History of Marion County, Iowa by Wright and Young (1915)

Chapter XVIII - The Medical Profession

One of the most welcome citizens in a new country is the physician, yet the inducements to become a practitioner of the healing art in a frontier settlement were not of the most attractive character. In fact, about the only inducement was "to get in on the ground floor" and establish a practice before the population increased to such a point as would invite competition. At first the settlers were scattered over a wide expanse of country, no roads were opened in many localities, money was scarce and the doctor's fees, if he received any at all, were often paid in such produce as the pioneer farmers could spare and the doctor could use.

In the early settlement of the State of Iowa, as in other portions of the Mississippi Valley, every family kept on hand a stock of roots, barks and herbs, and these were administered for all common ailments without calling upon a physician. Old settlers can no doubt recall the bone-set or horehound tea, the burdock bitters, the decoctions of wild cherry bark, or the poultices and plasters that "Grandma" or "Aunt Jane" would prepare with the greatest of care and apply--internally or externally, as the nature of the case might demand--with more solemnity than the present-day surgeon amputates a limb or cuts open a man and robs him of his appendix. Yet these "home-made" remedies were not entirely devoid of merit. They would relieve a cough or stir up a torpid liver, and in some cases proved efficacious in that most common of complaints--the fever and ague.

Such was the condition in practically every frontier settlement when the pioneer doctor arrived upon the scene. The old-time doctor was not always a graduate of a medical school. Perhaps it |303|would be nearer the truth to say the graduate physician on the frontier was the exception rather than the rule. In a majority of cases the professional education of the country doctor in the new settlements had been acquired by "reading" for a few months with some older physician and assisting his preceptor in his practice. When the young student felt sufficient confidence in his ability to branch out for himself he began looking about for a location, with the result that some new settlement appeared to offer the best opening. Occasionally some well educated and experienced practitioner would leave an established practice to seek his fortune in a new country.

And, if the professional or technical training of the pioneer doctor was limited, his stock of drugs and medicines was equally limited. A goodly supply of calomel, some jalap, aloes, Dover's powder, castor oil and Peruvian bark (sulphate of quinine was too rare and expensive for general use) constituted the principal remedies in his pharmacopoeia. In certain cases of fever the sovereign remedy was to relieve the patient of a generous quantity of blood, hence every physician carried one or more lancets. When blood-letting, a drastic cathartic, and perhaps a "fly blister" failed to improve the condition of a sick person, the doctor would "look wise and trust to a rugged constitution to pull the patient through." But, to the credit of these pioneer physicians, it can be truthfully said that most of them were just as conscientious in their work and placed as much faith in their remedies as does the most distinguished specialist of the present generation. It can also be said that many of them, as the population in the new settlement increased and demanded a higher order of professional skill, refused to remain in the mediocre class and attended some medical college, even after they had been engaged in practice for years.

Voltaire once defined a physician as "A man who crams drugs of which he knows little into a body of which he knows less." Possibly this may have been true of a certain class of French empirics at the time Voltaire wrote, but since that time the medical profession has made almost marvelous strides forward, and the physician of the present century is usually a man entitled to the confidence and respect of the community, both for his professional ability and his standing as a citizen. In this gradual development the old-time doctor, crude as were many of his methods, was the forerunner of--the man who paved the way for--the specialist in this beginning of the twentieth century. As a rule, the pioneer doctors were unselfish. If one of them discovered a new remedy, or a new way of administering an old one, he was always willing and ready to impart |304|the knowledge of his discovery to his fellow practitioners. Thus, step by step the profession moved forward.

If one of these old-time physicians could be permitted to come back to earth to visit the scene of his former labors and should step into the office of some leading specialist of today, he would doubtless stand aghast at the many surgical instruments and appliances, such as microscopes, stethoscopes, X-ray machines, etc., and he might not realize that he had played his humble part in bringing about this high state of development.

