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Dr. Peers makes national medical history in Colfax

By: Susie Iventosch
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Dr. Robert Always Peers was just 23 when he arrived in Colfax to begin his medical practice in 1899. He would become famous for his work in the treatment of tuberculosis patients. Seemingly tireless, Dr. Peers served multiple terms as Colfax’s mayor as well as on several boards, including vice president of the California Tuberculosis Association, the State Health Board of Directors, the Placer Union School District Board, vice chairman of the Taxpayers Association and president of the California Medical Association as well as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. During World War I, Dr. Peers also served as the assistant chief of the Tuberculosis Bureau of the American Red Cross in Paris, France. Born in Ontario, Canada, Robert Peers graduated from the Trinity University Medical Department in 1899. Immediately following his graduation, he moved to Colfax to take over the practice of Dr. C.D. Ware, hanging his shingle as a practicing physician and surgeon on Nov. 10, 1899. This was in the horse and buggy days, and though Dr. Peers never owned his own get-up, he rented a rig from William J. McCleary, who owned the livery stable in town. And so it was via horse and buggy that he traveled to visit patients in Iowa Hill, Dutch Flat, New England Mills and neighboring communities. When he was called to Nevada City, Dr. Peers often traveled on the Nevada City Narrow Gauge Railroad. Upon his arrival, he would rent a horse and buggy to reach his destination. Not only did Peers become a beloved country doctor, but he also established himself as one of the foremost tuberculosis specialists in America. Soon after arriving in Colfax, Dr. Peers discovered the climatic advantages of the region and took up the study of modern methods of treatment for tuberculosis. He built his first hospital in 1907 with eight beds and established the Colfax Hospital and the Colfax School for Tuberculosis. By 1923 Peers operated the largest private tuberculosis sanatoria in California, comprising six institutions with a bed capacity of 160 patients. He treated patients from all over the world. In fact, at one time he had patients of 24 different nationalities. Dr. Peers, along with his son, Robert, and his mother, returned to Europe in 1923 for a two-month tour abroad. While in Italy, he visited Lucca, a town “from which Colfax draws a large part of its Italian population,” he wrote. There he visited the relatives of several Colfax residents. “Lucca is a very old town, dating back to the Etruscan period and is situated in a very fertile valley where every part of the land is cultivated intensively,” he wrote. “When one sees the well-kept orchards, vineyards and grain fields and notices how every available inch of space is made to produce, one can see why the Lucca farmer, who comes to Colfax or some other California town, makes a good California farmer.” In 1945, Dr. Peers resigned from the Colfax City Council after serving as mayor for more than 23 years. The following year Dr. Peers was honored by being included in “Who’s Who in America,” a 2,700 page listing of notable men and women of America. He was the first Colfax resident to earn this distinction while still living in Colfax. –– Iventosch used back issues of the Colfax Record to compile this history of Dr. Peers.