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Perhaps no member of our early pioneer community was more respected or esteemed than the dependable, kindly family physician. This reverence has been immortalized in the tribute of Edgar Howard, published in the Columbus Telegram on December 5, 1913:

"One of the most the average person's beautiful pictures in parlor of memory is the one which portrays the kindly features of the old family physician, and the gaze never turns to the picture without recall of the gracious and helpful ministrations of the one whose mission to the home was the banishment of pain. Despite all the present day denunciations of the awful disclosures of mixing money with medicine, and the proved crime of fee-splitting between physicians and surgeons, let us not forget that the profession of medicine still holds within its ranks some real noblemen, many of whom minister to Nebraskans and several of them to the people of Columbus.


The Old Family Physician

"I know the type of the old-time conscientious and kindly family physician of our boyhood dreams. He came to Columbus thirty-eight years ago last Saturday... came here in a day when the telephone was an undreamed dream... in a day when the motive power of the physician was his saddle horse. For nearly forty years this prince of a noble calling has administered to the people of Columbus and for fifty miles around, and with a fidelity so instant and so lasting that today the very presence of the old practitioner, now entertaining the years of gray but still wearing the smile and thecharm of a fadeless youth, is a real tonic to thousands of men and women who through four decades have been helped by the healthful influence of his personality, or healed by the applications of his medical skill.

"Last Saturday when I saw that magnificent man and minister celebrating the thirty-eighth anniversary of his professional advent in Columbus by a program of devotion to his patients, the thought came to me that if on that day there might have been assembled in one place all of the men and women who have appreciated the professional services and admired the honorable personal life of Doctor David T. Martyn, no amphitheatre in all the world would have been large enough to receive the throng, and no earthly chain would have been able to sound sweeter paeans of praise than would there have been loosed in honor of a man who sweetly served the Master by living a life of service to Humanity."

In the years before the turn of the century in Platte County there were among the early doctors, men possessed of great force of character, who offered cheerful and sympathetic assistance to the suffering. They were the guardians of the large, widely dispersed population. Columbus doctors then practiced in an area which comprised Platte County and much of its surrounding territory. Aside from their professional duties, these men contributed their full share to the material development of the newly opened country.

Some of Columbus' early doctors were men of culture who had received their medical education in the foremost colleges of this country and in Europe. Others, with more limited academic attainments, had acquired their professional knowledge in the offices of established practitioners in the parts of the country from which they had emigrated. This was usually supplemented by a course of medical lectures



St. Mary's Hospital.

But the pioneer doctors, with or without a cultural background, were practical men.

Out of necessity, the early physicians developed a rare quickness of perception and self-reliance. Specialists were then unknown and the family doctor was called upon to treat every phase of bodily ailment, serving as physician, surgeon, ophthalmologist and dentist, as well as adviser in mental hygiene. His medical books were few and his chances for consultation with specialists were even more rare.

Each day the pioneer physician journeyed out on horseback, over the wide open prairies, fording swollen, unbridged streams with slight protection against the elements. His medicines, consisting of simple drugs, he carried on his person and his prescriptions he filled with his own hands at the end of a wearisome gruelling day.

No knowledge existed then of the wonderful antitoxin, the remedy later used for diphtheria. This disease, which used to be considered fatal, claimed the lives of more than one Platte County family in spite of the valiant battle waged by the country doctor to cure his patients.

Few physicians in early times had any idea of the germ theory on which modern medicine is based. They knew little of antiseptic treatment, X-ray, radium or the wonder drugs of the twentieth century. During the Civil War the progress of medicine was retarded because the finest doctors served in the army. However, rapid growth and progress were accelerated by the development of the frontier and today Columbus and Platte County are host to a highly specialized medical center.

Today two of the finest hospitals in the Middle West, St. Mary's and the Lutheran Hospital, are located in Platte County, at Columbus. Specialists in the fields of surgery and internal medicine, including obstetricians, pediatricians, gynecologists and ophthalmologists practice in and near Columbus. The latest in medical equipment and the finest technicians and trained assistants enable them to perform with a high level of professional efficacy.

The modern Platte County physician has another advantage denied the pioneer doctor. He can keep in close contact with his patients through the use of the telephone and the barrier of distance has been erased for him by the strides of modern transportation.


One of the physicians and surgeons who served Platte County and surrounding territory in pioneer times was Doctor Charles B. Stillman, the first member of the medical profession to locate in Columbus. Doctor Stillman was graduated from the Medical Department of the University of Iowa in 1856. Later that year he went to Omaha and walked from that city to Columbus in March, 1857.

For nine years this early settler was the only physician and druggist in the county. His

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© 2005 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller