Colorado's Healthcare Heritage

A Chronology of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Fort Lyon Hospital — Las Animas, Colorado

1859: William Bent leased his fort at Big Timbers, near present-day Lamar, to the federal government, which renamed it Fort Wise. Fort Wise had originated as Bent's New Fort .

In 1862, Fort Wise was renamed Fort Lyon. This "Old" Fort Lyon lasted until 1867, when a new Fort Lyon was built near Las Animas, Colorado.

1867: The new Fort Lyon opened on June 9, 1867, on the north bank of the Arkansas River about a mile east of Las Animas, Colorado. The 1870 Surgeon General's report had a description of Fort Lyon, including this:

This section of the country was formerly occupied by the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, but since the Sand Creek fight, in 1864, their visits are rare. The country is being settled by Americans, and the number of acres of cultivated land is rapidly increasing. Mail communication is by the stage, which runs from Kit Carson to Santa Fé, six times a week; time to department headquarters six to seven days.

The prevailing diseases at the post are mild malarial fevers and rheumatism. Bowel affections are somewhat prevalent in the summer months, the drinking water at that time containing considerable organic matter. (John Shaw Billings: Report on Barracks and Hospitals of the United States Army. Circular No. 4. War Department. Surgeon General's Office. Washington, December 5, 1870, pg. 315)

The new Fort Lyon was about 20 miles away from the old Fort Lyon (1862-1867), which was abandoned because of the scarcity of wood and because the Army considered the location to be unhealthy after it was flooded by the Arkansas River in 1866.

1868: On May 23, Brigadier General Christopher "Kit" Carson — a 58-year-old native of Kentucky, who had become a famous trapper, guide, and explorer — died at Fort Lyon.

1907: The US Navy opened a sanitarium at Fort Lyon for sailors and marines suffering from tuberculosis. Because proximity to the railroads was important for all such healthcare facilities, it was promoted as being "5 miles east of Las Animas on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad line." Some patients who died were buried in a cemetery on the property. George H. Barber was superintendent.

1922: In June, the US Veteran's Bureau took over the Fort Lyon Hospital and opened it to veterans from all branches of the service.

1930: Administration of the Fort Lyon Hospital was transferred to the newly created Veterans Administration and within three years the VA designated the hospital a neuropsychiatry facility.

1973: The cemetery at Fort Lyon was transferred to the National Cemetery system and became Fort Lyon National Cemetery.

2001: The Fort Lyon hospital was closed and the facility was turned over to the state of Colorado, which converted it to a minimum security prison that closed in 2011.

2013: The State of Colorado proposed turning the former Fort Lyon into a rehabilitation center for homeless and mentally ill people.

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