Early medicine in Dayton


Jesse Green’s memoir, written when he was an elderly man, give us glimpses of life in Dayton in the early days of its settlement. Accidents were always a danger, and not all had as good an outcome at this one:

“Our first physician in Dayton, was a German, whose name I have forgotten, next was Allen H. Howland, Harmon Hurlbut and Peter Schemerhorn, Dr. Howland was also an excellent surgeon whom father [John Green] employed, when he had his arm smashed from the hand to above his elbow, in cutting the ice from a water wheel, other Physicians wanted to amputate his arm, above the elbow but father would not consent to this, and sent for Dr. Howland, notwithstanding they had just passed through a very bitter campaign, in which Wm. Stadden was the regularly nominated candidate for the state Senate and Dr. Howland ran against him as an independent candidate and was defeated. When he called to see father and examined his wound, father made this proposition to him, “if he would save his life and his arm, he would give him five hundred dollars,” and the Dr. said he could do it, and took the case and did do it, and got his five hundred dollars.”1

The second physician in active practice in Ottawa is believed to have been Dr. Allen H. Howland, who came here in 1833 from Saratoga, New York. He had received a good medical education, and for nearly a third of a century enjoyed a large practice. He was something of a politician, and had many enemies as well as numerous friends. He was an able man, and enjoyed the confidence of his fellow citizens. He died in 1866.2

  1. Unpublished memoir of Jesse Green, a transcription of which is in the possession of Candace Wilmot, Urbana, IL
  2. Ottawa: Old and New (Ottawa, Illinois: The Republican-Times,1912-1914), 192

Old Settlers Reunion – Part 4



continuing the Hon. P. A. Armstrong’s remarks to the 1877 La Salle County Old Settlers Reunion:

Our worst enemy and severest affliction was ague and fever. None escaped it, or if so the exceptions were few indeed.

Nor is it to be wondered at, for no attention was given nor effort made to obtain pure water. Holes were sunk at the edges of the sloughs, which were filled with surface water, covered with a blue scum, and during hot weather teeming with animalculae. We called them wigglers, and since it has been asserted that blue glass is a great invigorator in the growth of vegetable matter we have been inclined to believe that blue scum is equally potent in developing wigglers into mosquitoes and tadpoles into frogs and that as an ague producer the blue scummed water was a perfect success.

We neither had any physicians or medicines except on the botanical principle. Our quinine was boneset or wauhoo, the very thoughts of which make us shudder even now. When the ague came it manifested great staying qualities. Six weeks of daily shakes were not uncommon. Whole families were afflicted with it at the same time, when the question as to which one was best able to carry water from the slough was difficult to solve.

We were frequently compelled to live in tents and sleep upon the ground for weeks and months before we could collect a sufficient force to raise our little cabins. Everybody was sick with the ague and unable to work. Our first buildings were log cabins, [This generality was not true of Dayton, which had a sawmill from the beginning.] generally with but one room, which must serve as kitchen, dining-room, sitting room, parlor and bed room.  In-door sparking was almost impossibility as Pa, Ma and all the mischievous brothers and sisters of your girl persisted in lying awake to listen to what you said and take notes of what you did.

———————— to be continued —————————

A Sad Accident

CB&Q caboose

A SAD ACCIDENT. – Last Thursday evening, at about 12 o’clock, Mr. James Timmons, a brick mason who lives at Dayton, met with a fearful accident by which he was deprived of his right arm. He was attempting to get upon a freight train at Grand Ridge to go home, when, owing to the darkness and the difficulty of climbing on the caboose of the train, he fell with one arm under the wheels. The arm was of course completely crushed. He got up and ran a short distance in a state of complete bewilderment, caused by his intense agony, and then fell. Jay Doolittle, being near, picked him up and brought him to Ottawa. Dr. Campfield successfully amputated the mangled arm, the poor sufferer bearing the operation bravely. He was eased as well as could be done with opiates, and left under the care of Jay Doolittle and John Cliff at the Ottawa house, where he now lies. He is a poor man with a large family, and presents rather a pitiable case.1

  1. The [Ottawa, Illinois] Free Trader, 7 Aug 1875, p5, col 3

A Medical Story from Early Dayton


The following report, from the Ottawa newspaper, gives details of the courage required to confront the horrors of medical care without anesthesia, in early Illinois.

