Biography of John Thomas Axtell, M. D.

John Thomas Axtell, M. D. In thirty-six years of practice in Kansas, most of which time had been spent in Newton, Doctor Axtell had made a distinguished name, especially in the field of surgery. He founded Axtell Hospital and had been at its head and its principal surgeon since 1886, and had enjoyed more than a local reputation as a surgeon and hospital administrator.

Doctor Axtell had spent most of his life in Kansas and represents a family of early settlers here. His birth occurred at Roseville, Illinois, August 11, 1856. His ancestry goes back to a prominent English family. There was one of the name who served with the rank of Colonel in Cromwell’s army and assisted in the beheading of King Charles I. Later, after the Restoration, he was himself beheaded during the reign of King Charles h. In the meantime, two brothers of the name had immigrated to America in 1642 and settled in the colony of Massachusetts. One of these brothers was the direct ancestor of Doctor Axtell.

John Milton Axtell, father of Doctor Axtell, was born in Mercer County in Western Pennsylvania, February 27, 1828. In 1838, when he was ten years of age, his parents moved out to Roseville, Illinois, where he grew up and married and took up the vocation of farmer. In 1865 he joined the pioneers of Kansas, locating at Garnett in Anderson County. He followed farming and stock raising and was prominent in his work. Thus it was that Doctor Axtell grew up in the atmosphere of a farm and the livestock business, and if his name were not so prominently identified with the surgical profession he would be classed as one of Kansas’ foremost stockmen. John M. Axtell eventually lost his health and removed to Newton, living with his son Doctor Axtell from 1883 until his death, which occurred in the Axtell Hospital in December, 1887. He was a republican in politics and filled the positions of township trustee and school director. He was a member of the Baptist Church and the Masonic fraternity. John M. Axtell married Lydia Long. She was born near Galesburg, Illinois, in 1832, and died at Roseville in that state in 1859. She was the mother of four children: Joannah, who married R. F. Norton, a carpenter and contractor, their home being at Newton; Josephine, who died at Newton in 1916, wife of George F. Kyner, a carpenter at Newton; Dr. John T.; and Lydia Letitia, wife of Stephen Humphrey, a farmer at Courtland, Kansas. For his second wife John M. Axtell married Mary E. Gaffney, who was born in Abbington, Illinois, in 1836, and died at Newton, Kansas, in 1899. The father also had four children by this marriage: Florence, wife of Frank L. Abbey, a physician who had been associated with Doctor Axtell in practice and in the hospital work for the past thirty years; Mamie, wife of Dan D. Andrus, who lives on a large Hereford cattle ranch at Hasty, Colorado, owned by Doctor Axtell; Edward, who was a farmer and died in Eastern Kansas at the age of thirty years; and Edwin, a twin brother of Edward, who died at the age of twenty-two years.

John Thomas Axtell had some education in Illinois and completed his public school work in Garnett, Kansas, where he finished the high school course in 1874. His early experiences and the source of revenue largely for his medical education came from school teaching. He taught school four years in Anderson County, and in 1878 removed to Newton, where, while studying medicine, he served two years as principal of one of the city schools. For two years Doctor Axtell attended the medical department of the University of Michigan, and in January, 1882, passed the State Board of Medical Examiners, and spent one year in practice at Hunnewell, Kansas. He then continued his work in the Bellevue Hospital Medical College at New York City, from which he obtained the degree Doctor of Medicine in 1883.

During all the subsequent years Doctor Axtell had sought the benefits and advantages furnished not only by his own abundant practice and experience but also by extensive association with the leaders of his profession and attendance at the great clinics of this country and abroad. He had several times taken post-graduate work in the Post-Graduate School of New York City, holding a diploma from that institution, also in the University Medical College and the Kansas City Medical College of Kansas City, and for a number of years was professor of Orthopedic Surgery in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, now the medical department of the University of Kansas at Kansas City. While in that position he held clinics in Kansas City hospitals for eight years. He had attended clinics in practically every large city of the United States, and also in France, England, Germany and Austria. In 1914 Doctor Axtell went abroad and spent some time in the great hospital centers of Vienna and Berlin, and returned to England just before the outbreak of the war. He was obliged to remain in England some time on account of hostilities, and during this delay he attended clinics in the cities of London, Edinburgh and Liverpool.

It was in 1883 that Doctor Axtell established himself in practice at Newton. It was partly to accommodate his own large private practice and also to furnish much needed facilities for surgery in this section of Kansas that he established the Axtell Hospital in 1886. The original hospital was opened for the reception of patients on February 1, 1887. For a period of thirty years it had stood as one of the leading institutions of the kind in Kansas. Its facilities were almost constantly overtaxed, and in March, 1911, the service was transferred to the present fine hospital building, which had accommodations for a hundred patients. The building is a fire-proof brick and concrete structure, three stories and basement, located on East Broadway opposite the Military Park in Newton. Its exterior lines meet the approval of a discerning critic of architecture, though money and care were chiefly lavished upon the interior arrangement and facilities. Doctor Axtell had seven assisting physicians and a corps of thirty student nurses, the superintendent of nurses being Miss Jean Sims. Patients come to this institution from as far west as California and in fact from many western states. On the average, about 1,500 cases are handled by the hospital annually and the statistical report of the institution will compare favorably with that of any large hospital in the country.

Doctor Axtell had enjoyed nearly every honor generally accorded to men in his profession. He is a member in good standing of the American Medical Association, the Kansas State and Harvey County Medical societies, had been honored with the office of president of the State Society and of various district medical societies. He is at present a member of the State Board of Health of Kansas and is the physician member of the Military Exemption Board in the Second District of Kansas. He and Dr. Crumbine, of the First District Board, are the only two physicians on district exemption boards in the state.

While farming and stock raising with Doctor Axtell are a means of diversion from his strenuous activities as a surgeon, they have, nevertheless, brought him considerable reputation in certain lines of live-stock husbandry. These operations are carried on with several hundred acres of farm land around Newton and 480 acres in Colorado under the Fort Lyon ditch. On his Kansas ranch he had made successful efforts as a pioneer in the growing of alfalfa and also in the establishment of alfalfa mills. His Kansas ranch is the home of a herd of 150 head of registered Holstein cattle, one of the largest and finest herds of that strain in the state. On his Colorado ranch he keeps 150 head of high grade Herefords. Doctor Axtell had raised many fine Percheron horses and was formerly a breeder and trainer of trotting stock.

He had been a director of the Kansas State Bank of Newton since its organization and is a large property owner in that city. Doctor Axtell had platted several additions to Newton, among them Axtell’s First Addition and Lakeside Addition. He was largely instrumental in securing for the city the forty acre park known as Athletic Park. He owned five business buildings and about thirty dwelling houses throughout the city, in addition to his fire-proof brick residence adjoining the hospital.

Doctor Axtell is a republican in politics. Fraternally he is identified with Newton Lodge No. 142, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Wichita Consistory No. 2 of the Scottish Rite and Isis Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Wichita. He also belongs to Newton Lodge No. 100, Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

On May 18, 1882, at Newton, Doctor Axtell was married to Miss Lucena Chase. She is a daughter of I. and Margaret (Gillam) Chase, both now deceased. Her father was formerly foreman of the bridge department of the Santa Fe Railway Company. Mrs. Doctor Axtell is a graduate physician of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Kansas City, Kansas, and had been a valuable assistant to her husband in the work of the hospital. Doctor and Mrs. Axtell have four children. Lillian married Dr. John L. Grove, who is surgical assistant to Doctor Axtell; Marguerite married Dr. H. M. Glover, who had been an assistant in the hospital at Newton and is now a surgeon with the rank of Lieutenant in the United States Army; Mildred is a sophomore in the University of Kansas; and Marion, the youngest, is in the freshman year of the Newton High School.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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