Susan Anderson was born in Illinois in 1870 and graduated from high school in Wichita, Kansas in 1891. One year later, her father moved the family 400 miles west, to Cripple Creek, Colorado a rugged town that had grown out of the 1859 gold strike rush.
In 1893 it was decided by her father, that Susan would be sent off to medical school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cripple Creek and most all mining boom/bust towns, was not a place for a young Victorian era woman. Lawlessness ran wild and many of the other women were either worn-out wives of miners or “fancy ladies”. There was an even better reason to send her away. In 1873,US Congress voted to abandon the “bi-metallic” standard which backed paper money with silver as well as gold. Silver mining towns in Colorado like Leadville, Georgetown and Aspen were boarded up as miners packed up their gear and fled to where the gold mining still was: Cripple Creek. In the face of unlimited labor supply, mine owners tried to cut the men’s wages; miners stood up to them and violent conflict seemed inevitable.
Susan Anderson graduated from medical school in 1897 and returned to Cripple Creek to set up practice in the town that had grown to 30 thousand people but after only 3 years of her practice,she suffered a series life changing events. In 1900,She contracted tuberculosis as did many others.Then her beloved,known only in her letters as W.R,left her at the alter heartbroken. She suspected her father had shared the news of her diagnosis with him. And last but most devastating, her brother John dies. Without being notified by her father of his illness, John passes away from pneumonia that she felt she could have cured. Not one to keep detailed notes, in her journal she tersely records her despair.
“Monday,March 12.1900:Pictures returned by WR. The end of a vain hope. No use to cast pearls before swine… Friday March 16 1900: John died at 6:15pm…he is gone from sight but is not far away, I seem to feel he knows of all my troubles and how I feel..he was my best friend on earth…I am about done up”
She moved around looking for work as a physician but her TB was worsening and by 1907 she moved to the remote high altitude lumber town of Fraser, Colorado to either beat her illness with the cold dry climate or die there. Settling into a tiny shack by the tracks (above right), she started a regimen of snowshoeing to heal her damaged lungs and hid the fact that she was a doctor. While in town one day she heard a lumberjack urgently yelling for help, that ‘Dave’ was tangled in barbed wire and bleeding to death. She offered to help, followed him to his horse Dave and word about her medical skills was out. “In a bitty town,only thing harder to hold onto than money,is a secret”SA
Her reputation spread and she was soon treating all the injuries and illnesses of the town out of her little shack. A local rancher offered her a small sturdy barn and grateful lumberjacks disassembled and moved it into town for her to live in and practice out of. She worked in the barn that still stands in Fraser today,until 1956. She was known to snowshoe to house calls in remote areas and accompany seriously ill patients by train to Denver, often during dangerous snowstorms.“I wear boots and long handle underwear just like everybody else up here,…course, I don’t wear them when I go to Denver – they’d probably throw me in jail.”SA
In 1922 construct ration of the Moffat Tunnel began. It was actually two tunnels…one to carry much needed water from the mountains to Denver and the other to replace the treacherous 5 hour and 12 thousand vertical train ride over Rollins Pass and make it a 12 minute ride through the mountain. Doc Susie was asked to become the Coroner for Grand County. Although she would rather treat patients that were living, but she knew she could confront the Tunnel Commission about the dangerous working conditions that faced tunnel workers and help bring about changes better as the coroner. It took 6 years to build the 6 mile long tunnel and 28 miners were killed building it, most related to rock collapse or explosive accidents.
In February 1928 the Moffat Tunnel officially opened. Opening ceremonies were held by the rail officials and the Denver Post on the east side of the tunnel near Denver, not on the west side near Fraser. Workers and their families were expected to ride the deteriorating rails above the tunnel over Rollins Pass if they wanted to attend, and were told that they could not walk the 6 miles through the tunnel to witness the first train emerging. ‘Nobody, but nobody goes through the tunnel ahead of the dignitaries’The Denver Post 1928
Doc Susie, always the self appointed town spokesperson, made a large sign to greet the newspaper men riding the first train as it came out on the west side near Fraser…
“WE BUILT THIS TUNNEL…THE POST DIDN’T”.
Doc Susie was Fraser’s only physician and she continued her practice there until 1956.
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Dr. Susan Anderson:
‘I was determined to see Doc Susies house in Fraser, Colorado and knew that my inspiration for her collection lay there. Her house is not marked but I set out armed with old black and white images of its unique construction and was confident I could find it in the small town. Doc Susie never got the wedding ring she dreamed of , so I knew that I wanted to design a beautiful engagement ring for her. I designed The Sunflower Ring based on the first thing I saw in her yard, a rusty sunflower pushed into the ground by the window . It was a moving moment and the dog inside kept his eyes on me as I trespassed around all sides of the house, looking at the details of the construction. When the current owner of the home came out, he confirmed that sunflowers grow all over the yard during the brief high altitude summer. The delicate detail of the Sunflower Ring would suit her petite stature and feminine nature. The doc was known to always carefully pin up her hair before beginning any procedure so she most likely would have had a collection of tortoise hair combs. The fluid Victorian lines of this comb inspired the design of Docs Hair Pin Pendant, although being the pragmatic mountain doctor that she was, I doubt she would sport something this fancy. I admired this dedicated woman that spent her life caring for an entire town like they were her family.’ T Lee, December 2016