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The Pioneer Doctor
Part One






W. J. Conklin, M.A., M.D.

Dayton, Ohio.


In Commemoration of he Fiftieth Anniversary of the

Montgomery County Medical Society


Printed by Order of the Society



Fifty years ago a society was born in Dayton and christened the Montgomery County Medical Society (September, 1849).

In this semi-centennial year it would seem proper, if not imperative, that the address which your constitution imposes upon the retiring president should be retrospective in character.

I therefore ask your attention this evening to a brief sketch of medicine in early Dayton, limiting myself, for obvious reasons, to the period from 1796, the date of the first settlement, to 1825, the end of the first quarter of the century now hastening to its close. In the hurly-burly of this fin de siecle age we are all, perhaps, too prone to ignore the past and its lessons, and to recognize only the present with its marvelous achievements and the future with its splendid possibilities.

" 0 bells of San Blas, in vain

Ye call up the past again;

The past is dead to your prayers.

Out of the shadows of night

The world rolls into light—

It is daybreak everywhere."

But is it in vain to call up the past again? Certainly it is some gratification to know, though imperfectly, the lives and character, or the names only, of those who lived and practiced in this valley when the century was young or unborn. Certainly it is some inspiration to recall the heroism, the unselfish devotion to duty, and the nobility of character of those who, though no monuments or gilded tablets record their experiences, deserve to be enrolled among "the dead but sceptered sovereigns who rule our spirits from their urns."

Gratitude alone should prompt us to keep "in the touch divine of the noble natures gone;" and especially in touch with those who founded the society whose semi-centennial birthday we celebrate tonight:

"Lest we forget, lest we forget."         

Fortunately, to aid in keeping green the memories of the founders and early members, we still have in our possession the old minute-book containing the official records of this society from its organization in 1849, but for the pro-society period, with which we deal tonight, the data are meagre and unsatisfactory. Here we are compelled to rely largely upon the faded traditions and reminiscences of that mythical personage, the oldest inhabitant, supplemented by an occasional family tree, or the quaint advertisements and clippings from old newspapers. With such sources of information it is impossible to avoid error and perhaps in some instances injustice, or to make the sketch complete.

Pioneer life as it existed at the period our story begins, has gone forever, and with it has gone the old-time pioneer doctor, or "Old Doc" as he was familiarly and affectionately named. The aggressive-ness of modern man, reinforced by steam and electricity, whose bands, like Puck's girdle, encircle the globe, has banished the old life by bringing the remotest nook and corner of our country into close touch with the new civilization, its comforts, and even its luxuries.

It is a grave error to assume, as is sometimes done, that the "pioneer doctor" was an ignorant man. The training which came out of the old log schoolhouse, though devoid of modern frills, had its strong side.

"Every man," says Gibbon, "has two educations—one which he receives from others, and one, more important, which he gives to himself." This latter, which Sir Walter Scott asserts to be the best part of one's education, was preeminently the kind acquired by the pioneer doctor.

His best general knowledge came from the school of nature, than which there is none better. Depending largely upon the native plants for his remedies, he became from necessity an expert botanist, while natural history, geology, archaeology, astronomy, and, sometimes, even theology furnished pleasant and profitable pastimes for lonely rides. Illiterate he may have been in the matter of books, but he had an immense fund of information not taught in the schools, an acuteness of observation and a breadth of character which would put to blush many modern collegians.

The scholastic attainments of the pioneer doctor, meagre as they were, naturally made him, in a community where book-read men were few, a leader in public thought, and gave him influence and power not possessed by his successor, however learned and polished.

For acquiring technical knowledge the opportunities of the old-time medical student were far more limited than for acquiring his preliminary education. In fact, prior to 1770 the degree of M.D. was not obtainable on this side of the Atlantic, and at the opening of the century systematic courses of medical instruction were only given in a few of the larger seaport cities. Out of 3,500 doctors in the colonies at the beginning of the war of independence, less than 400 were medical graduates. During a large portion of the period under discussion tonight, it was the custom for those who received "a call to physic" to apprentice themselves to some local practitioner of repute, and at the expiration of their term of indenture, usually three years, to "set up shop" for themselves, to use the quaint expression of the time. The certificate of the preceptor alone proclaimed to a waiting constituency the fullness of the young doctor's qualifications, while the boards of censors of the several medical districts, as we shall learn farther on, jealously guarded the interests of those already within the professional fold.

Such a system of tutelage was necessarily uncertain and irregular in its results, depending as much upon the attainments, teaching tact, and temperament of the master as upon the ability and industry of the apprentice. It did, however, give the novitiate a practical knowledge of bedside work, the lack of which was, until recently, a serious blot on modern methods of instruction, and which, perhaps, is not yet wholly removed.

Let us recall for a moment the student life of Doctor Drake, one of the ablest and most scholarly physicians the West ever produced, and one who did more than any man of his day to advance the cause of medical education.

At sixteen years of age, he was apprenticed to Doctor Goforth, of Cincinnati, an able but eccentric ex-army surgeon, who had, says Drake, "the most winning manners of any man I ever knew and the most of them." For three years he ran errands, "tended shop," labored with mortar and pestle, performed menial services of many kinds, of which, doubtless, the care of the stable was not least, and studied medicine when there was nothing else to do.

The life of the medical apprentice was not all "beer and skittles." And yet Doctor Drake speaks in affectionate terms of the old doctor-shop "which regaled your olfactory nerves with the mingled odors which, like incense to the god of physic, rose from brown paper bundles, bottles stopped with worm-eaten corks, and open glass jars of ointments not a whit behind those of the apothecary in the days of Solomon. Such a place is well for a student, for however idle, he will always absorb a little medicine, especially if he sleeps beneath the greasy counter."

Once established in practice the trials and tribulations of "Doc" were not ended, for his life was filled with hardships and responsibilities little appreciated by us now.

Consultants were few and widely separated. Hospitals, there were none on which to unload ugly and non-paying cases. Neither were there specialists save that higher type, now unfortunately nearly extinct, exemplified by himself, whose specialty was the skin and everything under the skin. Alone, and often with imperfect appliances and instruments, he was compelled to grapple with the appalling emergencies which belonged alike to all branches of his work.

Nor was his daily visitation made in electric cars, automobiles, or in comfortable carriages over paved streets. On the contrary it was often necessary, in order to reach his scattered clientele, to ride on horse-back a circuit covering two or three days, sleeping at night in some settler's cabin, or perchance in the woods, his saddlebags, with their odoriferous packages, rusty turnkeys, and worn lancets serving for a pillow. These circuits often led over roads bottomless in the rainy season, and at best little more than Indian trails or the blazed paths of the surveyors, and which could be followed at night only through the instinct of her, who, like the "Auld mare Jess," was friend and companion as well as servant.

The pioneer doctor as we shall see him to-night challenges our highest admiration. Strong of mind and body, bold to a fault in an emergency, honest as tho sunlight and hiding under a gruff exterior a maiden's heart, he stands for the very best medical manhood. The type of doctorhood immortalized by Maclaren is not alone found in the glens of Scotland. The consecration to duty, the utter forgetfulness of self in doing good to others, the trials and privations, the great brain and greater heart of MacLure of Drumtochty may be paralleled, be it said to their honor, over and over again in the lives of the pioneer physicians in our own valley.




The first physician to locate in or near Dayton was Dr. John Hole. He was born in Virginia (1754), and read medicine with a Doctor Fullerton. Responding to the first call for troops in the Revolutionary War he wont with a battalion of Virginia militia to the general camp near Boston, was commissioned surgeon's mate in the Continental Army, and continued in active service until the close of the war. He fought at Bunker Hill, and was present when Washington assumed command of the army as chief.

Doctor Hole was on the medical staff of General Montgomery, in memory of whom this county was named, and with whom the writer is proud to trace a very distant kinship, when he fell mortally wounded at the storming of Quebec in 1775. It is said that the old doctor was proud of his record on the plains of Montmorency, and enjoyed retelling the story of the battle and how he cared for the wounded by the flashlight of cannon. After the war he located in New Jersey, where he had already married (1778), but came west early in 1790 and opened an office in Cincinnati, where he introduced the practice of inoculation for smallpox, which had just made its appearance in the little settlement.

