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Annual Reports of the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1906, Vol. I, Appedix A

Books and Documents > The U.S. Army Medical Department in the Aftermatch of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 18 April 1906

Excerpt from

Annual Reports of the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1906

Volume I, Appendix A

Earthquake in California, April 18, 1906

Special Report of Maj. Gen. Adolphus W. Greely, U.S.A., Commanding the Pacific Division

30 July 1906


Report of Lieut. Col. George H. Torney, Medical Department,
United States Army.


Presidio, San Francisco, Cal., May 14, 1906.

    SIR: In compliance with telegraphic instructions from the Surgeon-General of the Army, Washington, D. C., I have respectfully to submit the following brief narrative statement of the work of the Medical Department, United States Army, which began shortly after the earthquake in San Francisco, Cal., at 5.13 a. m. on the 18th of April, 1906.

At this time, in addition to my duties as commanding officer of the Army General Hospital at the Presidio, I was serving as chief surgeon, Department of California, and because of this fact, among others, the work of the Army Medical Department in a great measure centered around the hospital. In this connection I desire to state that the Army General Hospital was badly wrecked by the earthquake. The power plant was disabled and the water shut off by a break in the pipes of the city water mains. The ward ventilators, heavy brick structures, were thrown upon the roofs of the wards, crushing through the roofs; sheets of plaster fell from the ceilings and walls of all buildings, and all telegraphic and telephonic communications were broken. This, of course, does not describe fully the extent of the damage, but is merely a statement made that the condition of the hospital may be understood.

April 18.-Early on the morning of the 18th of April all available officers of the Medical Department were instructed to hold themselves in readiness for active work. Company B, Hospital Corps, accompanied the troops from the Presidio into the city for active relief work in fighting fire. The actual work of relief for the refugees and sick began at the General Hospital at about 9 a. m., when a relief party in charge of Capt. H. H. Rutherford, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., was dispatched to the city with instructions to give relief where needed and to notify the city authorities that this hospital was open for the care of injured and sick. This was done because from the apparent magnitude of the calamity it was deemed necessary that refuge should at once he offered for the sick and injured. By 1 o'clock on that day 75 patients had been admitted to the hospital from the city, and by 11 o'clock p. m. the total had reached 127.

April 19.-On April 19 145 refugee patients were admitted to the General Hospital, mostly from the hospitals in the city which were either burning or threatened by flue; after that date the number lessened, but patients have been admitted even up to the present. During this day the bed capacity of the wards of the General Hospital having been exhausted, the four barracks of the men of the Hospital Corps were vacated and established as wards. The hospitals at the post of Presidio and Fort Mason were ordered open April 19, and received large numbers of refugee patients.

On the morning of April 19, owing to the great demand on the General Hospital for first-aid work, a tent emergency hospital was organized and established on the plain in front of the hospital reservation, Capt. H. H. Rutherford, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., in charge,


with instructions to advise patients arriving from the city, to directed them to the proper hospitals, and to render assistance, treatment, and first-aid dressings to those on the ground.

April 20 to May 7.-On the morning of April 20 the president of the health commission of the city of San Francisco requested me to act as the head of the sanitary committee which it was proposed to establish in connection with sanitation of the city of San Francisco, this in order that there might be coordinate action between the army and civil authorities. Acting in the capacity of chief surgeon I presented this request to the division commander, who, at my suggestion, issued the following order detailing me as chief sanitary officer of the city:

SPECIAL ORDERS                                                                                                                                                                            HEADQUARTERS PACIFIC DIVISION
No. 37                                                                                                                                                                                                 
San Francisco, Cal., April 20, 1906

2. Lieut. Col. George H. Torney, Medical Department, United States Army, is hereby placed in charge of the sanitary arrangement of the city of San Francisco. All orders must be strictly obeyed by all parties whomsoever.

By command or Brigadier-General Funston:

Military Secretary

I immediately relinquished my command of the General Hospital, transferring it to Capt. James M. Kennedy, assistant surgeon, U. S. A, and upon assuming the duties of chief sanitary officer, I divided the inhabited parts of the city into districts and placed a medical officer in charge of each. Within the first twenty-four hours organized relief and sanitary work began to assume definite shape and assisted many thousands of people who thronged the roads and streets seeking refuge on the Presidio and Fort Mason reservations and Golden Gate Park.

Presidio reservation.-The camps of refuge on the Presidio reservation were place in charge of Capt. H. H. Rutherford, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., who, by the end of the first three days, had perfected an organized relief and sanitary force which constructed concentrated camps, supplying tentage, tools, and necessary camp conveniences for cooking and carrying out sanitary measures after the manner of military camps. This arrangement continued until May 7, when these camps were turned over, by direction of the division commander, to the control of the officers of the line.

Golden Gate Park.- Practically this same arrangement obtained in Golden Gate Park under the charge of Capt. A. E. Truby, assistant surgeon. U. S. A., the camps in that part developing into permanent institutions under essentially the same methods of administration.

Fort Mason.- First Lieut. John A. Murtagh, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., was placed in charge of the district immediately surrounding Fort Mason, and was instrumental in procuring supplies and tentage for the refugees in that locality.

Small city parks.- First Lieut. R. U. Patterson, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., was detailed as sanitary officer of the small parks throughout the city and in this capacity tendered valuable assistance in relieving much distress amongst the refugees.

Post of Presidio.-In the post of Presidio the medical officers on post duty rendered valuable assistance, not only in professional services given, but in assisting the refugees in every possible manner.


Company A, Hospital Corps.-Company A, Hospital Corps, on arrival in San Francisco, was ordered to Golden Gate Park and a hospital established by Capt. H. L. Gilchrist, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., who, with exceptional industry and ability, soon placed this hospital in order and established a model institution and began almost immediately to receive patients from the surrounding camps and the hospitals in the city.

