Roy Martin

Updated February 7, 1999 - 9:55 pm

The young doctor stepped off the train that had deposited him in the dusty, desiccated tent town of Las Vegas. He was not impressed. It was August, and the temperature was past the century mark. Only three months before, the town had been created in the span of two days when the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad auctioned off townsites in what is now the core of downtown.
Now, Dr. Royce Wood Martin, who went by “Roy,” surveyed a cluster of wood-framed tents, one of which was a “hotel” where dust-covered men paid a dollar for the privilege of spending eight hours sleeping in a bed with a dust-covered stranger.
“There was only one train a day then, and it left at night,” Martin recalled in later years. “I was going to take it that same night.” His destination was the Bullfrog Mining District and the town of Rhyolite.
To kill time, Martin strolled the bustling streets of Las Vegas, stopping to talk to the locals, who were unanimous in their denunciation of Bullfrog District as a “has-been” place, and in their confidence about their own fledgling community. At one point, Martin encountered another physician, who was somewhat less enamored of Las Vegas, and offered to sell him his entire practice, with equipment, for $10, the cost of a railroad ticket to Los Angeles.
Problem was, Martin didn’t have a spare sawbuck. To raise it, he asked around until he had located the town’s fastest runner, and challenged him to a foot race. The purse was $10. Martin, a sprinter in his college days, won the race, collected the money, paid off the doctor and decided that Las Vegas might be a good place to stop a while. He stayed 38 years.
Martin was born Nov. 16, 1874, at Table Rock, Neb. The eldest of five children — three boys and two girls — he shouldered much of the responsibility for helping run the household and supervising his siblings.
He entered the University Medical College at Kansas City, Mo. in 1899, and emerged in 1903 with his M.D.
Martin married his high school sweetie, Nellie Cotton, and for a wedding gift, gave her a grand piano which is now owned by his granddaughter, Julie Jones of Las Vegas. The couple subsequently had two daughters, Frances and Mazie. The family home was on the southwest corner of Fifth and Fremont streets, a concrete block structure described by Las Vegas Age Editor C.P. “Pop” Squires as being “of Japanese design.” By 1912, Martin was vice president of the Las Vegas Home Builders Association, which constructed four- and five-room cottages of concrete block.
The town was crude, some of its inhabitants cruder still, but it was infused with the optimism that characterizes most boomtowns, and seemed to hold promise for an entrepreneurial young doctor.
He hung his first shingle on an 8-foot by 10-foot framed tent at Stewart Avenue and Third Street. Four months after his arrival, he was appointed chief surgeon for the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad, a position he held for nearly 12 years. The railroad provided him a second hospital — another tent — but with 10 cots and, according to his daughter, Mazie Martin Jones, a “makeshift operating room where only minor surgery was done, except in emergency cases.” His counterpart was Dr. Halle Hewetson, the surgeon for the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. The two doctors often assisted and relieved each other.
According to Squires, neither surgeon did much cutting in their tent hospitals, particularly in summer when oppressive heat made it too risky for the patient. The standard procedure was to stabilize patients and put them on the train to Los Angeles. Or, if the surgery was essential, the operation would be performed at 4 a.m., the coolest time of day.
Martin made house calls. He also made mining camp calls to Goodsprings and more remote workings; brothel calls to the ladies of Block 16; and Indian village calls to the Paiute colony near the Kiel Ranch in what is now North Las Vegas.
“He would answer any call for help from anyone anywhere, anytime,” says Frances Donnelly, his eldest daughter. “He paid a lot of attention to the minorities in this town; at his funeral, people of all colors came to pay their respects.”
Martin was a country doctor in a very large country; often as much a race car driver as a physician. In what must have been a record for the time, Martin drove from Las Vegas to Arden, where a U.S. Gypsum worker had been injured in a rock fall. He gave the man first aid, then loaded him aboard the No. 4 train to Las Vegas. The train slid along on smooth steel rails. Martin bounded along on a dusty, rutted cowpath — and he beat the train to Las Vegas. In 1927, he drove to Baker, Calif., a distance of over 90 miles — on a road that was mostly sand, rocks and misfortune — in less than two hours.
Sometimes, the problem was the patient, not the terrain. Summoned to a home where a screaming wife in labor had sent her husband into hysterics, Martin listened quietly as the man threatened him with violence if he did not alleviate his wife’s pain. Asked in later years how he handled the situation, Martin offered a simple explanation.
“I knocked him out,” he said. Mother, baby and dad all recovered nicely.
To maintain the stamina needed to keep up the pace he set for himself, Martin adhered to a rigorous diet, avoiding fatty foods, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. His one vice, says Donnelly, was unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes. Sadly, that habit may have contributed to his eventual demise.
Aside from the inevitable mining accidents, most of Martin’s business was provided by the gun, the knife and the stork. Squires observed that by the 1930s, Martin had delivered most of the town’s population.
