Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo


     The medical histories recorded by these surgeons and their successors were usually routine in nature. Occasionally details were provided about a specific case. On January 22, 1883, twenty-six-year-old Private Leon Gingras, Company E, Twenty-Third Infantry, a native of Quebec, was severely burned on the "head, body and extremities by explosions of powder while refilling cartridges in magazine." He was treated at the post hospital for 459 days and given a medical discharge in May 1884, according to Surgeon Cleary, by reason of being "incapable of performing the duties of a soldier because of loss of power of both hands and extensive scars on hands and face and body owing to burn from explosion of powder." He was certified as totally disabled. [103]

     Some soldiers were incapacitated in the line of duty. Others were unable to face their military responsibilities and took their own lives. On April 30, 1884, twenty-nine-year-old Sergeant Francis C. Rinn, Company I, Twenty-Third Infantry, a native of New York, committed suicide by shooting himself three times with a revolver. He directed two shots "to the upper part of his head right side. The balls were found imbedded in the scalp, entirely flattened against the skull." Finding his head too hard, Rinn directed his next shot at his heart. "The third ball entered the thorax near the left nipple and penetrating left ventricle of heart proved fatal at once." [104] Surgeon Cleary provided additional details about Sergeant Rinn in his consolidated report for May 1884:

     "Deceased had been absent from Post and drinking for several days immediately preceding his death. The night before his death he returned to the post and though apparently perfectly sane showed that he had been drinking. Next morning at reveille he was found dead in his room adjoining Company quarters, an English bulldog pistol with 3 chambers empty by his side. . . ."

     "Post mortem 5 1/2 hours after discovery of his body and probably not over 6 hours after death. Rigor mortis commencing. Upon the head and right parietal region three inches above right ear are two bullet wounds, one above the other about an inch apart. The hair around the wounds is somewhat burned with powder, indicating close contact with the weapon used. On the thorax two inches in a straight line to the right of the left nipple is a third bullet wound. Shirt at point of penetration blackened with powder. An incision extending from the right ear upwards across the head discloses two bullets, flattened to a remarkable extent, and embedded in the soft parts. Parts surrounding the wound on head slightly swollen and infiltrated with blood. The skull is neither broken or indented."

     "Examination of the thorax. Pericardium distended with semi-coagulated blood. The heart weighs ten ounces. A large bullet wound is found completely penetrating the left ventricle obliquely backwards. The left lung present strong pleuritic adhesions. At its root is found the third bullet, slightly scratched by contact with the rib in it passage to the heart. Right lung normal. Other viscera not examined. Heart and three bullets preserved." [105]

     The post surgeon witnessed the end of those who chose to commit suicide, the beginning of newborn life, and the loss of those who struggled to survive. On May 2, 1884, Ellen Killeen, wife of Private John Killeen, Company A, Twenty-Third Infantry, gave birth to a son who was named Joseph. The surgeon noted that the parents were Irish, the father was "aged 40, mother 28 and is fourth child by this mother." The child died two days later from "cerebral compression during labor." [106] Surgeons also witnessed and recorded information about other events.

     The surgeons usually kept detailed records of the weather and commented on calamitous storms. A "terrific gale" hit the post on January 30, 1883, the day Dr. Collins died. Much damage was done to buildings and the flag staff was destroyed. A severe thunderstorm, with hail and more than two inches of rain, struck on July 12, 1883. On May 31, 1884, "a terrible hailstorm with 'hailstones as large as hens eggs'" damaged the post. At least "375 window panes were broken in the hospital and stewards quarters by the hail." The "roof leaked very badly during the time, in many places." Such damage, of course, required expenses for repairs. [107]

     Assistant Surgeon Norton Strong reported for duty at Fort Union on October 15, 1884, replacing Acting Assistant Surgeon William Parker, whose contract with the army was terminated. [108] On October 25 Private Charles Humphrey, Company I, Tenth Infantry, died in the hospital "of Peritonitis resulting from inflammation of the bowels." [109] Like most deaths of soldiers that occurred at Fort Union, Humphrey's illness was not directly related to his military service. In fact that was true of many cases treated at the post hospital.