When the first doctors began practice in Marion County they did not receive their calls over the telephone nor visit their patients in automobiles. The telephone was unknown and, even if the automobile had been in existence, the condition of the roads--where there were any roads at all--was such that it would have been practically useless. The doctor therefore relied upon his trusty horse to carry him on his round of visits. As his practice extended over a large territory, when making calls in the night, with no road to follow but the "blazed trail," he frequently carried a lighted lantern, so that he could find the road in case he lost his way. On his return home he would often drop the reins upon the horse's neck and trust to the animal's instinct to find the way, while he took a short nap in the saddle. In seasons when there was a great deal of sickness this was often the most refreshing sleep the doctor obtained.

There were then no drug stores to fill prescriptions, so 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 various sizes and connected by a broad strap that could be thrown across the saddle. After the lancet, his principal surgical instrument was perhaps the "turnkey" for extracting teeth, for the doctor was dentist as well as physician. A story is told of a customer who complained to a negro barber that the razor pulled, to which the colored man replied: "Yes, sah; but if de razor handle doesn't break de beard am bound to come off." So it was with the pioneer doctor as a dentist. Once he got that turnkey firmly fastened on a tooth, if the instrument did not break the tooth was bound to come out.

Although the calling of the old-time country doctor was no sinecure, his life was not without its bright spots. Over and above his professional labors, he was a man of prominence in the community in other matters. His advice was frequently asked concerning affairs entirely foreign to his business; his travels about the settlement brought him in touch with all the latest news, which made him a wel |305|come visitor in other homes; often he was the one man in a neighborhood who subscribed for and read a weekly newspaper and this gave him an understanding of questions of public policy that made him a local political leader. A mere glance at the history of almost any county in the broad Mississippi Valley will disclose the names of physicians as members of the Legislature, incumbents of important county offices, and in numerous instances some doctor has been called upon to represent a district in Congress.

Dr. James L. Warren was no doubt the first physician to practice his profession in what is now Marion County. He was born in Greene County, Tennessee, July 1, 1801; was licensed as a local preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1828; studied medicine and began practice in 1831, and ten years later came to Iowa and settled in Lee County. Subsequently he removed to Mahaska County, where he cut some logs and hired a man to build him a cabin, but soon afterward changed his mind and located about three miles southeast of the present City of Pella. He came to Lake Prairie in April, 1843, in company with John B. and Robert Hamilton, Henry Miller, Green T. Clark and Henry McPherson. The United States dragoons refused to let their wagons pass Libertyville, so the men packed enough provisions on horses to last them until the 1st of May and went forward to select claims. Doctor Warren organized the first Methodist class west of Libertyville. After residing in Marion County some years he returned to Mahaska and died at Peoria, in that county, January 18, 1870, having practiced medicine for nearly forty years. He was a man who was noted for his charity and generoisty and his practice extended over a large territory.

Two other physicians who came to the county soon after Doctor Warren were Drs. Reuben and Homer Matthews, who came with their father to Lake Prairie Township in May, 1843, and made claims there. Later they sold out to the Hollanders and Dr. Reuben Matthews practiced for many years in the Town of Red Rock, where he was the first resident physician. Dr. C. M. Gilkey and Dr. J. W. McCully also practiced in Red Rock at an early date.

Dr. Luther C. Conrey was one of the first settlers in Knoxville and was probably the first to practice the healing art in that part of the county. He served as deputy sheriff under James M. Walters and in January, 1846, was appointed agent for the board of county commissioners to sell the lots in the Town of Knoxville. He was a typical old school doctor and he was a man of public spirit.

Dr. Norman R. Cornell, who came to Knoxville in 1850, was born in Steuben County, New York, September 11, 1824, and began |306|the study of medicine with Dr. W. H. Thomas before he was seventeen years of age. In 1848, after a residence of some time in Kentucky, he graduated at the Geneva Medical College of New York and two years later settled in Marion County. His early practice extended into the counties of Warren, Lucas, Monroe and Mahaska. When the Twenty-third Iowa Infantry was organized for service in the Civil war, Doctor Cornell was appointed assistant surgeon and a few months later was appointed surgeon of the Fortieth Iowa Infantry by Governor Stone. During the last year of his service he was brigade surgeon. After the war he became a specialist in diseases of the eye and ear, though he continued in general practice until a few years before his death, which occurred at his home in Knoxville on April 9, 1912. Two sons, Corwin W. and Lindley P., both became practicing physicians. The former is still practicing in Knoxville, and the latter, after practicing for awhile at Pleasantville and Dallas, located at Knoxville and died there on March 29, 1910.

