The people behind the names: Dr. Mary Fisher

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Dr. Mary Fisher was well known for her love of pets. One of her pets, this black bear, might not have been so cuddly as a dog or cat. This photo of the bear on the stand was taken in her backyard on Pagosa Street in town.

We’re in the middle of writing about Dr. Mary Winter Fisher.

As we pick up the threads of our anecdotal story from last week, Fisher is horseback in the blackness of night following a sheepherder back to a camp beyond the upper end of Four Mile Trail, where the man who owns the sheep is writhing with stomach pain after eating warm milk and fresh cherries at Ma Cade’s house on his way back to camp a few hours earlier.

By the time Fisher rides into camp, the man named Parr is no longer writhing. In fact, he no longer feels pain. A wolf howls portentously a short distance away in the blackness surrounding the flickering campfire as Fisher slowly folds her stethoscope and surveys the small group of anxious herders.

“I’m sorry boys,” the country doctor said. “He’s gone.”

Many doctors dispute the suggestion that the milk and cherry combination caused gastroenteritis leading to death. There is a story that, shortly after President Zachary Taylor was sworn into office in 1850, eating iced milk and cherries caused his death. The reader should seek his or her personal doctor’s advice.

The point of this story is, it emphasizes how devoted Fisher was in attending the health needs of her chosen community. It is a fact, if you look at a Forest Service map, that there is a saddle in the mountains above Upper Four Mile Lake through which a trail passes and follows a creek down the other side to the East Fork of the San Juan River. The trail is named Dead Man Trail, named for the creek it follows. It makes for a pleasant backpacking trip, one I’ve followed to the East Fork River, then up the other side to the Middle Fork Trail, which I followed down the other side of Toner Mountain to the Middle Fork of the San Juan River.

So, who was this lady doctor who came to Pagosa Springs in the mid-1890s and shared her heart, life and medical skills with her beloved community for 33 years until passing away on Memorial Day in 1928?

Fisher was born Feb. 10, 1867, at Lewiston, Ill. She attended Rush Medical College at Chicago, from which she graduated with a degree in doctor of medicine. She began the practice of medicine at Lewiston, then moved to La Jara in the San Luis Valley, where she completed teaching a term in public school which her sister had started.

Following completion of the school term, she crossed Cumbres Pass to begin her life and practice in Pagosa Springs in 1895. More next week on the life of Fisher.