Post Hospital Restoration Project
Colonel Joseph K.F. Mansfield, Inspector-General of the Army, visited Fort Davis on October 28, 1860. He was on an official inspection tour of the Department of Texas. His report included the following statement, "the hospital is a worthless building of posts set on end, and chinked in, & rotten, & thatched roof, & rough floors, and braced outside, but will soon fall down or be blown down."
This is a far cry from the post hospital that exists today at Fort Davis National Historic Site. Currently the visitor to Fort Davis can visit several buildings with furnished interiors: a cavalry barracks, an officer's quarters, a kitchen, and the Commanding Officer's home. The Commissary is at present undergoing restoration. The hospital, while standing mostly complete in the canyon behind the Officer's Line, was an important part of the life of the post and demands restoration. The Friends of Fort Davis have committed to a campaign to raise the necessary funds to partially restore the hospital. This project will vastly increase the interpretive opportunities to tell the story of frontier medicine, both military and civilian.
In 1867, in exchange for medical care for themselves and their families, local civilians built a temporary hospital at Fort Davis. This makeshift was adobe with a mud roof, dirt floors, and windows covered with sheets. Despite its crude appearance, Post Surgeon Daniel Weisel in 1869 stated that this small building was, "very comfortable and in all respects fulfills the wants of the post." This structure served the garrison from 1868 to 1876. However, as early as 1870 various post surgeons began to petition for a new hospital. This was not to happen until 1876 when the current building was constructed. Built of adobe on a stone foundation, this hospital had wooden floors and a tin roof that did not leak. Originally containing one ward for twelve beds on the north end, the hospital was expanded in 1884 with the addition of a ward on the south end. The hospital complex included the quarters for the hospital steward, storeroom, laundry, kitchen, mess hall, cistern, and privy.
The post surgeon was responsible for the hospital, the staff, and the overall health and welfare of the garrison and the civilian population. He oversaw sick call and examined the troops for everything from wounds to the common cold. Digestive, intestinal, and respiratory ailments were most common; as were contusions, fractures, rheumatism, venereal diseases, and fevers. The post surgeon also handled the voluminous paperwork and a myriad of other tasks required by the Army Medical Department, such as:
- Inspecting the food and water supply
- Directing the mess hall operations and food preparation
- Supervising the sanitation of all the fort's activities
- Implementing and enforcing sanitation regulations
- Planning and supervising the post gardens
- Functioning as the official coroner
- Collecting local flora and fauna samples
The post surgeon and his staff were deeply involved with every aspect of life at Fort Davis. In terms of health and well-being of the soldiers and the civilian community, the hospital was perhaps the most important structure on the post.