     During the Civil War army surgeons perfected the amputation of limbs, but there were few such operations performed at the Fort Union hospital. Surgeon Cleary, who began his career as a military surgeon in 1862, found it necessary in the case of Private Frederick K. Walter, Company C, Tenth Infantry, in 1884. Private Walter entered the post hospital on July 20 with sarcoma (malignant tumor) of the right thigh. The tumor, which weighed seven ounces, was removed on August 30. A few weeks later another tumor appeared on the same thigh. Surgeon Cleary decided "to resort to amputation with a view to prolong and possibly save his life." This operation was performed October 28, removing the leg at the "lower third of thigh." Private Walter recuperated at the post until April 28, 1885, when he was granted a medical discharge for total disability. [110]

     Surgeon Cleary declared in January 1885 that the health of the garrison was good, with most patients being treated for injuries rather than diseases. He declared that "the general sanitary condition of the post is good." However, there was one problem: "I desire to call attention to the fact," he wrote, "that . . . some policing could be done to advantage—in the rear of the laundresses quarters and more particularly around the hospital where the melting of the snow has revealed a number of beer bottles (empty) and tin cans." There were also "old shingles and general debris on the hospital premises caused by the recent repairs done at the hospital." A potential disease problem existed at the nearby community of Watrous. Cleary reported, "diphtheria prevails to some extent in Watrous and vicinity; it would be well to have the men cautioned against going into any house in that neighborhood." He especially recommended that soldiers not visit "in the store of Mr. Watrous as the family of Mr. Watrous was severely afflicted with that disease." [111]

     There were two deaths at the post in March 1885, one civilian and one soldier. Timothy O'Brien, a citizen under treatment at the hospital for "consumption" (tuberculosis), died March 25. His remains were buried at the Catholic Cemetery at Tiptonville. The soldier, Private Patrick Murtagh, Company I, Tenth Infantry, committed suicide. His body was found about seven miles west of the post on March 31, "his rifle lying between his knees, muzzle towards his head, a string passing from the trigger to his foot, the boot of which was off, and bullet wound passing from the upper and anterior aspect of neck to upper and back part of head, shattering the skull." It was believed "he had been dead at least a week when found." He had been absent from the post since March 17. His remains were interred in the post cemetery on April 1. [112]

     Activities at the medical department at the post were routine for several months, with few serious cases noted. In June 1885 Surgeon Cleary reported: "No marriages, births, deaths, recruits examined." The general health of the garrison continued to be "good." In July Sergeant Willis W. Warren, Company I, Tenth Infantry, received a medical discharge because of diabetes which rendered him totally disabled. There were only five new cases treated at the post during July, none of which was serious. In October Musician Ludwig Dietrich, Company I, Tenth Infantry, was granted a medical discharge for "Jaundice," his degree of disability being three-fourths. In the same month Dr. Strong was treated for "acute Rheumatism." Strong was transferred to Fort Marcy at Santa Fe the following month. [113]

     On January 1, 1886, two military convicts at the post, while on a work detail, overpowered the guard and escaped. One of them froze to death the night after they escaped, when the thermometer at the post recorded -9° F., and the other (James McEvoy) had "both feet frost bitten." He was captured at the house of a "Mexican" about six miles from the post on January 6. The body of the frozen convict was found approximately four miles from the post on January 7. His remains were buried at the post cemetery. A soldier from the garrison suffered frostbite of both feet in January, "returning from a neighboring village through a violent snow storm," and "he recovered without any permanent injury." Convict McEvoy was treated at the post hospital until March 11, when he made good his escape. There were ten military convicts gathered at the Fort Union prison and sent, on April 1, 1886, to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth. [114]

