I have been asked by the editor to write a history of medicine of the
county in its pioneer days, and it has occurred to me to attempt to begin my
account in the
year 1875, the date of my advent into the county, and carry
it down to the
year 1895. This I recognize to be arbitrary, and rather
unsatisfactory, but I have no material on which to construct a history before the first named date, and there are other men in active work more fitted
to write a history after the last named year.
In attempting this task, I recognize that I have no peculiar fitness for the work, but I am also aware that I am the only living person who has a good knowledge of events occurring in that early period. Reminiscences are usually pleasant to the old, at least, and if this account should produce as much weariness to the reader as it has pleasure to the writer, the account between the parties will be considered as balanced.
A history of any country should describe its geographical and physical characteristics, and the character, race, religion, and the physiological and mental characteristics of its inhabitants. A medical history is only concerned with the last two subjects.
About seventy per cent, of the early settlers of Osceola county were veterans of the Civil War, and the same is true of northwest Iowa. These veterans stacked arms, married their sweethearts, worked for a while until they could get a yoke of cattle, a few cows and a little money, and in 1871 made a location in this beautiful region. The following year they brought their families and made their permanent homes in this section of the state.
What happened to them will be told by others. I can only state that at the date of my location many had given up the fight and left the country; many had migrated to Sibley, barely a majority still remained on their farms, and practically all were very poor. Some of these old soldiers were suffering from the effects of gunshot wounds, and still more of them from the effects of a strenuous army life. I was appointed examining surgeon for pensions in 1876 and, at the
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biennial examination for that
year, forty-three were examined, forty-one for
gunshot wounds and two for hernia. At that date it was not generally
known that a man could be
pensioned for disease. Amongst this number,
I wish to mention W.B. Reed, a private, who bore on his person six gunshot wounds and three shell wounds; probably, history records no man with
more numerous or more severe wounds. This hero succumbed
this examination to blood
poisoning, due to the opening of a wound in the
shoulder and the breast; his remains rest in the Holman
cemetery, and he should be honored by a suitable monument.
A history of medicine in the county should commence with some account of the early practitioners. From common report, I believe that Bela D. Churchill was the first to practice in the county. He was probably an army nurse and, on his arrival, as there were no doctors, he had to do something in the way of practice. As nearly as I can learn, he met with indifferent success. Whether he ever opened an office in Sibley I have not ascertained.
Dr. J.M. Jenkins lived on a farm about a mile southeast of Sibley. I learn that he was formerly an army surgeon, and a very good practitioner, but never devoted all his time to the practice of medicine while residing in the county. He left shortly before my advent, and I never met him but once, but believe him to have been a good man. After leaving here, he located in LeMars but stayed there only a short time. He retired from practice and removed to a stock farm in Sioux county, where he died many years ago.
Dr. C.L. Gurney was the first man in the county who devoted his whole time to the practice of medicine. He located at Sibley in 1875, a few months prior to my appearance on the scene. He first located on a homestead near Ashton in 1872. As nearly as I can learn, he was employed in some capacity by a doctor in Fayette, Iowa, and came from that place to Ashton. He was of Quaker extraction, and a church of that persuasion being located west of Ashton, and there being no doctor anywhere in that region, the fact that he knew anything about medicine was sufficient to draft him into the work. He was a cripple, due to a tubercular trouble of the knee, and because of this affliction he was finally induced to give up farming and devote all of his time to medicine. Accordingly he sold his farm and located in Sibley, as before mentioned. I found Dr. Gurney to be an estimable man, and, considering his limitations, quite a successful practitioner. He made but little pretensions to knowing much about medi-
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cine. As I recollect, he had no surgical instruments, and his library consisted of a work on domestic medicine and Tilden's appendix to the Materia
Medica. When he wanted a
prescription, he consulted that work, in which
there was a formula for
every disease. I well remember a ride I made
with the Doctor. A man, a patient of the Doctor's, came to the road and
displayed a fibroid tumor of the hand. Dr. Gurney told the man that it
would be a
pleasure for him to remove it. Afterwards, I asked the Doctor
why he had not performed the operation; his reply was characteristic, "I
anything about anatomy and might cut something," meaning
an artery, I suppose. At the time mentioned he enjoyed a considerable
practice, but under the circumstances, it soon began to wane. Our friendship continued until his death. During his residence in Sibley he took a vacation, and graduated at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Keokuk,
Iowa, although he was only absent about six months. In 1880 he removed
to Sheldon, and in 1884 became a member of the Sheldon board of United
States examining surgeons for pensions. Dr. Longshore and myself being
the other members. About 1886 the Doctor sold his
practice to Dr. Myers,
and removed to Rock
Rapids, where he suffered an amputation of his diseased
leg. He immediately removed to Doon, Iowa, where he opened a
drug store, and in connection with his business, practiced medicine. He
died there about 1900.
