Greenfield Medical History - March 2013



Again this winter Indiana saw another strong flu season. I myself not wanting to feel left out of the statistics decided to use a few sick days…….and I even had a flu shot! While I was out I did what everyone else did, went to the doctor loaded up on medicine and rested. We are fortunate to have the technology in the medical field that we do today. But what if I had been an early settler in Greenfield? What would I have done then? As I looked into these questions I’m not sure now that I would have made it.

Let’s paint a picture! When our first settlers began inhabiting Greenfield it was a heavily wooded area. These areas were damp due to lack of sunlight. So, as you can image, these damp areas brought on a host of problems to the new settlers. Malaria and other disease that feast on these damp places thrived. But somehow our settlers managed to survive.

The Indians that inhabited these areas also struggled with diseases that were brought to them through the new white settlers. New diseases brought by settlers moving west did just as much to wipe out Indian population as anything else.

Medicine at this time as you can imagine was a primitive practice. When the first settlers arrived there were no doctors. They were left to treat themselves for illness or ailments. The settlers borrowed from Indians to use various remedies made from local herbs and plants. The housewife was expected to have some knowledge of “simples” and “benefits.” The “simples” were how to use the herbs for remedial purposes, while “benefits” described the old-fashioned herbs considered beneficial to everyday well-being. Many of the settlers believed that there were specific methods of preventing or curing certain illnesses. For example, a person could eat asparagus to purify the blood, celery to cure rheumatism and neuralgia, and lettuce to induce sleep. Chicken fat was said to relieve earache and reduce deafness. Pure mutton tallow was considered the best treatment for cuts because of the lanolin it contained.

As you can imagine the settlers having to build their log cabins and other items they often sustained injury. Treating wounds simply had to be done by one of the family members or possibly a nearby neighbor.

Living conditions had a huge factor on pioneer health. Dirty water, harsh weather conditions and malnutrition from lack of quality food often contributed. Four common diseases of that time were cholera, malaria, smallpox and typhoid fever. All of these were deadly and those fortunate to survive were weak or sickly for months.



Signs like this one were posted by the doctor in the homes of someone who might have had one of these diseases to worn visitors.


Two early favorite practices for these diseases were bleeding and purging. Sometime, if not performed properly, these bleedings would make a person too weak causing death. An example for a cure for gout, Rheumatism, Cramps or weak nerves……kill the fattest young dog that you can get, in the months of March or April. Clean him as you would a pig; gut him; and stuff his body with a pint of red fishing worms, a pint of red pepper, a considerable portion of the bark of the root of sassafras, and water frogs; then sew up the incision, roast the dog well, and save the oil to anoint sores. Wow and all I had to do was pop a few pills!!!

When Doctors first came onto the scene in Indiana they were very limited. They had little education or training, when compared to doctors today. Most would study Native American herbalists’ books for a few months or read whatever medical book that might be available, which were also limited. Within a short period of time you considered yourself a qualified doctor. You had no such degree or certified paper to claim this title.



Early doctor’s tools


These early doctors didn’t have offices like they do today. They came to you. They rode horse-back or by buggy through the woods and roughly cleared muddy paths. They came with no specific directions through the forest and would often have to travel several miles in any type of weather. A lit candle or torch would sometimes be placed on the home to give clue to the doctors.



Doctor’s buggy


Early historical writings show that in 1846 there was an outbreak of congestive fever. Many people died. The common treatment was bloodletting and after that they tried calomel and ptyalism and eventually large doses of quinine.

 Eventually as Greenfield grew the trees were trimmed back or removed and the sunlight was let in. The thick forest undergrowth was removed. The ground was ditched which gave way to proper drainage and the stagnant water drained. Obstructions from the streams were removed which allowed the water to flow. And all rotting logs and decaying matter were quickly cleared away. With this brought on better conditions for the early settlers.

 The first doctor listed for Greenfield and Center Township was Jared Chapman. Dr. Leonard Bardwell and Simon Alter soon followed. The first child listed to be born in Greenfield is Jared C. Meek. Possibly one of these doctors delivered baby Meeks. Unfortunately no biographical descriptions were given for these doctors.

The Binford History of Hancock County gave a list of people involved in the “healing arts” in Hancock County. The list includes Jared Chapman, Leonard Bardwell, Lot Edwards, B.F. Duncan, Simon Alters, Hiram Cumstock, R.E. Barnett and N. P. Howard.

Because of the variety of medical situations which the doctors faced, the small town doctor was a general practitioner. Broken limbs were set, babies delivered, teeth were pulled and a host of carious illnesses were diagnosed and treatment were prescribed. On very rare occasions emergency operations were performed to save a patient’s life.

