One of the county’s first MDs: A true believer in Wyoming

Dr. Hiram C. Latham (1832 - 1908) was one of the first medical practitioners in what is now Albany County, then part of Dakota Territory.  

He came in 1866 as a surgeon for the US Army at Fort Sanders, most likely as a civilian under contract. Several other US Army surgeons, Julius Wentz, Edward W. Avery, and two others, who, if they ever actually took up their posts, departed very quickly, had preceded him.  Dr. Latham, however, was unique in that he developed a life-long attachment to Wyoming, and became a significant proponent of the territory, though his actual practice of medicine here was relatively brief.

Not much has been uncovered about Dr. Latham’s family, early life or medical training. Even his lifespan is speculative and is based on one unsubstantiated reference. However, it is documented that he arrived in 1866 at the fort located three miles south of what would become Laramie City two years later.  

Dr. Latham seems to have gotten on well with the military commander at Fort Sanders. He was given two acres of irrigated land on the fort premises to experiment with growing vegetables and raising stock. He was ecstatic over the success of his livestock and gardening success along the Laramie River. It is not clear when he severed his connection with the military but he quickly became a promoter of Wyoming agriculture.

When Laramie was founded in 1868, other doctors had replaced Dr. Latham in providing needed military medical services. He had somehow wrangled a position as “Agent for the People of Wyoming Territory” and was in Washington, D.C. successfully lobbying Congress to create the Wyoming Territory from a portion of the Dakota Territory, which was signed into law on July 25, 1868.

Back in Laramie, Dr. Latham became the Union Pacific Railroad surgeon practicing in a new hospital built by UPRR near the tracks in Laramie.

He was still interested in agriculture, however. In early 1870 he wrote a series of articles for the Omaha Daily Herald touting the profitability of vegetable farms and livestock operations in Wyoming. The UPRR was impressed and reprinted the articles in a pamphlet that was widely circulated. Latham described the Laramie Plains as a “year-round paradise for livestock--the grasses are self-curing, and sheep and cattle live and thrive year round without food or shelter other than that afforded by nature.”

In November of 1870 the Cheyenne Tribune claimed “Latham has done more to attract attention to Wyoming than any other man who ever lived in it.” Historian T.A. Larson commented in 1965 “he certainly spent more time in promotional work than he did in medicine.”

In 1871 Latham was one of the founding members of the precursor to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and he started boarding horses on his land. He also published another book: “Trans-Missouri Stock Raising” (subtitled: “The Pasture Lands of North America: Winter Grazing”) reprinted by Old West Publishing Co. in 1962.

Sometime in late 1872 he relocated to Cheyenne in a failed attempt to unseat John A. Campbell as the governor of Wyoming Territory. Campbell got wind of Latham’s plan and foiled it by suggesting that Latham try instead to get appointed as the Surveyor General of Wyoming Territory. Shrewdly, Campbell recommended him highly to Washington. President U.S. Grant appointed him as Surveyor General in March of 1873, despite Latham’s nearly complete lack of qualifications as a surveyor. One opponent called him “a perfect child in regard to all its [the office of surveyor general] intricate duties.” After only nine months of service, President Grant bowed to pressure and replaced Latham.

Latham went bankrupt in 1873--several newspaper accounts describe the court proceedings. Forsaking politics and agriculture, he then reverted to medicine and took a position in Japan where he remained for about nine years. He still championed Wyoming agriculture and continued his boosterism from afar. The Laramie newspapers published several letters from him with updates on his employment in Oregon.

“He is well remembered still by many of our citizens as a rather eccentric genius” said the Boomerang on March 11, 1886, which is the last that he was heard from in Laramie.

By Judy Knight

Caption: Newspaper ads from 1870 show three doctors in Laramie. Both Drs. Finfrock and Hilton are independent practitioners at the time, but Dr. Latham had become the UPRR staff doctor with a practice “confined exclusively to the employees of the Railroad Company.” Laramie Sentinel, July 26, 1870, page 1