In writing a history of medicine, it is thought best to treat first on the surgery of the region. It is more spectacular, better remembered, and has more human interest than the history of disease. For obvious reasons, the names of patients, both surgical and medical, will be omitted.
amputation, that of the leg, by resident surgeons, occurred
August 11, 1876. This was performed on the person of a male child, a
patient of Dr. Gurney's. This was due to an accident. The child had
crawled into a wheat field and fallen
asleep, and the reaper, driven by the
father, nearly severed the leg. The child recovered and is now living in
The next amputation was made July 11, 1877, and was the leg of a female child six years of age. In this operation I had to give my own anesthetic. The child made a quick recovery.
The next amputation, also of the leg, occurred July 15, 1878. A female child bringing water to her father in the wheat field got before the machine
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and the leg was so badly mangled that it had to be amputated. I had no assistance in the operation. The patient is still living in the county.
During the time which this history covers, practically all kinds of fractures were treated and with only one fatality, due to a fracture at the base of the skull of a baby, caused by the kick of a horse. The child only lived about two hours after the accident. During these twenty years, splints were manufactured at the time of the dressing, and were made of tin, wood, leather, paper or plaster. Among the fractures in this period, were two fractures of the jaw, one simple, the other compound. Strange to say, there was one fracture of the thigh, due to a fall from a tree. In all the time but one bad result is noted; this was due to a compound fracture of the leg, treated at first by another practitioner, and, I regret to say, very indifferently. When I first saw it, immediate amputation was necessary, the operation was made August 7, 1883, and the patient recovered. In this operation I gave my own ether, and my books show that I received fourteen dollars for the operation and later treatment. Two other amputations may be mentioned as the result of fractures, one for the crushing of a hand in a machine, the other for the crushing of the fingers by the bite of a man. The latter resulted in blood poisoning, and necessitated the amputation of the forearm.
They were not very numerous and were generally of the shoulder joint. Most of them were quickly reduced without an anesthetic. No account of the number can be given on account of lack of space.
During this period I have notes of twenty-nine cases treated, with only three deaths. There were seven operations for the disease, all for appendiceal abscess except the last, in which case the appendix was removed. One death was noted after an operation in 1894, due to inflammatory adhesions one week after operation. The first operation in the county for the disease occurred August 8, 1888. In this operation I was assisted by Dr. Stoner of Rock Rapids. The patient made a speedy recovery. There were two cases treated medically which died, both fulminant cases, terminating
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in death within less than forty-eight hours. Thus, there were twenty-two cases treated medically, with two deaths, and seven operative cases, with one death. It is probably true that all of the seven cases would have died if they had not been subjected to operation.
Cases of the disease were not numerous. I have notes of three cases of cancer of the lip that were subjected to operation. The first operation was in the case of an old man. There was no recurrence of the disease before the death of the patient with pneumonia later the same year. The next operation was in the case of a man about fifty years of age and occurred October 5, 1885. Besides removing the lip, the glands of the neck and jaw were extirpated. Recurrence set in six months later with fatal result. The next operation was performed August 15, 1889, recurrence setting in four months later with fatal termination. The first operation for sarcoma was performed May 7, 1878. This was on the person of an aged woman and was for sarcoma of the humerus. I operated without any assistant. The patient died March 8, 1879, due to a general metastasis of the disease. The only successful operation for cancer of the breast that I have to report occurred July 21, 1892. In this operation I was assisted by Dr. Cram of Sheldon, and another doctor from Sanborn. The patient was about forty years of age. The operation was a complete one, the breast and glands of the armpit being removed. This woman is still living, and, I believe, is the only one who has survived five years, although many have been subjected to operation.