In the spring of 1797, after thoroughly prospecting the neighboring valleys, he purchased 1440 acres of land on Silver Creek, in Washington Township, paying for it with Revolutionary land-warrants, built a cabin and removed his family to the new home in the wilderness. He was a Baptist in faith, and was the first person immersed in Silver Creek, the name of which was, in honor of him, changed to Hole's Creek, by which it is still known.

About a year later Doctor Hole's father entered land and settled in Miami Township, opposite the mouth of Bear Creek. In 1799 the settlers, fearing an outbreak of the Indians, built a stockade and blockhouse on his farm, which soon became known throughout the valley as Hole' station, and was the beginning of Miamisburg.

In those days everything was more plentiful than money, and country produce of all kinds, in granary or on hoof, was accepted in payment for medical services, as shown by the following due bills:


I owe Dr. John Hole one pair of leather shoes for a boy child.



Nov. 1, 1801, I agree to deliver to Dr. J. Hole a winter's smoking of tobacco or five venison hams.



According to the statement of Drake, Doctor Hole was not a man of much education or social rank, but his long and varied army service would certainly indicate that he was a competent practioner, and doubtless the equal of his contemporaries in medical and surgical skill. His energy is fully attested in the fact that in addition to his professional duties, which called him over a large district, he found time to build and run sawmills and to engage in the multiplied activities of a frontier life.

At the outset of the War of 1812 he was tendered a position on the medical staff of the army, which failing health compelled him to decline.

Doctor Hole died January 6, 1813.




Dr. John Elliott, a New Yorker by birth and an army surgeon of large experience, was the second physician to locate in this vicinity and the first in Dayton proper. He came in 1802, just before the little hamlet of half a dozen log cabins was designated as the seat of government for a county so large as to include in its boundaries the whole of the present counties of Preble, Miami, Darke, Shelby, Mercer, Van Wert, Paulding & Defiance, and parts of Allen, Putnam, Henry, and Lake.

Entering the army at the beginning of the war for independence as surgeon's mate to a New York regiment, Doctor Elliott was, in 1785, appointed to a like position in the regular Continental army, and was subsequently promoted to the surgeoncy of the First Infantry, with which he served through the war.

He came west with General St. Clair, and was for some time stationed at Ft. Washington near Cincinnati. He was with Wayne in the campaigns of 1794-5 which conquered from the Indians the Greenville treaty, brought peace and security to the Middle West, and turned the tide of immigration into the country of the Miamis.

Doctor Elliott was a dignified and courtly gentleman, punctilious in dress and in the observance of the amenities of life. Some insight into his character may be gathered from the almost comical portrait drawn by Doctor Drake, who met him here in the summer of 1804, and who speaks of him as "a highly accomplished gentleman in a purple silk coat." This costume, better fitted for court than cabin, must have contrasted strangely with the raccoon cap, homespun wammus, and buckskin breeches commonly worn by his associates and patients.

Doctor Elliott was popular as a physician, and as a citizen was active in every movement looking to the betterment of the village and its people. He was one of the incorporators of the Dayton Social Library Association, the first library authorized by the Legislature. A fac-simile of the original constitution of this association may be found in the last annual report of the Dayton Public Library and Museum. The establishing of such an institution in less than two years after the incorporation of the town speaks volumes for the culture and farsightedness of the founders of our city.

Doctor Elliott died in 1809 and was buried with military honors. Captain's Steele's troop of horse and Captain Butler's company of infantry leading the funeral cortege to the old graveyard on Sixth Street.




In 1804, Dr. James Welsh, a Pennsylvanian by birth, came in the twofold capacity of pastor to the First Presbyterian Church and physician to the public at large. To these vocations he soon added those of druggist and land speculator, making him a veritable jack of all trades.

