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"Hindsights"

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Making House Calls with Dr. Keidel

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Early doctors in Gillespie County didn't keep regular office hours. Many of the earliest doctors didn't even have offices. Doctoring, more often than not, was done at the home of the patient. Middle of the night house calls were routine. A physician could be called into action anytime.

Dr. William Keidel, born in Hildesheim, Germany, came to Galveston, Texas in 1845. From Galveston he traveled to New Braunfels and then to Fredericksburg where he was the Vereins doctor, the Adelsverein having promised the emigrants medical services in their contracts.

Dr. Keidel lived on Bear Creek, but on certain days he would see patients in town. Whether there was one or two patients or a whole roomful he received a $1.50 an afternoon for treating them.

Even Indians came to Dr. Keidel for treatment. Their way of paying him was to sneak up during the night and leave a dressed deer carcass or a wild turkey hanging from a tree in the yard.

At first Dr. Keidel traveled everywhere on horseback, but around the start of the Civil War he bought a buggy made by a wheelwright and upholsterer in Fredericksburg. The buggy had a black oilcloth top and was fairly waterproof.

People knew the days Dr. Keidel went to town. On those days they would bring sick friends and family members out to meet him, and he would treat them there along the side of the road.

Dr. William Keidel's grandson, Dr. Victor Keidel, (born in Fredericksburg in 1882) borrowed money from Henry Klaerner to buy his first horse and saddle. Later he bought a "gig"- a light 2-wheeled wagon with a forked drawbar pulled by a single horse. A gig was high enough off the ground to clear most big rocks and stumps and ford most creeks without getting the driver's feet wet.

Doctor Victor Keidel portrait
Dr. Victor Keidel
Courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

Dr. Victor Keidel liked to hunt, but doctoring took up most of his time. Sometimes he tied his hounds to the axel of his gig and took them along so he could do a little hunting between house calls.

Dr. Victor Keidel was the first Gillespie County physician to own a car. He delivered over 3,000 babies in his 50-year career and couldn't afford to be slow in races with the stork.

His first car was an Overland, and it was the 5th car purchased in the county. The car number, today's equivalent of a license plate, was number 5. He kept the number 5 until the state law regulating license plate numbers changed.

A salesman sold Dr. Keidel on the idea of buying a car by telling him he could go out on a midnight call and be home in time for breakfast.

But a car had its drawbacks. Dr. Keidel's car once sat in a mud hole for 2 weeks, bogged up to the axels, before the ground dried enough to drag it out.

One night Dr. Victor Keidel made a house call to a sick man in Willow City. Woman's intuition told Mrs. Keidel (Clara Stieler) to go along.

On a particularly dangerous part of the road the headlamps on the car went out so Mrs. Keidel walked ahead of the car with a lantern. Then a storm came up, and a heavy rain put the lantern out.

Without a lantern, visibility was zero. Sitting in a car that dark and stormy night was like standing in a dark closet or at the bottom of a well.

To keep the car out of the ditch Mrs. Keidel ran ahead as far as she could at each flash of lightning and called to Dr, Keidel who drove to the sound of her voice. Then they would wait for the next lightning flash to go a little farther down the road.

Once when the river was out, Dr. Victor Keidel drove his car across the Pedernales railway tressel to reach a critically ill patient on the other side. His passenger decided the crossing was too risky and stayed behind.

Doctoring in the early days of Gillespie County was always an adventure. Sometimes getting there was an adventure in itself.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" July 15, 2022 Column
Sources:
Fredericksburg Standard, July 28, 1938. An entire edition dedicated to the Keidels and the new Keidel Hospital.
"Community Mourns Death of Dr. Victor Keidel," Fredericksburg Standard, November 12, 1952.



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