Let’s Talk Clovis: Clovis Doctors from 1893-1941

Pioneer Doctor Milton McMurtry (1880-1962) practiced 57 years. (Clovis Museum)

We begin this article by describing the average life of US citizens approximately 110 years ago. The average life expectancy for men was 47 years. Only 14% of homes had a bathtub. The average wage was 25 cents per hour. The average worker earned between $200 to $400 per year.

Most women only washed their hair once a month. They used Borax and egg yolks for shampoo. The population of Las Vegas was only 30 citizens. The total reported murders in the entire USA was 230. No Mother’s Day, only Father’s Day was celebrated. The five leading causes of death were: pneumonia/influenza, TB, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke.

Pioneer doctors responded 24/7 and treated the entire medical needs of their patients including dental (false teeth/bridges) and glasses. Cash to pay the doctors was not always available. They would often receive food or the promise to pay when the “crops” were sold. Babies were usually born at home.

We share information that is available on our Pioneer Doctors. We are collecting information on Clovis Doctors that arrived after 1940.

Arrived 1893: Dr. Herring was the only doctor in town. He opened a drug store on Fulton (Clovis Ave.) that was between REL Good’s store (now DiCicco’s) and the OK Saloon.

Arrived 1898: Dr. Richard Tracy Clark (1854-1935) practiced in the house he built (SW corner of Fourth and Pollasky). He was active in the community.

Arrived 1902: Dr. George Bland. Clovis historian Arthur Chedister described him “as a large blond man that was much liked by most.” His office was west of REL Good’s store on Fourth Street between Rummery’s house and the Clifford sisters’ boarding house.

Arrived 1904: Dr. Charles Ingram. He was mentioned by historian Arthur Chedister and we have no additional information.

Practiced 1904-1962: Dr. Milton S. McMurtry (1880-1962). His father was also a doctor. Milton (known as Doctor Mac) became the designated doctor for the Fresno Flume and Irrigation. He was acknowledged as the “top surgeon” west of the Mississippi.

His published remark in the 1917 Clovis Tribune “cautioned everyone to be aware of black widow spiders and slivers at the “Chick Sales” (out houses).

In 1920 he purchased the 1896 nine room home (EECU is located on that site) and established the Clovis Sanitarium. Dr. Jim Pendergrass and Dr. Clayton Pendergrass purchased the sanitarium in 1939. It was closed in 1960. Clovis was without a hospital until 1965. 

Practiced 1912-1919: Dr. William Clayton Pendergrass (1863-1919). He taught school and farmed in Visalia. In 1896 (age 33 with a wife and four boys) he enrolled at the Vanderbilt Medical College (Nashville, TN) and received his medical degree in 1899. His father had also received a medical degree from Vanderbilt. His office was in the two story 1906 De Witt building (east side of Pollasky between Fourth and Fifth)

Dr. William was elected to the Clovis City Council in 1916 and served until his death in 1919. Two of his sons would become Clovis doctors (James and Clayton) and son Travis a Clovis druggist.

Practiced 1921-1948: Dr. James Elmo Pendergrass (1896-1952). “Dr. Jim” also graduated from the Vanderbilt Medical College. He graduated from Clovis High School in 1915. The Argus (Cavalcade) described:” his curly hair we envy, also his eyes of blue. Jim is always looking for something good to do.”

He and wife Mamie lived in an apartment adjacent to his office in the 1906 DeWitt building. He moved his office to 608 Fourth Street (adjacent to the Museum) in 1925. That same year they built a home on the 1200 block of Third Street. His Granddaughter and Great Grandson reside at that location.

He was elected Mayor of Clovis, 1928-1931.

Practiced 1931-1980: Dr. Clayton Ira Pendergrass (1904-1982). He studied at Stanford and Baylor University and received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1930. He and his brother Jim became partners in 1931.  They purchased the Clovis Sanitarium in 1939. It was closed in 1960 and Clovis was without a hospital until 1965.

Clayton was called to active Marine Corp service in 1941 and returned to Clovis in 1945. He was the first Chief of staff for the 1965 Clovis Memorial Hospital (DeWitt and Sierra Ave). He retired in 1980 at age 76. A large civic celebration was held in his honor when he retired,   

Practiced 1941-1969: Dr. Wilbur Lose (1911-2002) was Doctor of Obstetrics and delivered over 800 Clovis babies during his practice (Museum has pictures of those moms and babies). In 1944 he founded the Sierra Vista Hospital at the 1902 Hoblitt Hotel.

His maternity hospital license provided for a capacity of three beds. His agreement with the California State Department of Public Health granted a per diem rate of $7. which would include all services provided by the hospital. The State denied a $9.75 claim as “excessive”.

He closed the hospital in 1948 and joined six doctors to establish the Sequoia Hospital in Fresno. He was active in the Red Cross and Salvation Army. He served as a missionary doctor after his retirement.

These Doctors are a vital part of our rich heritage.

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.