Dr. W. B. Young, another early practictioner and one of Marion County's representative citizens in his day, was a native of Mercer County, Pennsylvania, where he was born on November 12, 1812. While still in his boyhood his parents removed to Ohio, where he was raised on a farm and taught school during the winter months, studying medicine as opportunity offered until he was qualified to practice. After following his profession for several years in Wayne and Ashland counties, Ohio, he came to Marion County in 1852, where he continued in his chosen calling and also engaged in the drug business. In 1861 he was elected county judge and held that office for four years. At the expiration of his term he removed to Birmingham, Van Buren County, and lived there for three years, when he returned to Knoxville. Doctor Young died at the home of his son, James B. Young, at Toledo [Tama County], Iowa, February 10, 1893, and his remains were brought to Knoxville for burial.

The same year that Doctor Young located in Knoxville, Dr. B. F. Keables, a native of Genesee County, New York, settled at Pella and began practice, having graduated at the Keokuk Medical College in 1850. He was active in political affairs and was one of the organizers of the war democratic party that defeated the regular democratic ticket for the first time in Marion County. He was president of the Pella school board at the time the first public school building was erected. In the spring of 1862 he was commissioned assistant surgeon of the Third Iowa Infantry and in October of the same year was promoted surgeon at the colonel's request, continuing |307|in that position until the regiment was mustered out. After the war he served two terms as a representative in the State Legislature. Soon after locating at Pella he married a daughter of Rev. H. P. Scholte, the founder of the city, and was for many years engaged in the drug business. He was a prominent Mason and an Odd Fellow. His death occurred on May 9, 1911, at the age of eighty-two years.

Dr. Elias Williams, who began the practice of medicine at Pleasantville in 1853 or 1854, was born in Logan County, Ohio, July 9, 1822. About 1830 his parents removed to Michigan and in 1838 to Iowa, settling in Van Buren County, where young Williams learned the Indian language. He was present at the Sac and Fox agency at the time the treaty of 1842 was concluded and early the following spring made a claim in what is now Clay Township, Marion County. In the spring of 1848 he began the study of medicine with Dr. Reuben Matthews, of Red Rock, but soon afterward was struck by the gold fever and went to California. After a residence of two or three years on the Pacific coast he went to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he attended lectures at the Eclectic Medical College. He then returned to Marion County and opened his office at Pleasantville, where he continued in practice for many years.

In the fall of 1855 Dr. Thomas J. Kirkwood located at Pleasantville. His grandfather was a soldier in the Continental army at the time of the War for Independence and his father served in the War of 1812. In November 1875, Doctor Krikwood removed to Otley, in order to be on the railroad, and there he opned a drug store in connection with his professional work.

Two physicians--Dr. H. J. Scholes and Dr. A. D. Wetherell--located in Knoxville in 1856, and afterward became prominently identified with the profession in Marion County. Doctor Scoles was born in Harrison County, Ohio, July 11, 1825. In 1850 he went to Keokuk, Iowa, where he studied under two members of the faculty, and in 1853 was graduated at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of that city. In 1856 he came to Knoxville and soon won a high place among the physicians of the county. During the Civil war he served as assistant surgeon of the Fourth Iowa Infantry. He was a member of the first county medical society. Doctor Scoles died at Knoxville on January 25, 1897.

Dr. A. D. Wetherell was born at Burlington, Vermont, July 21, 1818, and in 1833 removed with his parents to Licking County, Ohio. He attended college at Granville, Ohio, and then began the study of medicine under the preceptorship of Dr. W. W. Bancroft. In 1844 he received the degree of M.D. from the Ohio Medical Col |308|lege at Cincinnati, after which he practiced in Licking County until the fall of 1856, when he became a resident of Knoxville, Iowa. He was the first president of the Marion County Medical Society and commanded the respect of physicians and the general public alike. His death occurred on November 20, 1896.

