The “country doctor” in Lincoln’s day




I wrote last week about my boyhood in Detroit. Our family doctor made house calls back then. I don’t think I ever actually saw him in his office. He did have an office. I remember seeing that his office was in his house. It was located on Gratiot Avenue on the eastside of the city. Looking back on him now, I think he was probably the last of an era of doctors of his kind. He was very much a “country doctor”-at least in my eyes. R. Carlyle Buley writes about the country doctor in his book The Old Northwest Pioneer Period, 1815-1840 Volume 1 that was common to Abraham Lincoln’s generation. On pages 270-271, he describes him this way:

“He was an important figure in pioneer life. An individualist in an age of individualism, he conformed to no set type, but in general has fared well at the hands of history. Like the preacher he was often a jack of all trades-might farm, hunt, or do some smithing in odd hours. In the early days wolves and wildcats kept him company on the solitary night journeys through almost trackless woods, but his nerves were steady and weird cries were not so dangerous as overhanging branches, hidden holes, and swollen streams. As did the judge and minister, he sometimes rode circuit over his territory. Tireless, fearless, often gruff, yet sympathetic, the doctor maintained a personal relationship with his people more intimate and vital than did minister or lawyer. Though frequently short of learning, intolerant of rivals and given to petty quarrels, he was abundantly possessed of those qualities which made his humanity triumph over both nature and human selfishness, and himself usually a figure at the same time feared, loved, and venerated.”

If a small place like New Salem was fortunate to have the services of a doctor during those pioneer days, I imagine Mr. Buley’s description of the country doctor would fit to a tee. For fans of the television  series Gunsmoke-the paragraph brings Milburn Stone as “Doc” Adams to mind, doesn’t it?

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