     Post Trader A. W. Conger was the only civilian treated at the post hospital in July 1886. He suffered from "Acute Dysentery." There were only two new cases treated during the same month, one for hemorrhoids and the other for "acute alcoholism." There were two patients in the hospital from the previous month, one with pneumonia and the other with tuberculosis. There seemed to be little need for additional surgeons at the post. Nevertheless, on September 12, Assistant Surgeon Charles Anderson and Acting Assistant Surgeon Emil I. Pring, joined the medical staff. Acting Assistant Surgeon Prescott L. Rice joined them the following month. Although there was no connection with the increase in surgeons at the post, five people died there during September and October. [115]

     Colonel Lewis Cass Hunt, Fourteenth Infantry, died at the post hospital from "Chronic Dysentery" on September 6. He arrived at the post on August 31 "in a dying condition." He had suffered with "chronic bowel affliction, contracted during the Mexican War, a disease of which he has never been wholly free from since." Hunt was buried in the post cemetery. Captain Shoemaker, retired military storekeeper of ordnance, died at his residence at the old arsenal "from enlarged Prostate, chronic Cystitis and General Senile Debility" on September 16. His funeral was conducted "at Fort Union Arsenal" on September 18, and he was buried beside his wife at the site of his private home northwest of the post on the reservation. Bertha Fogarty, wife of First Sergeant Martin Fogarty, died from typhoid fever on September 25. She was buried in the post cemetery. Private John Maher, Company B, Tenth Infantry, died at the post hospital from tuberculosis and pneumonia on October 18. Private James S. Williams, of the same company, died from a gunshot wound to the chest on October 24. He was supposedly shot by "a soldier of the 10th Cavalry, following a gambling quarrel." [116] It was ironic that his death occurred just ten days after Post Commander Mizner issued the following order: "Gambling of every species among the enlisted men within the limits of this post is prohibited." [117]

Fort Union hospital courtyard
Fort Union hospital courtyard, 1889, showing steward's quarters at left and the rear of hospital on right. Water was collected from the roots and piped into the cistern in front of the steward's quarters. The second person from the right is believed to be Post Surgeon Henry Lippincott. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

     Dr. Pring's contract with the army was "annulled" January 1, 1887. Dr. Anderson was ill with acute rheumatism the same month. Dr. Pring signed another contract in February and continued to serve at Fort Union. Additional deaths were recorded at Fort Union, none of which was connected with military duties. On February 24 Chief Musician Thomas Rogers, Tenth Infantry band, died in the post hospital of acute meningitis. On March 14 Musician John Pyne, Company E, Sixth Cavalry, "was found dead in his bed." An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be "congestion of the right lung, . . . due indirectly to alcohol." On March 16 Sergeant Winfield S. Hamilton, Company B, Tenth Infantry, "died suddenly at Loma Parda, N. M. while absent on pass." His body was returned to the post for autopsy. "The body was too far advanced in decomposition to warrant an intelligent post-mortem examination." [118]

Major Surgeon Henry Lippincott
Major Surgeon Henry Lippincott was the last surgeon to serve at Fort Union, 1887-1891. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Aubrey Lippincott.

     Surgeon Anderson was granted sick leave in March 1887 and was sent to serve in Arizona Territory when he returned to duty in May. Dr. Rice's contract was "annulled" May 1, leaving Surgeon Cleary and Dr. Pring the only medical doctors at the post. Cleary declared the health of the garrison and sanitation of the post to be "excellent." On July 8 Surgeon Cleary was ordered to transfer to a post in Wyoming. Before he left, his orders were changed, and there was another death. On July 17 Private John R. Rickley, Company B, Tenth Infantry, succumbed to acute pneumonia involving both lungs. He was interred in the post cemetery. Cleary was relieved of his duties at Fort Union by Major Surgeon Henry Lippincott on August 8, 1887. Lippincott served there until Fort Union was closed. Cleary left Fort Union on September 2, 1887, to serve as post surgeon at Fort Huachuca, Arizona Territory. Surgeon Lippincott kept thorough records during his tenure at Fort Union. He found the health of the garrison and sanitary conditions at the post to be "very good." [119]

