Iowa History Project


History of Medicine in Iowa
by D.S. Fairchild, M.D., F.A.C.S.
reprinted from The Journal of the Iowa State Medical Society, 1927
transcribed from the original book for the Iowa History Project by S. Ferrall

-Dr. A.G. Field biography-

The early life of Dr. Archelaus Field was characterized by extreme privations and strenuous exertion. Grubbing hazel brush for a garden spot with a hatchet, trapping musk rats and ground hogs for their pelts; the former sold as fur, the latter tanned in wood ashes and water and soft soap, cut and braided into whip lashes and sold for revenue; planting and hoeing corn from seven a.m. to sundown for 25 cents a day; milking two cows all summer for their two calves which he trained to be oxen, walking three miles a day and return to school; teacher's certificate to teach English branches and pedagogy at fifteen; reading medicine and toting medical saddle bags with some degree of success and popularity at twenty, are some of the outstanding incidents in a life that providentially has been extended well past its ninety-second birthday.

A.G. Field M.D., L.L.B.
A.G. Field M.D., L.L.B.

He was born November 15, 1829, his father being Dr. Abel Wakely Field, a native of Bennington, Vermont; and his mother Zilpha Witter Field, a native of Ontario county, New York. He was the eldest of 3 brothers, all of whom reached manhood. His brother Orestes G. was a distinguished surgeon of the War of the Rebellion and the youngest, Capt. James W., still living, a retired capitalist of Marysville, Ohio.

In 1839 his parents removed from Ontario county, New York, to Madison county, Ohio. His first occupation was that of planting and hoeing corn for a neighbor farmer for 25 cents a day from early morning to sundown. There were no walking delegates in those times. His first commercial transaction was with his father, whereby he agreed to milk two cows all summer and winter for their two calves. These calves were his first team. He made his own sled and ox-yoke, and has a scar on one of his shins where he was hit by a drawing knife in smoothing the tongue of his sled. He also bears another scar in one of his eye-brows where he was hit by a refractory hickory stick which he was bending for an ox-bow.

His first real nice suit of clothes was made up by his mother. He paid 18 cents a yard for cloth for the coat, 37 cents a yard for cloth for pants, both blue check, 7 cents for calico to make a vest, and 60 cents for silk for a cap. Between the ages of twelve and twenty years he attended academies at West Jefferson, London and Worthington, always hiring a room and boarding himself, teaching and working on a farm at intervals. At fourteen he raked and bound wheat and oats, keeping up with the cradle through harvest -- a man's work. His employer, Judge Burnham of West Jefferson, Ohio, made him a present of five dollars at the close of the season, this being the first substantial present he ever received. At the age of fifteen he secured a certificate for teaching the English branches, which certificate he still has, dated April 7, 1845. He also has his last certificate for teaching, dated Chillicothe, Ohio, October 31, 1849. In addition to common branches this latter certificate included algebra, natural philosophy, chemistry and astronomy. All of his traveling was done on foot, and four days and three nights were consumed on the road between Frankfort and Chillicothe, with intensive study of the branches upon which he was to be examined. The examiner's name was Wm. B. Franklin, and the examination was brief and satisfactory, he receiving a certificate for two years. His school was to begin in two weeks, and he returned home to Madison county for a short visit, after which he started for school with his belongings in a small wooden trunk two feet long and one foot square. He does not remember any test of physical strength and endurance equal to tha tof transporting htis trunk, which he still has. Its position was changed hundreds of times from beneath one arm to the other, and from the top of one shoulder to the other, during this journey over muddy roads and part of the time in the rain. He also has the trunk which contained his entire possessions when he came to Iowa in 1849.

In June, 1850, he joined a company of emigrants from Madison county, Ohio, to Appanoose county, Iowa. There were eleven wagons and about thirty people. The new experiences were much enjoyed by all, although an unlucky grasshopper occasionally got into the biscuit and marauding spiders into the blankets. But the mode of traveling finally became quite monotonous, especially over the miles and miles of corduroy bridges through the black swamp of Indiana. A flat ferryboat at Burlington made several trips to land the party on Iowa soil. New inspiration came to all in the invigorating atmosphere of Iowa, having been on the road six weeks. Most of the party settled in and about Centerville, where the subject of this sketch nailed his shingle for practice. People were healthy, and as there were plenty of older doctors, he had but few calls. In the early spring of 1851 he was appointed deputy sheriff of Appanoose county, and in that capacity assisted in taking the census of a large part of Appanoose county.

A little later the county seat of Wayne county was to be located, and George W. Perkins, surveyor of Appanoose county, was appointed as one of the locating commissioners. Before starting Mr. Perkins invited the subject of this sketch to accompany the party, and, without asking why he did so, he at once joined the expedition. There were very few families in Wayne county at that time -- probably not over six or eight, and none nearer than four and one-half miles from the center of the county. The best part of a week was spent in riding over the wild prairies, occasionally molesting a heard of deer or a flock of wild turkeys or prairie chickens. Finally, when selection of a location had been made, Mr. Perkins wrote on a piece of paper the numbers of the land for the future county seat, now Corydon, also the numbers of two eighties, one east and the other south of the proposed town site. He said the commissioners would start immediately for Fairfield to enter the selected town site, and suggested that Dr. Field go too, but by another route, and try to secure the two eighties of which he had given him the numbers. This he did, although he had less than a dollar in excess of the amount required to pay his necessary expenses. Bernhard Henn was then commissioner of the land office. Dr. Field did not wait for the commissioners; a good horse solved the problem. He reached the land office more than a day in advance of the commissioners and made a confidante of Mr. Henn, to whom he had no word of introduction. Mr. Henn accepted the statement of the dust-covered stranger and at once placed a land warrant on the proposed town site, lest the commissioners might be intercepted by some speculator. He then placed another land warrant upon the two eighties for Dr. Field, accepting his note for two hundred dollars and giving him a bond for a deed in one year, dated May 11, 1851. The commissioners arrived the day following to find the town site secured.

Returning to Centerville, Dr. Field was offered a partnership with Dr. Nathan Udell of Unionville, afterward state senator. This engagement was soon terminated by the accidental death of his father, Dr. Abel W. Field, on the twenty-first day of August, 1851. He returned to Ohio and took up the practice left by his father. The following spring he returned to Iowa to pay for his land and to look it over. The trip was made by deck passage on a steamboat via Cincinnati, Cairo and Keokuk, furnishing his own provisions. He took the railroad from Columbus to Cincinnati, and from and to Keokuk he went on foot by way of Mt. Pleasant, Bloomfield and Centerville.

In the autumn of 1853 he entered the office of Prof. John Dawson of Columbus, Ohio, matriculated and paid for tuition for the session of Starling Medical College in 1853-4, and graduated the following spring, three years practice being accepted in lieu of one course of lectures. To provide meants to start again he had engaged a school in Brown township, Franklin county, and as soon as examinations were over went again into the schoolhouse for one term. In the spring of 1854 he located in Hillsboro, Highland county, Ohio. He secured a fair practice, but collections were slow and insufficient to meet his necessary expenses. He sold his buggy and a few months later his beautiful black horse to meet expenses. The parting with Cola was, Dr Field says, the severest trial of the kind of his life.