Dr. L. M. Timmonds, a brother-in-law of Dr. Norman R. Cornell, was a member of the first class that ever graduated at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Keokuk. He began his professional career at Knoxville, but after a year or two removed to the State of Missouri.

Dr. J. T. French, who came to Marion County in 1849, was born near Lebanon, Ohio, April 23, 1823, but was taken by his parents that summer to Shelby County, Indiana, where he was reared on a farm. When about nineteen years old he began the study of medicine with Dr. G. C. Paramac, of St. Omar's, Indiana, borrowing books from his preceptor, reading at home and walking the three miles once a week to recite his lessons. In the spring of 1843 his father died of a disease called the "Black Tongue," which also carried off other members of the family and came very near taking the embryo physician. The prevalence of this malady forced him into practice before he was fully prepared, an older physician placing him in charge of a family of thirteen persons afflicted, all of whom recovered except one. Young French then taught school two or three terms, continuing his medical studies in the meantime. In December, 1843, he married and on May 5, 1849, started with his wife and three children for Iowa. On the 28th of the same month he arrived at Bellefontaine, Mahaska County, and a little later crossed the line into Marion and took up his residence in an unfinished cabin belonging to Captain Ridlen. Like most of the early settlers, he and his family were afflicted with malarial fever until they became accustomed to the climate, though the doctor cleared his farm and practiced his profession when he was well enough to work. In the fall of 1851 he removed to the Village of Hamilton and practiced there until June, 1857, when he removed to Knoxville, where he continued his calling until just before his death. Doctor French was a successful physician and in the latter years of his life was fond of relating his early experiences as a country doctor, whose practice extended over a terriotry of some seven hundred square miles. He died in Hutchinson, Kansas, September 24, 1903, while on a visit to his daughter, but his remains were brought to Knoxville for burial. [See The Autobiography of Dr. J. T. French].

Other physicians who practiced in the county between the years 1860 and 1880 were: W. T. Baird, W. E. Wright, Hugh Thomp|309|son, C. C. Shinnick, B. C. Bellamy, J. W. Mitchell and W. A. Ardery, Knoxville; E. H. Keables, George Allen and A. Guthrie, Pella; P. M. Johnson and J. A. Schrader, Red Rock; J. W. Finarty and J. H. Auld, Dallas; E. R. Wright and J. T. Hendershott, Otley; B. R. Prather and Eli Whitlatch, Columbia; A. L. Yocum, Newbern; C. E. James, Swan; S. V. Duncan, Pleasantville; L. E. Park, Tracy; S. C. Bell, Attica; J. G. Lampier, Hamilton, and a few others.

It is to be regretted that so many of the old-time doctors passed from the scene of their earthly labors without leaving more of their history behind them. Doctor Finarty was a native of West Virginia, but came to Pella with his parents when only two years of age. From November, 1863, to the close of the war he was in the commissary department of the Fifteeth Army Corps. In 1871-72 he attended his first course of lectures and began practice at Dallas. In February, 1877, he received his degree. Some years later he removed to Knoxville, where he still resides. Doctor James, who settled at Swan in the year 1880, later removed to the Village of Durham, whre he still resides. Doctor Duncan graduated at the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati in 1866, but had been a resident of Marion County for six years prior to that date. Doctor Bell, a native of Pennsylvania, graduated at the Iowa State University in 1875 and soon after located at Attica, where he built up a lucrative practice. Dr. C. W. Wright, of Knoxville, and Dr. E. R. Wright, of Otley, were both natives of Indiana and successful physicians.

Medical Societies

On January 8, 1872, eight physicians met at the office of Dr. Normal R. Cornell and organized the Marion County Medical Society. They were A. D. Wetherell, Normal R. Cornell, S. V. Duncan, Elias Williams, H. J. Scoles, W. E. Wright, J. W. Mitchell and W. T. Baird. A committee was appointed to draw up articles of incorporation and another meeting was held on January 25, 1872, when the articles--copied from the Johnson County Medical Society were approved and the following officers elected: Dr. A. D. Wetherell, president; Dr. N. R. Cornell, vice president; Dr. W. E. Wright, secretary. The secretary was instructed to file the articles of incorporation with the county recorder and also with the secretary of state at Des Moines, the society to exist as a corporate body for twenty years.

