Buena Vista County, IA
IAGenWeb Project

Extracted from:  Wegerslev, C. H. and Thomas Walpole. 
 Past and Present of Buena Vista County, Iowa
Chicago:  S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1909, p. 532-33.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy

Biography of  Stephen Olney, M.D.

No history of the growth and development of Buena Vista county would be complete without mention of Dr. Olney, who was the first regular practicing physician within its borders.  A physician's life, even in these days of modern conveniences, is more or less fraught with hardships and exposure, while long sleepless hours and constant contact with sickness and suffering render his work at times anything but pleasant.  However, the conditions that the pioneer practitioner faced were much more arduous.  His patients were widely scattered over a broad territory in a country where roads, if they existed at all, were very poor, while often only a trail led across the prairie.  He must respond to the calls, even though they forced him to meet the blinding storms of winter, when the snow was driven before the wind over bleak and desolate prairies; again he must take similar long rides through the summer's heat and must cross the sloughs, which rendered travel at all times difficult.  The little cabins to which he was called had few conveniences or opportunities for a proper care of the sick and the physician was usually at his wits end to bring about conditions that would prove beneficial to his patient.  There were no professional nurses and while loving hearts and willing bands offered every assistance possible, the people were usually unskilled in the best methods of caring for those who were ill.  Amid such environment Dr. Olney entered upon active practice in Buena Vista county, but while his work entailed much personal sacrifice and suffering, he did for his fellowmen a labor the value of which could not be over-estimated.  He was the only physician for miles around and his coming was indeed a boon to the community.


Dr. Olney was born in Pennsylvania, March 2, 1846, and is a son of Stephen and Alice (Goodrich) Olney, both of whom were natives of Pennsylvania.  He arrived in Buena Vista county in April, 1869, being at that time a young man of twenty-three years.  He took up the first claim of government land in Poland township but about a year later he sold that property and entered upon the practice of medicine, locating in Sioux Rapids as the first physician in the county.  This portion of the stale was then so sparsely settled that for the first year or more there was not much for him to do and he occupied his time with executing a commission to foot up the accounts in the treasurer's office and also do the necessary clerical work in connection with the tax lists.  He likewise busied himself at surveying to some extent but after a few years the growth in the county's population left him no time for outside interests, his entire attention being demanded by his increasing practice.  At times his duties were so onerous that he did not have the needed rest or sleep but never did he fail to respond to the call of a patient if he could possibly get to the bedside of the sufferer.


Dr. Olney continued in practice at Sioux Rapids until the spring of 1875, when he removed to South Dakota and took up his abode at Swan Lake, where he remained for two years, after which he removed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on the 1st of August, 1877.  He has been in active practice there continuously since but he still has property interests in Buena Vista county, and in company with Marshall Lee, who is represented on another page of this work, is the owner of a half section of land near Sioux Rapids.  For the past three years he has been spending his summer vacations on his farm in this county, where he is eagerly welcomed by many old-time friends.


In October, 1872, Dr. Olney was married to Miss Sarah M. Lee, a daughter of William S. Lee.  He has always voted the republican ticket and is a stalwart advocate of the principles of the party.  In his fraternal relations he is a Mason, belonging to the lodge and chapter at Sioux Falls, and has also attained the Knight Templar degree.  He has led a busy, useful and active life, and it is with pleasure that we present his record to our readers, knowing that it will be gladly received by his many friends, who entertain for him the warmest regard.