Name: Fort Concho Medical History, 1869-1872
Author: William M. Notson
Notson, William M. (1872, 1974). Fort Concho Medical History: 1869-1872. San Angelo, TX: Fort Concho Preservation and Museum
Date Posted: February 25, 2013
In the fall of 1867 the United States Army established a permanent camp on the plateau where the North and Middle Concho rivers join. In more than twenty years of federal service Fort Concho was home to companies of fifteen regiments in the regular United States Army, including Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie’s Fourth Cavalry and Col. Benjamin Grierson’s Tenth Cavalry of Buffalo Soldiers. The post provided a focal point for major campaigns against the Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches. Patrols from Fort Concho charted vast areas of West Texas and provided a climate for settlement on the Texas frontier.
In 1868, with the arrival of past surgeon Dr. William Notson, construction of Fort Concho was just beginning. In 1869, the third structure to be built was the post hospital. The health of the soldiers was the primary concern of the post surgeon.
Notson wrote monthly reports for the Army and these reports form the body of this book. Notson wrote about everything at the Fort – the weather, the frustration with getting medical supplies, the barrenness of the wilderness, raids by Indians, his disdain for all non-whites, bickering among officers, and the general health of the troops.
He also noted the appearance of many notable people at the Fort, including Gen. William T. Sherman and Major Randolph Barnes Marcy. He was frustrated with the slowness of construction, the inadequacy of fire protection, especially for the hospital, living arrangements (or lack thereof) for officers, and the poor performance of some of his colleagues.
In 1869, Notson reported that a cistern was being built at the post hospital to catch rainwater for drinking purposes. Notson considered the sufficient supply of wholesome water an urgent issue to the health of the soldiers. During this time, Fort Concho was supplied with water from the Concho River. The river had been standing in shallow pools instead of flowing and was impregnated with putrefying animal matter making the water smell and taste offensive. This resulted in many cases of diarrhea, dysentery and dyspepsia.
The hospital remained in use until Fort Concho was abandoned in 1889. In 1911, the hospital burned and later the ruins were cleared. In early 1950, local businesses purchased the property and built warehouses where the hospital once stood. In 1980, The master plan for the development of Fort Concho by the City of San Angelo included the rebuilding of the post hospital. In 1985, archeological investigations uncovered the foundation of the hospital. During the excavation of the foundation, the cisterns were also located. In 1988, after the hospital was rebuilt, the Concho Valley Archeological Society excavated the cisterns. The presentation “A Tale of Two Cisterns” will detail the archeological investigations of the cisterns. (http://cvassanangelo.org/uploads/CVAS_Feb09.pdf)
Dr. Notson was the son of a well-known Army surgeon, William Notson. Dr. Notson’s death was published in The Journal of the American Medical Society (JAMA):
Dr. William Notson died at Philadelphia on December 9, 193 aged 87 years. He was one of the oldest practicing physicians in Philadelphia, and was a native of that city and a graduate of Jefferson Medical College, class of 1832. When the cholera was prevalent Dr. Notson was District Physician of Southwark, and during the last yellow fever epidemic rendered valuable assistance in the same district. Three married daughters survive him. The late Major William M. Notson, of the United States Army, one of the Surgeons who made the autopsy on the body of President Lincoln, and the late Charles B. Notson a leading druggist of St. Louis, Mo., were his sons. JAMA (Dec 23, 1893, p. 982, (http://jama.ama-assn.org/search?fulltext=WILLIAM+M.+NOTSON&submit=yes&x=10&y=7)
William M. Notson died before his father (1882). He entered the Army in April, 1862 as an assistant surgeon. He was brevetted for gallant and meritorious service at Gettysburg. He held the rank of Major at the time of his death.
Notson was one of nine men present for the autopsy of President Lincoln. These included Surgeon General Dr. Joseph K. Barnes, Lincoln family physician, Dr. Robert King Stone, Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, Assistant Surgeon General Dr. Charles H. Crane, Army Assistant Surgeon William Morrow Notson, General Rucker of the Army’s Quartermaster Department, Lincoln’s friend, Orville H. Browning, Army Assistant Surgeon Joseph Janvier Woodward and Army Assistant Surgeon Edward Curtis.
Given his obvious recognition as a surgeon and medical officer in the Regular Army, it is puzzling why his many letters regarding medical needs of Fort Concho went unheeded by the Army. In his reports, Notson opined that it was due to hording in San Antonio, the perennially bad conditions of the roads, the lack of grazing opportunities for draft animals, and the failure of Congress to appropriate funds. He was probably right on all accounts.
Notson’s medical history of Fort Concho gives valuable insight into the life and times at Fort Concho, and Army life in general. I’m glad to have it in my library.