Winnebago County, IA
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In an elementary form at least, the practice of medicine is 'almost as old as the human race.  When the first man was afflicted by some bodily ailment, he sought among the plants for one that would relieve his suffering.  If a remedy was found the information was imparted to a neighbor, and perhaps a supply of the plant was garnered for future use.  Other plants were added as they were discovered and thus, step by step, a pharmacopoeia was built up and the practice of medicine developed into a science.

A Chinese tradition says that the practice of medicine was introduced in that country by the Emperor Hwang-ti in the year 2887 B. C.  In India the practice of medicine is very ancient, the physicians coming from the upper caste, and demonology played a conspicuous part in their diagnosis and treatment of diseases.  Among the ancient Egyptians there were specialists as early as 1600 B. C.  The Hebrews originally held to the theory that disease was a punishment for sin, but after the two captivities they had their regular practicing physicians
and surgeons.  Æsculapius was the god of health in ancient Greece, and “Galen the Greek” taught medical classes in Rome soon after the beginning of the Christian Era.  He was the first physician to lay special stress upon the study of anatomy as an essential part of the physician's professional education.  Hippocrates, another Greek, who lived from 460 to 377 B. C, has been called the “Father of Medicine.”  He required his pupils to take an oath in the name of “Apollo, the physician, Æsculapius, Hygeia, Panacea, and all the gods and goddesses; to reckon him who teaches me this art equally with my parents; to look upon his offspring as my brothers; to share with him my substance and to relieve his necessities if required; to pass my life and practice my art with purity and holiness; and whatsoever in connection with my professional practice—or not in connection with it—I may see or hear, that will I not divulge, holding that all such things should be kept secret.”

There was a revival of the Hippocratic oath among the doctors of the Middle Ages, and in more modern times a few medical schools required a similar obligation of their alumni.  Some of the principles laid down in the oath of Hippocrates form the basis of the professional code of ethics among the physicians of the present day.

It was not until the year 1315 A. D. that a systematic study of human anatomy by dissection was commenced by an Italian physician named Mondino.  When the populace learned that Doctor Mondino was actually cutting up the dead body of a human being he was compelled to apply to the authorities for protection against the mob, and Hart says ‘that protection was granted somewhat reluctantly.”  Yet what would modern surgery amount to had it not been developed by a careful study of the intricate mechanism of the human body through the medium of dissection?  This incident is only one of many the profession has had to encounter when science comes in conflict with the preconceived notions of the conservative multitude.  When Doctor Harvey announced his discovery of the circulation of the blood, and declared the passage of the blood through the arteries and veins of the body to be the source of life and health, he was scoffed at by the ignorant.  Some priests even went so far as to charge him with blasphemy, asserting that man was kept alive “by the grace of God.”  Voltaire, the famous French author, defined a physician as “A man who crams drugs of which he knows little into a body of which he knows less.”  That may possibly have been true of a certain class of French empirics at the time it was written, but since then the medical profession has made almost marvelous progress and through the intelligent and concerted action of the physicians themselves the practice has been elevated to a higher plane.

Modern medical progress dates from the closing years of the Sixteenth Century.  Soon after the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, was established in 1582 a medical department was added.  In 1765 Dr. John Morgan and Dr. William Shippen, of Philadelphia, opened a medical school that afterward became the medical department of the College of Philadelphia.  That was the first medical school in what is now the United States.  At the present time nearly every state university has its medical department, and there is not a large city in the land in which there are not one or more medical colleges.  With this wonderul [sic] increase in the facilities for obtaining a medical education, it is not surprising that the profession has made great strides within the memory of persons yet living, or that the physician of the present day is, with rare exceptions, a man entitled to the honor and respect of the community, both for his professional ability and his standing as a citizen.


In the early settlements of the Middle West the pioneer followed the example of his primitive ancestor and was his own physician.  Each family kept on hand a stock of roots, barks and herbs to “make medicine” and all common ailments were treated by the administration of home-made remedies.  Old settlers of Winnebago County can doubtless recall the boneset tea, the burdock bitters, the decoctions of wild cherry bark, or the poultices and plasters that “Grandma” or “Aunt Mary” would prepare and apply—internally or externally, as the case seemed to demand—with as much solemnity as that displayed by the surgeon of the present day when he cuts open a man and robs him of his appendix.  When one of the frontier inhabitants was stricken with illness, several of the neighbors would gather at the house, each to advocate his or her favorite remedy, and the result was often a case of “When doctors disagree there is none to decide.”