Surgical Operation

           Messrs. Editors. – Permit me to lay before the readers of your paper a detailed account of an operation I yesterday saw performed upon the breast of a female living at Dayton, who, for her courage and fortitude in sustaining it, has scarcely a parallel on the records of Chirurgery. Mrs. Q____, aged about 30, perceived a tumour eighteen months’ since in the left breast, which in consequence of its small size and not being painful, was little regarded until three months since, when it began rapidly to enlarge, ulcerating and becoming very painful. Accordingly she was apprised of the truth, that there was no hope of a cure in her case, short of a complete extirpation of the tumour, to which operation she expressed her assent; and with an unflinching resolution she seemed to call forth all the energies of her body and mind, and bared her bosom to the formidable strokes of the Scalpel. The operation was performed by Doct. Hurlbut, according to the approved method laid down by Sir Astley Cooper, with a clear perception of the nature and extent of the malignant mass, being a Medullary Sarcoma, of which he was careful not to leave the least particle from which it might again form. The tumour, which weighed five pounds, was removed in about 20 minutes, although it was rendered very intricate by many adhesions. Dr. H. shurely merits the approbation of the profession, for the expert manner in which he removed the tumour; and Drs. Hatch, Sanger, and myself, who by request lent our assistance, can vouch for the feeling and tender manner the operation was conducted. Nothing, Messrs. Editors, could be more touching to our feelings than to see this poor dependent creature alive to every trivial roughness while treading the prosperous path of life, suddenly raising in mental and bodily force, to abide with unshrinking firmness this most formidable operation, not a groan passed her lips, nor was there the least distortion, or rigidity of the muscles.

  1. The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, February 25, 1842, p. 2, col. 4

Medicine on the Frontier


The following is an excerpt from a memoir written by Jesse Green, recounting tales of life in early Dayton and promoting a truly terrifying prescription for cholera:

“The next day after reaching home, I was taken down with the scarlet fever, which we supposed was contracted on a trip to St. Louis a short time previous.  This came very near to ending my earthly career, being the first and only time I ever fainted.  We had a German doctor who bled me with a high fever on.  I keeled over and was unconscious for quite a spell.  This was my first severe attack of sickness, but afterwards I had five others equally as severe, scarlet fever, lung-fever or pneumonia, inflamation of the bowels, cholera on route to California in 1849, and a fall on my head and shoulders, that came near to proving fatal.  I was saved in my attack of cholera by a prescription found in a medicine chest we bought in St. Louis put up by Dr. Westbrook.  It proved successful in every case where I knew it to be used.

“I will herewith give the formula from Dr. Westbrook:

Camphor                     6 grains
Capsicum                    6 grains            One dose in severe cases,
Blue-Mass                   6 grains            to be repeated often if
Pow’d Opium              3 grains            necessary.  1/2 dose
Prepared Chalk         20 grains            sufficient in mild cases.

“Some doctors claim that this is too large a dose, but I took three or four full doses myself.  It should be repeated every ten or fifteen minutes, but in mild cases of cholera morbus I found that a half dose was sufficient, and soon effected a cure.”

If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another

June of 1880 had an outbreak of disease, injury and death in Dayton, as the following newspaper reports show.


But one new case – that of Mabel, a girl of 7 years, youngest child of Jesse Green – is reported, and with her the disease is not violent. The others, who were very low with it last week, are recovering.

Fred Green, the lad who was so frightfully mangled in the paper mill last week, is bearing up bravely. His recovery would seem miraculous, considering the tortures he has suffered. In addition to the tearing off of the right hand, he lost the first and second fingers of the left hand, his right leg was broken below the knee, the left leg knee joint dislocated and the knuckle bone thereof broken and the right arm broken above the elbow. He successfully bore this awful shock and the subsequent one of the amputation of the fingers and right arm above the wrist, and apparently is on the mend, though many dangers lie in wait before he can recover.1


At Dayton, May 20th [sic: 26], 1880, of diphtheria, ALLIE, son of Jesse and H. R. Green.

At the same place on the same day and of the same disease, EDWARD, son of George and Charlotte McKinson [sic: Makinson].2

1. The Ottawa [Illinois] Republican, June 3, 1880, p. 1, col. 3
2. p.8, col. 5

Stay Away From That White Clover


An example of quick thinking:

A few days ago one of J. Baker’s (Dayton township) most valuable cows was taken violently sick after eating white clover. Seeing that death was inevitable unless immediate relief was given, Mr. B. made an incision, with a knife, 7 ½ inches below the backbone and 7 inches from the hip. Result, the cow is now well.1

One of the great dangers to cattle pastured in a field with white clover was that of pasture bloat. Bloat, the buildup of gas in the stomach, is part of the normal process of digestion and is usually gotten rid of by belching. Eating the white clover produces foam which blocks the release of the gas. Death can come on in as little as fifteen minutes, so Mr. Baker’s quick act was necessary to save his cow’s life.

