Hospital Name Suggestion: John W. Montrose Memorial Medical Center
by Ann Chambers Noble
January 8, 2018
Why our new hospital/medical center should be called the John W. Montrose Memorial Medical Center to honor one of our earliest and most dedicated medical doctors to serve Sublette County. Here is his story:
Dr. John W. Montrose was an avid outdoorsman. He made a pack trip in 1900 with his close friend, William Enos, to the Horse Creek area. Dr. Montrose was so impressed with the sparsely settled scenic country that he closed his Idaho medical practice and chose a Wyoming homestead in the Daniel area. His land surrounded the site where Fort Bonneville had stood.
When Montrose completed a house on his homestead, his wife Alice made the long trip to Wyoming and spent the summer. The following year, when daughter Beulah had graduated from high school, Alice and Beulah moved to the ranch permanently. Alice was a quiet, soft-spoken person who was a talented cook and always served her meals on white tablecloths. The doctor’s land patent was granted in 1908. A land patent was issued to Alice Montrose in 1914.
John W. Montrose was born in 1858 in Massachusetts. He spent his boyhood driving the horse for a horse-and-buggy doctor. While the doctor was inside caring for patients, John busied himself studying the medical dictionary in the buggy. He enrolled in the Rush Medical College in Chicago; and in 1892, received his M.D. degree. He finished his medical training at Bellevue Hospital in New York. His medical education took several years because he frequently had to withdraw from school to work at whatever job he could find to finance his education.
In 1884, John married Alice Scarisbrick, and two years later their only daughter, Beulah, was born. In 1896, Dr. Montrose moved to Montana, and then to Idaho where he was practicing medicine until he opted to move to Daniel, Wyoming. The slender, spry man wore side whiskers that extended to a short, pointed gray goatee. Below expressive eyes, he wore silver-rimmed spectacles at the end of his nose. Though he rarely wore a full-dress suit, he was always neat. As the expression went, his vocabulary of profanity "would have been the envy of a mule skinner."
Dr. Montrose was the only medical doctor for a large territory. "Doc," as the doctor preferred to be called, was a unique character. He would have been the typical "horse-and-buggy" doctor, except that the buggy had to be put away for the long winter months and a sled substituted in its place. For many calls, the doctor gained time by riding his saddle horse and taking shortcuts across a river or over a mountain. He arrived at ranches often on horseback wearing his white angora chaps with his little black bag tied on the back of his saddle.
When trying to get to Mrs. Will Pape’s to deliver her first baby, Doc brought his team of horses and buggy. While fording the high Green River, a swift current caught the buggy and tipped over. Doc managed to keep afloat with one hand above water carrying his essential medical bag.
During the thirty-five years he practiced in Wyoming, he likely traveled by every means available in the rugged snow-bound country including skis, snow-shoes, dog team and toboggan, horse, and sleigh or wagon. He was one of the first people in the country to buy a Model-T Ford. From the Model-T, he jumped to a big Sternz-Knight, which he used as an ambulance to take patients to Rock Springs or Jackson for surgery. This required him to not only be an excellent driver over the difficult dirt roads but also a mechanic.
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Montrose treated a gamut of illnesses. He often saw childhood diseases such as chickenpox, measles, whopping cough, scarlet fever, and stomach aches. He treated allergies such as hives and asthma, and incurable diseases such as tuberculosis, infantile paralysis, and cancer. He dealt with epidemics of smallpox and the nightmare Spanish Flu in 1918. Emergency cases constituted much of his practice. There were no dentists for a hundred miles, so he was frequently called to yank out a tooth. There were many accidents on ranches, and Doc rode many miles to save the lives of injured ranchers or children. Tie hacks in the camps were sometimes hurt by their work, or by each other with knives.
Dr. Montrose’s specialties were bones and babies. He had no x-ray, but his sensitive fingers could align a broken bone more perfectly than could many city doctors with modern equipment. He delivered two generations of babies. There was no hospital, so a baby had to be born at home, or wherever the mother happened to be. Sometimes the stork beat the doctor. At other times, the doctor had to wait several days in an isolated cabin. But he was never idle. He would help with the family’s chores, making himself useful, until he was needed to deliver the baby. It was not unusual to deliver a premature baby, and Dr. Montrose would make an incubator out of a box lined with blankets, and kept in the warming oven with the infant.
Doc’s practice always came first with him. No one every sent for him, day or night, that he did not respond promptly. Payment for his services was often not so prompt, but Doc rarely sent a bill. He figured that a debtor knew when he owed a bill and would come inquiring about it when he had the money with which to pay it.
In 1916, Doc went to the Mayo Clinic and stayed several months to observe and study the newest methods of treating illnesses. He regularly subscribed to medical journals and he always welcomed a chance to analyze cases with other doctors when he had the opportunity. Montrose also served as the County Health Officer, designated examiner for the Veterans Bureau, and County Epidemiologist for the State Department of Health. He was active in the Republican Party and served as state committee man of his party for Sublette County. He also served as Sublette County Commissioner from 1929 to 1933. In 1935, the Montroses sold their ranch. Alice passed away in 1938, and Dr. Montrose died in 1943 at the age eighty-four.
Dr. Montrose served citizens from his Daniel home in every direction for 100 miles. Our new hospital will do the same. It will serve citizens throughout Sublette County needing assistance with all kinds of medical attention – just as Dr. Montrose did 100 years ago. John W. Montrose Memorial Medical Center would honor this outstanding doctor and the medical tradition of caring for all our Sublette County residents. It would also be a unique name – belonging only to us.
I have a great picture of Dr. John Montrose that we can put in the hospital lobby with his story that I am willing to write as my contribution to the new facility.