The Pioneer Physician

(From The New Teller, Feb. 5, 1913)

     (68) The historian of south York county mentioned in an article published last week the valuable services rendered early settlers by Dr. Deweese who proved a good friend to many sick and suffering ones. The northern portion of the county was also fortunate in having a pioneer physician in the person of Dr. S. V. Moore, whose home has been in York for a number of years. Though his days of strenuous effort are long since ended and failing health keeps him by his fireside during the winter days, he has a very keen memory of the time when cold and storms had no terrors for him and he willingly braved the worst blizzard to respond to a call for help. Dr. Moore came to York county in 1869. He 

Dr. S. V. Moore

(69) took a homestead north of the present site of Bradshaw and built his sod house on a hill about a half mile from Lincoln creek. He had both studied and practised medicine in his former home in Illinois but had not expected to continue to follow the profession in Nebraska. But the need of his neighbors was so great and their wish for the medical treatment he alone could give so urgent that he gradually yielded to their demands and soon found himself practising medicine over the most of York county and parts of Polk and Hamilton. If a call to a sick bed came in plowing time the plow must be left in the furrow till the sick were visited and if a winter storm was brewing the wife and children must be left to care for themselves and the stock as best they could until the father-doctor could reach home again. 

     There were few contagious diseases to contend with, though the children of the plains succeeded in catching, measles and kindred ailments as do those of the towns. Diphtheria was a dreaded visitor sometimes and pneumonia was greatly feared. Dr. Moore remembers being called to be the bedside of a young woman who was very sick with his disease. A storm was raging and lighted lanterns were hung outside the door of the house to guide the doctor. As he entered the little room where the woman lay he found her bed surrounded by weeping friends who believed her to be dying. The doctor left the door wide open and someone in the room suggested that it be closed. "No, leave it open" commanded the doctor as he made his way toward the sick woman. When she had recovered the power of speech the patient told the doctor that she heard his command and blessed him for it for she was perishing for lack of oxygen and the air in the little room was rendered the more impure by the number of people who were crowded in. All of these friends save the husband and a woman to serve as a nurse were banished by the physician and since it was too cold to send them to their homes he told them to make themselves as comfortable as possible in a sod annex to the house. To those who insisted that the patient was dying he said "she is not dead, yet," and she did not die. She too is living in York today.

     (70) On one occasion the doctor was gone from his home for three days and nights, being prevented from returning by blizzard. As he was nearing home on the evening of the third day he was stopped by a settler whose wife was sick and who besought him to tarry with them. Though doctor Moore had not been able to send word to or hear from his family during his absence he yielded to the settler's prayer and watched with the sick women till nearly morning. As a little mule which carried him many a mile through heat and cold and never failed to find the way home over trackless fields of grass or snow. Sometimes when homeward bound Billy would lower his head and sniff the trail like a dog. "Nell," a beautiful mare of high degree, had her part too, in carrying relief to the suffering. Sometimes the way, there were no roads in those rays, led through the water filled basins and across streams and more than once it was necessary for the rider to lift his feet and saddlebags to the horses back to escape a wetting while fording the waters. The travel in winter of course called for the most endurance and frequently led to exposure to the elements sufficient to endanger life. The pioneer physician was not supplied with fur coats or robes and was often chilled through and felt the pangs resulting from frosted hands and feet. Once a woman in a household where he had a patient insisted on preparing the doctor for the house ward trip by wrapping his legs in old quilts tied with strings. Before he reached shelter he was most grateful for the kindly solicitude, for without the extra wrappings he knew he might have frozen.

     Once when the physician was watching by the child of a neighbor which had been attacked by membraneous croup, he was summoned home to find that his little son was similarly afflicted and his wife had been fighting the disease with all the remedies at her command. The question of medicine was an important one to the doctor of the early seventies. Drugs must be procured from Lincoln or Milford and then compounded by the doctor himself. A good supply of medicine must be carried on every trip for often one call was the only one the doctor could make and at the best, medicine must be left for several days with (71) directions for use or change as the patient's condition might demand.

     Often the doctor was called to a home consisting of one room sod house with only a strip of carpet for a door and heated by a cook stove in which cornstalks were used as t fuel, it requiring the constant labors of one person to replenish the fire. The patient in such a home had usually a bed of of straw covered with carpet for a couch and almost nothing in the way of comforts. Yet Dr. Moore recalls that by far the greater majority of his patients recovered in spite of adverse conditions. There were a few cases of tuberculosis under his care in those early days but he held out no hope of recovery to the patients or their friends while doing all in his power to alleviate their distress and make their last days easier.

     In many cases the only compensation Dr. Moore received was that of the deep gratitude of his patients. There was little to pay with then and it was not unwillingness but lack of means which left him unrewarded. Some men payed their debts in farm labor and their services were greatly needed at times by one who left his own things so frequently to care for the things of others. When the grasshoppers took the settlers' crops they also took the hopes of the doctor for ready money which had been promised him by those who lost their all. But of these things he never complained and indeed it is necessary to question him closely concerning this part of his experience. Sometimes times the doctor traveled twenty-five or thirty miles to see a patient and sometimes a trip of sixty or more miles would be necessary in order to make two or three visits. Charging at present professional rates for visits calling for such an expenditure of time and strength would have given Dr. Moore a good start on the road to wealth, if the charges could have been paid.

     This story of heroism might be indefinitely prolonged, for hundreds of thrilling incidents doubtless crowd the history of that fourteen years. "Hero" is a very appropriate name for a man who lived the life of a pioneer doctor but after all it does not express much. For the name (72) is often bestowed for one act of supreme self risk, while the doctor practices self-sacrifice year in and year out with no great crisis, save the ordinary cries of life, to nerve him to endeavor.

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