Monday, September 22, 2008

Nebraska Veterinary History Part I

From the time of Nebraska’s first settlers until almost 1890, the self-proclaimed animal doctors – hoss doctors, cow-leeches and quack “veterinary surgeons” – were the only ones a farmer could turn to for help with ailing livestock.

A farmer could rely on his own expertise, usually a mixture of superstition and common sense, but in this new land he was encountering new conditions and problems. Infrequently, if he could read, this expertise was no more than what he could find in the text of a common-use, homecare encyclopedia book on animal diseases or the farriery art. His stock roamed freely outside the fences Nebraska law required around the crops. In their roaming they mingled with livestock of other homesteaders and under such conditions, maladies could spread through a whole community like a grassfire. It also was the common practice for livestock to winter on the range, foraging for themselves and having only an occasional haystack for shelter. By spring, a good share of them were almost starved.

While this might sound callous now, farmers did care for their livestock. It was important as the family livelihood, transportation, farmpower and as a source of food. The primitive and brutal treatments the animal doctors used were familiar ones to the farmer and he thought them necessary to bring about a cure. Remember, it was still the time of many quack doctors for humans and animals. It was the era of many useless patent medicines that were advertised widely in newspapers and farm journals, claiming quick cures for practically everything, including maladies not heard of.

People, in general, were so ignorant about medicine for themselves or their livestock, that they were superstitious of its powers and the qualifications of its practitioners. The general opinion was that certain individuals were meant to be doctors and had been endowed from birth with the necessary ability and touch. Why, then, did they require any special education? Had there been scientifically trained veterinarians available, farmers probably would have gone to their village medicine man anyway, certain that a college-trained veterinarian would be far less knowledgeable than a man who had been a stable-keeper, skilled horseman, blacksmith, teamster, groom, plowman or physic monger (a rural druggist or chemist). They assumed men from such backgrounds were bound to know all about horses, and therefore would be more qualified as horse doctors in the most-used treatments of “bleeding, burning, blistering and physicing.”


A Century of Veterinary Medicine in Nebraska
By Dr. Leo L. Lemonds (1982)


Dr Frederick Humphreys

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