Barks… Then growls… Then fangs…
A violent collision of blood, fur, and deafening howls erupted one April afternoon in 1929 when two dogs, one belonging to the C.B. Beal family and the other to the A.R. Keys family, became knotted in a mesh of dog enraged dominance.
On Wednesday, April 24, 1929, a telegram was sent to The Slatonite with the following message from Dr. S.W. Beal of Austin. “Positive evidence of Rabies. Report for treatment if inoculated.”
The brutal dogfight was a precursor to what many people in the area knew. Because of the substantial growth in the area a hospital was necessary. The same week of the rabies outbreak, construction of the Mercy Hospital began.
On Monday morning, April 22, 1929, steel beams rose from the lot of the new sanitarium. According to The Slatonite, the building was constructed by the Dallas based company, Brennan Construction Company. “Fred Koch of the Dallas office of the Brennan Construction Company is here in charge of the work as Superintendent,” The Slatonite stated. “Joe Brennan of Amarillo, a member of the company holding the general building contract, was here Monday assisting Mr. Koch in getting the work started.”
The construction of the building was estimated at a cost of $125,000. Adding in the price of equipment, the hospital cost was estimated at approximately $200,000. “The new building will be four stories, including basement, and will have dimensions of 37 by 116 feet,” The Slatonite stated. “It will accommodate about 50 patients and will be equipped with all the latest hospital features, including X-Rays and other equipment necessary to make the institution rank as one of the best sanitariums in Texas.”
According to the article, the Sisters of Mercy with headquarters in Stanton, would be in charge of owning and operating the hospital.
However, planning for the hospital began in 1928. Not truly knowing the hardships the depression would impose on the people, the citizens of Slaton took a giant leap of faith and invested in the expensive undertaking. The people opened their hearts and wallets in the name of faith and healing. According to Slaton Stories, “The citizens of Slaton were asked by Reverend T.D. O’Brien to donate two city blocks valued at $3,000 plus a cash bonus of $20,000.”
According to Slaton Stories, the Altar Society of St. Joseph Catholic Church donated a substantial amount of money by fundraising and soliciting donations. According to The Slatonite, a large cash bonus was given by the people of Slaton and surrounding community to secure the hospital’s location. “The Slaton Chamber of Commerce conducted the campaign to raise and collect the funds,” an article in the newspaper read. The city approved the land site between 19th and 20th streets and the people met the financial obligations. In the April 26, 1929 edition of The Slatonite, the front-page headline read, “Work Started Here Monday on Hospital.”
However, for the families involved in the dogfight, it was too late and six members of the incident drove to Austin for treatment. “Though no member of the Beal family had been bitten by the dog, they had come into contact with its blood following the fight,” The Slatonite reported. “The dog, rubbing against Mr. Beal, had gotten blood on his trousers. He wiped it off with a cloth, it was said, and then Mrs. Beal used the same cloth and wiped her arm, which had scratches thereon.”
The Beal family, including their “little son,” Charles made their way to Austin for Rabies treatment. The article also stated that the 12-year-old daughter of Mrs. A.R. Keys also made contact with one of the dogs and was driven to Austin by her parents for the Pasteur treatment.
However, in the rural countryside of Slaton where Annie Schuette lived, life was calm and comfortable. “1929 was a pretty good year,” Shuette said. “We had a nice looking Model-T Ford and a good house to live in.”
On the Wednesday afternoon of November 27, 1929, the citizens of Slaton gathered in front of the immense hospital building that was to become a permanent fixture on the humble Slaton skyline. “The program will begin in the morning, continuing again in the afternoon, and visitors will be permitted to inspect the new building through the day,” a November 22, 1929 article of The Slatonite stated.
“I remember when they had a celebration,” Schuette said. She had recently given birth that year to her first child, a daughter named Amy. “I stayed in the parking lot with the baby,” Shuette said. “You couldn’t find a parking place because there were so many people there.”
The people watched as public officials lead the joyous ceremony and then the patrons made their way through the new hospital and gazed upon the sterile equipment that shimmered beneath the fresh hospital lights. “The institution will be one of the finest and most complete in the Southwest,” The Slatonite read. “Literally hundreds of people from all parts of the South Plains region are expected to attend the ceremony.”
Schuette, a proud young mother at the age of 20 when she attended the formal opening, said what she remembered most was the sight of her newborn baby lying on the front seat of the car, away from the great crowd.
“She had a pretty little hat on,” Schuette said. “She looked so pretty. That was 80 years ago and I still remember what she looked like. She was so beautiful. Everyone would walk by and say, ‘what a pretty little baby – what a pretty little baby’.”
Shuette, who was born in 1909 and will be celebrating her 101st birthday on October 22nd of this year, said they had no inclination what the magnitude the stock market crash of ’29, one month prior to the opening ceremony of the Mercy Hospital, would be. The citizens of the town also had no foresight of the dust storms that would sweep across the Great Plains and ravage the once fertile lands. In 1929, life went on as usual. “We had no way of knowing what was going to happen,” Schuette said of the devastating 1930’s that began a month after that joyous afternoon.
Schuette and the community took in the festivities completely unaware it was the beginning of the coming decade that would clamp a gnawing clutch on the community of Slaton, and most of humanity, like a mad rabid dog.