One of his first patients was night watchman Joe Mulholland. He and William McCarthy were battling dehydration at Arthur Frye’s saloon on First Street, when a quarrel erupted over the ownership of a ring, and McCarthy settled it by drawing a pistol and giving Mulholland a hot lead injection. Martin couldn’t help, and the watchman died.
In June 1906, Martin moved his hospital to a suite of offices upstairs in the Thomas Building at First and Fremont streets. It was a great improvement with a dozen beds, a private room, and a pharmacy. In 1911, Martin and his colleague, Dr. H.H. Clark, remodeled the facility. It then boasted its own heating plant, electric fans and appliances, X-Ray machine and a kitchen. In 1916, he built the first hospital in booming Goodsprings. The Las Vegas Age reported it to be “of sufficient size to accommodate the receiving hospital, office and a supply of drugs for the district.”
In 1917, he announced plans for the Las Vegas General Hospital. It was to be located at Ogden Avenue and Second Street. However, his attempts to form a hospital association failed and the project was shelved. Instead, he purchased the Palace Hotel, plus two cottages on Second Street, for about $10,000. The Palace had been the first two-story building in Las Vegas. Martin set about modernizing it, soundproofing the walls with felt, replacing the wooden interior walls with plastered ones. When completed, it had 12 beds, a modern ventilation system, an electric elevator, maternity ward and a second-story balcony that wrapped around the entire structure, providing patients with a place to take the cool evening breezes. His associates were Dr. Forrest Mildren and Dr. F.M. Ferguson.
In early 1931, Drs. Martin, Ferguson and R.D. Balcum formed the Las Vegas Hospital Association, with the intention of finally building the hospital Martin had proposed in 1917. The agreement was that Martin would build the structure, and the other doctors would furnish and supply it. In April, 1931, Martin bought 16 lots on Eighth Street between Ogden and Stewart avenues from a Mrs. Moffatt. He told the Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal that he had retained architect A.L. Warwick to design the hospital, which would be “a two-story structure, built of gypsum blocks, stuccoed outside, finished in white with a red tiled roof, in the typical Spanish style so well adapted for this country.” Total cost would be about $100,000. The Las Vegas Hospital was a state-of-the art, 35-bed facility. It had laboratories, maternity ward, an X-Ray machine, five treatment rooms, a tilting operating table, and an advanced lighting system in the operating room.
As the summer of 1931 approached, Martin arranged for his wife and daughters to take a tour of Europe. They first drove cross-country in a Ford, shipped it overseas, toured the continent in it, and drove it back to Las Vegas in time for his daughter, Frances, to resume her studies at Scripps College in Southern California.
“With his family out of the way, he could focus on planning his hospital,” laughed the grown-up Frances Donnelly in retrospect. It opened in December, 1931.
Martin sold his interest in the hospital in 1937, planning to retire. But, according to other daughter Mazie Martin Jones, he was stuck with more than $80,000 in bad debts. Even so, he joined his old Las Vegas Hospital on Second Street with a house he owned next door to create the El Patio Motel, which he operated until 1941.
He enthusiastically speculated in real estate, sometimes alone, more often as a member of a syndicate. Martin was quick to grubstake a prospector and was an investor in several mining ventures, mostly in the Goodsprings and Eldorado Canyon areas. In the 1920s, he owned and developed the Nelson townsite in Eldorado Canyon, but abandoned the project by the end of the decade.
Sometime after 1926, Martin sold his lots at Second and Fremont for $30,000 to P.O. Silvagni, who erected the 100-room Apache Hotel, which was later acquired by Benny Binion and renamed the Horseshoe Casino.
Martin had always harbored an interest in politics of the Republican stripe, and was elected to the Clark County Republican Committee in 1910 and 1924. Two years later, he was the Clark County delegate to the state GOP convention, and was a delegate to the 1928 national convention that nominated Herbert Hoover for president.
In 1923, Martin stood for state Assembly, was elected, and packed his whole family off to Carson City. He was named chairman of the Assembly Committee on Public Morals, and also served on the committees on the State Prison, Insane Asylum and Roads and Highways.
Having suffered the bumps, bruises and breakdowns inflicted by the state’s primitive roads, Martin was a vociferous advocate of improving them. He was especially keen on linking Las Vegas with Yerington; the only decent road sent travelers through California. The road to Los Angeles ran down through Searchlight, then to Needles and Barstow. The road advocated by Martin was more direct. Highway 91 and, later, Interstate 15, both followed his proposed route.
Late 1926 found Martin in Reno, where he purchased a new Cadillac. He then convinced his friend, former Gov. James Scrugham, to ride with him to Las Vegas in order to inspect the road. It was a grueling journey, climaxing when Martin lost control of the car north of Las Vegas, and it overturned. The governor and the doctor were both unhurt, but so exhausted was Scrugham that Martin checked him into the hospital for a week.
