hospital was the only place the 600 employees of the quartermaster department could receive medical assistance. Additional staff was approved, including more surgeons. At least three other medical doctors served at the post hospital before the end of the year.  Peters also found the supply of firewood for the hospital to be inadequate and requested "an ample supply of fuel" to "prevent suffering." He noted that "twenty fires are needed during the cold weather" to heat the hospital and cook the food. This required, in his estimation, two cords of wood per day. 
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