Sunday, November 6, 2011
A first-hand second opinion of early Texas doctors: Part Four
Those of you who have read a lot of this blog know that I love to quote a Washington County doctor when writing about the Republic days. Dr. John W. Lockhart is another early leader in the region that was also one of our local doctors. He was also a passionate writer, and probably would have been a blogger had he been born in this era. Dr. Lockhart wrote some enlightening passages about the status of the early Texas doctor, which explains this common feature, that of physician-politician, of Republic of Texas doctors.
Evidently, the chasm was so great between the ignorant and unschooled and the learned and degreed, that an educated man was something of a god. I’ll let Dr. Lockhart explain in his own words…
“It was a long way to a medical college then, and no conveyances except horse-back and long stage rides, which consumed many days. It was almost an impossibility for a man to moderate circumstances to obtain a degree. But when he did, and settled in the town or little village, or the crossroads, he was a power in the land. The words which fell from his lips were like so many oracles. He was always profuse in medical terms. These not being understood by the people, made him a greater genius. The old ladies flocked about him to catch the wise words he uttered.
He was considered the biggest man in the neighborhood, not excepting the circuit rider. He had no one to fear, except the crossroad politician; and he could always be bribed with a few bitters, which the doctor knew exactly how to make. Once in his good graces, the doctor could bleed and blister to his heart’s content…
… It was wonderful to see the influence the oracle in the neighborhood had with the people. In all cases of law he was consulted; and to add importance to his opinion, he kept a copy of the decisions of the lower court on hand. The part that appertained to the practice of the justice court was well worn from the numerous references made when settling questions arising in the neighborhood. What he said in the premises was regarded as almost supernatural.
His opinion was sought with equal regard to medicine, religion, astronomy, astrology, and all things appertaining to science. But his greatest genius ran in the way of politics. No man need run for office in the precinct, unless he first obtained the doctor’s consent, or his assistance. To do otherwise, would be to court certain defeat. However, that other wise man of the precinct who succeeded in getting himself elected justice of the peace, was a man to be reckoned with- the only man the doctor need fear.”
Dr. Lockhart went down in local history as a great benefactor of his community, and was seemingly loved and trusted by all and deserved that trust, but even he had trouble treating those whose faith was built on superstition…
“Negroes objected to taking calomel and castor oil more than any medicine. The former they believed was made from the bones of dead people ground to powder, and the latter they believed to be the grease made from the bodies of the dead. These facts were the actual truth to them; and in some instances, force had to be resorted to, to make them swallow it.”
Dr. Lockhart also wrote of the struggle with ye age old wives tales…
“…In Texas- for instance, in the country where there were no doctors, the lady of the house had to do all the doctoring; and would resort to barks, weeds, and all things thought to have medicinal properties. For instance, she substituted the inner bark of the ash for action on the liver and bowels. This she prepared by cutting off the rough exterior bark, using the inner white portion. This she boiled- throwing out the fibre, and when the juice had simmered to the consistency of tar, it was mixed with flour and rolled into pills.”
I’ll offer this one last quote from the good doctor, who won my heart with such balanced skepticism, on all sides... here he comments on a doctor's convention, and he seemed to touch on a timeless argument…:)
“Many specific papers were read before this body which were a credit to the authors and the profession. Diseases were discussed, and their causes and cures. The germ theory also had its advocates. Microbes, bacilli, and the like were ably handled; and if the doctors do not quit finding so many things existing in the air we breathe, and the food we eat and the water we drink, they will starve this nation out.”
[From: SIXTY YEARS ON THE BRAZOS]
Not much has changed and will not, whenever we match man’s capacity against the handiwork of an Infinite God.
I want you to know about the next generation of doctors that flooded into Grimes County after the Civil war, only to be almost decimated by a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1867.
Next time… on the Navasota Current.