Romance of Omaha, Chapter XXI
Omaha's present proud position as one of the great medical centers of the west is a fitting memorial to the pioneer physicians who battled disease in the days when howling wolves and skulking Indians were the life-and-limb mecca of doctors who made their lonely way over the prairies to outlying settlements and homes.
The early physicians of Nebraska had no thought of wealth or fame.
The settlers had little or no money. The doctor's fee, when it was paid at all, was usually met by an offering of produce, wild game, or a load or two of wood.
Yet they left for their successors a heritage of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty not excelled anywhere in the world.
As the pioneer doctor passed, he was followed by physicians and surgeons who carried on in the same high-minded, untiring way. Through all the years up to and including the present time, Omaha and the state have been blessed with medical men of skill and learning who have written their names large on the achievement annals of the central west.
Not only physicians, but surgeons and dentists of ability have made Omaha their home. They have won national and even international fame. Great hospitals have been established in the city. Two splendid medical colleges and one fine dental college are located here. As a result persons come for hundreds of miles to seek surcease from pain and disease in Omaha.
It was a great day for the little hamlet on the western bank of the Missouri river when it was announced that the first physician had arrived from the east to make his home in the new town.
On November 3, 1854, a few months after Omaha was founded, Dr. George L. Miller crossed the river to the new village and declared that he had come to stay.
Dr. Miller later forsook medicine for journalism and other pursuits and became one of the noted citizens of the west.
Dr. Enos Lowe, one of the founders of Omaha, who lived in Council Bluffs, was the second doctor to settle here.
The Indians were among the first to hear of Dr. Miller's arrival. His first visitor seeking medical aid was a tall Indian "buck," who by signs made it known he wished the white "medicine man" to accompany him.
Dr. Miller was rather dubious about going with his visitor, but yielded to his urging.
They walked a couple of miles over the prairie to the wigwam where a little papoose lay ill. The baby died, but the Indians kept their faith in the white doctor and many trips to their wikiups and camps were made by Dr. Miller and other pioneer physicians.
Among the noted physicians and surgeons of earlier Omaha were Dr. James Porter Peck, Dr. Harvey Link, Dr. J.C. Denise, Dr. George Tilden, Dr. R.C. Moore, Dr. William McClelland, Dr. W.H. Thrall, Dr. Samuel Mercer, Dr. Victor H. Coffman, Dr. James H. Peabody, Dr. Gilbert C. Monell and Dr. Augustus Roeder.
When a government troop ship passed by Omaha on the Missouri river in 1855, cholera broke out on board and Dr. Miller accompanied the soldiers upriver. During his absence Dr. Charles A. Henry, in jail on a charge of murder, was permitted to attend the sick accompanied by an officer.
Omaha's first medical college was promoted in 1869. It was to have been known as the Omaha Medical college, but the plans were abandoned.
The Nebraska School of Medicine was established in 1881 at Eleventh and Mason streets. Six years later it was moved to Twelfth and Pacific streets and became the predecessor of the present University of Nebraska medical college.
In 1892 the medical college affiliated with Creighton university was established and Omaha in the following years became the home of two great medical schools.
St. Joseph hospital, the largest in the city, was the first hospital worthy of the name to be opened in Omaha. It received its first patient in September, 1870, when it was located at Twelfth and Marcy streets and known for a time as Mercy hospital. St. Joseph now represents an investment of more than $1,000,000 and is one of the finest hospitals in the west.
Clarkson hospital, an Episcopal institution, was established in 1881 at 1716 Dodge street as the Clarkson Childs' hospital. It was the dream of Bishop Clarkson, first Episcopal bishop of Nebraska, to found a great institution given over to the treatment of children where those who could not pay might get free medical aid and care.
During the following years the Methodist, Wise Memorial, Swedish Mission, Lord Lister, Nicholas Senn, Immanuel, St. Catherine and other hospitals were opened. Last but by no means least is University hospital connected with the University of Nebraska medical college.
At present the splendid accommodations of 17 hospitals in Omaha are not surpassed in any city of similar size in the country. They represent an investment of several million dollars and are able to provide for more than 2,000 patients at one time.
Physicians, surgeons and dentists of the highest skill and of far more than local renown minister to the ailments of the sick and suffering from more than a dozen states.
Hundreds of persons come into Omaha every year to get medical and surgical attention.
Omaha can boast of oculists of international fame, of doctors who have been recognized in this country and in Europe, of dentists who have led the profession in new and beneficial methods, of surgeons who have performed marvelous operations successfully.
Leads the West
Nowhere in the west can one be assured of more skillful attention and better hospital facilities than in Omaha.
The courage, skill and devotion to duty that made the pioneer physician one of the greatest of his day, are still to be found in the surgeon and physician of the present.
They have made great strides in the art of healing, but in giving their best to the community they serve, they have but followed in the footsteps of the old-fashioned practitioner who on horseback with his "pillbags" rode bravely forth to war on disease and to fight with death in the days when every journey was an adventure.
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