Synopses & Reviews
In his new book, David Dary, one of our leading social historians, gives us a fascinating, informative account of American frontier medicine from our Indian past to the beginning of World War II, as the frontier moved steadily westward from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean.
He begins with the early arrivals to our shores and explains how their combined European-taught medical skills and the Indians well-developed knowledge of local herbal remedies and psychic healing formed the foundation of early American medicine.
We then follow white settlement west, learning how, in the 1720s, seventy-five years before Edward Jenners experiments with smallpox vaccine, a Boston doctor learned from an African slave how to vaccinate against the disease; how, in 1809, a backwoods Kentucky doctor performed the first successful abdominal surgery; how, around 1820, a Missouri doctor realized quinine could prevent as well as cure malaria and made a fortune from the resulting pills he invented.
Using diaries, journals, newspapers, letters, advertisements, medical records, and pharmacological writings, Dary gives us firsthand accounts of Indian cures; the ingenious self-healings of mountain men; home remedies settlers carried across the plains; an early “HMO” formed by Wyoming ranchers and cowboys to provide themselves with medical care; the indispensable role of country doctors and midwives; the fortunes made from patent medicines and quack cures; the contributions of army medicine; Chinese herbalists; the formation of the American Medical Association; the first black doctors; the first women doctors; and finally the early-twentieth-century shift to a formal scientific approach to medicine that by the postwar period had for the most part eliminated the trial-and-error practical methods that were at the center of frontier medicine.
A wonderful—often entertaining—overview of the complexity, energy, and inventiveness of the ways in which our forebears were doctored and how our medical system came into being.
"Scurvy, contaminated water and challenging environments were among the medical problems faced by frontier settlers, who resorted to the rough-and-ready treatments of herbal and traditional medicines, quack concoctions and whatever worked. This is the story prolific western writer Dary (The Oregon Trail) provides in a deeply researched, anecdotal history. Fourteen chapters range from 'Indian Medicine' and 'In Western Towns' to 'Quacks' and 'Midwives and Women Doctors.' A skilled storyteller, Dary fills each chapter with tales of doctors (not always well trained) and patients, colorful events, important discoveries and a seemingly endless pharmacopeia of herbal recipes and drugs, beliefs and often gruesome medical procedures. Dary agrees with today's experts that doctors in that era who practiced 'heroic medicine' bleeding, purging, administering emetics and toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic did more harm than good. Fortunately, even quacks were too expensive for most settlers, who preferred home remedies. Dary argues that traditional Native American treatments were less harmful and probably more effective. Readers looking for a more insightful history of medicine should choose one by Roy Porter, but this collection of stories of frontier healers will satisfy many readers. 81 illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Dary offers this fascinating, informative, and consistently surprising account of American medicine in its myriad forms, from the nation's Indian past to the beginning of World War II.
About the Author
is the author of more than a dozen previous books including The Buffalo
Book, Cowboy Culture, Entrepreneurs of the Old West, Seeking Pleasure in the Old West, Red Blood and Black Ink, The Santa Fe Trail, The Oregon Trail, and True Tales of the Prairies and Plains. He is the recipient of two Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, two Western Writers of America Spur Awards, the WWAs Wister Owen Award for lifetime achievement, the Westerners International Best Nonfiction Book Award, and the Oklahoma Center for the Book 2008 Arrell Gibson Award for lifetime achievement. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Indian Medicine
Chapter Two: Early American Medicine
Chapter Three: Over the Appalachians
Chapter Four: Beyond the Mississippi
Chapter Five: Fur Traders and Trappers
Chapter Six: On the Oregon Trail
Chapter Seven: Among the Soldiers
Chapter Eight: On Homestead and Ranch
Chapter Nine: In Western Towns
Chapter Ten: Going West for Your Health
Chapter Eleven: Midwives and Women Doctors
Chapter Twelve: Patent Medicines
Chapter Thirteen: Quacks
Chapter Fourteen: Into the Twentieth Century
Appendix: Epidemics in North America, 1616-1950