Updated: Jul 23, 2022
In the 1800s, the leading cause of death in the United States was tuberculosis. This “White Death,” as it was called, was feared, but there was minimal understanding surrounding it. During this time, there was no vaccine or antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis, so those living in humid, stormy locales sought drier climates with plenty of sunshine - most abundantly found in Colorado.
Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection that primarily targets the lungs, but in some cases, it can affect other organs, including the kidneys, spine, or brain. It is primarily spread airborne from person to person through means of coughing or sneezing but can also lay dormant for a period after exposure, causing an active infection in someone who was exposed at an earlier time.
Tuberculosis Puts Colorado on the Map
As the number of people experiencing TB increased in the 1800s, more and more people began flocking to Colorado - it was considered the best place for “lungers,” this was the term used to describe TB patients during this time. Physicians believed that fresh air, high altitudes, and an abundance of sunshine were “just what the doctor ordered” for the cure of many ailments - one of which was TB (also called consumption).
Although the area was primarily known as a haven for criminals, drunkenness, gambling, and prostitution, the negatives were outweighed by the positive impact the environment could have on patients suffering from TB. One example of this is John Henry “Doc” Holliday, who was on the run for murder charges stemming from the shootout at O.K. Corral. He stayed in Colorado for the sake of his health, not due to his crimes. As a sufferer of TB, it was the best place for him to rest and recover.
Statehood and Consumption Sanitoriums
Colorado was granted official statehood August 1, 1876, was originally part of Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, and New Mexico territories. In 1859, a provisional territorial government was formed called the Territory of Jefferson. Two years later President James Buchanan would sign legislation that organized the free Territory of Colorado one week before leaving office. Denver was established in 1860, with the first facility for consumptives established two years later. Many of the major cities in Colorado today were established around these facilities.
TB Deaths in Colorado
As the “consumption sanctuary” of the United States, it is estimated that approximately one in three residents suffered from the disease. Tuberculosis was also the primary cause of death in Colorado, with one-third of the deaths resulting from the disease, compared to the national average of one in ten across the rest of the nation. Today, TB is not as prominent - with approximately one in 100,000 suffering from it today.
Shoenberg Farms’ Connection to TB
Louis D. Shoenberg built the farm in 1911 after losing his son to TB years earlier. The purpose of the farm was to provide the vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs necessary to sustain the patients of the Jewish National Hospital. Although Louis D. Shoenberg turned over management of the farm, it would be used to provide the sustenance needed for the consumptive patients of the hospital for many years to come. As part of the farm’s history, it plays a vital role in the restoration project.