Monday, September 29, 2008

Nebraska's Veterinary History Part II


by Dr. Leo L. Lemonds

It may never be known when and where the first graduate veterinarian stepped foot within the boundaries of Nebraska. However, on the basis of data now available, Dr. W.A. Thomas of Lincoln may have had that honor. He later became State Veterinarian in 1904.

Dr. Thomas, in May of 1937, wrote the following: “I came to Lincoln April 1, 1881, and located a veterinary practice of medicine, as far as I know the first to locate in the state. I found men here and in other localities treating diseased animals. These men were called horse doctors, three in Lincoln, one in Firth, one in Valparaiso. There were men who castrated animals who were experts in the work, often charging farmers less than the charge of a veterinarian later on. In those days many farmers treated their own livestock as best they could."

“In those days every well-to-do individual had a horse and buggy or spans of fine horses, also a cow in the city. Every town had a livery stable; Lincoln had several, many of them were of a barrack construction of boards, fire-traps. The livery stable I think did its part in the distribution of glanders in horses with which the state was saturated at that time.”

“In the summer of 1881 there was an outbreak of anthrax in cattle in Lincoln – 52 died of the disease, all dairy cattle. Franklin brothers were the heavy losers; others who had one or two cows – lost them. This outbreak occurred on the bottom land in the vicinity of Gooches Mill. The animals were all skinned and buried on the bank of Salt Creek. With the history of the disease in the Orient we would expect an annual visitation of the disease which never occurred. I attribute its non-occurrence to the repeated inundation to which the land was subject at that time, there being no marshy land; the land at the time was open pasture.”

While graduate veterinarians arrived rapidly in the 1880’s following Dr. Thomas of Lincoln, the need for veterinary education was recognized much earlier. In 1860 the University of Nebraska was to be established and provided that an agricultural college be started at an early date with, among others, a professor of Veterinary Surgery. However, it was the fall of 1872 before the opening of the Agricultural College was a reality. It was the summer of 1886 before Dr. Frank Billings was hired as the first veterinarian on the staff.

The summer before Dr. Billings’ arrival, Dr. Julius Gerth Jr., appointed by the state legislature, became Nebraska’s first State Veterinarian on July 8, 1885; he resigned October 1, 1888.

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