Doctor Welsh was licensed to preach by the synod of Virginia in 1793, and two years later accepted a call to Pisgah church in Lexington, Kentucky, where associations were formed which led to his coming to Dayton. Local biographers credit him with an M.D. degree but I am unable to verify the claim. It has been suggested that it was obtained from Transylvania University, in which he held the Professorship of Languages from 1799 to 1804. But the medical department (the first in the West) of this university though formally organized in 1797, conferred no degrees in cursu until 1818. (Billings.)

That Doctor Welsh kept an up-to-date drug-store is proven by an advertisement in 1809 in which he announces the addition of one hundred new articles to his stock. The list contains many familiar drugs and others, like Stoughton's Bitters, Godfrey's Cordial, Contrayerva root, opedildoc, and Balsam de Maltha now little known, but which I remember, when a lad seeing on the shelves of my father's office.

Even in that day proprietary medicines formed no small share of the druggists supplies. As one would expect barks, red, grey and yellow were strongly in evidence. The first quinine, under the name of "salts of bark," was brought here in 1827.

That Dr. Welsh was a pulpit orator of merit we have the testimony of Dr. Haines, who in 1816 heard him preach in Springfield from, the text John 6:39 and writes, "His discourse was one of the best I have heard in the State, his reasoning clear and logical, and his manner impressive."

As a promoter he was less successful, for the rival town platted on his farm (now Dayton View), and which was reached by Welsh's ferry at the foot of First Street, did not prove to be a financial success.

Notwithstanding his multiplied business interests perhaps because of them. Doctor Welsh, like some modern parsons and doctors, was often hard run for money. The newspapers bristle with his appeals to those indebted to pay up, "as both reason and Scripture require they should," and with threats of the law if they do not heed the commands of "reason and Scripture "

As an example of the form in which medical accounts were rendered and the fees charged in the century's first decade, I extract the following items from a bill rendered in 1811, and now in the possession of Dr. Reeve:


FEBRUARY, 18, 1811.

H. G. Phillips to Jas. Welsh, Dr

1811     Aug. 15.    To delivery of lady and attendance; afterward to spirits laudanum, Ol. Cin., and large paper of magnesia - $10 00

Aug. 22.      To one visit and advice - .50

Oct.  11.      To 2 Oz. elixir paregoric - .56¼

Dec. 17-18. To visit and phial anti-spasmodic medicine; 2 Oz spirits nitre, and 2 Oz Elixir paregoric – $2.12½  

1812     Jan.2.      To attendance through the day and night, one large blister, sundry injections, scarifications, one bottle Godfrey's Cordial, and sundry portions of calomel and ipecac - $2.50


Doctor Welsh was one of the projectors of the Dayton Academy, founded in 1807, which had an exceptional history, and which enrolled among its teachers at different times some of the ablest educators in the state. I may name James B. Findlay, Milo G Williams, and E. E. Barney.

In 1817 Doctor Welsh was drawn into an unfortunate newspaper controversy with Mr. Cooper, the original owner of Dayton, and a high officer in his church.

Mr. Cooper charged him with dishonorable dealings, with writing anonymous and slanderous letters, with unfeeling conduct toward patients and professional colleagues, with cheating at church elections, and with forcing himself as pastor upon the church. Truly a formidable indictment, which, as Mr. Cooper says, "includes acts which would be considered dishonorable in a savage, to say nothing of one who professes to be a humble follower of Christ." But the doctor parson belonged to " that stubborn crew " who

"Prove their doctrine orthodox

By apostolic blows and knocks."

At any rate the doctor-part triumphed over the parson-part of his makeup, and he got back on his antagonist in royal style. In an exchange of invective it was a battle of giants, with the odds in favor of the doctor.

One of the counter charges brought against Cooper, the heinousness of which can be appreciated by this audience, was that he did not pay his "lawful doctor bills." It is fair to say that Mr. Cooper's estimate of Doctor Welsh's character was not accepted by all of the members, and an abortive effort was made by the Welsh faction, which included some of the strongest men in the congregation, to found a new church under his pastorate. Whatever may have been the merits of the controversy. Doctor Welsh evidently felt that his usefulness in this part of the vineyard was seriously impaired, and soon after accepted a call to Vevay, Indiana, where lie preached and practiced until his death in 1825.




