Pueblo County, Colorado
Dr. Pembroke R. Thombs
Contributed by Karen Mitchell.
Pueblo was a village of a few hundred people when a Civil War veteran, Dr. Pembroke R. Thombs, chose to join those who had come here to achieve fame and fortune.
Thombs' family was of English origin who had been early settlers in Virginia. After graduation from Waterville College in 1859, he entered Rush Medical College in Chicago, from which he graduated in 1862.
Service in the Civil War, as a Surgeon in the 95 Ill Inf, followed immediately. He was taken prisoner while tending wounded in the field at Chickamauga and later rejoined the Union Army in a prisoner exchange.
Thombs' adventures as a physician and operator of a drug store were recorded in the Pueblo Chieftain. He opened his drug store in 1868. In August 1869, the soda fountain in his drug store blew up.
On August 31, 1870, Thombs married Louise Shaw, whose father had settled on the Greenhorn several years previously. They contracted with D.H. Geist in 1873 to build a fine brick residence on 9th Avenue with the cost being $1200.00.
He became a Mason at Yarmouth, Me., and was a charter member of Pueblo Chapter 17, AF&AM.
Pembroke's and Louise's daughter, Jennie, married F.A. Abernathy on June 14, 1905 in Pueblo.
In May 1872, Thombs and Bob Leonard gained the sole right to sell the patented metallic safety lamp, which put out a bright light with half the kerosene.
He also was an inventor of sorts.
The Pueblo Chieftain reported in 1872 that he had developed fly paper, which was covered with treacle (sugar), glue and nitroglycerine. The flies were attracted to the paper by the sugar and stuck to the glue. If they tried to get away the nitroglycerine exploded.
Thombs was employed as County Coroner in 1873 and had his private practice on Santa Fe Avenue. He also served as the U.S. Examining Surgeon for Pensions.
Thombs' greatest challenge came in 1879, when he was appointed superintendent of the State Insane Asylum, established by the Legislature earlier in the year.
The institution, located at the west end of 11th Street, was opened in the three-story residence that had been the home of George M. Chilcott. There were 11 patients.
Thombs was associated with the institution for 20 years, caring for patients while working with the commissioners who were appointed to manage the institution. News articles in the Chieftain indicate a perpetual reluctance by the Legislature to provide adequate funding.
In 1899, a legislative committee looked into charges of mismanagement at the institution. Nearly every complaint could be laid to inadequate staffing and underfunding.
These findings hardly could have been a surprise to the superintendent. The conclusion was to acquit Thombs and commend him for the work he had done.
But Thombs was tired of the constant hassle and resigned to enter private practice. The Chieftain in his obituary noted that he was a fine physician but was a poor collector -- many of his patients never paid their bills.
Later, he joined the Elks Lodge. He also had been president of the Colorado Medical Society.
Thombs died April 28, 1902, from a short illness at the age of 63, and was buried in Roselawn Cemetery. Louise died in September of 1929 and rests beside her husband in Roselawn.
History of the Arkansas Valley, Colorado
This gentleman is well-known in Southern Colorado and throughout the State as an eminent physician, and the present Superintendent of the State Hospital for the Insane at Pueblo. He was born at Yarmouth, Me., in 1840, and received his education principally at Waterville College. In the spring of 1859, he went to Chicago, Ill., and there attended lectures at Rush Medical College, graduating in the spring of 1862. Soon after receiving his diploma, he entered the United States Army, becoming Assistant Surgeon of the Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry. In the spring of 1864, he was promoted to Surgeon of the regiment, and continued as such to the close of the war. In June, 1865, his regiment being mustered out, Dr. Thombs returned to Chicago, and soon afterward he received from the Government a staff appointment as Surgeon of United States Volunteers ; was assigned to Murfreesboro, Tenn., as Post Surgeon, and he remained there until June, 1866, when, again quitting the service, he returned on a visit to his old home in Maine. In July following, he came to Colorado, and about the middle of August located at Pueblo, where he has since resided, practicing his profession with eminent success. He was married at Pueblo August 31, 1870, to a Miss Shaw. On May 1,1879, Dr. Thombs was appointed, by the Governor, Superintendent and Resident Physician of the Hospital for the Insane at Pueblo, which position he has since continued to fill to the entire satisfaction of the State. The institution is one of the most important in the State, and under the vigilant eye and careful management of Dr. Thombs, it is steadily improving. The last Legislature made an appropriation of $55,000 for new buildings, which are now being erected, and which, when completed, will prove a notable credit to the commonwealth.
Dr. P. R. Thombs was born at Yarmouth, Me., December 1, 1842, a graduate of Waterville college, of his own state, and a graduate of Rush Medical college, Chicago, finishing his medical education in 1862, and served in the Union army from that time until the close of the war. In 1866 Dr. Thombs came to Denver and removed to Pueblo in February, 1867, where he has continuously resided and successfully practiced his profession. May 1, 1879, Dr. Thombs was appointed by Governor Pitkin as medical superintendent of the state insane asylum, and so satisfactory has been his management of that institution that he was re-appointed by Governor Grant in 1883. Dr. Thombs is professionally able and socially a splendid gentleman. Rocky Mountain News 5-16-1884 - Prominent Men of Pueblo
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