     Under Surgeon Lippincott two reforms in the medical department were instituted at Fort Union. Selected privates from regular regiments were appointed to the hospital corps by the secretary of war. The first appointees at the post were Privates Adam Delman, Charles L. Noblett, and Max Rothschild of Company E, Tenth Infantry, and Private Richard F. King, Company B, Tenth Infantry. The other change was the appointment and training of litter bearers (officially called "company bearers") for each company of soldiers. Four bearers were selected for each of the five companies stationed at Fort Union in October 1887, and these twenty men were trained by Surgeon Lippincott "in 'litter bearing' and in rendering first aid." A classroom was established at the post hospital for this purpose, and Surgeon Lippincott requested anatomical charts and other materials to assist with the training. At the end of November 1887 Lippincott reported: "Members of Hospital Corps and Co. bearers were instructed every Friday, during the month, from 1 to 2 P.M. in rendering first aid to sick and wounded, litter bearing and in ambulance drills, they have made excellent progress." [120] Although there would be few opportunities for them to use these skills at Fort Union, this was part of the reform movement to create a more efficient army, undertaken by the government in the 1880s and 1890s.

     here were few events connected with the hospital beyond routine activities during the final years of occupation of Fort Union. In January 1888 several children at the post had measles. In February a cavalry recruit arrived at the post with measles and he "was immediately isolated." In April 1888 Surgeon Lippincott granted a medical discharge to Private John H. Russell, Company I, Tenth Infantry, "on account of very frequently recurring palpitation of the heart and marked tendency to Asthma." Lippincott, perhaps anticipating what later army surgeons would conclude, declared that the heart trouble was "due to excessive use of tobacco." In September 1888 Private William H. Shannon, Company F, Tenth Infantry, was discharged "on account of confirmed lameness of both feet." This resulted from "being run over by a dumpwagon while he was performing his duty as teamster in the quartermaster's dept. driving said wagon on the 17th of Nov. 1887. On sick report since injured." Shannon's disability was determined to be three-fourths. Hans Schroeder, hospital steward, was also discharged in September "on account of loss of power of right wrist caused by sleeping on right hand in a cramped position on night of August 6, 1888, and in the line of duty." His disability was considered "total." His character was "excellent when sober." [121]

Classroom at Fort Union hospital
Classroom at Fort Union hospital, 1888, established by Surgeon Lippincott to train litter bearers in basic medical knowledge. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

     Dr. Pring's contract with the army was "annulled" on September 13, 1888. On the same date Private Samuel R. Newman, Company F, Tenth Infantry, "died in the orderly room of his company." The cause of his death was given as "asphyxia from smothering in bed and consequent upon inordinate use of alcoholic liquor and opium." His remains were buried in the post cemetery the following day. Acting Assistant Surgeon Samuel T. Weirick reported for duty at Fort Union in October 1888. The health of the garrison was "excellent" until June 1889, when diphtheria appeared. Several children in one family contracted the disease in July and August, and all survived. Another child in the same family was diagnosed with diphtheria in November and recovered. An outbreak of influenza struck the post December 26, 1889, and lasted until February 25, 1890. Approximately one-fourth of the garrison and civilian population at the post were affected. Lippincott noted that men experienced more cases which were of greater severity than those of women, and persons between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-five "seemed to suffer most." All patients recovered. [122]

Rear view of Fort Union hospital complex
Rear view of Fort Union hospital complex, 1889. Note adobe wail around the area. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Side view of medical facilities
Side view of medical facilities, 1889. Note that plaster has fallen off the buildings. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

     Surgeon Lippincott remained at Fort Union and closed the post hospital on April 20, 1891. For almost forty years post surgeons and their staffs had provided medical care for the garrison and civilians in the area. The records indicated that their duties were performed well, that health care was beneficial and adequate (with few exceptions), that the hospital (especially the facility at the third post) was sufficient to excellent, and that the health of soldiers and civilians at Fort Union was usually good to excellent. The medical department contributed significantly to the performance of the soldiers at the post and the army in the region. Military discipline and justice also influenced the efficiency and well-being of the army.

Front view of Fort Union hospital
Front view of Fort Union hospital, 1889. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Page Four

Santa Fe Trail Research Site

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.
© "Forever"