Broken bones and suspicious masses ran wild in Territorial Arizona until the arrival of crusading healer Dr. Ancil Martin and one game-changing piece of technology. But that’s not all he did.
Visiting the doctor in 19th-century Arizona was a grim prospect for patients – and an experience that would not qualify as “health care” by modern standards. Medical equipment resembled steampunk-inspired torture devices. Physicians performed surgery using little sterilization and treated ailments with quack cures or elixirs that sometimes did more harm than good. Readily available morphine, opium and laudanum dulled the pain but created addicts. Amazingly, most patients survived despite these depredations.
“Frontier Arizona was a great place for a doctor to start a practice – and that’s what many of them did: practice,” Arizona state historian Marshall Trimble says. “It was a place where they could improvise at will without the same restraints as their Eastern colleagues.”
Fortunately for early Arizonans, this Wild West medical milieu would receive a needed dose of professionalism in the guise of Dr. Ancil Martin, a tireless public health advocate who set the stage for the high-tech health care Arizona now enjoys.
Martin, an Iowa native, studied at the University of Michigan and Rush Medical College of Chicago, from which he graduated in 1885. He trained as an eye and ear specialist in Pittsburgh, New York City and Iowa, where he became president of the state’s medical society. He came to Arizona in 1891 following his older brother, John Martin Jr., and his father, John Martin Sr., contractors who had relocated to construct the Toltec Canal, which diverted water from the Gila River west of Gila Bend, in 1888.
It didn’t take long for Martin to make an impact after arriving. In addition to his ear and eye practice, he lectured frequently and advocated for the highest health standards. In 1892, Martin organized and served as president of the Arizona Medical Association, which sought to prohibit charlatan medical practitioners. Five years later, Martin persuaded the Territorial Legislature to establish a board of medical examiners, which still exists today as the Arizona Medical Board.
Perhaps most importantly, soon after his arrival in 1892, Martin warned the Phoenix City Council that the soil “became surcharged with feces… until it was ready to become a hotbed for the culture of contagion and infectious diseases,” according to the Arizona Silver Belt newspaper. Deaths were already occurring from diphtheria and scarlet fever.
Trimble says that Martin’s direct and damning testimony was a strong force in creating a sanitary sewer system to replace the privies and cesspools that served the community. “At the time, people were becoming more aware that bad sanitation was the root of many contagious diseases.”
Not content with these achievements, in 1896, Martin leased the Alhambra Hotel at Third Avenue and Adams Street in Phoenix to open a tuberculosis sanitarium. According to the Arizona Journal Miner, the hotel had “an air of elegance and yet a homelike appearance.” Still, it didn’t flourish, and was converted to other medical uses the following year.
A proponent of modern equipment, Martin hauled Arizona into the 20th century by bringing the first X-ray machine to the state in 1898, just a few years after its invention by German scientist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. Martin wanted to use X-rays for his ophthalmology practice, and he had a machine built in New York to his specification and brought it back to Phoenix. He used the X-ray to locate foreign bodies in the eye.
Martin’s contributions to public health in Arizona went well beyond the examination room. He achieved international fame from his observations connected with a local bounty placed on jackrabbits feasting on alfalfa fields in 1907. “Thousands of these long-eared speeders were rounded up and driven into pens or corrals like sheep and cattle, there to be killed by clubs,” wrote Will C. Barnes about Martin’s discovery in The Scientific Monthly in 1928. “Many of the animals were skinned and used for home consumption and more commonly as food for hogs.”
Other Pioneering M.D.s
In the wake of this extermination, Martin had patients suffering from symptoms similar to typhoid fever, but with ulcers on the eyes and hands. The doctor reported the infections and made the connection to handling the rabbits. This was the first record of tularemia, a disease sometimes called “Rabbit Fever.” In 1925, Martin was declared the “Father of Tularemia” by the U.S. Public Health Service. “This is regarded as probably the most significant honor which ever came to the medical profession in Arizona,” stated Martin’s obituary in The Arizona Republic in 1926.
Although committed to his healing vocation, like many Territorial residents, Martin had an eye toward the state’s underground riches. In 1906, he purchased the Harquahala Mine, which produced gold near the town of
Salome in western Arizona. His older brother, John Martin Jr., managed the operation for 12 years. It seems that no one, not even a crusading public health defender, was immune to the lure of gold fever.
Dr. Rosa Goodrich Boido
Dr. Boido, a graduate of Cooper Medical College in San Francisco, became Arizona’s first female physician in 1903. She and her husband, Dr. Lorenzo Boido, relocated from Tucson to Phoenix in 1911 and opened the Twilight Sleep Hospital at 300 E. Adams St., specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. In 1918, Boido was charged with performing an abortion and, in a controversial case, was found guilty. The doctor served two months in the Arizona State Prison in Florence before moving to California. She died in 1959 at age 89.
Dr. Winston Hackett
Dr. Hackett, a graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of San Francisco with later coursework at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, arrived in Phoenix in 1916 as the state’s first African American physician, specializing in obstetrics. He delivered newborns in an office in Downtown Phoenix until 1921, when he opened the Booker T. Washington Memorial Hospital at 1342 E. Jefferson St. The facility later included cottages for tuberculosis patients and a nearby pharmacy. Unfortunately, Hackett’s failing eyesight caused the hospital to close in 1943, and he died in 1949 at age 67.
Dr. Frank J. Milloy
Dr. Milloy, a Northwestern University Medical School graduate, arrived in Phoenix to begin an exemplary career in 1921. He became the first physician to administer the newly discovered antibiotic, penicillin, and introduced blood transfusions during World War II. Long active in the Arizona State Medical Association, along with fellow physicians J.D. Hamer and D.F. Harbridge, Milloy launched Arizona Medicine Journal and served as its editor from 1942-1952. Milloy was still on the Journal’s editorial board when he died in 1958 at age 66.
Dr. Carlos Montezuma
Dr. Montezuma was born to Yavapai Apache parents in Central Arizona. He was kidnapped by another tribe and grew up in Chicago, cared for by Anglo guardians. Montezuma graduated from the Chicago Medical College and became the first male Native American licensed physician in the nation in 1889. He worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and later Carlisle Indian School. In 1901, Montezuma returned to Arizona, where he limited his medical career to become an advocate for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation until passing in 1923 at age 57.