For those of us who are novices, searching through the common, every day records of history is, in many ways, similar to taking a journey half blind-folded. You have an idea, vague though it may be, of where you’re starting and an even more vague idea of where you want to end up, but the distance between the two is often rambling and haphazard and largely based on luck.
One thing is known: what must come first—always must come first—is the curiosity to start the journey in the first place. There has to be that…something…that captures the imagination. It might be just a fragment of a story or a name that hasn’t been heard before. Perhaps, it’s an old photograph in an old book on a shelf. Whatever it is, there has to be that initial hook that motivates a person to find out just a little more than what is already known.
In this particular case, it happened to be a photo, more than a century old, taken on a sunny day in Haswell. Four people are standing in front of a rather impressive, two story cement building. One person was a woman, thin and fashionably dressed, posing in a way as she stood, arms behind her back, next to what looked to be a new automobile around the year 1910.
A few steps away stood two men, one taller, also thin, wearing a hat—tipped back on his head just ever so slightly—and a tie that’s been loosened just a bit. His hands are behind his back, as well. He seems comfortable in front of the camera or, at the very least, certainly not uncomfortable, and even though his face isn’t clearly seen, it’s safe to assume he’s smiling. Another man, shorter, stockier, stands to his left, facing the camera straight on, arms to his sides as if he has no idea what else to do. And next to him, between the two men and the woman, stands a little boy, wearing a hat, as well, although it looks ready to come off his head at any moment.
The caption reads that it’s a photo of Haswell’s first resident doctor, Dr. Sands. The first resident doctor in Haswell was enough to warrant learning more.
Dr. George M. Sands was born in Maryland in the year 1868. The youngest of 3 children, he spent his youth in Baltimore before moving to Walhonding, Ohio, a “little village along the Ohio Canal” where, as a married doctor in his early 30s, he built “a huge, rambling wooden sanitarium”. It seems that young Dr. Sands dreamed of operating a medical treatment center to treat those suffering from the debilitating disease of tuberculosis. Along with his wife, Emma, Dr. Sands operated that facility for a little less than a decade, at which point he sold the building and, with Emma and their two year old son, Samuel, moved to the young prairie town of Haswell that was newly built on the wide open High Plains of Colorado. (That building is considered a famous landmark to this day.)
Almost immediately upon moving to Haswell, Dr. Sands built a two story cement building not far from what was the center of town. He built that fine structure specifically to house a ten to twelve bed hospital, within whose walls he practiced as the only full time doctor within twenty miles.
One can only imagine the joy. Prior to the arrival of Dr. George M. Sands, the fine people of Haswell had learned to be accustomed to traveling doctors, well meaning (and undoubtedly road weary) medical professionals who either came from Eads or traveled a circuit that brought them through Haswell where they would set up a temporary office in the Hotel Holly for two or three days at a time and see patients in one of the hotel rooms.
But with the arrival of Dr. Sands, those fine people of Haswell had their own doctor who not only built a hospital but actually lived not far from town “on the Adobe” where he was soon joined by “5 members of his family as well as his older brother William” just a year after the hospital opened its doors.
Dr. Sands’ practice became the iconic doc of the west. There are numerous articles in The Haswell Herald of Dr. Sands (never referred to as anything other than Dr. Sands) helping those people who suffered injuries not uncommon at the time. A man thrown from his horse who broke an arm and a leg. A boy thrown from a wagon who suffered a severe head injury. A man thrown from a wagon only to have the wagon, loaded down with barrels of water, roll over his leg and crush it from knee to ankle. A woman who died in childbirth but whose child survived. Another child bitten twice by a rattlesnake whom the good doctor saved. In some cases, it seems the good doctor made use of the hospital. Other times, he accompanied the victims and, often, their spouses to Pueblo where he helped to attend in their treatment.
In early 1916, he rented out his place on the Adobe to “Mr. and Mrs. North”. Later on that year, just five years after he’d moved to Haswell, he divorced Emma who promptly returned to Ohio with their son. He then sold the building, remarried a woman named Margaret from Missouri and moved west to the town of Rifle in Garfield County where he was still known as Dr. Sands although he didn’t see many patients.
Dr. George M. Sands died on July 9, 1934 at the age of 66. He is buried in Rose Cemetery, a lovely little cemetery that overlooks the town.
As for the building, it stood vacant for years until, one day, the roof was lowered with jacks and the building became the headquarters for the road and bridge crew working the west end of the county.
And so it is with the early people of Kiowa County. They came and, quite often, made their mark only to continue on their way. And, for all intents and purposes, they would be forever lost to history except for those small clues they leave behind…whether it’s a snippet of a story or an unfamiliar name or a photo…clues that are just enough to capture someone’s attention and send a curious traveler on his or her way looking for the footprints they might have left through time.