Pharmacy was also a sideline or hobby for the doctor or retail merchant. Due to the lack of restrictive legislation at that time virtually anyone could become a pharmacist.



Early medicine box


The druggist or pharmacist was an important adjunct to the pioneer medical profession. He arrived on the scene after a medical practice had been established in the community. From wholesale drug distributors, he ordered and carried in stock a large selection of chemicals that enabled him to readily fill the prescriptions issued by the local doctor. In addition, he carried a variety of patent medicines, tonics, liniments, ointments, powders and pills. Frequently, the pharmacist was required to compound ingredients to produce the required medicines. To meet the needs of the community that were not supplied by the local general store, the druggist began carrying other specialty items such as veterinary, stationery, photographic, grooming and hygienic supplies.

In 1883, the State of Indiana began setting standards for the profession and other legal requirements. Laws were passed making it unlawful for any person to practice medicine without first obtaining a license from the state. A list of doctors in 1885 for Hancock County listed 43 doctors.


Independent Medical Investigator

In the fall of 1879 Drs. S.S. Boots and John L. Marsh, commenced the publication of The Independent Medical Investigator. It was at first the intention of the publishers to conduct the papers so that it might be of interest to the residence as well as the doctors. Eventually it became strictly a professional magazine. It was published for several years in Greenfield. Later it was transferred to Indianapolis and was published for a number of years as the organ of the eclectic school of medicine. By mid-1910’s it suspended its publishing.



Early doctor table


The following is known information about the doctors of Greenfield.

Dr. J. W. Hervey:

Dr. Hervey is listed as the first doctor in Hancock County. He described as able, eloquent speaker, and prolific writer. For a quarter of a century after the Civil War the columns of the Hancock Democrat contained articles from his pen, in which he recounted his experiences and gave his recollections of those early days. The best history of the early practice of medicine in Hancock County is found in his articles. My descriptions of how early doctors traveled came from his articles.

One of the first so called medicines often used was quinine. The problem with this drug was that it was expensive for the time. Dr. Hervey found a way to buy cattle cheap from farmers in the area and then he would drive them to Indianapolis and sell them at a higher price. He would then take this money and put it towards the purchase of quinine.

Dr. Hervey also played an important role in 1847 when a smallpox epidemic broke out in Buck Creek Township. There were also several people struck with Erysipelas, or black lung, spreading at the same time. Dr. Hervey teamed up with Dr. William Smith and Dr. Bobbs, both from Cumberland, to control the outbreak. Dr. Hervey had great success with smallpox and studied how this silent killer spread. It was stated that he treated eighty-four patients for smallpox, with but the loss of three grown men and two children.

Some actually thought that he started the spread of the disease just to gain notoriety. This theory was thought plausible by the residence as it was known that he was in Cincinnati the winter before and had told someone that he saw cases of smallpox in the local hospital there and brought a scab of the disease back with him. It was urged that he could not have been so well acquainted with the disease and have treated it so successfully if he had not made some special study and preparation.

He would use tincture of iodine and nitrate of silver to prevent pitting in the face. One Miss Burris lost as eye and was otherwise disfigured by the disease, pustules having formed in the eyes. Many blamed Dr. Hervey for the loss of the eye. He was sued for malpractice. He hired an attorney and the trial began. Many physicians that he worked with were brought it to testify. The testimony from the doctors proved that Dr. Hervey was innocent and the case was thrown out.

Even though he was vindicated the trial cost him much of his hard-earned means and cheated him out of three or four of the best years of his life. This case was similar to many cases in the early stages of medical practices which lacked some technology and the public knowledge or practices.

Dr. Hervey eventually moved to Indianapolis where he established a very lucrative medical practice.



Dr. Noble P. Howard:




It’s unsure exactly when Dr. Howard came to Greenfield but due to having had a son born in 1856 in Greenfield it’s safe to assume that it would be around that time. He was known to have ranked among the best surgeons in the state. He graduated from the Medical College of Indiana. He was described as being a whole-souled gentleman, who never violated any law of professional etiquette or honor. His son Dr. N.P. Howard Jr. also became a doctor in this area.



Dr. Noble P. Howard Jr.




He was born in Greenfield on February 6, 1856. He was educated in Greenfield schools and then attended Asbury University for a short time studying to follow in his father’s footsteps as a doctor. He then joined the medical firm of Howard and Martin. He graduated from the Indiana Medical College in 1879. He married soon after and began the practice of medicine, forming a partnership with his preceptors, and became junior member of the firm of Howard, Howard and Martin. In the early 1880’s he was appointed Secretary of the County Board of Health. The 1914 registered doctors list for Hancock County does not include his name. After this time no additional history was given.


