Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pioneer Camas Prairie Physician John W. Turner, M. D. [otd 02/12]

Camas Prairie and Cottonwood, Idaho physician John Wesley Turner was born February 12, 1861, while his parents were visiting relatives and friends in Indiana. Afterwards, the family returned to their home in Kansas and John grew up in an area about forty miles south of Kansas City. As a young man, he worked at a drug store for two years before beginning classes at the Eclectic Medical Institute in Cincinnati.
Dr. Turner. [Illust-North]

Eclectic medicine prided itself on selecting “whatever would help their patients,” even if it didn’t fit into standard medical practice. Standard treatments were heavily influenced by European methods and included drastic measures such as bloodletting, extreme purgation, and blister-inducing poultices of mustard and peppers. Mainstream “medicines” included concoctions based on mercury, arsenic or lead (all highly toxic), as well as creosote (a wood preservative) or naphtha (a flammable petroleum product). Eclectic practitioners leaned on botanical remedies, many of them derived from Native American usage. They also relied on a form of what is now called physical therapy.

In 1888, John followed his brother, Franklin, to the Camas Prairie. Franklin, a civil engineer, had settled near Grangeville in 1884 and was elected county surveyor a year later. John moved his family into a property in Cottonwood, probably because Grangeville already had two or three doctors. He then returned to the Institute and completed his medical studies in 1891.

The following year, Turner was elected to the first of several terms as Coroner for Idaho County. He would hold that position, off and on, for over a decade. In 1893, he was elected to a three-year term as trustee for the Cottonwood school district. Although he was not a Charter Member of the Idaho Medical Association [blog, September 12], he soon joined that organization.

In 1896, he and a partner opened a new drugstore in Cottonwood. With that, and his status as a classic “country doctor,” Turner became very well known and well-liked in the area. Thus, later in 1896, he was elected to a term in the state Senate. While there, he introduced a bill, matched in the House, to begin state regulation of the practice of medicine. The bill passed, but had to be revised. After that, Dr.  Turner served for a number years on the state Board of Medical Examiners.

Turner tried his best keep up with the times. An item in a 1906 Idaho County Free Press mentions a visit to Grangeville on his motorcycle. Later, he would be one of the first on the Prairie to own an automobile. Also, once the railroad reached Cottonwood and Grangeville in 1908, we find him escorting patients to surgical specialists as far away as Portland, Oregon.
Cottonwood, ca 1900, Idaho County Free Press.
However, in 1910, a report sponsored by the American Medical Association faulted Eclectic Medicine for a lack of academic rigor. And, indeed, the field did not adapt well to new knowledge about microorganisms as a cause for diseases. It also depended heavily upon anecdotal evidence and was weak on laboratory practice. Eclectic medicine began to fall out of favor.

It was probably no coincidence that, in 1911-1913, Dr. Turner invested in California farmland and began to spend more time there. In late 1916, he sold his property in Cottonwood and cut back his local practice. By 1920, the family was permanently settled on a fruit farm and vineyard about thirty miles south of Fresno. He spent the rest of his life in California, passing away in San Francisco in April, 1946.
References: [Illust-North]
“[Dr. Turner News],” Idaho County Free Press, Grangeville, Idaho (October 19, 1888 – July 5, 1917).
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).
John S. Haller, Jr., Medical Protestants: The Eclectics in American Medicine, 1825-1939, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois (1994).
“State Medical Board,” Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho (May 9, 1897).

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