By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
When something happens here, 200 miles south of Denver, it is often commemorated with a bronze plaque, bust or marker. A memorial to Larry Enlow, a patrolman killed in the line of duty on January 8, 1968. A "City of Champions" sign honoring school football teams that won state championships. An example of the last coal-burning train engine. A bust of JFK. A mining car.
Such symbols offer a sense of identity, of pride, as the coal-mining industry wanes, the shops close downtown and the blood slowly trickles from the historical center, the "Corazón de Trinidad."
Yet nowhere is there mention of the man who has brought more attention to Trinidad than Black Jack Ketchum, Bat Masterson and Mother Jones. Nowhere is there so much as a street sign, mural or key chain commemorating the stocky man with the gold-rimmed glasses, easy laugh and steady hands.
Stanley Biber is just another local, yet he is not. He's a man with mud on his cowboy boots and a million dollars in the bank. A man who curses like a sailor and writes like a poet. A man who builds alliances within the Las Animas County machinery as a commissioner, then splinters them with the attempted recall of another commissioner. A man who heals children and turns men into women.
Stanley Biber was born in Des Moines, the older of two children and the only son of a father who owned a furniture store and a mother interested in social causes.
His parents envisioned him as a concert pianist, and he became quite good. But then they saw him as a rabbi, so he briefly attended sem-inary school. By the time he entered college, he had established a reputation for success, and under his yearbook picture was this caption: "If there is something to be accomplished, he will accomplish it. And the A's will follow."
"But I've always been very humble," Biber says. "As I am now. After many years, you attain humbleness."
During World War II Biber served as a civilian employee with the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA), performing unspecified operations in Alaska and the Northwest Territory. "Let's not make that too specific," he notes. "Just say I was there."
Biber returned to Iowa and enrolled in liberal arts and pre-med courses with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist. Along the way, he almost became a member of the United States Olympic weightlifting team. "I was very good at those things," he says, beaming. "The bench press. The military press. I think I missed it by twenty pounds."
He graduated from the University of Iowa medical school in 1948, and during a residency at an Army hospital in the Panama Canal Zone discovered a talent with a scalpel. "I kind of fell into it by chance," he says. "It was like my second or third choice, but I was very adaptive to it. My hands took to it. Like playing piano. You know how it is--when you're commended for something, you take an interest in it. And it was a constant challenge. At least you had a chance to do innovations."
And innovate he did, seven miles behind enemy lines during the Korean War. As chief surgeon of a MASH unit, Biber supervised such medical advances as vessel transplants and once performed 37 continuous abdominal surgeries before passing out. "I got a tremendous amount of experience there," he says. "Tremendous."
The battlefield seasoning eventually landed him at a Fort Carson hospital, where a colleague asked him to join a five-member United Mine Workers of America clinic in nearby Trinidad. "I thought, 'What the hell. It's close. I'll spend a year there until they get the clinic going and I'll move on,'" Biber recalls. "Hell, all the rest are gone, and I'm still here."
By the mid-Fifties, some 30,000 people lived in Trinidad, and Biber was the town's only general surgeon. He often worked eighteen-hour days, six days a week, performing everything from appendectomies to tonsillectomies to Caesarean-section births, even patching gunshot wounds. "I must have operated on everyone in town five times," he says. "I was young then. When you're young, that's how you work."
Somewhere between surgeries and raising a family (he has nine children), Biber managed to realize a boyhood dream from Iowa. "I used to go to Sargents Feed Store and sit on the bales of alfalfa and just smell the alfalfa," he recalls. "I told myself, 'Someday, I'm going to get me a ranch.'"
He started small, with 25 head of cattle, but he soon needed more land. So he bought more land. Then he needed more cattle. So he bought more cattle. More land. More cattle. On and on. "It's a vicious cycle," says Biber, who eventually built one of the largest ranches in Las Animas County. He even learned to ride, rope and eat dust. "I got bucked off so many times. Broke bones and everything."
But his greatest adventure began when that social worker walked into his office in 1969. "It looked like hell, but it worked," he says of his first sex-change operation. "Just like that, word was out on the grapevine that this was the place to do it. The whole goddamn world came here. All races, all colors, all classes. Movie stars, judges, mayors--everything. Even people from Poland. I don't know how they afforded it, but they came."