Traveling Through Dr. Kat Meriwether’s Country

While traveling through Idaho this past month, we’ve had an opportunity to visit many interesting historic sites. We started in Payette’s long valley leading along the river, where Kat’s Law has its fictional setting. That portion of our travels took us to the bustling recreational center of McCall. But this past Sunday, known locally as Pioneer Day, we spent several hours touring the Fort Hall Museum in Pocatello, Idaho.

One room is dedicated to the frontier doctors who served the community at the end of the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth. From instruments of torture that represented early dentistry to one of the earliest drug stores in this area, there was almost more to absorb than hours in one afternoon provided.

It was interesting to read the labels of “medicines” to treat everything from toothaches to heart palpitations. Worthy of further research was the use of sassafras for a wide variety of ailments, including the relief of constipation. I remember it from my childhood as simply a great tasting tea offered by my great grandmother. Little did I know I was apparently being dosed!

The handsome Rosewood medicine case belonged to a Dr. Augustus Fisher. The label reads that it was made in Germany and that the bottles are labeled in Latin. It made me wonder how long the shelf-life was for these elixirs. But I would imagine most patients would have been impressed by the case alone with all the mystery of strange amber liquids with exotic labels.

The picture on the right is of Dr. James H. Bean, one of Pocatello’s earliest doctors. Receiving his medical degree in 1857 would have made him closer in age to Kat’s father, Nathaniel. What gives him some notoriety is the fact that he owned and operated one of the first drugstores, opening it’s doors in 1891, shortly after Idaho earned statehood. The newspaper clipping reveals the frontier nature of the town at that time. It reads, “A man, Cal Durfey was shot to death while seated in the chair occupied by Red(the dog in this picture). It was an accident. A man named Taylor saw Durfey reach for a handkerchief-thought it was a gun.” 

That small footnote seems to be a good writing prompt to me. Doesn’t it make you wonder what Dr. Bean did? What became of Taylor? Why was the man so obviously jumpy, as to draw his gun as a reflex? So may questions, so little line space in that yellowed newspaper article.

I love museums, don’t you?




Book Review of Doc Susie

While Kat’s Law was in final revision, a friend told me about a book she had just finished reading called Doc Susie: The True Story of a Country Physician in the Colorado Rockies.  The research completed by the author, Virginia Cornell, makes this a fascinating read for anyone interested in the real history of the area and the lives of pioneer doctors. Although this is not a recently released book, writers and readers alike may find the detailed account of life in the high altitude, logging town of Frazier, Colorado a compelling read.

This biography begins when Susan Anderson, a trained frontier physician, arrives in the Rockies seeking to save her life from the ravages of tuberculosis. She hopes to be cured by the pure mountain air. At the age of thirty-seven she still has much experience to offer the few residents of this isolated community, but initially she attempts to hide her skills as a physician, attempting to heal her heart as well from a failed romance.

The treatment works for her lungs, so for the next fifty-one years she stays on to minister to the community of loggers, farmers, and railroad workers. Ah yes, the railroad. The politics of the railroad construction enter into the story quite prominently. This is where Doc Susie’s plucky, independent spirit takes the plot of her life in a different direction as she confronts those who would exploit the workers on the precipitous route of the rail lines.

Part humanitarian, part feminist, Doc Susie manages to improve the lives of this small community through educating her patients and risking her own life to treat the diseases and horrific injuries common to the logging and railroad construction enterprises at the time.