The old constitution and by-laws of this society show that during its existence it had twenty-four members, some of whom are still |310| living and practicing in the county. Of these twenty-four, ten were from Knoxville; two from each of the towns of Columbia, Dallas, Pleasantville and Newbern; and one each from Swan, Marysville, Tracy, Otley, Attica and Gosport.

On March 4, 1872, the first regular meeting was held at Doctor Cornell's office, when the code of ethics of the American Medical Association was adopted. A motion to adopt a fee bill was laid on the table and remained there.

In September, 1872, a committee was appointed to procure a room for dissecting purposes and material for dissection. The committee subsequently reported that a room had been engaged, but that it was impossible to obtain human bodies for dissection.

At the September meeting in 1881 the society adopted a resolution to the effect "That we, the members of the Marion County Medical Society, hereby pledge our support to such men for the office of state legislator as will support the bill introduced in the last Legislature, or a similar one, for the 'Regulation of the practice of Medicine and Surgery in the State of Iowa.'"

It was further resolved that the members of the society would use their best efforts to secure the election of such men, "regardless of their or our own party affiliations," and that a copy of the resolutions be given the various newspapers for publication. A committee was also appointed to confer with the several candidates and ascertain their views regarding the enactment of such a law. This committee reported at the October meeting and in the campaign that followed the doctors proved that they understood the game of politics. The minutes of the October meeting show that the committee was discharged, after which a motion was made that certain "informal politics" was to regarded as a "professional secret and not made a matter of record." The result was that the candidate who agreed to support the bill was elected to the General Assembly.

According to the records, the last meeting of this society was held on September 6, 1886. Marion County was then without an active medical society until May 9, 1900, when a number of physicians of the county met in the Odd Fellows' Hall at Knoxville, pursuant to a call signed by Drs. C. W. Cornell, W. E. Wright, H. F. Keables and some others, for the purpose of organizing a county medical society. Dr. W. E. Wright was called to the chair and Dr. H. F. Keables was chosen temporary secretary. Drs. J. V. Brann, Dr. C. W. Cornell and Doctor Reynolds were appointed to revise the constitution and by-laws of the old society, after which the following officers were elected: Dr. W. E. Wright, president; Dr. |311|W. W. Kimmell, first vice president; Dr. L. E. Park, second vice president; Dr. Miles Duncan, third vice president; Dr. H. F. Keables, secretary; Dr. J. V. Brann, treasurer; Drs. A. J. Nossaman, C. E. James and C. W. Cornell, censors.

Thirty-seven members were enrolled in the new organization. From a paper read before the society recently by the secretary, Dr. C. W. Cornell, the following extracts are taken:

"At the semi-annual meeting held on November 12, 1903, the records show that a new consitution and by-laws were adopted that would conform to that of the Iowa State Medical Society. This constitution and by-laws are now in force. The roll of membership admitted since this revision of 1903 numbers fifty-one.

"There are forty physicians in the county eligible for membership, as follows: Knoxville, 13; Pella, 10; Pleasantville, 4; Dallas, 3; Bussey, 2; Columbia, 2; Attica, 1; Hamilton, 1; Harvey, 1; Everist, 1; Durham, 1; Newbern, 1. Our membership is now twenty-nine."

The officers of the society at the beginning of the year 1915 were as follows: Dr. Carl Aschenbrenner, president; Dr. Carl Mulky, vice president; Dr. C. W. Cornell, secretary and treasurer; Drs. C. N. Bos, E. R. Ames and L. E. Parks, censors; Dr. E. C. McClure, delegate; Dr. J. V. Brann, alternate.

Transcribed by Mary E. Boyer, February 2007, reformatted by Al Hibbard 10 Oct 2013