The first operation for this disease occurred in a case of a boy of sixteen years and was performed November 1, 1890. In this operation I was assisted by Dr. Cram of Sheldon and Dr. Ely of Ocheyedan. The lad recovered. I believe this to be the first operation for the disease attempted in northwestern Iowa. The next case, also successful, was on a man about forty years of age and was due to chronic disease of the bladder. I was also assisted in this operation by Dr. Cram.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 633
Two fatal cases have occurred. One died before I could reach him, and the other, with a gunshot wound in the abdomen, died of internal hemorrhage in about two hours after being shot.
In the early days this was the most widely disseminated of all the acute diseases, especially in the autumn of the year. During the first decade the cases were very numerous, but the mortality was very light, not averaging much more than five per cent. During the second decade the cases were less numerous, but the mortality was much higher, being fully twenty per cent. It is my belief that the disease was mostly due to infected flies, for most of the cases originated in the country, where at that time the houses were rarely screened. But few cases appeared in Sibley and these could in most cases be traced to an infection from the country. The youngest case noted occurred in a child of three months and the oldest in a man of seventy-eight. I have observed but one recovery from the disease in a person over fifty-five years of age. In the case of the baby referred to above, the mother having the disease, a young girl took the baby to her home and slept with it. In consequence, the girl contracted the disease, and, I regret to state, died in less than three weeks after the onset of the disease.
This disease was present in a sporadic form during the whole period that this history covers. I wish to give an account of the heroism of a young woman, before giving a history of the great epidemic of 1885 and subsequent years. This incident occurred near the present town of Ocheyedan, in December, 1879. I was called to the stricken home and found a child dying from the disease and two other children very ill; the weather was very cold; the room in which the children were lying was very poorly ventilated and kept very warm. The sick child died that night, and on the occasion of my next visit, I found Nellie Boyd in the room taking care of the children. I asked her why she was present and she replied that some one had to do it. She then asked me if I thought that she would contract the disease if she stayed. I replied that it was practically impossible for any one to stay and not be infected. She looked at me a moment and
634 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
quietly replied : "Doctor, I counted the cost when I came and I will stay,
for I would rather
stay here and die than run the risk of bringing this disease to my loved ones." Within three days, the fatal disease seized her
forty-eight hours terminated her young life.
The great epidemic of the disease had its inception in eastern Lyon county, in February, 1885. On the occasion of my first visit I told the parents what the disease was, and urged them not to allow any one to come into the house. But as there were no health boards in existence at the time, I found the house crowded with neighbors at my next visit. I was much annoyed and told them that they and their families were in great danger. They resented this warning as impertinent and told me they were not afraid. Of course, the disease spread, and during the following spring and summer eighty-one cases occurred with twenty-seven deaths. Of the cases of nasal diphtheria, nearly all succumbed, the recoveries being in older children and adults. Strange to relate, although the epidemic lingered until the winter of 1887, only one adult‐a young woman‐died. At the last named date, the county supervisors finally gave me authority to stop the disease without any reference to expense. Obeying orders, I employed a competent man to assist me, and the first point of attack was the residence of an old lady. This good woman had carried the disease in a virulent form to several families and had actually caused the death of fourteen children. I burned all the beds and bedding in the house and most of the clothing, and thoroughly disinfected it. The same was done in two other homes, and finally the plague was stayed. Since that time but few cases of the disease have appeared in the county and, thanks to antitoxin, with but light mortality.
This is the only other epidemic to be noted. It occurred in the summer and autumn of 1875 and caused several deaths in Sibley and the surrounding country. No cause can be ascertained for this epidemic and since that period but few cases have occurred. These have been mostly in children under ten years of age and generally of light mortality.
This occurred every year but generally in a very light form. Two deaths in children are noted, one as the result of a surgical operation. The
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 635
other child died from acute Bright's disease. The child seemingly did not have the disease, but had slept with her sister who undoubtedly had the disease. The small mortality is difficult to explain, as usually the mortality is considerable in this disease.
Cases of the disease were very numerous, at times approaching the character of an epidemic, but with no mortality from the disease itself. I have notes of four cases of death from its sequelae. One peculiar incident must be quoted, viz: two attacks of the disease occurring in a patient within six weeks.