In June, 1856, he formed a partnership with Dr. Buchanan in Faircastle, Brown county. Dr. Buchanan, like many other drunken doctors, had a reputation far above his merits. Dr. Field had nothing but energy, health and fair qualifications, while Dr. Buchanan had reputation, horses and business. Dr. Field worked his business for all these was in it until the autumn of 1856, when he paid what debts he could, reserving twenty-four dollars, called a meeting of creditors at Mr. Hibben's store, and told them he thought it best for all concerned that he try another location. They all gave their consent. No one asked where he was going and he did not know himself. He then went to Cincinnati and called upon Prof. Wm. Dawson, brother of his preceptor. Dr. Dawson advised him to go south. Leaving his books, diploma and everything else at Hillsboro (which no one had asked him to do), he took the first train to Louisville. Leaving his satchel at a hotel, he walked toward the river, where he saw a sign on a steamboat which read: "Tennessee River This Evening" He returned to the hotel, got his satchel, which contained an overcoat, one shirt and a change of under-clothing, and went on board the boat. The captain said they would go to Eastport, Mississippi, andfather if the stage of water would permit. Dr. Field paid his fare, ten dollars, and had less than ten dollars left. Night came on, and every "thud, thud" of the old steamboat widened the distance between him and every one he had ever known. That was a pretty dark night! About the fourth day Eastport landing was reached. The town was aobut two miles from the landing, and there were plenty of conveyances; but Dr. Field took his little carpet sack and footed it. Cypress trees with big knees, bales of cotton, mules and ox teams, old tumbledown wagons, scantily-clad negroes, sand roads with no sidewalks, were among the first sights. Every man was clad in seedy homespun, and carried a gun. Dr. Field learned that Jacinto was about thirty miles distant, that it was the county seat, and that a state would leave at seven p.m. He paid his fare, four and one-half dollars, and while waiting chanced to step into a drug store. The druggist, Dr. Klice, was very busy filling vials with a dirty-looking mexture labeled "Essence of Tar -- A Cure for All Summer Complaints." Dr. Field opened a vial, and after casual examination the druggist asked if he could tell what it was made of. Dr. Field replied that creosote was the active principle, with solution of extract of licorice and aromatic oil. He said, "You are a doctor." Dr. Field replied, "Yes, I am a sort of doctor." Nothing more was said, but in about half an hour he introduced a man whom he said had had sore eyes for a number of yeras, and asked Dr. Field to prescribe for him. Dr. Field asked permission to go behind his counter, compounded a prescription and gave hima treatment. The patient, one Rutledge asked for the bill. Dr. Field held his breath while he said, "five dollars" having never charged over 50 cents in his life for a prescription. Rutledge paid it with an air that indicated that it might have been twenty.

Dr. Field now had about eight dollars. The stage station at Jacinto was reached the next morning. Dr. Field told the landlord, Robert Davenport, that he was a doctor and had come to live there, but he did not have a medical book, a dose of medicine, or anything else to identify himself with the profession. Everything, even spare clothing, had been left at Hillsboro. The same afternoon the landlord asked him to prescribe for his mother, who had some affliction of the throat. Next day a summons came from a doctor to visit one of his patients with him. The woman had retained placenta after delivery. Dr. Field called for a pan of warm water, and in five minutes removed the source of trouble. He had another call the same evening, two or three the next day, and from that time on had plenty of business.

The horses were of poor quality, but everyone was willing to loan a horse to the young doctor. After about three weeks he saw a man riding a fine large horse across the public square. ONe of his patients was a dry-goods merchant by the name of Jim Dobbins. He said to him: "Dobbins, I saw a horse today that I would like to have." Describing it to Dobbins, the latter said: "That is Gillenwater's horse." Nothing more was said until the next day, when Dobbins came to the hotel and said: "Doc, I have got that horse for you." Dr. Field replied, "I am sorry, for I have nothing to pay except a silver watch and six dollars in money." Dobbins answered: "All right, I will take your watch on the deal, and you keep your money." Dr. Field took the horse, and in six weeks paid Dobbins the last of $150 for him.

Business increased beyond expectations, and Dr. Field saw no patient who died, either his own or in consultation, until after he had done over $1300 worth of business. He was careful to attend stricly to his own business without reference to local social or political conditions. Northern teachers and preachers going south had usually shown aversion to local affairs, especially to slavery. But Dr. Field cut out everything of the sort and, without taking any position on such matters, even when artfullly suggested by negroes, soon had the unstinted friendship of every one. In about three years he had a nice plantation of 240 acres containing an extensive peach orchard, another of eighty acres, town property in Booneville, ten miles distant from Jacinto (where he kept an extra horse for exchange), had paid off his old debts in Ohio, sent money regularly to his mother, and says he never knew what disinterested friendship was until he went south.