Permanent camps.-The health commission of the city has selected sites for permanent camps, ten of which have already been established. Four of these camps are located on the Presidio reservation and are on the same sites as those originally selected by Captain Rutherford when he organized the refugees. Between the Presidio and Fort Mason two large camps have been established, and the erection of a third one is contemplated on the Fort Mason reservation. It is proposed to establish a camp in Franklin Square, corner Sixteenth and Bryant streets. In Golden Gate Park one large barrack was constricted by the Citizens' Relief Committee, and at this barrack have been erected the sanitary troughs sent to this city by the War Department. At the suggestion of the sanitary officers it is now proposed to place these sanitary troughs at all permanent camps, and, carrying out the system for sanitary and economic measures originally recommended by the medical officers, these camps will contain only community kitchens, large kitchens corresponding to company kitchens in military camps. Under the proposed scheme these camps will be in charge of an officer of the line, and a commissioned medical officer of the Army will perform the duties of sanitary inspector and attending surgeon, with a civilian physician as assistant.

Contagious hospital.-On April 21, by authority of the Mayor of San Francisco, Harbor View Park, adjacent to the Presidio reservation, with tents, bedding, and hospital appliances, was established as a hospital for contagious diseases, under the control of Capt. H. H. Rutherford, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., Dr. K. A. J. Mackenzie, of Portland, Oreg., with an ample corps of assistants, nurses, and attendants, being placed in immediate charge. This plant was selected as a place for contagious diseases because of its admirable facilities in the possession of its own water supply, a large pavilion which could be used to accommodate 200 patients, and its own laundry. In this hospital cases of measles, scarlet fever, and diphtheria have been received and cared for. This is still under the control of the chief sanitary officer, but will be abandoned to-day and the patients transferred to the charge of the hospitals in the city.

Medical supply depot.-On April 19 requests for supplies were received from hospitals in the city and various camps, and these were furnished freely from the storeroom of the General Hospital, which was at that moment well equipped for all purposes. On April 21 a medical supply depot was improvised within the grounds of the General Hospital, Lieut. Col. L. Brechemin, deputy surgeon-general, U. S. A., medical supply officer, in charge, the entire stock of medical supplies in the city of San Francisco having been destroyed by fire. All medical supplies except those in the dispensary of the General Hospital were turned over to him for issue to authorized applicants, in addition to which he made purchases of relief stores in accordance with telegraphic instructions from the Surgeon-General of the Army. This small depot remained on the ground until April 28,


when a larger establishment was organized east of the General Hospital reservation, which at this time has grown into an institution fully capable of meeting every demand made upon it. Vaccine virus is being received at this depot at the rate of 3,500 points per day and is being distributed on requisitions by the civil and army surgeons.

Free dispensaries.-At my suggestion to the health commission of the municipality, twenty-six free dispensaries have been established in the city and are receiving their supply of medicines from the medical supply depot of the Army.

Summary.-In conclusion, I desire to state that the magnitude of the disaster to the city of San Francisco, which occurred on April 18, 1906, was from the very moment of the calamity fully appreciated, and the necessary orders given by me to the officers of the Medical Department for measures of immediate relief not only to the sick and injured, but to the stricken multitude which called upon them for material assistance from the supplies under their control and those furnished to the General Hospital from the Quartermaster's Department, under charge of Maj. C. A. Devol, quartermaster, U. S. A., and from the Commissary Department, under charge of Maj. Charles R. Krauthoff, Subsistence Department, United States Army. This by order of Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston, U. S. A., commanding Pacific Division at that time.

After the pressing wants of the refugees had been met the problem of sanitation was paramount, as the large mains of the Spring Valley Water Company, which supplied the city with water, had been badly damaged, and the sewer system of the municipality seriously impaired-an extraordinary condition, which menaced the health of the whole population and required the enforcement of coercive measures to present a large class of people from proving, because of ignorance of sanitation, a danger to the whole community. In overcoming this danger the power granted me by General Funston, in the order quoted above, enabled the Medical Department of the Army, working in conjunction with the health commission of the city of San Francisco, to act promptly and effectively in solving at least the emergency problems of sanitation which presented. Paragraph 5, General Orders, No. 18, headquarters Pacific Division, April 29, 1906, modified the order mentioned continuing in force the arrangement; whereby cooperation with the health authorities of the city was effected. This arrangement terminated this date by mutual agreement between the health commission and myself, as the Board of Health of the city is now in full control of its sanitation, except in the permanent refugee camps, within the limits of which military control is exercised by the commanding general, Pacific Division.

As chief sanitary officer, I will hereafter act under the provisions of General Orders, No. 29, headquarters Pacific Division, May 13, 1906, which was received this date.

The general health of the city may be considered good. The sanitation of the municipality proper is now little, if any, different from that existing under normal conditions, as the water in the city system is now being supplied freely and defects in the sewers corrected as rapidly as possible. In refugee camps on the Presidio the sanitation is as good as could be expected of a population of the character inhabiting the camps. The same may be said of the other camps. It is


hoped that this may be improved from day to day, as facilities are furnished for that purpose.

The sanitary inspectors acting under my immediate orders were: Capt. W. T. Davidson, First Lieut. R. E. Noble, First Lieut. R. U. Patterson, and First Lieut. C. D. Buck, assistant surgeons, U. S. A.; First Lieut. John H. Allen, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., acting in capacity of adjutant. All of these officers rendering at all times most reliable service.

This report has been necessarily very brief and will be elaborated at a future date.

Very respectfully,

Lieutenant-Colonel, Deputy Surgeon-General, U. S. A.,
Chief Sanitary Officer.

Maj. Gen. A. W. GREELY, U. S. A.,
Commanding Pacific Division, San Francisco, Cal.