This scourge in all its protean forms was always present, but not common in young children, the disease being mostly among adults or adolescents. There were two fatal cases of tuberculous meningitis in adults. This is very rare except in young children. The mortality from the disease, on the whole, was light. I note two operations for tuberculous glands of the neck, one operated on in 1888, still living; the other having disappeared. There were three operations for tuberculous disease of the hip joint‐two recoveries and one death. I performed one operation for tuberculosis of the knee with death of bone‐resection of six inches of the femur. The patient never fully recovered but lived about twenty years.
This was not infrequent, and eight operations were performed for its relief. While at the time no deaths occurred, and in every case there was a partial recovery, six of these cases have died from tuberculosis, while the history of the other two is unknown. This is a strong inference that the disease is always of tuberculous origin.
Neither lobar nor catarrhal pneumonia were especially frequent, and the mortality was very light considering the grave nature of the malady.
636 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
With the exception of nasal catarrh, this was the most common disease. Unhappily, this seems to be incurable, and only relief, in this climate, can be expected.
This was not especially frequent, and only two deaths occurred. Both were due to high temperature which caused death in a few hours.
In all its forms eczema was very frequent, due, I believe, to the irritating winds of the region. I have often remarked "that a doctor who could not treat eczema successfully had no business in Osceola county."
Four cases of this disease occurred in 1879 and 1880, with one death. As far as known, no cases have occurred since.
Influenza first appeared in the county in 1889, and has been present
ever since, at times being almost an epidemic. It has been a great outlet
for human life,
especially so in the aged and in those depressed in health.
In the preceding pages I have tried to give a brief history of the surgery and practice of medicine in the county from 1875 to 1895, inclusive. I fully appreciate its fragmentary character, but space will not admit of its fuller treatment. Many interesting cases of disease have not been mentioned, for the reason that they might not prove interesting, and further, space would not admit of an extended discussion.
I was born of Scotch-Irish parentage on April 19, 1844, at Granby, province of Quebec, a frontier settlement near the Vermont line. I lived there until 1855 when my parents moved to Hennepin county, then the territory of Minnesota, where the family located on a homestead near
O BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 637
Lake Minnetonka. I went to school for a short time each winter in a log school house and
grew up as "verdant" as the foliage of the trees that surrounded our
log cabin, At the opening of the Civil War the family
scattered. In all, six of us enlisted, this including brothers by marriage.
One died in the service in 1862, one was killed at Gettysburg, one died at
the Wilderness, one was badly wounded at Cold Harbor and died afterwards on account of his wounds, one dragged out a miserable existence
years on account of ill health, and the writer, when mustered
out, weighed one hundred and eighteen pounds. At the close of the war,
I had thirteen hundred dollars and, by working summers, and going to
school the rest of the
year, was finally "ground out" by the University of
Michigan in March, 1871.
Here a digression is necessary to show how a doctor was prepared to cope with the numerous ills of humanity forty-one years ago. I hold no brief for the University of Michigan when I state that it was above the average of medical schools in its requirements at that date, for it required two sessions of six months each. It gave two courses of lectures and only one of these courses could be taken in one year. Thus, in order to graduate, a man had to pursue the study of medicine two years, while in numerous medical schools, you could enter in October and be a full-fledged doctor the next June.
Theprofessors in the University of Michigan had written lectures, and the same lectures were used at both sessions, with the exception of the professor of anatomy, who had no written lectures and was really the greatest anatomist of his time with this exception. The time of the student would have been more properly spent in reading text books. There were about two hundred who graduated in 1871, mostly Union and Confederate soldiers, all quite as ignorant as myself.
We had not seen an amputation, had not attended an obstetrical case, had examined no cases of disease, had seen no fracture, knew nothing of asepsis or antisepsis, but we were well drilled on the materia medica. Now a medical education like the above was considered first class at that time. and so it is seen that a large share of the doctors who flocked to the frontier had no real medical education whatever. Some went West after a little study in a doctor's office; some with no study at all. One prominent practitioner was an end man in a minstrel show, another was a street car conductor. The minstrel man attained to such a practice that he actually died of overwork. While it was impossible for a man to be prepared for
638 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
the work that was laid on his shoulders, still, it must be conceded, that,
taken as a whole, we pioneer doctors were a "rotten lot."
My outfit on starting out consisted of the following: Flint's Practice, Smith's Diseases of Children, Meig's Obstetrics and Diseases of Women, Erichsen's Surgery, Dalton's Physiology and Gray's Anatomy. I had a pocket case of instruments, a few tooth forceps, an amputating case, and a pair of saddlebags. I did not at that time have a horse, and worst of all, did not have a fur coat.