  1. The Ottawa Republican, June 22, 1883, p. 8, col. 4

Kill or Cure?

cartoon of shivering man

The early settlers of Dayton were subject to the fever and ague which prevailed to a large extent for a number of years. It was expected that every newcomer would necessarily have a siege of it to acclimate him. Jesse Green tells of how he became acclimated.

I will relate a little of my own experience in this line. It seemed to require more of the shaking up process to acclimate me than most others. I had it regularly every fall up to 1843 when I became so tired and disgusted with it that I concluded to try the remedy that my father experienced when moving to this country, and which proved successful in his case. I began to think that if cold water alone was a specific for that annoying complaint, we had plenty of it very convenient in a wool scouring box about six feet long, two and a half feet wide and three feet deep in the woolen factory. I had made up my mind to jump into this box of water a little before my chill came on, but being busy neglected it until I was shivering like an aspen leaf. I jumped in with my chill and with my clothes on, not caring very much whether it killed or cured. It came very near the former, as by the time I walked up home with wet clothing, I was shaking so badly that my wife thought I would shake down the old brick hotel where we were living at that time. I had a slight chill the next day, but have not had an attack of fever and ague since.

The Terrors of Cholera

Cholera was an ever-present danger in the middle of the 19th century and the disease could strike swiftly and cruelly, as this newspaper article from 1854 shows. Aaron Daniels lived just across the Fox river from Dayton and was related to members of the Green family.

Cholera—Fearful Mortality

While there has not, during the present season, been a single case of cholera in Ottawa, originating here, and our city has been unusually healthy, the disease has on several occasions broken out in some isolated families in our vicinity, like a fire in the night, consuming every thing before it. The last family that has suffered from its terrible visitation is that of Mr. AARON DANIELS, a respectable farmer, residing about three miles north of Ottawa, east of Fox River. The disease first made its appearance in his family on Friday of last week, and up to last Thursday morning six of its members has fallen victims to the ruthless scourge, as follows:

On Saturday evening, Minerva Daniels, daughter of A. Daniels, aged about 17.
On Monday night, Jonathan Daniels, son, aged about 20 years.
Ruth Ann Daniels, daughter, aged about 14 years.
Judith Daniels, daughter, aged about 11.
Aaron Daniels, son, aged about 4 years.
And on Thursday morning Mrs. Aaron Daniels, aged about 40.

The family of Mr. Daniels being largely connected in the neighborhood, a number of persons—friends and relatives—visited and remained at the house during their affliction, nearly all of whom have since been taken with the disease, and in many instances, with fatal results, as the following melancholy list of the dead will show.

On Monday evening Geo. Head, son of Thomas Head, aged about 18 years.
Same day Louisa Parker, child of Mrs. Parker, daughter of Aaron Daniels—aged about 4 years.
On Tuesday morning, Mrs. B. Fleming, sister of Mrs. A. Daniels.
On Wednesday, Alvah Channel, living with A. Daniels—aged about 20.
On Sunday, Miss Kingsley, school teacher, lately from Mt. Palatine. She had been boarding in the family of Mr. Daniels until the cholera made its appearance, when she started for home, but was taken at Ottawa, where she died.
On Thursday, Mr. Garrett Galvin, who had assisted in burying the deceased members of the family of Mr. Daniels.

We hear of several others in the neighborhood who have taken the disease, but up to yesterday morning of no more deaths. All the persons taken thus far, we believe were at the house of Mr. Daniels, either calling or assisting there, during their affliction; and it is remarkable that the disease has spread in no families where there have been cases except that of Mr. Daniels. The only cause we have heard assigned for this fearful visitation is the fact that a few days before the disease made its appearance, Mrs. D. had used fresh pork in his family. This alone, although doubtless very unhealthy food at this season, is not believed to be of itself sufficient to account for the fatality ascribed to its use, except on the hypothesis that the pork had become tainted. Considering the extreme heat of the weather, this is not unlikely to have been the case, and although it may not have been perceptible, we are assured that the slightest taint will render such meat otherwise not unwholesome, as poisonous as strychnine.

The reports circulated in town that the family had suffered for want of attention, and that great difficulty had been found in obtaining assistance to bury the dead, &c., we know to be wholly untrue. The truth is, that during most of the time, too many persons were at the house. The family has many friends and relatives in the whole neighborhood, and frequently they gathered in so numerously that they were advised to keep away. Sufficient help was constantly at hand, and complaint on that score is neither made by Mr. D. nor, if made, would be just to his neighbors.1

  1. The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, August 19, 1854, p. 3, col. 1