Friday, December 11, 2009

Heart warmer for a cold day

Poking further into the boxes from a former staffer, we came across this sweet note (with apparently less-sweet note crossed out on verso; waste not, want not was a pioneering ethic):

Who was this Theophilus Degen, M.D.? Olof Larsell (The Doctor in Oregon) provides some background:

"A physician of good training arrived in 1844 in the person of Dr. Theophilus Degen, who settled first at Lafayette but later went to southern Oregon. Degen was born in Germany about 1809 and was educated in one of the south German universities, probably Leipzig. He had come to the United States sometime in the late 1830's because of political troubles in his native Bavaria, and appears to have practiced medicine for some time in New York. However, by 1844 he had reached Missouri and joined the wagon train which left Caple's Landing in the spring of that year. He was best remembered by the members of this party as the "German doctor" or the "Dutch doctor" who looked after the Sager family after the death of the father somewhere in Wyoming and the subsequent death of the mother before reaching Oregon. On arriving at the Whitman Mission he turned over the children to the care of Dr. and Mrs. Whitman, who adopted them. The doctor, whose full name the emigrants could not pronounce so that he said to them "call me Degen," is described as a cheerful, rotund little man with blue eyes and a heavy accent. He remained in Yamhill County several years but his activities there are unknown. His subsequent life is better known and will be considered in connection with the Umpqua region, where he practiced for many years." (p. 134-135)

In fact, Larsell was so taken with the story of Degen that he wrote a short biography of him. "Theophilus Degen" was published in the Western Journal of Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology (1944), 52:316.

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