There were two potent reasons for the use of home-made medicines.  First, the nearest physician was frequently miles away, and second, very few of the early settlers had much money and therefore could not afford to employ a physician except when it became absolutely necessary.  Then one of the neighbors would willingly stop his work to go for the doctor, no matter what the condition of the weather might be or how long it would require to make the trip.


No addition to the population of a frontier settlement was more welcome than the physician.  Yet the life of the pioneer doctor was no sinecure.  Money was a rare article and his fees, if he collected any at all, were many times paid in such produce as the pioneer farmers could spare and the doctor could use.  About the only inducement for a doctor to locate in a new settlement was the notion that by being the first in the field he might establish a lucrative practice before competitors appeared.  In this ambition some succeeded, others failed.

The old-time doctor was not always a graduate of a medical college.  In a majority of cases his professional education had been obtained by “reading for a year or two with some older physician and assisting his preceptor in practice.  When he felt that he was competent to begin practicing “on his own hook,” he would look about for a location and, in many instances, some new settlement appeared to him to offer the best opportunity for the exercise of his talents.  Of course, not all the doctors in the frontier settlements were young men.  Occasionally some physician, already established in practice, would be caught by the wanderlust and seek a new location in a young but growing community.  If the professional and technical knowledge of the pioneer physician were limited, his stock of drugs, medicines, surgical instruments and appliances were equally limited.  A generous supply of calomel, some jalap, aloes, Dover's powder, castor oil and a few other substances constituted his principal stock in trade.  Sulphate of quinine was rare and was too expensive to be used indiscriminately, so in cases of malaria the doctor relied upon heroic doses of Peruvian bark.  In cases of fever the orthodox treatment was to relieve the patient of a quantity of blood, hence every doctor provided himself with one or more lancets.  Next to the lancet the most important surgical instrument was probably the “turnkey” for extracting teeth, for the doctor was dentist as well as physician.  A story is told of a customer once complaining to a colored barber that the razor pulled, to which the darkey replied: ''Yes, sah; I knows dat, boss, but if de razor handle doesn't break, de beard am bound to come off.”  So it was when the old-time doctor got that turnkey fastened on a tooth, for if the instrument did not break, the tooth was bound to come out.  Compared with the present method of extracting teeth without pain, the old turnkey almost reminds one of the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition.

And yet these early doctors, crude as were many of their methods, were the forerunners of and paved the way for the specialists in these early years of the Twentieth Century.  They were neither arrogant nor selfish as a rule, and if one of them discovered a new remedy, or a new application of an old one, he was always ready to impart his knowledge to his professional brethren.  Moreover, many of them, as the population increased, refused to remain in the mediocre class and attended some established medical college, receiving the degree of M. D. even after they had been engaged in practice for years.  This was especially true after the physicians began to organize themselves into medical societies, to which none was admitted without a diploma from some accredited medical college.

When the first doctors began practice in Winnebago County they did not visit their patients in automobiles.  Even if the motor car had been invented at that time, the condition of the roads—where there were any roads at all—was such that the vehicle would have been practically useless.  The doctor relied upon his trusty horse to carry him on his round of visits.  His practice extended over a large district and frequently he had no road to follow except the "blazed trail" through the timber or a faint path over the prairie.  In making calls at night he adopted the custom of the sailor and guided his course by the stars.  On starless nights he sometimes carried a lantern to aid him in finding the trail in case he wandered away from it in the darkness.  After visiting his patient, if he did not remain with the family until morning, he would drop the reins upon the horse's neck and trust to the animal's instinct to find the way home.  Written prescriptions would have been as useless as the automobile in frontier practice, as there were no drug stores convenient at which they could have been filled.  To overcome this difficulty the doctor carried his medicines with him in a pair of "pill-bags"—a contrivance composed of two leathern boxes divided into compartments for vials of different sizes and connected by a broad strap that could be thrown over the rear of the saddle.


The first resident physician of Winnebago County was Dr. W. H. Jones, who located at Forest City about Christmas in 1869.  Before that the nearest doctors were at Clear Lake or Mason City, in Cerro Gordo County.  Dr. W. H. Jones was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, October 7, 1843.  When nine years of age he came to America with his parents, who settled in Kane County, Illinois.  A year later they removed to De Kalb County of the same state.  His father, John H. P. Jones, was a graduate of the London Medical College and practiced for many years in Illinois.  When about sixteen years of age, William H. Jones began the study of medicine with his father and was thus engaged when the Civil war broke out in 1861.  He enlisted in the Thirty-ninth Illinois Infantry, as a private of Company D, and served until the close of the war.  In 1865-66 he was a student in the Rush Medical College, of Chicago, but did not complete the course.  In 1869 he located at Forest City, where he built up a good practice, and in 1873 he was graduated at the Keokuk Medical College.  He was one of the organizers of the Medical Society of Northern Iowa, of which he was at one time vice president.  He was a Mason and an Odd Fellow and is still remembered as a successful physician.  Dr. William VanDuzen, the second physician to locate at Forest City, was a native of Wisconsin, his father having been a practicing physician of Mineral Point, in that state, for years.  He read medicine with his father and graduated at the Miami Medical College in 1870.  The following spring he came to Forest City, where he formed a partnership with Dr. W. H. Jones.  After about six months he went back to Wisconsin, but later returned to Iowa and located in Iowa County, where he built up a good practice.

In 1872 Dr. P. C. Jones located in Forest City.  He was born in Wales on June 28, 1834, and was the son of a physician.  In 1852 the family came to America and settled in DeKalb County, Illinois.  Soon after coming to this country young Jones began the study of medicine under his father.  He then attended the Rush Medical College of Chicago, and in 1872 graduated in the University of Medicine and Surgery of Philadelphia.  He then practiced in Brown County, Wisconsin, for a few months and in the fall came to Forest City.  He practiced in Winnebago County for about two years, when he went to Dysart, Tama County.

Shortly after Dr. P. C. Jones came to the county. Dr. Justin M. Hull established himself at Lake Mills.  He was born near Madison, Wisconsin, in June, 1845, and received his education in the schools of his native county.  In 1862 he enlisted as a private in Company L, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, and served about fourteen months, when he was honorably discharged on account of a wound received in the battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.  Soon after being discharged from the army he took up the study of medicine and graduated at the Bennett Medical College.  After practicing in Wisconsin for a while he decided to try his fortunes in Iowa and located at Lake Mills, where he soon built up a lucrative practice for that day.  In 1877 he was elected coroner of Winnebago County and held the office for one term, and in 1879 he was elected to the Legislature.  In 1881 he was appointed a member of the State Board of Health by Governor Gear and three years later was reappointed by Governor Sherman.  He was one of the founders of the Medical Society of Northern Iowa.  Doctor Hull was an Odd Fellow and a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was recognized generally as a capable physician and a progressive citizen.

Dr. J. A. Hewett, a graduate of the Bennett Medical College of Chicago, came to Forest City in 1874.  He practiced successfully for several years in Winnebago and adjoining counties and was for some time one of the examining surgeons for pensions, having been appointed to that position in September, 1877.

In 1877 Dr. J. Wright came to Forest City from Osage, Mitchell County, where he had read for five years with Dr. J. E. Nichols.  He then attended medical college and graduated, and he had the reputation of being a well qualified [sic] physician.  He remained in the county only about one year.

Dr. J. W. David and Dr. J. B. Hirsch came to the county about the same time in 1879 or 1880.  The former located in Forest City and the latter in Lake Mills.  Doctor David was born in Richland County, Illinois, in February, 1841, and began the study of medicine in 1862. He soon gave up his studies, however, to enter Company B, Thirtieth Wisconsin Infantry, which was sent to Minnesota to assist in supressing [sic] the Indian uprising.  In 1865 he was mustered out and a little later matriculated at the Kush Medical College of Chicago, where he was graduated as a member of the class of 1869.  He then practiced in Grant County, Wisconsin, until coming to Forest City.  He was a member of the Masonic fraternity and the Grand Army of the Republic.

Doctor Hirsch was also a graduate of the Rush Medical College and was a popular physician during his short residence in Winnebago County.  After practicing about eighteen months in Lake Mills he went to Blue Earth, Minnesota.

Dr. C. E. Keeler, who located in Lake Mills in 1881, was a native of Black Hawk County, Iowa.  While still in his boyhood his parents removed to Bristol, Worth County, where the father was engaged as a practicing physician.  C. E. Keeler studied medicine with his father and in 1880 went to Nebraska, where he practiced for about a year.  He then located at Lake Mills.  In 1883 he was elected coroner of Winnebago County and held the office for one term.  In 1887 he was again elected and served continuously until 1895.  He also served as postmaster at Lake Mills for some time.

In May, 1881, Dr. David C. Aas came to Lake Mills and formed a partnership with Dr. J. M. Hull.  He was born in Norway in April, 1853, and learned the trade of harness-maker in his native country.  After coming to America he took up the study of medicine and graduated at the Bennett Medical College of Chicago in the spring of 1881.  Immediately after receiving his degree he came to locate at Lake Mills, but his success was of short duration, as his death occurred on November 21, 1881.

Another physician who settled in Lake Mills in 1881 was Dr. W. L. Gundlach, a native of Germany, where he received a classical education.  In 1883, after practicing in Lake Mills for over a year, he was graduated at Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia.  Upon receiving his degree he returned to Lake Mills, where he continued in practice for a number of years.

Two physicians located in Forest City in 1883—Dr. Harry R. Irish and Dr. W. R. Franklin.  Doctor Irish was born in Dane County, Wisconsin on October 1, 1860, and graduated in the medical department of the Iowa State University in the class of 1883, soon after which he came to Forest City, where he is still engaged in practice and is now the oldest doctor of the county in point of continuous residence.  In 1891 he was a delegate from the Winnebago County Medical Society to the meeting of the Iowa State Medical Society.

Doctor Franklin was a native of Rockford, Illinois, and received his general education in the schools of that city.  He then attended the Illinois State Normal School, after which he began the study of medicine with a Doctor Hill, of Rockford.  In March, 1883, he graduated at the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College and came directly to Forest City, being the first homeopath to practice in Winnebago County.


From the Medical Directory of 1916, published by the American Medical Association, the following list of Winnebago physicians has been compiled:  Buffalo Center—George F. Dolmage and Hans E. Eiel; Forest City—Otto A. Hansen, Harry R. Irish, Thomas Lucast, Marion Blanche Neil, August J. Peterson, Harry F. Thompson and Peder H. Vesterborg; Lake Mills—Peter A. Helgeson, Gilbert G. Herm and Lawrence J. Kaasa; Rake—Jesse E. Russ; Thompson—Martin M. Hage and Gisle M. Lee.


The first medical society to which any of the Winnebago County physicians belonged was the Northern Iowa Medical Society which included several counties.  Dr. W. H. Jones and Dr. Justin M. Hull, of Winnebago, were among the organizers of the society and in 1882 Doctor Jones was elected vice president.  The records of the old organization have not been preserved and no accurate history of its work or membership can be given.  It existed only a few years, when the settlement of the counties in the district it embraced brought in enough physicians to form county societies and the Northern Iowa Medical passed out of existence.

A medical society was organized in Winnebago County some time [sic] in the ‘80s, but its records have disappeared.  Meetings were not held regularly, though a majority of the physicians practicing in the county were members of the society.  After several years of inactivity, interest in the society was revived, and in the winter of 1912-13 it was consolidated with the Medical Society of Hancock County under the name of the Hancock-Winnebago Medical Society.  Meetings are held at such times and places as may be selected by the executive committee, which has charge of the society's affairs.  At the beginning of the year 1917, Dr. George F. Dolmage, of Buffalo Center, was president, and Dr. Benjamin F. Denny, of Britt, was secretary.

A History of Winnebago County and Hancock County, Iowa. Vol. 2.  Chicago:  Pioneer Publishing Company, 1917.  188-95. Print.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy