Colorado’s early quest to treat mental illness |

Colorado’s early quest to treat mental illness

Willa Kane
Frontier Historical Society
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Photo Courtesy Frontier Historical SocietyAttorney John T. Shumate attempted to bring mental health treatment to the Western Slope. While serving as Colorado state representative, Shumate introduced a bill to establish a branch asylum in Glenwood Springs. However, his bill failed.

“Sam Baldwin’s brother was last night brought to the county jail from Garfield County by Mr. George Bennett. ‘Tom’ as he is called has been at Glenwood Springs for some time, and had for some reason or other become visibly insane.”

– Carbonate Chronicle, Leadville, Dec. 6, 1886

Demons tormented Theodore “Tom” Baldwin’s mind. Two years before, on Oct. 13, 1884, Tom’s brother, Sam, was murdered and robbed near Leadville. Although Si Minich was convicted and hanged for the crime, there was the implication that Minich had accomplices who were not brought to justice.

The loss of his brother and the paranoia of killers seeking revenge debilitated Tom Baldwin to the point that he could no longer eat or sleep. Inanimate objects shape-shifted into the image of his deceased brother, and he pleaded with acquaintances to take up arms to kill half of the men pursuing him. He, in turn, would eliminate the other half.

For two months, Baldwin held the position of night deputy for Glenwood Springs, earning $100 per month. However, it was obvious that Baldwin could no longer function as a citizen or serve as the town’s peacekeeper. The only thing that could be done was to, by court order, have him committed to the Colorado Insane Asylum in Pueblo for treatment.

Baldwin entered Colorado’s first publicly funded treatment facility for those suffering with mental illness. Founded in 1879 by the Colorado Legislature, the asylum’s purpose was to keep the treatment of Colorado’s mentally ill within the state of Colorado.

This would eliminate or reduce the state’s need to send its patients to other states for treatment, as well as to potentially allow the state to provide care at a lesser cost. Additionally, a state facility would keep families closer together, allowing for visitation and potential recovery.

In the 1880s, medical professionals and scientists explored the illnesses of the mind. The Colorado Insane Asylum undoubtedly embraced the advancing treatments of the day, introducing drug and moral treatment therapies.

At the close of the 1880s, the state asylum reported, “The number of patients discharged cured is without parallel in the history of insane asylums.” Much of the credit was given to the asylum’s administrator and to Colorado’s climate.

As Colorado’s population increased, so did the need for mental health services.

In January 1897, state Rep. John T. Shumate from Glenwood Springs introduced House Bill 340 to locate a branch asylum in Glenwood Springs. Undoubtedly Shumate saw a financial benefit to his community, in addition to providing access to mental health services on the Western Slope.

Glenwood Springs residents seemed to neither accept nor reject the proposal. While Shumate’s bill was vigorously debated in the House, it did not pass.

Glenwood Springs, however, was not indifferent in 1919 when the U.S. government attempted to purchase the Hotel Colorado for use as mental facility. A howl of protest erupted over the plan to treat persons suffering from all forms of mental illness, with most concerned about the facility’s proximity to the town.

U.S. Congressman Edward T. Taylor of Glenwood Springs intervened in behalf of the community, strongly indicating that Glenwood Springs would fight the establishment of the facility. The government abandoned the plan.

In 125 years, great strides have been made in the treatment of mental illness. More will come in the future.

As for Tom Baldwin, his fate is unknown. Once he was admitted, the battle to regain his mental health became a private journey that only he could travel with the assistance of the medical professionals treating him. It is hoped he found peace from the demons tormenting his mind.

Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.

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