I located in a town in southwestern Minnesota in February, 1872, and here my troubles commenced. I think I cursed the day of my birth every day for at least six months, and on some days cursed it twice for good luck. Some of my mistakes were tragic, some were funny, but all were intensely interesting to me at that period of my existence; some were doubtlessly interesting to my poor patients. I can only say that thrice and four times happy was Sibley to have missed me at the time I was learning to be a physician. I was finally forced to leave my first location on account of the grasshopper scourge and, after practicing a year in eastern Minnesota, came to Sibley with my horse on October 16, 1875. I had two hundred and twelve dollars when I arrived, and that was practically all the money I had on earth after spending about four years in honest if not skillful practice.
I am glad to say that the people of Osceola county took me at once to their hearts and I soon had a good practice. But there was no money to be had, the board for myself and horse was a dollar a day, and by the next spring I was absolutely penniless. I had spent what money I brought with me to Sibley as well as the little that remained when I entered practice four years previously. Still, I was not discouraged. I loved the people, loved the work and the country, and never thought of leaving.
How I existed for the first few years, I do not know, for my ledger for 1876 shows that I only received $315. In this connection I will state for the benefit of some young medical students that my gross receipts from my medical practice from 1872 to 1912, inclusive, was about $74,500. At least two thousand dollars of this was for the examination of pensioners. Did I earn it? I think you will agree that I did after reading my story.
In 1878, realizing my limitations, I borrowed some money and went to New York City and in 1879 graduated from the Bellevue Hospital Medical College. This I afterwards supplemented with a course at the New York Polyclinic, and thus was much better fitted for the duties of my profession.
Although I was in debt in the sum of three hundred dollars, on October 1, 1879, I was married to Ella J. Whitney, a teacher of the county, and it
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 639
was a good investment, for she made a present to me of herself, and with
it a world of love. To this union three children were born, all girls and all
The rest of my life is so well known that it would be useless to recount any of its incidents. For the benefit of future generations I will now relate some of the many interesting experiences of my forty years of practice in this county, and I trust that no one will be able to recognize any of the actors that I will throw on the screen of memory.
In the medical history of the county, I have purposely written nothing about its midwifery, believing that the subject could be better elucidated by a relation of cases. I will state that I came into the county with an experience of four years, most varied and stormy experiences, with more bad cases than the ordinary physician would have had in twenty years of practice. As each case presents a risk of life to two human beings, it naturally is the greatest responsibility which can confront the physician. I have always approached each and every case with a prayer that I might be able to assist the suffering mother to bring safely a human being into the world, and I will state that I left no woman undelivered during my whole residence in Sibley. I never had assistance and, if responsible for any death, it is related in these reminiscences. As will be noted, I have not confined myself to the subject of midwifery alone, but have tried to make a pen picture of a frontier doctor's life. I will not attempt to separate the tragic, or the comic, but will relate them just as they occur to memory.
I was called to see a woman in twin labor, and on my arrival found the woman dead from hemorrhage, one of the children dressed, and the other in the body of the dead mother. The husband, for fear of expense, would not send for a doctor until the women in attendance sternly ordered him to do so. Here were two lives snuffed out in which there was a fighting chance to save one and an absolute certainty in the case of the other. I was called to see a woman during a storm and arrived about midnight. I found the patient very ill with a distinct odor of sepsis. I at once asked the husband what he had been doing. He replied, "She would not have any more children." Upon my asking by what means she had attempted to procure the abortion, he produced the remains of an old pitchfork, one of the tines of which had been broken. With this she had evidently pierced the womb in her mad attempt. She died that night and in looking over the little brood of half-clothed children I could hardly condemn her. I trust her Savior took the same view.
I was attending a Norwegian woman, who was very ill after a severe
640 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
labor, and at times suffered severe pain, necessitating the use of morphine.
present noticed that when I administered a dose of morphine,
quiet. They greatly admired the effect of these "leetle powders,"
and the baby being peevish and crying a great deal, they reasoned that the
morphine tablets would be good for the baby. They gave it one; it fell
asleep, and it still slumbers.