It wasn’t the first motoring mishap Martin had endured in the desert. The worst involved his family.
“He was a busy, energetic man,” recalls Donnelly, “and he was preoccupied with one thing or another most of the time. But on Sundays, he made time for his family.” Usually this came in the form of a family outing.
In July 1918, Martin set off for Pioche in an open Franklin motorcar. According to Donnelly, they were going there to visit two sisters, Margaret and Josephine McCormick, friends of the Martin girls who had moved to Pioche with their families. The party consisted of Martin, his wife, Nellie, Frances and Mazie, and Lesley Lewis, the daughter of a fellow Las Vegas physician.
The road took them to Indian Springs, then due east across what is now the Nevada Test Site and the Groom Mine (now the mysterious “Area 51”). The party arrived at Hiko, stayed the night at a ranch, and asked for directions to Pioche. They were directed to a shortcut across the mountains to Caliente. They drove the rocky, rutted roads for 84 miles before it became clear they were lost, and Martin turned back toward Hiko. The gasoline gave out 75 miles from Hiko. Provisions consisted of about a quart of water, a can of beans and a few graham crackers.
“We opened the can of beans with a nail file, which wasn’t easy,” says Donnelly. While at the ranch, she had pocketed a handful of peppermint candy. When she retrieved it later, it was covered with dead ants.
“We just picked the ants off and ate them,” laughs Donnelly. A small cloudburst appeared, and the women hurried to rig funnels to collect it, finally resorting to licking the moisture off the car.
Meanwhile, Martin had taken some of the water and begun the hike to Hiko. It was a nightmarish ordeal. He hallucinated springs of fresh water gushing across the road and, at one point, turned himself around, following his own tracks and marveling that some fool had been hiking in this barren wilderness. What water he found was in cow tracks, and this kept him going. After 28 hours, he reached Hiko. Rancher John Wright loaded Martin in his Model T and set off to aid the doctor’s stranded family, nearly dead from thirst.
“My first memory is someone shoving ginger snaps down my throat, with milk,” says Donnelly. “It was a long time before I could eat ginger snaps again.”
At the insistence of the girls, the Martins continued on their trip to Pioche.
“He had promised us,” says Donnelly, “and when he made a promise, he kept it.”
Even after the near-calamity, Martin remained an inveterate desert explorer, even something of an expert on extracting vehicles from the inevitable sand traps.
“On one outing, we came across some people who were stuck in the sand,” Donnelly recalls. “My father offered to help get the car out, but he insisted that he be allowed to do it without help. He carefully placed a blanket under the rear wheels and eased the machine out of its hole. That was one of the most notable features of his character; he knew how things ought to be done, and he wanted to do them himself so he was sure they were done properly.”
His skill came in handy in 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Nevada to dedicate Hoover Dam, decided to visit the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp at Harris Springs, adjacent to Martin’s property. The road was narrow, the presidential entourage long, and FDR found himself stranded in his car on a steep road with no place to turn around.
“The newspaper stories of the time tell about the president being delayed,” says Donnelly. “But they don’t say that it was Dr. Martin who got them out of the situation and back on the road.”
But Martin is perhaps best remembered by old-timers for his contribution to the rescue of the Prettyman party in 1937.
In December of that year, Lee Prettyman, his wife, cook, two friends, two cats and a dog set out in a new Packard sedan to inspect the Groom Mine, owned by Prettyman. The West had been experiencing an extraordinarily hard winter, and the group was soon stranded in deep snow near the mine. Lee Prettyman was able to walk to civilization and organize a rescue. The Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal followed each development of the ensuing drama as it unfolded over a week. An airplane rescue was impossible, and several attempts to reach the party by tractor were thwarted by new snowstorms.
By midweek, it was learned that one of the men had attempted to walk out, and had died of exposure on the shore of Groom Lake. Concern soon shifted to the 20-member rescue party, which included Martin. It was making slow progress toward the stranded group, which was living off canned corned beef and snow. Ultimately, the rescue succeeded, with Martin providing first aid to the survivors who were more dead than alive. So dramatic was the misadventure that the following year, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) produced a radio drama on it.
Martin came out of retirement in 1942, at the onset of World War II, because of the shortage of civilian doctors. He practiced at Basic Hospital in Henderson until Dec. 27, 1943, when he died after suffering two heart attacks in close succession.
Of Martin, Squires wrote; “I think it probable that no citizen of Las Vegas during all those long, lean and disappointing years, had such supreme faith in the high destiny of Las Vegas, or sacrificed so much of himself in the effort to bring that destiny to fruition.”

Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Robotics takes off at Las Vegas Academy
Las Vegas Academy’s robotics team made it all the way to the world competition last year, the first year the team competed. Zackary Perry describes how they programmed their robot to compete. The team is an example of what Tesla wants to have in every school in the state. (Meghin Delaney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sedan and semitrailer collide in south Las Vegas
An early Wednesday morning crash has left one person in critical condition. A sedan and semitrailer collided around 4 a.m. at the corner of Spencer Street and Serene Avenue. Police do not believe impairment is a factor in the crash. Spencer has been blocked off north of Serene while police continue their investigation.
Cybersecurity Professionals Flock to Las Vegas for Black Hat
Black Hat USA, the largest annual cybersecurity conference, is expecting a record 17,000 attendees during its six-day run at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. One thing attendees have in mind is making sure they don't get hacked while they're there. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police chase ends with suspects captured in east Las Vegas
An early Tuesday morning chase ended with a car crash in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. Police were pursuing the vehicle, which they say was involved in robberies in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, when the driver crashed at Owens and Statz Street. A man was taken into custody. A woman was ejected from a vehicle and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The intersection at Mojave Road and Owens Avenue was shut down while police officers searched for the suspect and investigated. The intersection will remain closed for most of the morning.
Record number participate in Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony
Three hundred sixty-five medical students received their white coats during the Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony at the M Resort in Henderson Monday. The ceremony was developed to honor students in osteopathic medicine, physician assistant studies, nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy as they accept the professional responsibilities inherent in their relationship with patients. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stop for school buses, urges CCSD
Clark County School District Police Department hold a mock traffic stop at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Work Begins at Las Vegas Community Healing Garden
Crews moved the wooden Remembrance Wall at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden on South Casino Center Boulevard Monday. Construction on a permanent wall is set to begin within the week. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Man wounded outside Cottages apartment
Las Vegas police don't have a motive after a man was shot early Monday morning outside a northwest valley apartment. The man's mother called police to say her son had been shot. She called police around 1:15 a.m. Other people were inside the apartment but no one else was injured. Police are still looking for the shooter.
Ride new Interstate 11 segment in one minute
Interstate 11 opens to the public Thursday, providing sweeping views of Lake Mead, art deco-style bridges and a mural illustrating the construction of Hoover Dam. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Miss El Tiempo 2019
Miss Teen El Tiempo and Miss El Tiempo 2019 were crowned at Sam's Town Saturday, August 4, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Las Vegas Woman Raises Awareness for Anxiety and Depression
Cassi Davis was diagnosed with anxiety and depression after the birth of her second child. After seeking help and support, she felt that there wasn't enough for support for those living day in and day out for those with mood disorders. She created the Crush Run, set for Sept. 22, to raise money for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and bring together a community of people who live with the same conditions she does. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas marks the opening of Tropical Parkway connector
The City of North Las Vegas, Nevada Department of Transportation and other partners celebrated the opening of the Tropical Parkway connector to Interstate 15 and the Las Vegas Beltway. The stretch of road will make access easier for distribution centers for Amazon, Sephora and other companies moving into an 1,100-acre industrial area rising near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bighorn sheep with West Temple in background at Zion National Park
A bighorn sheep walks through Zion National Park (National Park Service)
Adult Superstore location closes after 45 years
The Adult Superstore on Main Street has closed its doors for good after 45 years. The shop, which offered a multitude of adult toys, novelty items and movies, opened in 1973. Four other locations remain open. A note on the front door tells customers, “We can’t fully express our sorrow.” Adult Superstore was awarded Best of Las Vegas adult store by the Review-Journal in 2016 and 2017 .
Funeral held for Las Vegas corrections officer
Department of Public Safety Correctional Officer Kyle Eng died July 19 after a fight with an inmate at the Las Vegas Jail. A funeral was held for Eng at Canyon Ridge Christian Church Monday, July 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What Back-To-School Shopping Is Like For a CCSD Parent and Teacher
Laura LeBowsky, a CCSD special education teacher and mother of two, set out to shop for her children's supply lists at her local Walmart and Target. She was looking for deals to try to keep the total under $150, while also allowing Chloe, 8, and Brady, 6, some choice in what they wanted. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Businesses struggle to fill food manufacturing jobs
Chelten House is a family-owned food manufacturing company from New Jersey. They created a facility in Vegas five years ago and have struggled to find experienced workers in the area. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LeBron heckler crosses line, altercation erupts
NBA superstar LeBron James, his wife, Savannah, and daughter Zhuri were at Liberty High School to watch Bronny James in action Wednesday night. But an unruly fan wearing a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey heckled the newest Los Angeles Laker. The man screamed at event security with LeBron and his family about 150 feet away. The man had to be restrained, triggering a brief altercation with security. James and his family were escorted out a side door along with Bronny's team, the North Coast Blue Chips. Event officials canceled the game between the Blue Chips and Nike Meanstreets.
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like