Dr. Lot Edwards:

Dr. Lot Edwards also probably came to Greenfield around the 1860’s. He was described as being a wiry man and his appearance would indicate that he could stand but little effort, yet he has done enough hard work in the practice of medicine to kill two or three ordinary men. He was a member of the Hancock Medical Society. The 1914 registered doctors list for Hancock County does not include his name.



Dr. Elam I. Judkins:



Dr. Judkins came to Greenfield from Shelbyville where he grew up. His thirst for knowledge led him to Greenfield in January, 1852 where he attended school. After graduating he taught school and did manual labor until 1854. It was at that time he went into the drug trade and the study of medicine. In the spring of 1865, after having attended a course of lectures in the Ohio Medical College at Cincinnati, he began the practice, and has since been actively and successfully engaged in his chosen profession. He graduated from the Indiana Medical College and of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Indiana. He was also an insurance agent and member of the Masons. In 1862 he was appointed enrolling and draft commissioner by Governor Oliver P. Morton. In 1868-69 he served as President of the board of Town Trustees in which he negotiated the bonds for the construction of the public school building. He also served for four years as City Treasurer. In 1881 he was appointed by the Commissioner of Pensions as a US Examining Surgeon for this area. No info was given as to when Dr. Judkins passed.



Dr. Samuel M. Martin:



Born in Rushville on March 7, 1842, his father being a physician and literary man led Samuel to pursue the same path as his father. He was side tracked from that path as he fought in the Civil War. He was discharged after receiving a gunshot wound to his left side at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas on March 1, 1862. He graduated in 1865 from the Cincinnati College of Physicians and Surgeons. He married the only daughter of Dr. N.P. Howard with whom he formed a partnership.

Dr. A.G. Selman:

Dr. Selman practiced medicine in Greenfield somewhere around the 1870’s. He graduated from the Indiana Medical College. He also took a prominent part in politics. He had at one time as large a practice as any man in the county. Dr. Selman also had a son that would go on to become a doctor. The 1914 registered doctors list for Hancock County does not include his name.

Hancock Medical Society

Organized in Greenfield in January 6, 1874, it incorporated the State Medical Society rules and regulations. There were 22 charter members. This group of doctors met regularly to discuss medical practices, learning from each other’s experience and success or failure of different treatment. This was all done to benefit the citizens of Greenfield.

Hancock County Board of Health

This board was formed in the early 1880’s. They began forming regulations following state guidelines to vaccinations. Several guidelines were followed especially for kids attending school where for several straight years had to be cancelled for extended periods due to outbreaks of one form or another.

The following is a business directory list of physicians in Greenfield in 1882; R.E. Barnett, Howard, Howard & Martin, J.A. Hall, E.I. Judkins, M.M. Adams, S.S. Boots, L.A. Vawter, O.M. Edwards, J.W. Selman and J. Fransis. The following is a list of druggist from the same directory; F.H. Crawford, E.B. Grose and V.L. Earley.

 By 1914 more and more doctors spread throughout the city and county. A role taken in December 1914 shows thirteen doctors just in Greenfield. They were; Joseph L. Allen, Ernest R. Sisson, Tyner E. Lowe, C.W. McGaughey, O.S. Heller, Rolla B. Ramsey, J.M. Larimore, John P. Black, W.A. Justice, Milo Gibbs, C.K. Bruner, Mary L. Bruner, and I.W. Trees.

 Each and every day there were advances in the medical field. Organizations such as the Hancock County Medical Society helped doctors advance their working knowledge. Medicines and equipment became more advanced. Even the invention of the automobile helped make visits quicker and easier. Today doctors have offices filled with many resources and state of the art equipment. It’s amazing at how far we’ve advanced in what has really a short period of time.

 Our pioneer doctors in this area where described as “self made men, and men of unusually good sense. Few counties in the state can boast of better doctors than Hancock County.” Looks like we’ve been in good hands for a long time!!! So the next time you have an ailment go pull some herbs out of the garden, take a good hard look at your family dog, rub some ointment on it and get back to work!!

If you have something you’d like to share or add to this particular history I’d love to hear from you. Please contact me so we can learn more. Also take some time to visit the Old Log Jail in Riley Park when it opens in April. They have a beautiful display of county medical history and it is full of cool artifacts. It will definitely bring back some memories of long ago visits to your doctor.


By Greg Roland



Binford History of Hancock County

Richmond History of Hancock County

Hancock Democrat Newspaper

Indiana Medical History Report

More Greenfield History

City Phone Directory

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