I was called to see a woman, who had been in labor for sixteen hours, and found her absolutely exhausted, and the unborn baby with a presentation that made it absolutely impossible for it to be born by any effort of nature. The doctor in attendance had made the diagnosis, but why he had not called for assistance sooner I do not know. I saw it was a case of the destruction of the child, or of turning and delivering it by the feet. As the woman was greatly exhausted, I chose the latter alternative, and delivered a living child. Although I used extreme care, the womb was ruptured and the woman died. To tell the truth, the agony of mind that this case occasioned me I cannot express, and to this day it is an incubus.
After these sober memories, it might be refreshing to the reader to learn something of the humorous that occurs in a doctor's life. I was called to see a woman, who, the husband stated, was about to be confined. I found the woman in bed with women in attendance. On examination, I found that she was not pregnant and so stated. Both the woman and her husband said I was badly mistaken, that they had been married nine months, had complied with all the prerequisites, and they were going to have a baby. This sounds like a fairy tale, but it is the truth.
Two married sisters were living in the same house. One of the sisters was confined about two weeks previous to the episode which I am about to relate, and I noticed at the time that the other sister was very much interested in the progress of the case. One night about two A. M. I was called to go to the same house. When I arrived I found the sister, who had not been confined, in what seemed to be all the pangs of labor. I learned that I had been called, but not being at home, they had procured another doctor, who had remained with her for twenty-four hours with no result. The husband became dissatisfied, discharged him, and called a little cock-eyed Englishman, who pretended to be a doctor. He stayed with her for another twenty-four hours, and then told the husband that the child could not be born without a Caesarian operation (opening of the abdomen), and that he would go to his office and prepare for the operation. He evidently thought better of it, and went into hiding. At this juncture I was sent for. Upon examination I found that she was not pregnant, and so in&das;
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 641
formed her, and told her I wanted her to quit her fooling, discharge her
attendants, get up and get me some breakfast, which she did. This was a
hysteria on her part induced by suggestion‐but what ailed the other
I was called to see a German woman and found the whole neighborhood at her bedside, most of them weeping. The woman would make explosive sounds in her throat and then her whole body would spring about eight inches upward. Then she would subside for about a minute and the gymnastics would be repeated. I learned that this had been going on for more than twenty-four hours, with the result that the woman and her friends needed rest. I had no medicine that I thought would fit the case, but I had heard of an old remedy for hysteria, that I thought might fit the case. I asked with all soberness for a hammer and a kettle of hot water. I put the hammer in the water and waited until it was thoroughly hot and then applied it to the patient's spine. It produced a very satisfactory redness, and relieved the gymnastics effectually. On leaving I told the patient that if the attack returned again the hammer was to be reapplied. The attack did not return.
I was called to see a case of labor and made a ride of twenty-four miles across an unsettled prairie. I found a woman that had been in labor for three days. She actually, on account of the agonizing pain, had almost lost the semblance of a human being. Her people had given her up for lost. Happily, I delivered her of a dead child in about ten minutes. The people present did everything but worship me. On leaving the husband said, "Doctor, I am a very poor man, but if there is anything about this place that you want, just take it with my blessing." I am impelled to state that being able to do a service to these good people gratified me more than anything in my poor career.
Oh, women! surrounded by love, luxury and pleasant environments, think of the sufferings, both physical and mental, so imperfectly portrayed in these pages, of your sisters during maternity and childbirth! Imagine yourself in labor in a shack out on the distant prairie, with women as ignorant as yourself, or alone with a frantic husband and a fierce wintry storm raging! Then thank God that you are not a woman of the seventies.
In a novel by "Ian McLaren" there is a story of an old doctor and his horse, and I think it not inappropriate to give a brief sketch of "Moro," my matchless bay gelding (born 1867, died 1894), which was almost my only means of transportation for about twenty years. If it had not been for (41)
642 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
that noble animal, I would have been financially unable to give proper service
to the people of the county in the early years of its settlement. I believe
that he was the best horse that ever lived, and to say that I drove him a
distance more than twice around the world, is susceptible of mathematical
proof. That would be less than ten miles a day and therefore three times
around would be nearer the truth. I swam rivers with him several times
in order to reach
patients; twice he saved me from injury by jumping from
falling bridges, and at times I got him into snow drifts that no other
animal could have extricated himself. He never was tired, and always was
as playful as a kitten.
