Rifle Heritage Center brings history to life

Rifle Heritage Center will host program highlighting Dr. Susan Anderson, a doctor in Grand County during the first half of the twentieth century

Dr. Susan Anderson.
Historical Photo
IF YOU GO WHAT: Doc Susie, A woman alone in the Rockies WHERE: Rifle Library (Upstairs), 207 East Avenue WHEN: 2 p.m., Saturday Feb. 8, 2020 COST: Free, donations are appreciated

With the help of Kathy Naples, a librarian and media director from East Grand School District in Granby, the Rifle Heritage Center is introducing Garfield County to “Doc Susie.” 

Naples will bring the pioneering woman in the medical profession in the west, back to life during a free event at 2 p.m., Saturday upstairs at the Rifle Library.

“One of the key features of Chautauqua type programming which is what this is, is to present a picture of a character as well as a first-person style narrative so that people have sensory pieces they can hang onto and remember it,” Naples said.

This will be her second presentation in Rifle.

“It was just lovely to be surrounded by all those buildings that come from the time period Doc was living and working in Granby,” Naples said.

Saturday’s event is part of a series of programs put on by the Rifle Heritage Center to bring history to the forefront of residents in Garfield County.

“We are going to lose our history, young people nowadays aren’t really too interested. So I try to pick things that might be interesting to young people. If we don’t keep history alive we are going to lose it all,” Rifle Heritage Center events coordinator Betty Waldron said.

Doc Susie, her father, William Anderson, and brother, John Anderson, in Cripple Creek, their home until 1899.

A path to helping people

Naples said it was fairly uncommon at that time for a female doctor.

“Her journals, records and family suggest she told her father at some point she wanted to be a telegraph operator for the railroad,” Naples said. “Her father was very adamant that she should do more than that.”

Susie helped her father, who was a farmer and rancher, by taking care of the animals and learned basic veterinarian care from him.

Susie then decided to attend medical school at the University of Michigan.

“She had decided by then that was the way she could have an impact on the people on the people she lived around in Colorado,” Naples said.

“Doc Susie” first began her medical practice on the Front Range, but while recouping from Tuberculosis in Grand County she decided to start a practice in the small town of Fraser.

Naples said that “Doc Susie” was quoted when she moved to Fraser that she was going to Fraser to live or die, she didn’t know which it might be, but whatever happened she wanted to do her family and school proud.

After a year and half in recovery, and working in a mercantile, “Doc Susie”

Slowly started to practice.

Naples said whether by myth or legend it is said her first patient was a horse.

After that, she began working with mothers and children.

“The community had a difficult time with medical care, the railroad had its own doctors, but were only treating their employees,” Naples said.

Women and children were often left out when it came to receiving medical care. 

“Doc Susie took care of a lot of people that would not have had (care) otherwise,” Naples said.

Heritage Center’s future

For Betty Waldron organizing events like Saturday’s bring hope to continuing the Heritage Center’s future in Rifle.

“I try to do events once a month to keep people’s interest up and knowing we’re not dead, and we are still alive and kicking,” Waldron said.

The center is only able to stay open six months out of the year because the home to the museum doesn’t have heat. 

The center began back in 1967, when it was known as the Rifle Creek Museum.

“It started out in the old Austin Schoolhouse which is under the reservoir now,” Waldron said.

The museum moved several times until the 1980s when they moved into the current location which used to be the old Rifle City Hall.

“We have a ton of history in there, we go all the way from Native Americans way back when clear up to the oil shale … we have right now,” Waldron said.

Currently, the center is trying to raise enough money to put heat in the building. Waldron said it’s going to cost about $60,000. 

“When we are only open six months out of the year, and we don’t charge much,” Waldron said.

The center charges $5 for adults, $4 for military, seniors, and teenagers, $3 for children up to age 12, and free children age 6 and younger.

“We take donations anytime and anywhere, we will have a donation jar at his weekend event,” Waldron said.

“Sometimes we get $3 and sometimes we get $53, it all depends.”

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