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Dr. W.S. Chapman – Decades of service to Walsenburg

by Nancy Christofferson
WALSENBURG- Sixty-three years ago, in mid-September 1948, the Walsenburg Chamber of Commerce honored Dr. W.S. Chapman for his 50 years of service to the community and to Huerfano County with a testimonial dinner attended by 230 guests. Remarkably, Dr. Chapman would continue his practice for another 10 years before retiring.
Walter S. Chapman was born in 1872 in Oregon and graduated from medical school in Colorado in 1895. After college he joined the army and served in the Spanish American War where he advanced to the rank of captain. Then, for some reason, he was drawn to Huerfano County and settled near Rouse, the old coal mining camp south of Walsenburg.
In 1899, Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, owner of the Rouse mine, hired Chapman as camp physician. He would continue his employment with CF&I for 24 years.
Chapman bought and sold several ranches in the Santa Clara area during the early years, from Spring Valley south to Mauricio Cañon in Las Animas County. Later he purchased another place four miles southwest of Walsenburg.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a young woman moved to Rouse to become one of three teachers for the some 120 students enrolled in the camp school. She was Stella Althea Keys, a native of New York. She caught the doctor’s eye and they were married in Michigan in July 1907. At the time, he was 35 years old and she was 33.
In 1911, Dr. Chapman was instrumental in establishing a chamber of commerce. It was called the Walsenburg Commercial Association and did not last long.
The Chapman family had moved into Walsenburg and the doctor later joined the practice of the Drs. S. Julian and James M. Lamme and Dr. Paul G. Mathews about 1920.
In 1920, Chapman was elected county treasurer and served one term. During his campaign for that office he was touted as “the star witness against the La Veta miners” during the 1913-1914 coal strike. In 1922, he was elected coroner and held that office until 1932. He also served as health officer for Walsenburg for many years.
He severed his connection with the Drs. Lamme and became partners with Dr. George M. Noonan. Their office was in the 100 block of East 5th Street and in 1931 they moved to a newly remodeled office building nearby at 117 E. 5th which had formerly been the Walsenburg World office. He and his family lived close by, on the same block.
Chapman bought an old house at the corner of 6th and Russell streets and remodeled it in 1942 for his office and an apartment. Then he bought the more ramshackle Sporleder house at 5th and Russell, remodeled it and turned that into his office.
Meanwhile the doctor and his wife raised two children. Their daughter Frances Laura became another Dr. Chapman, and their son Walter Jefferson married Melba Byouk (Byouk was once a familiar name to Huerfanos) and they raised three children.
Mrs. Chapman was no slouch herself. Her obituary credits her with being the first chairman of the Huerfano County Chapter of the Red Cross, organized in 1917, helping to organize the Community Church, serving as president of the first Huerfano Council of the Parent Teacher Association and sponsoring the organization of Chapter BZ, PEO.
When he was 82-years old, Dr. Chapman was awarded a life membership in the American Medical Association. In 1957, his wife died, and in 1958 he retired. He died in 1967 at the age of 95 and was said to have been the oldest living graduate of the Colorado School of Medicine.
Some of Dr. Chapman’s equipment and personal items are on display in the Francisco Fort Museum in La Veta.

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