Speaking of snow drifts recalls an incident of pioneer life. On a morning in March, at a time when the snow was melting, I approached a ravine that contained an enormous snow bank. Having entire confidence in his great strength I rode, right into it, and immediately both horse and rider dropped into its depths and almost disappeared. I managed to get out of the saddle and crawled in front of him. At once the noble animal jumped right over me and plunged me into the snow and water. After a while I managed to get out in his wake, but was wet from head to foot. At a short distance ahead was a one-room shanty, and I approached it at a gallop; a woman came to the door, and I told her '"explanations were useless," and gave her my name. She said that her husband had some clothes that she thought I could use, and at once produced them, saying, "I will go out to the stable and look for some eggs and when you are ready call me." She went to the stable and I changed into her husband's clothes. On my return trip, she had my clothes dried, again she went to the stable for eggs, and the incident was closed. My opinion at that time was that the woman was an angel and it is still unchanged.
Referring to the subject of typhoid fever: in the novel "Beside the Bonny Briar Bush" by "Ian McLaren," he tells of the old doctor who carried water all night to reduce the temperature of a delirious patient; that was fiction. At the risk of being called egotistical, I wish to relate an incident that is not fiction, and the patient and the doctor are still living. It occurred north of Sibley in 1879. I was attending three brothers in one house who were ill with the disease. Two of the brothers were convalescing at this particular visit, but the other had a temperature of 106, and was wildly delirious with very grave symptoms. I knew that a cold bath was imperative, for cold sponging had not reduced the temperature. Of course, there was no bath tub, but there was a pork barrel outside. As the mother was tired, I filled the barrel with water from the well, removed the patient's
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 643
shirt, dumped him into the barrel and watched him for fifteen minutes.
temperature markedly subsided, I pulled him out of the barrel
dried him and
shortly afterward he fell into a quiet slumber. I directed
the barrel to remain, and if he became delirious again to repeat the bath.
The bath was repeated twice and he eventually recovered.
In this connection I wish to relate an unusual incident in typhoid fever, viz: acute delirium in the early stage of the disease, although insanity is not uncommon as its sequelae. I was called in consultation by a neighboring practitioner in the capacity of a commissioner on insanity. I noted that the doctor told me to "go right in," but did not go in himself. Later I learned that the patient had driven the doctor away with a shotgun that morning. On examination I found a well developed case of typhoid fever. Under cold sponging, he soon rested, eventually recovered and is still living in the county.
surgical curiosity, I wish to relate the following case : The woman was about
fifty years of age, truly a "mother in Israel" and one of my
warmest friends. She
gave a history of severe attacks of pain in the stomach, which at times would necessitate the inhalation of chloroform to relieve
agony. These attacks of pain had recurred at irregular intervals for
years. Sometimes I would lose four nights sleep in succession in order to
make her condition bearable. This continued for
years, until, on account
my absence from the town, she came under the care of the late Dr.
Gurney and under his care she died. When I first attended her she complained of her breast, and I noted an opening into the gland, which, she said,
had existed for
years. At times the breast would swell, an abscess form and
discharge through the opening, and when the medical attendant would introduce
forceps, a needle or a pin would be extracted. She showed me quite a
collection of these pins and needles. In some way. I was skeptical, for I
believed that her former doctor had deceived her, but after about four
months' attendance, an abscess formed, which I opened and introduced a
probe that revealed a foreign body, which on extraction proved to be a.pin.
In about three months the same
process was repeated, and this time it proved
to be a needle. Then the opening in the breast healed and no more were
extracted. This woman was not a
hysterical subject nor was she a malinger, if she had been either, more pins would have been forthcoming. The
reader can form his own conclusions.
I feel that I have related too many of these reminiscences. Others
644 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA
there are, just as sad. just as tragic and just as humorous, but those related. I trust, will give the reader some idea of a pioneer doctor's life. If space would permit, I would like to make some acknowledgment of the great kindness bestowed on me by some of the living, and more by those of the dead. To the former, and more especially to the noble women that so freely trusted me. I tender my heartfelt gratitude; to the memory of the latter I consecrate an undying love. Of the hard drives, the cold, the wet. the sleepless nights, the worry and anxiety of such a life, there can be no record unless in the book of God's remembrance, and in that Book which records "even a cup of cold water," let us trust that the pioneer doctors will, at least, have a red mark.