But the war cloud was rising in the horizon, and Dr. Field thought it best to return north. In March, 1859 when he returned to Corydon, Iowa, visiting his mother in Ohio on the way. Property accumulated in Mississippi was about three-fourths sacrificed in exchange for wild land in Crawford county, Iowa. He soon had a good practice at Corydon. In 1860 he was elected president of the Wayne County Agricultural Society, and so incidentally became a member of the Iowa State Board of Agriculture, a meeting of which he attended at Des Moines during the winter of 1861, stopping at the Grout House in East Des Moines, kept by T.E Brown and his father-in-law, Mr. Marsh. The topography of the city, with bottom grounds at confluence of the rivers, surrounded in every direction by the well-shaded hills for residences, was to his mind very beautifully adapted to the requirements for a city, and before leaving he had decided to make it his future home. Thither he removed in July, 1863, but soon left for New York for its professional and educational advantages. At that time the elder Austin Flint, James R. Wood, Frank Hamilton, were in the Bellevue faculty, Valentine Mott, Sr., in the University of New York, and Alonzo Clark, Thomas H. Marcoe and Willard Parked in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, medical department of Columbia University. To hear these celebrities Dr. Field matriculated at all three of the above-named medical colleges, his diploma exempting him from paying fees for tuition. From the last-named institution he again graduated in the spring of 1864. The class of 250 consisted largely of graduates of other institutions., M.D., A.B. or A.M. Dr. Field's name was presented at a class meeting as candidate for valedictorian. His opponent was Jas. H. McClain, afterward elected to the chair of practice and president of the faculty. He was defeated by a majority of seven votes, and this defeat Dr. Field always regarded as one of the most flattering as well as most fortunate incidents of his life, because had he been elected he could not have met the expectations of the class. While in New York he was also a student in Bronson School of Elocution in Cooper Institute.

Returning to Des Moines in May, 1864, Dr. Field secured office rooms in the Savery Hotel, now the Kirkwood, just opposite the hotel office, where it took him seven months to discover that the rank and file of citizenship in a city, such as a doctor must depend upon for patronage, is not reached by an office in a big hotel. He then had an office built on leased ground on Third street near Court avenue, and soon had a satisfactory patronage.

W.H. Lease, a gentleman and a scholar, was then mayor. The medical men were Drs. C.H. Rawson, H.L. Whitman, W.P. Davis, Isaac Windle, W.H. Molesworth, W.H. Dickinson, W. H. Ward, A.M. Overman, J.O. Skinner, Geo. and Frank Grimmel, David Beach, D.V. Cole, T.K. Brooks, H.H. Saylor, S.A. Russell, etc. Drs. Hanawalt, Wiley, Cox, Grimes, Carter, Steel and others came later. Dr. Field sold his office to the Western Stage Company. Third street was noisy all night by the arrival and departure of 100 stages, more or less, from all points of the compass. The building still stands and is one of the second-hand junk shops on Third street. After some years the ground was needed for larger buildings and the office was moved to Mulberry street, west of Thirteenth street, and sold for a residence.

The population of the city was about 7,500. The first one-horse express wagon was brought by a man named Davis, who distributed hand-bills announcing the fact. About a year later a number went out east where the Redhead residence now is to meet and welcome the first railroad, now the Keokuk division of the Rock Island.

Rev. Thompson Bird, a typical Presbyterian minister, had organized the Presbyterian church. Will Lehman worked the organ and Major Geo. North led the chor, in which were Louisa Bird, now Mrs. Hyde, Pauline Given, now Mrs. Al. Swalm, and a number of others whose names are forgotten. The major often had some difficulty to preserve good order. The frame church building stood north of the first alley south of the Savery House, now the Kirkwood, and a nice distance back from the street. Mr. Bird said it had been built mostly by his own church members. While not pretentious, it was good and ample for the time. It was destroyed by fire. Mr. and Mrs. A. Newton, Mr. and Mrs. West, Mr. and Mrs. C.P. Luse, Mr. and Mrs. Tac Hussey, were among the members. Dr. Field had brought a letter from Dr. Steel's church in Hillsboro, Ohio, and became a member. The congregation soon after became desirous for a change of ministers, some claiming that Dr. Bird's delivery was not good. With deep regret and sorrow Mr. Bird finally resigned and Dr. Field took a letter to the Congregational church. Mr. Bird's church had all sorts of trouble to find a minister to their liking. There were a number of meetings to consider different candidates. At one of these some one proposed a name with the remark that no one here knew anyting about him. Dr. T.K. Brooks at once said, "That is the man for us. We want a man that no one has ever seen or heard of."

In 1865 Dr. Field was elected city physician, and in 1866 physician for Polk county, and as such had incidentally something to do in locating and establishing the present county farm and county infirmary. In 1866 he was also appointed U.S. examing surgeon for pensioners, in which office he continued, either singly or as secretary of the board of examining surgeons, for eight years. Upon resignation he was appointed upon the board of review in the pension department in Washington, and removed to that city in 1882. He resigned as a member of the review board to continue his work in the Keokuk Medical Collge, having been elected to the chair of physiology and pathology, where he had given one course of lectures the year previous, by government rules not being allowed to hold two lucrative positions at the same time. His rating in the department at Washington was so high that he though he would be restored any time he should apply. IN this he was disappointed. IN 1885 some dissatisfaction between the faculty and management of the Keokuk Medical College resulted in withdrawal and establishment of another college. There was, of course, considerable feeling manifested on both sides, and Dr. Field withdrew entirely from both. He was elected secretary of the Iowa State Medical Society in 1869, 1870 and 1871, and in 1872 was elected president. In 1876 he was elected by the Iowa State Medical Society delegate to and attended the International Medical Congress in Philadelphia. He was twice elected by popular vote mayor of the town of North Des Moines, and during both terms the affairs of the town were conducted without a law-suit or a dollar bonded indebtedness. In 1868 he was elected coroner of Polk county, and in 1878 treasurer of the Forest Home School District, which position he resigned while in Washington.

In 1864, the Savery, now the Kirkwood, was a large hotel for the City of Des Moines. All its appointments were of the best and its social circles were of high order. The "wee small hours" of the night were frequently encroached upon by protracted social enjoyment, and "battle cry of freedom," in which all joined at intervals, re-echoed through the spacious halls. These gaieties were sometimes rather too florid to meet the approval of the staid dignity of Ex-Governor R.P. Lowe, then supreme judge, who on one occasion, retired early to his rrom and locked the door. Mrs. J.C. Savery, being the most wieldy of the crowd, was pushed in through the transom over the door and the judge was compelled to emerge and resume his place in the circle. Major Cavanaugh, E.E. Ainsworth, George Gardner and a score of other good fellows were then denizens of the Savery.

Dr. Field has been an active member of various medical and scientific societies, including the American Medical Association, American Society of Microscopists, American Association for the Advancement of Science, etc. Charter member Iowa Academy of Sciences. He is also a member of the Iowa State Bar Association, having taken a course in the law department of Simpson Centenary College and received the degree of L.L.B. in 1879, at which time he was also admitted to the supreme court, but never engaged in the practice of law.

In 1869 he invented an instrument for impinging the spray of medicinal substances directly upon the mucous surfaces of canals and cavities, illustrated and described in the May Number, 1869, of the Medical and Surgical Reporter, Philadelphia. Some other publications are as follows:
"Report on Spotted Fever," Transactions of American Medical Association, 1865; "Hernia in Children," New York Medical Record, September, 1869; "Anomalous Human Head," St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal, March, 1867; "Medical Aspect of Iowa," Chicago Medical Journal, March 22, 1867; "Decapitation at Transverse Presentations," New York Medical Record, April, 1868; "History of Medication by Atomized Medicinal Substances," Report to the American Medical Association, 1868; "Puerperal Convulsions and Glycogenesis," Clinic Cincinnati, Ohio, April 1874; "Present Attitude of Medical Science," president's annual address Iowa State Medical Society pamphlet, 1872; "Elimination in Disease," Northwestern Medical and Surgical Journal, St. Paul, April, 1874; Mildews on Grapevines," Iowa School Journal, July, 1874; "Physiology and Hygiene as a Branch of Popular Education," report of committee, Iowa State Medical Society, Sanitarium, New York, September, 1875; "Cellars and Diphtheria," New York Medical Record, December, 1875; "Doctors and Newspapers," before Iowa State Mecial Society, rejected, Tilden's Journal of Materia Medica, New York, January, 1876; address before annual meeting of the Iowa Association Railway Surgeons, Railway Surgeon, November, 1903; "Criticism of Brown Physiology," slip to school board, Des Moines.

