Texas doctors, as the old saying goes, buried their mistakes. But
19th century physicians were not without their skills.
James H. Cook, for one, found himself badly in need of a doctor.
A buffalo hunter and later cowboy, Cook and several of his colleagues
encountered a party of hostile Indians somewhere in Southwest Texas.
Cook did not know he and his friends had ridden into trouble until
he heard someone fire a shot. "As I whirled my horse around at the
first sound of shooting," Cook wrote, an Indian "drove a dogwood
arrow into the calf of my leg."
Recalling the injury with a bit of humor, he noted that rather than
await more arrows, he took the one he had back to camp as soon as
possible. "As I had several miles to ride through cactus and brush
and did not know at what moment I might run into more Indians, I
got in rather an unhappy time during the ride." (Read: Having an
arrow imbedded in his leg must have hurt like the devil.)
The shaft had penetrated his leather chaps and his boot top. Cutting
those away proved no problem "but the rest of it was far different,"
"I think I must have been sorry that I ran off with that Indian's
arrow," he went on, "for I remember that I cried when my...friends
took the shaft from my leg, and I had a chill or two I can also
His pals administer the first aid they knew: They inserted "pepper
berries" into the wound and then covered it with prickly pear pads
from which they had burned the needles.
Worried that the arrow might have been poisoned, Cook rode 130 miles
to San Antonio for
more professional medical care. Despite two changes of his cactus
poultice along the way, he said he felt sick and dizzy.
Reaching the Alamo City, he placed himself in the care of Dr. Ferdinand
Herff, one of the state's best-known and most respected physicians.
He had come to Texas from Germany with state-of-the-art medical
"He gave me kind treatment and care and soon had me braced up,"
Cook wrote. "In a couple of weeks he told me I would be safe in
going back to camp, provided I followed his directions in regard
to dressing the wound."
course, not all practitioners had any interest whatsoever in the
Hippocratic Oath. In the fall of 1857, a lady "doctor" who also
claimed the gift of prophecy showed up in San
Soon, she paid for an ad in the Alamo City's Daily Herald. "Madame
F.," as she referred to herself, had taken room number 9 at the
Plaza House "where she will be pleased to wait upon those that may
favor her with a call." She may not have possessed impeccable medical
credentials, but she had a commendable work ethic, announcing her
office hours as 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Having practiced "in the Northern States" for a decade, she had
come to Texas to prescribe and prepare her own medicines, "which
are purely vegetable." Her remedies, according to the ad, would
do for "all persons suffering from acute or chronic difficulties..."
She accepted both male and female patients, including those with
epilepsy, rheumatism, bronchitis, "and all diseases of the Lungs
or Liver." Other ailments she said she could treat included "difficulties
of every character pertaining to the generative or uterine organs
(including syphilis) and "female weaknesses of every description,"
from "barrenness" to "all obstructions that tends to a general debilitation."
But wait, there was more.
"Madame F. is also a practicing Chiromancer or Palmist telling your
fortune from the hand, which is done upon scientific principles,
as there are five prominent lines in the hand that portray our destiny."
For a mere $3 to $5, which back then was far from mere, she could
divine a lady or gentleman's "past, present or future."
Clearly a one-stop-shopping helper of mankind, she could cure the
afflicted, predict their full recovery and a life to be lived happily
And yet she had even more to offer the good people of San Antonio.
For the benefit of the survivors of those for whom medical treatment
had not resulted in a successful outcome, Madame F. could channel
the dearly departed as "a Spiritual impressive Medium."
How many people she helped...to wellness, the grave or to an understanding
of their future is unknowable, but whatever the "doctor's" impact
on the citizenry of San
Antonio, she did not linger in Bexar
County. As her ad clearly noted, she would only be in town for
Possessing the ability to see into the future, she doubtless knew
if she stayed longer than 14 days, folks would realize she was just
another charlatan, albeit a lady charlatan.
"Texas Tales" September
29, 2017 column