Dr. Wilder came to Sibley from Atlantic, Iowa, in 1885. While the profession never took him seriously as a doctor, it liked him as a man. Reserved in his manner and inclined to be secretive, yet he was always genial and met the world with a smile. With one exception, I never heard him make an unkind remark of any one, and on this occasion he was abundantly justified and ought to have caned the villainous doctor. He was the most self-centered man the writer ever knew, had no library, but few instruments. never read a medical journal, and seemed to be perfectly satisfied with his attainments and gloried in his past experience. I never knew that the Doctor had ever practiced surgery until one day, during the writer's absence, he walked into his office, amputated an arm, using the writer's instruments, and performed the operation in good shape. His practice was mostly confined to obstetrics and diseases of women, and he seemed to enjoy the confidence of his patients. He was a strict follower of Hahnemann, and confined himself entirely to that materia medica. The Doctor in his last illness (diabetes) dosed himself with large amounts of sugar, thus showing his faith in "similia similibus curantur." Although the Doctor, like every one else, had his faults, nevertheless, he was a lovable man.
Dr. W.S. Webb was born in Wisconsin about 1860. He graduated from Rush Medical College in 1884 and came to Sibley the same year. Nothing is known of his early history more than that his mother wras a widow, and that he was a self-made man in every respect. He came to Sibley with but few books, less instruments, and absolutely penniless. He was
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associated with Dr. Neill in practice until 1886, when he removed to Ellsworth, Minnesota, where he practiced his profession until 1888. He then removed to Worthington, Minnesota, entered into practice with Dr. Curran, and died there from typhoid fever in 1894. The Doctor was a good, conscientious man, strictly honest and fair in his dealings with his confreres, society, and his patients. His was an impulsive nature, easily excited, but yet under control. He was a good practitioner, a diligent student, and well informed on medical subjects. If his life had been prolonged he would have made an excellent surgeon. Like a good many doctors, he knew nothing about finance and the only estate he left was the love and respect of his medical brethren and a small life insurance policy.
Dr. Neill has given quite a sketch of his experience of his forty years
practice of medicine in Osceola county, now who is to tell something of Dr. Neill? Probably there is no one better qualified for that task
than the editor of these sketches, as he was here before Dr. Neill came and
is still on the map.
It has been a rare experience to be blessed with health and strength to come into a new country and stand the hardships of so many years' practice and be alive to tell the tale. Dr. Neill is not only alive but well and strong. Although he is past seventy years of age he is well and strong and has every appearance of a man of much younger age. One would not think he had buffeted the storms and defied the weather of all the seasons, night and day, in this rigorous and changeable climate for so many years. He left in 1913 for a tour around the world, a trip which no one of his age, except he be well and strong, would dare to undertake. He and his old horse, Morro, were for a long time the most familiar figures known in this county and many times, especially in stormy winter weather, their appearance driving into an afflicted settler's yard were looked upon as a Godsend. He has assisted hundreds of children in making their advent into this world of smiles and tears, has seen many of these same children married and helped them in turn to bring in their children; he has wept with them in their bereavement in the loss of some of their dear ones, when their loss seemed unbearable. Amid all this work and worry and exhausting hardship he was never too weary to respond to a call for help. If, as he says, he was not very well qualified for the tasks he undertook he was endowed with a good mind and quickly learned by experience, that best of all schools, and soon was verv skillful in the treatment of the diseases of the
646 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
place. It is doubtful if any one could have averaged better than
he, probably few could have done as well.
So much for Dr. Neill as a doctor. The more difficult task is to describe him as a man. His is a rare combination of Irish wit, Scotch caution and Methodist earnestness. He is seemingly uncouth, yet a gentleman, rough and hard hearted in appearance, yet tender as a child, and most rare of all‐ a Democrat in politics, yet a prohibitionist and teetotaler. As a financier he has been a marked success. When times turned for the better and he found himself a few dollars ahead, he exercised fine judgment in making his surplus dollars earn other dollars until he has amassed a comfortable fortune. Yet he always has given freely to the church and all philanthropic enterprises, always provided he could be made to see merit in the proposition. His was the moving spirit in the donation of the Grand Army hall to the Sibley public library. He has always been the friend of the old soldiers. A pensionable disease or injury had to be very elusive if he could not discover it, and its trail exceedingly obscure or he could trace it to service in the army. J. F. Glover, pension attorney, and Dr. Neill, examining surgeon, made a team that was hard to beat.