In 1895 he devised a "Musculotension Meter" to determine the extent of softening of muscles in paralyses, manufactured by Truax, Green & Co., Chicago, Journal of American Medical Association. In 1889 he devised a universal stand for microscopy, photo-micrography and copying, illustrated and described in Photographic Mosiacs, New Your, 1890. In 1897 he successfully photographed through a six-inch Clark telescope a five-inch image of the moon, showing mountains and craters in considerable detail, without the aid of any special lens or other accessory except a box camera; Pupular Science, New York, January, 1898. At the meeting of the American Medical Association in BAltimore, 1895, before the opthalmic section, and also before the Columbus meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, he read a paper on "Bright Light in School Rooms a Cause for Myopia," with proposed remedy and means for measuring the intensity of light in school-rooms. This paper was an attempt to show the fallacy and damage of the popular doctrine that "the more light in the school room the better," and that the abuse or careless use of such bright light, together with near vision, are responsible for a very large per cent of the myopics who emanate from the schools. The subject was illustrated by a rectinlinear photographic lens, to show that back focus recedes with reduction of the diaphragm. The stimulus of bright light contacts the iris and thus reduces the pupil or diaphragm of the eye, thereby elongating the eyeball. Near vision does the same thing, and the persistent strain thus placed upon the accommodative apparatus results in the immobility which constitutes myopis or near signtedness, which being long continued as in school room work, overcomes the natural elasticity of the accommodative apparatus, and permanent and incurable myopia results. The intelligent and careful use of peoper shades to modify the light, and free use of distant vision by blackboard exercises, are recommended as preventatives. Published in the Journal of American Medical Association, September 21, 1895; also synopsis in Popular Science, New York, July, 1895.

He began experiments in photo-micrography in 1883 and is one of the pioneers in that line of work. Of late he has given considerable attention to the microscipy of the natural sciences, in cluding biology, histology, bacteriology, etc. and it was with a view to popularizing that line of work that the Des Moines School of Technology was organized in 1884, which has not yet been pushed to success. At various times he has appeared before medical and scientific societies, illustrating the subjects treated of by photo-micrographic lantern slides of his own production, in which line of work he has acquired a considerable degree of proficiency.

In May, 1877 he married Hattie Weatherby, daughter of Edmond Weatherby of Cardington, Ohio, born in Seneca, New York, and Orrel Sawyer Weatherby, a native of Yates county, New York. Three children have been born, Dalton Arthur, December 19, 1884, being the only survivor, is manager of a large fruit association in California.

In religion Dr. Field is Calvanistic Presbyterian; in politics a prohibition republican.

Dr Field has been no small factor in the ubilding of Des Moines. He located and gave the ground for Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth streets from University avenue to Forest avenue. He has built more than a mile of paving, more than a mile of sewers, more than a mile of sidewalks, more than a mile of curbing at an outlay of more than sixty thousand dollaars. In addition he has built nineteen good eight and nine room houses that are among the good residences of the city. They are well shaded by old gigantic elms, some of which have a circumference of fourteen feet three fee from the ground, and with branches that spread more than eighty feet. By buying small places north of North street he has been enabled to locate and establish Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth streets to Forest avenue. All this he has done single handed and alone and without misunderstanding or controversies. In business he has been careful to have a clear understanding to deal only wit those of good business reputation and to be always ready to perfom his part of the contract to the letter.

Retrospectively, Dr. Field can say that if he could live his life over again the chances are that on the whole he would not be likely to do better. while he is conscious of having prolonged some useful lives, he is conscious also of many short-comings in which he did not do his best, and in which he might have been more kind and considerate to his friends and to those near and dear to him; and he is not unmindful of the scores of noble and faithful horses that in seventy years of active life have been helpers and in hundreds of instances his only companions. (pgs 191-209)

Return to -F- biographies

Return to the Table of Contents

Home to Iowa History Project