Thursday, October 29, 2009

McLoughlin, Whitman ... Patterson?

The early history of medicine in the Pacific Northwest is dominated by relatively few characters, and the popularity of stories about John McLoughlin in Oregon City and Marcus Whitman in southern Washington tend to obscure the narrative about medicine in other parts of the Oregon Territory.

What about the Upper Willamette Valley, for instance? In 1941, Leonard Jacobson wrote: "Historically, little has been said about this portion of the Oregon Country. It did not have its John McLoughlin or its Dr. Whitman to make exciting chapters for later historians to record. Its Native inhabitants were peaceful and friendly to the incoming white settlers--no massacres or Indian wars interrupted the agriculture and homemaking pursuits of its early pioneers."

Ah! The curse of living in uninteresting times. Happily for us, Jacobson took up the cause of our nearly forgotten forebears and wrote their story (undoubtedly urged on by his professor, Olof Larsell, who was trying to collect material for The Doctor in Oregon). A recent patron request called my attention to Jacobson's piece, called "Some notes on early beginnings in the Upper Willamette Valley and a description of medicine practiced in that country up to 1880," which was read before the Medical History Club at the University of Oregon Medical School in 1941.

(Interestingly, a handwritten note dated August 7, 1959, accompanies our copy and reads in part: "I am writing this to slip in with the last pages which Dr. L. Jacobson has kindly had typed for the U. of O. Library copy of his manuscript." It's unclear what was changed, although pages 18, 20, 25, 26, and 27 are much brighter than the others and are on different paper stock.)

Jacobson makes a fairly detailed account of early Native American health and medicine in the area, citing the accounts of Alexander Ross, Jesse Applegate, John Scouler, and John Minto, before introducing Andrew W. Patterson, M.D., the first "bona fide medical doctor" to arrive in Eugene in 1852. Patterson had graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Medicine in Philadelphia in 1841 and come across the plains on horseback. Why Eugene? As Jacobson notes, "The need for doctors in that early settlement could not have been very great at that time, for, instead of depending on the collection of infrequent medical fees for a livelihood he entered the government employ as a surveyor and soon afterward accepted the contract for the first survey work to be done in that region."

Whatever his reasons for settling in Eugene, Patterson would go on to make lasting contributions to the early development of the city well beyond medicine. Despite his civic and social activities, he maintained an active practice; in 1869, the now busy Patterson partnered with Abram Sharples, MD. The experienced Sharples was also on the faculty of the Willamette University Medical Department as professor of anatomy. Salem to Eugene is a heck of a commute now, but imagine doing it on horseback...

As the city's population grew, it also attracted W.H. Hanchett, M.D., who arrived in Eugene in 1859. Lacking much in the way of published information about Hanchett, the resourceful Jacobson recounts the oral testimony of Trena Dunn Williams (who would have been 85 at the time of writing in 1941) and her recollections of Hanchett and early medical treatments. This bit of the paper is really entertaining. Williams recalled, in part:
"Until I was a young woman in my early teens there was no mortuary in Eugene. People "sat up" with the dead in private homes. The young people of the town were generally requested to serve in this capacity. Of course, we never refused but always some one older than I attended to 'changing the cloth' on the face of the dead."
Makes one appreciate the summer jobs afforded by modern technology.

For more on Patterson, Sharples, and Hanchett, check out this article by Effie Knapp in Lane County Historian, hosted by Oregon State University's ScholarsArchive.

No comments: