Frontier Doc

TB Havens in the Old West

Did tuberculosis sanitariums really exist at the time of Doc Holliday’s death?


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Recall that powerful scene in the 1993 movie Tombstone in which Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell)  sat by the bedside of his dying friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), playing cards.

The setting for this drama was a Glenwood Springs, Colorado, tuberculosis (TB) sanitarium or hospital that specialized in treating patients with this crippling and frequently terminal illness. Doc actually died in a room in the Hotel Glenwood in this Colorado town on November 8, 1887. He was only 36 years old.

The quiet, clean, idyllic sanitarium setting depicted in the movie Tombstone simply did not exist in this town at the time of Doc’s death or, for that matter, in the whole state of Colorado. Apparently, however, Doc, like others afflicted with TB, sought out the Glenwood Springs environment for the suggested healing effects of its hot springs  and clean, dry mountain air.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “TB disease is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.”

Back in Doc’s days, the cause of TB had only been recently discovered. After initial research on Anthrax, the great German-born physician  Robert Koch discovered the tubercle...

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