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Dr. Royal W. Calkins, physician, surgeon, legislator and friend of the schools

Dr. Royal W. Calkins was born March 18, 1870, in Wyoming, Iowa. Lorilla Calkins Crowson shared her memories of her father in 1987.

“As a boy, he moved with his family to the homestead in Nebraska. His father being a Civil War veteran, was entitled to a homestead, so when he was a small boy, the family moved to a farm near Stromsburg, Nebraska. He remembered riding on the back of the wagon with his legs hanging over the end and having the grass tickle his feet.

Prairie fires were a great danger at that time, and the Calkins family became victims one year. That winter, they lived on scorched corn and a little pork as their hogs had been caught in the fire. All they managed to save was their home.

They were a very poor family, and his mother said she scrubbed the floors with her tears many times. There were six children, one of whom died in infancy. Of the four remaining, two became medical doctors; and the other two, dentists. He attended medical school at the University of Iowa but because he had so little money, his diet was very poor – mostly potatoes – and he to work his way through school. When he graduated, he had tuberculosis and was told he had only six months to live. He returned to Stromsburg and opened a practice but was too ill to keep his office open. He thought perhaps a higher altitude would help him, so he moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The first year there. he lived in the mountains just out of Custer and chopped wood. He lived mainly on what game he could shoot and the items he could buy in town with the sale of the wood. After a year, he became strong enough to open an office in Custer, where he practiced for 15 years.

He loved fruit and dreamed of living where it was plentiful. When he heard of Montezuma County in 1908, he came to see if it might be the place. Since his tuberculosis was still a serious problem, he had to return back to Custer to recuperate after an illness in the county. He returned to Montezuma County in January 1909 and spent the rest of his life here.”

In 1909, he purchased three lots north of Main Street (corner of North Elm and West First Streets) and prepared to build his home there with plans to move his family from the ranch when the house was finished. In 1912, he was reappointed by the government as physician to the Indian Agency at a salary of $60 per month. He bought a place about 3 miles out of town and happily farmed and raised bees until the influenza epidemic of 1918, when he was called back to the practice of medicine. The other doctors in the county soon became ill, so the burden of the entire county fell on his shoulders. He lost only six patients out of 468 during the entire epidemic. In December 1919, Dr. Calkins was sent to his bed with the influenza after going through the campaign looking after the patients for many weeks. His case was not serious, but everyone who knew him was concerned for his health because of his past medical history. He recovered after a few weeks and was able to return to his medical practice.

He was known for his treatment of pneumonia and babies, and his patients came to him from the entire Four Corners area. He was awarded a plaque for 50 years of his practice in medicine, but he continued until he had a heart attack at age 87 and was forced to retire.

The whole family were great fans of the athletic teams and attended all the games they could. He was team physician for Cortez High School for many years and cared for all injuries. Each year at the end of the football season, he and his wife gave a turkey banquet for the team and the coaches.

In October 1950, a dinner was held for him, and he was presented with several plaques and a watch for his faithful service. It was at this time the Cortez elementary school was named the Royal W. Calkins School. At the same time, the Denver Post selected him “Man of the Year”.

Dr. and Mrs. Calkins loved young people, and besides athletics, were active in Rainbow and DeMolay. Any time transportation was needed to attend an event of the Rainbow Girls, there was no doubt that Dr. and Mrs. Calkins would become available. He had many hobbies and always kept busy, but his greatest love was the mountains.

He became active in politics and served 12 years in the Colorado House of Representatives. He was elected unanimously to serve as Speaker of the House in 1929. He was also responsible for getting the money for the first highway to Gallup from Cortez and worked for many years for the road that later became known as the Navajo Trail. Dr. Calkins was not only known for his work in the field of medicine, but through the years was a devoted public servant and community leader. He took an active part as a leader in his church, lodge, and political party, and always worked for the building of a better community. He died at this home in Cortez on Dec. 6, 1961, at age 92 years.

Articles and photos given to the Montezuma County Historical Society courtesy of his great-grandson, Robert A. Cowan, August 2007 and January 2010. Permission to use the article in our Looking Back series was given by Roy Crowson, grandson of Dr. and Mrs. Royal Calkins.

June Head, historian of the Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted for comments at 565-3880.