Doctor Murphey opened an office here in 1805 and died in 1809.

Fortune does not seem to have showered her favors upon him, judging from the inventory filed by his administrator which alone remains to tell the story of his labors: "To-wit: one horse, saddle, and bridle; one family Bible with plates; twelve volumes of Shakespeare ; one Edinburgh dispensatory; wearing apparel, bedclothes, and some medicines." Doctor Murphey was evidently a believer in Voltaire's dictum, that "a small number of books is sufficient," since the old dispensatory seems to have constituted his entire medical library. Though small, it was well chosen.

Close on Doctor Murphey's death the following notice appeared in the Repertory, and gives all the information now obtainable about the writer:

"Doctor Wood begs leave to inform his friends and the public generally that he has opened shop in the town of Dayton, in part of the building occupied by Mr. David Reid, where he will be found at all times to administer medical and surgical aid. He also begs leave to inform his friends that he has opened an assortment of medicines and that of the first quality, which he will dispose of by the smalls."




The Centinel of August, 1810, contains the professional card of Doctor Edwards. In the following May he associated himself with Doctor Este for "the practice of medicine and the vending of drugs in the apothecary line." According to the universal custom the announcement states that medical advice is free to those who patronize their store. This partnership lasted less than a year, terminated probably by the election of Doctor Edwards to the State legislature. During his absence at Columbus, Doctor Slaybach, of whom I find no other mention, looked after his medical interests.

In a newspaper card of this date the doctor informs his patrons that he must have an immediate settlement of accounts, and offers to take in payment pork, wheat hay, feathers, country linen, or whiskey at the market price.

In 1812 Doctor Edwards had an official connection of some sort with the medical department of the army but later raised a company and went to the front as its captain.

The return of the Montgomery County companies was the occasion of great feasting, speech making, and general rejoicing, but the records are silent as to the fate of the subject of this notice. Presumably the doctor returned safely from battle but succumbed to the public jubilation. Peace hath her fatalities as well as war.




Doctor Este, of whom we have already spoken began practice in Dayton about 1810, when it had grown into a population of 383. He was a prominent Mason, took an active part in all public events, and was one of the promoters and early trustees of the Dayton Academy. He was an expert meteorologist and kept accurate records for the years of 1811-12 which were memorable for comets, eclipses, cyclones and earthquakes. To add to the terror inspired by these natural phenomena, at a time when the people were more superstitious than now, a new disease prevailed extensively and with great fatality in this region. Through the newspapers, parents were urged to carefully protect their children from this moist and dangerous climate if they would rear them to man-hood. A single issue of the Centinel (Dec. 9, 1811) contained the funeral notices of four children who had died with croup during the week. The new disease was evidently membranous croup, which has lost but little of its malignancy with the lapse of years. in 1815, Doctor Este, as secretary of the Board of Censors of the Seventh District Medical Society officially notified all emigrant physicians within the district who had not complied with the law, to appear before the Board of Censors for examination or suffer the penalty It is interesting in this connection to note that the first and all subsequent medical acts passed by the General Assembly up to 1824 divided the State into districts, each of which had three censors named in the act, who were empowered to examine and license all who proposed to practice medicine within the district. Even graduates of medical colleges were not exempted from this examination prior to the passage of the amendment of 1818 Thus the members of the local profession became the sole judges of the qualifications of their colleagues, and the numerous warnings issued to emigrant physicians show how jealously the censors guarded their rights.

Surely the wheels of medical legislation in Ohio ran backward for more than half a century. Prior to the enactment of the present law Ohio has never had any legal restrictions on the practice of medicine equal to  those of 1811-12. The districts changed from time to time as new counties were formed. At the date of Doctor Este’s secretaryship, the seventh district was made up of Montgomery, Preble, Darke, Miami, Greene and Champaign.

Doctor Este died, after a short illness, in January, 1817.


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