James H. Couch and J.D. McClane considered Lafayette’s first doctors

Dr. Couch’s obituary, from Feb. 15, 1901, Lafayette News.

In her “Facts on Early Lafayette” column for the Lafayette Leader, Dorothy Kolar wrote March 31, 1950, that “the first physician in Lafayette was Dr. McClane.” In a 1968 presentation to a class at Lafayette Elementary School, town founder Mary Miller’s grandson, Frank Miller, said that “Dr. Couch was the town’s first doctor.”

There’s ample evidence that both Dr. James H. Couch and Dr. J.D. McClane resided in Lafayette in 1889-92, since both were mentioned in news articles, official documents and minutes from local fraternal organizations. Dr. Couch is listed among 69 Lafayette men who petitioned Boulder County to change the town’s incorporation territorial limits on September 27, 1889. He later served as town trustee for about 10 years.

If Dr. McClane was the town’s first doctor, he’d left Lafayette and later returned. In the Aug. 11, 1891, Boulder Daily Camera, a brief said that “Dr. J.D. McClane, who has been sojourning elsewhere, has returned to locate and practice in the precincts of Lafayette.”

The Lafayette Improved Order of Red Men Cherokee Tribe #24 was chartered March 21, 1891, and included charter members John Auflick, Joseph Simpson, George Schaub, William Van Etten, Dr. J.D. McClane, Eugene Groat, Fred Herd, J.W. Henningen, Thomas Oates, Alexander Morrison, Patrick Delehantey, James Mitchell, Andrew Heaton, G.H. Lewis, W.T. Meikle, F.L. Cotton, Dr. J.H. Couch, William Eiekelburg, Richard Donald, Thomas Hodgson, Abraham C. Ong, Eugene Norton, William Ferguson, George E. Metcalf, L. Smith, Mike Freigel, John Markinson, Dr. Frank E.McClane, Thomas Griffith, Martin Phillips, Evan Rossen, John Grimison, Anthony Heaton, Joe Consedine, Thomas Vaughn and Evan R. Davies.

At that charter meeting, Dr. J.D. McClane’s brother, Frank McClane, was elected Wampum, which was the club treasurer. Dr. Couch was elected Medicine Man over Dr. (J.D.) McClane. Red Men Cherokee Tribe #24 club minutes show that Dr. Frank McClane resigned from the tribe about a month later.

A May 26, 1892, story in the Fairplay Flume said that “Dr. J.D. McClane, who was located at Como not many months since, was found dead in bed at 1723 Larimer Street (in Denver) on Sunday evening last. He had been dead for twenty-four hours. An empty chloroform vial indicated his manner of death, but whether it was a case of suicide or accidental death will never be fully established. His brothers, F.M. McClane of Como, and F.E. McClane of Lafayette, testified at the inquest that he was in the habit of taking chloroform to induce sleep. After leaving Como last fall, the doctor had gone back to Lafayette and Louisville, coal mining towns of Boulder County, where he had practiced before.”

On July 7, 1892, the Daily Camera said “Constable Frank Metcalf went to Louisville yesterday and the result of his trip found in the service of a warrant upon Dr. Frank McClane, who stands charged with the embezzlement of $162.50 or thereabouts of the funds of the Lafayette tribe of Red Men. W.O. Van Etten, a justice of the peace and prominent Red Man in Lafayette, was bondsman for McClane and ‘preferred the charges against him.’ The prisoner is brother of that Dr. McClane who was found dead at a Denver lodging house several weeks ago.”

On July 8, the Daily Camera stated that “The case of the People vs. Dr. Frank McClane of Louisville for the embezzlement of funds of the Lafayette tribe of Red Men, has been compromised by Dr. McClane’s friends coming forward and the amount recovered into the wampum belt of the tribe. It is not thought by the citizens of this section that any intention of ultimate wrong was entertained and the willingness of McClane to face his accusers and admit his guilt was considered greatly in his favor.”

Newspaper accounts of Dr. J.D. McClane’s death state that a board of inquiry determined the cause of death as suicide. Red Men Cherokee Tribe #24 minutes showed that the club intervened on behalf of Dr. J.D. McClane’s widow to convince the insurance company to pay an insurance claim. They disputed the newspaper account of Dr. J.D. McClane’s death, saying that “we consider the action of the Eagle Life Insurance Association quite premature in accepting newspaper reports.” The club also collected $103 in donations from members, and encouraged wives of members to help the grieving widow.

In August 1892, Red Men minutes show that a voluntary assessment of $50 for Dr. Frank McClane was paid to the Red Men by the widow of J.D. McClane.