Nevada native, long-time newspaper columnist and author John L. Smith has just published the final volume in his series of thin paperbacks devoted to recounting the exploits and discoveries of some of the most colorful characters who shaped Nevada and the West — especially suited for younger readers wanting a taste of their home state’s history.
Smith’s 69-page “Pioneering Medicine: From Sage to Surgery” completes his “Fields of Silver and Gold” series. In this book, he recounts the exploits of Nevada’s first medical practitioners, some more skilled than others in the budding medical sciences.
In the opening chapter Smith writes about the state’s first doctor, Dr. Charles Daggett, and how he saved Mormon Church leader and judge, Orson Hyde, in the 1850s, while Nevada was still a part of the Utah Territory. As was all too common at the time, Hyde had been caught in the Sierra Nevada range during a December snowstorm, reminiscent of the one that tragically trapped the Donner Party a decade earlier.
Hyde’s legs and feet were seriously frostbitten — likely to take his limbs or his life — when he managed to seek out Dr. Daggett, who knew better than to warm up the limbs too quickly. Smith’s research found that Daggett chopped a hole in the ice of a frozen creek and submerged Hyde’s legs to more slowly thaw them. The doctor then rubbed the area with turpentine.
“Hyde’s legs were saved without the benefit of the kind of advanced medical treatment that we take for granted today,” Smith writes. “In Daggett’s time, even the best-trained medical doctors relied on treatments that mixed herbs, oils, and even animal parts to make what were little more than home remedies. Western medicine in the 1850s still had much to learn.”
That is now considered one of the first documented cases of medical treatment in what is now Nevada, according to Smith.
The book goes on to delve into medical practices of Nevada’s Native American tribes, such as the Paiute, Shoshone, Washoe and others — which included teas, poultices, crystals, medicine bags, chants, dances and sweat lodges. It also recounts how Chinese laborers practiced millennia-old Chinese medicine, which also used herbs extensively. Smith also reports on the groundbreaking efforts of women and minority doctors. There is also a chapter on the ravages of the Spanish Flu in 1918.
The book concludes with the relatively recent establishment of medical education at the state universities and the private Touro University Nevada, which are helping to remedy the state’s historically under served health care needs.
The book gives one a greater appreciation of and understanding of what it took to survive and prosper in those formative years.
Other books in the series are: “Sarah Winnemucca: A Princess for the People,” “Snowshoe Thompson: Sierra Mailman,” “Anne Martin: The March for Suffrage,” “Ben Parker: Black Pioneers on the Frontier” and “The Pony Express: True Tales and Frontier Legends.” All are worthy reads.