Is there a doctor in the house?

Sandy Vasko

    Students of Braidwood history know that coal mining meant coal mining injuries. But the other side of that coin meant business for men of medicine, whether legitimate or not.
    The earliest reference to any type of medicine men was very early in Braidwood history. On Aug. 6, 1865 the Wilmington Advocate reported the following, “A prominent physician of this city has said that with three weeks of dry weather, there would not be doctors enough in Braidwood to attend the sick.”
    Just who that prominent doctor was or what dry weather has to do with it, we do not know, but it shows that doctors were some of Braidwood's earliest citizens.
    But were they legitimate physicians, or were they quacks?  The next reference to doctors I found may answer that question.
    In August of 1872 the Joliet Republican reported the following, “ A certain physician (?) of Braidwood is reported as having discovered a new remedy in the world of cures. An infant was sick but all his professional wisdom failed to discover the cause; medicine failed and as a last resort he fell back upon the powerful cure of witchcraft, had four black cats skinned and the poor little sufferer wrapped tightly in the skins. The funeral was attended by most of the friends of the family.”
    The Wilmington Advocate reprinted the article and asked if anyone in Braidwood could verify the story. As far as I know, no one could.
    I do know of one very serious doctor who practiced in Braidwood. Dr. E.R. Willard was the son of one of Wilmington's earliest citizens and prominent doctor himself.
    We hear of Willard's work in March of 1875, “Dr. E.R. Willard, of Wilmington, lately amputated the leg of Mr. John Blair, injured by being caught in cage of “E” shaft. On Saturday last, while working in “G” shaft, Benj. Morrison was in some manner caught between the loaded cars, causing a bad fracture of the thigh and dislocation of the knee.”
    This speaks of amputation. It is by far the most common practice mentioned in the newspaper file from Braidwood in the 19th century. Sometime the accident itself caused amputation.
    Such as in 1876 when we read, “Our worthy station agent, Mr. Corey, of the C.&A.R.R., had two fingers of his right hand mashed, on Wednesday morning, while coupling cars. The middle finger was amputated just above the first joint. The miserable cars that are sent into this place was the cause of the accident.”
    About the same time that Willard was practicing, the infamous Dr. Le Caron was also earning his living in medicine. It turned out later that he was a British spy, looking at the many Irish organizations in Braidwood. But, despite that, he appears to have been very competent.
    We read in October of 1875, “About midnight Tuesday last, a wedding ball at Jas. Kane's saloon ended in a shooting affray - Hugh Carney being shot by a stranger from Maryland named Maloy, for some fancied or real insult. The bullet went in at the nose passing through the cheek behind the eye from which delicate place Dr. Le Caron extracted it; it is a pretty close call.”
    Until 1879 regular physicians cared for dental patients. But in August of 1879 we read in the Braidwood section of the Wilmington Advocate, “Dr. E. D. Keef, dentist, will be at the Caledonian House on Aug. 20, to remain one week.” Itinerant dentists were commonplace at that time.  
    By 1880 another doctor is mentioned in the news, and both seem to have been quite competent. We read in the Joliet News, “Last Saturday Dr. Campbell of this city, and Dr. Backus, of Braidwood, performed the operation of lithotomy upon a little boy, two years old, residing at Braidwood.
    The stone which was removed from the bladder, was half as large as a hen's egg. The little fellow stood the operation nicely, and at last accounts was doing well.”
    That is most impressive for the time. Especially when you consider that the operation was probably performed in the boy's home.
    Several other doctors are mentioned in 1880, one of them, Dr. Gray, started his practice in his hotel suite at the Caledonian. Dr. Gray seems to have been a quack and later was know more for his antics in the saloon than in the office.
    Another mention of a Braidwood doctor seems puzzling to me. We read on Sept. 10, 1880, “On Monday Dr. Cottel successfully abstracted a small lizard, or species of snake, from a young lady in this city.”
    Just where did Dr. Cotell extract this lizard or snake from? And how did it get there? I am afraid the answer to these questions is lost to history.