#lookback: Dr. Jules Schuelke

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.


“I pronounce you dead, dead, dead.” Dr. Schuelke spoke and held his hand above the body of Isaac Sullivan. Pharmacist Isaac Sullivan’s body lay on the floor of Schoo’s barber shop in the 200 block of Main Street, Lander with a bullet wound between his eyes. His body was not yet cold. Schoo was one of Lander’s barbers and also served as the Fremont county coroner in April 1890. Dr. Schuelke was a regular customer at the barbershop. He came every morning for a bath and a shave. Dr. Schuelke had fired the fatal shot just moments before. Schuelke calmly left the barber shop and returned to his office in the 300 block of Main Street. Leaving Schoo stunned. Murders on Main Street didn’t happen every day.

Schuelke was soon arrested, taken to jail and charge with murder, but a scarlet fever epidemic was out of control in Lander and people needed their doctor. It was soon arranged that Schuelke would be free during the day to tend to patients, but would spend his nights in jail.

The prosecuting attorney assumed he had an open and shut case. He had the town coroner as an eyewitness. When the case came to trial July 2, 1890 the new mayor of Lander, Eugene Amoretti testified on behalf of the doctor. Yes, it was well known the doctor was frequently drunk, and he abused drugs, but Amoretti testified Schuelke was a “better doctor drunk than most doctors are sober.” The doctor had done surgery to remove a cancerous grown from Amoretti’s face and so saved Amoretti’s life.

By all accounts Schuelke was a very good doctor when he was sober. He had been trained in Germany and come to the Wind River country to serve as a doctor on the Reservation in the 1880s. When his contract on the reservation was completed he moved his practice to Lander. Many Indians trusted him and would come to Lander for medical attention. Dr. Schuelke treated many of his former patients for free. Knowing they had few resources to pay him.

Dr. Schuleke was often described as a handsome man with dark hair and bright blue eyes. He was educated, well travelled and made a good living as a doctor, but there was a dark side to the doctor. At the trial Dr. Schuelke’s own physician told of a train accident and a head injury, which made Schuelke prone to impulsiveness and fits of rage he could not control.

Prior to Sullivan’s encounter with Schuelke in the barbershop, Schuelke had written a prescription for a young girl with scarlet fever. When her parents tried to fill the prescription pharmacist Sullivan refused saying the prescription would kill the child. The child died of scarlet fever. All through the taverns in town men gossiped about the incident over whiskey and beers. Sullivan badmouthed Schuelke saying he was a bad doctor.

Schuelke argued, “If my prescriptions had been filled as I wrote it the child would have lived.” Reputations were on the line, so that fateful morning Sullivan knowing the doctor’s routine entered the barbershop and wanted the doctor to come outside and fight this out. Schuelke declined to fight, so Sullivan took a step toward the doctor as he sat in the barber’s chair. Schuelke pulled his side arm and killed Isaac Sullivan on the spot.

When the verdict was delivered Schuleke was acquitted of murder charges. It was deemed to be self-defense. The prosecutor was angry. He is quoted in the newspaper saying, “ If you want to murder someone just lure him to Lander. You can shoot them in broad daylight in front of witnesses on Main Street and get away with it.”

After the trial Schuleke’s wife divorced him for adultery.

Schuelke continued to practice medicine in Lander. One day he was summoned to what we now know as Thermopolis to treat a bullet wound. He saw the hot spring and sent samples of water to Paris for analysis. The water was deemed to be of medicinal value. The only problem was it sat on the reservation and belonged to the Shoshone and the Arapaho peoples. Schuelke arranged for the Indians to cede the hot spring and ten miles around it to the government in exchange for much needed supplies. Schuelke set up a medicinal spa to treat tuberculosis and other ailments.

In 1904 Dr. Schuelke and his girlfriend, Lola Small were headed to a medical conference in Casper. While they rode the stage over either Birdseye pass or Blondie pass on the way to the train depot in Shoshoni , they both got pretty liquored up and a physical fight broke out; the stage door flew open and Dr. Schuelke fell or was pushed out and struck the ground and the wheel of the stage ran over him. Dr. Schuelke died immediately. No charges were brought in Schuelke’s death.

Later, Lola Small claimed she was the doctor’s common law wife and tried to inherit his estate. Wyoming does not recognize common law marriages and Lola could not produce any papers proving they were married, so the courts ruled that Schuelke’s mother and sister were his rightful heirs. When the estate was settled Schuelke’s mother and sister gave Schuleke’s property to his long-suffering ex-wife.

Lola Small later took up with a barkeep in Cody. He was gravely injured in a fight with a liquor distributor. When he started to rapidly recover, he suddenly took a turn for the worse and died. Poisoning was suspected but never proven.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

May 16, 7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Teen Adult Bead Cleaning Workshop”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

May 18, 10 am at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander Downtown Walking Tour”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

May 30, 7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Dr. Sayman Aryana: The Oil Industry in Wyoming”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.