The Medical Profession of Grundy County IL

While modern physicians and surgeons are penetrating into the very center of life itself, daily discovering facts and remedial agents which revolutionize former accepted theories, it is doubtful if any of them come as close to the hearts of the people as did the men who carried on a general practice in the pioneer days of any community. These good, kindly men of medicine, whose hearts often were bigger than their pocketbooks, ministered to the sick and dying, and brought into the world children destined to lead their people to great things.

These old time physicians minded not weather; heat nor cold had no deterrent effect upon them. A physician thought nothing of rising from his bed in the middle of the night and going out into a terrible blizzard, sometimes on horseback, or driving the horse he had hitched to his buggy or sleigh, through the storm many miles to reach the bedside of the sufferer. In those days there were no trained nurses to follow implicitly the directions of their chief. Then the doctor had to administer his medicines himself and carry out his own prescriptions or probably see them bungled and the patient injured.

True, the pioneers lived an outdoor existence, but it did not protect them fall all the ills that flesh is heir to.  They were not troubled by overheated apartments, or made sick by a consumption of imported luxuries, but, on the other hand, they were exposed to the rigors of the climate, had but little idea of protecting themselves from the dangers of swamp or forest, and knew practically nothing of guarding against infection. When some dire epidemic swept the country the physicians were almost powerless against it, not always because of lack of knowledge, but because of the want of suitable means with which to fight it. For these and many other reasons the early physicians of any pioneer community worked hard and unceasingly, and as the people were poor, received but scant remuneration for their efforts. Grundy County was no exception to this rule, and its people hold in tender remembrance the names of those medical men who were their pioneer physicians.

First Doctor in Grundy

The first doctor of Grundy County was Dr. Luther S. Robbins, who came to Morris from Sulphur Spring, eight miles south of Morris, in the fall of 1842, but died several years later, so he was not long in active practice here.

The next physician was Dr. Silas Miller, who located in Morris in 1843, but as there was little need for his ministrations at that time, he left soon thereafter.

Dr. John Antis came to Morris in May, 1845, and he was followed by Dr. Thomas M. Reed, who, in 1847, was elected Sheriff of Grundy County, but died before entering upon the duties of his office.

Dr. A.F. Hand, Dr. David Edwards and Oliver S. Newell arrived about the same time, although Dr. Edwards was practically retired, as he was then an old man, and when he left Morris in 1856, Dr. Luke Hale bought what practice he had and continued there until his death in 1865. The son of Dr. Luke Hale, Dr. Roscoe L. Hale, came to Morris in 1858, but after the Civil War went to Missouri.

In 1850 Dr. B.E. Dodson came to Morris, but several years later removed to Elgin.

Dr. H.H. De Hart arrived about 1852, but soon left, as he thought the place was too small to support a physician.

Dr. David LeRoy was another early physician, who came to Morris about 1855, but later became a merchant.

Dr. John N. Freeman was a physician here from 1857 to 1867, and Dr. S.D. Ferguson was another early physician of Morris.

Dr. John H. Freeman was at Morris in 1855 and 1856, but later located at Brooklyn, N.Y. He was the son of a Baptist minister and a highly educated man and very successful in his profession.

Dr. Emanuel Ridgway was another of the physicians of Morris who was prominent in its earlier history. He served as Coroner of the county, was Chief of the Fire Department, and a member of the Board of Education, and was always to be relied upon whenever occasion demanded. In 1870 Dr. A.D. Smith came to Morris, and in 1872, Dr. M.C. Sturtevant.

Dr. J.B. Taxis came to Gardner in 1859; Dr. W.W. McMann in 1863, and Drs. J. Underhill and C.M. Easton a little later.

The first physician of Mazon was Dr. L.S. Robbins, who located there in 1833. The next record is of Dr. S. Rodgers, who located at Mazon in 1850, having come from Indiana. He made no pretensions to being a surgeon, but when necessity arose was equal to demands made upon him. One of the earlier physicians of Morris recollects, distinctly an operation performed by Dr. Rodgers that is worthy of mention. A man was injured while threshing, and the physician when summoned saw that in order to save his life, his arm would have to be amputated without delay. The young physician had no instruments suitable, so borrowed a saw from one of the neighbors, either a wood or a cross-cut saw, and took off the arm without any further delay. There is no data at hand to tell whether the man survived or not. Another physician of Mazon during the latter sixties was Dr. Thomas. Dr. Wakefield, another Mazon physician of that date, was assisted by his wife.

One of the best known of the older physicians of Morris whose activities extended over many years, was the late Dr. Austin Elisha Palmer, senior member of the firm of Palmer & Palmer, who had associated with him his son, Dr. Frank Austin Palmer, and Dr. Roscoe Whitman. The late Dr. Palmer was born at Wyoming, N.Y., November 9, 1846, and was graduated from the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in 1869. During the early part of that same year he entered upon a general practice at Braceville, Grundy County, Illinois, but within a few months moved to Old Mazon, and in 1876 settled at Morris, where he continued until his death. In addition to carrying on an extensive private practice, he served as surgeon of the Rock Island road for over twenty years. He was also one of Grundy County’s Coroners, was President of the School Board, an Alderman from his ward, and was twice elected Mayor of Morris, the present system of water supply being installed during his incumbency of the office. His death, on June 19, 1912, left a vacancy difficult to fill.

Present Members of the Profession

Some of the leading physicians of Grundy County at present may be found in the following list:  Drs. A.V. Allen, F.M. Allison, J.W. Allison, F.C. Bowker, J.C. Bucher, J.F. Carey, H.M. Ferguson, H.B. Gilbourne, W.E. Hart, G.A. Leach, F.A. Palmer, William G. Sachse, Sam Smith, F.A. Stockdale, M.C. Sturtevant, G.B. Terrands, W.E. Walsh and Roscoe Whitman.

Dr. Frank Austin Palmer was born at Old Mazon, Illinois, November 10, 1873. After being graduated from the Morris High school in 1890, he attended St. John’s Military Academy of Delafield, Wis., during 1891, and in 1897, was graduated from the medical department of the Northwestern University of Chicago, receiving in that year his degree of M.D. The following year was spent as interne at the Passavant Memorial Hospital, Chicago, in association with the late Dr. Christian Fenger, and in 1898 and 1899, he was an assistant to his father. From 1899 to 1902, he was in practice at Gardner, Illinois, and he then became an assistant in surgery to Prof. Emil Ries of Chicago, and in 1904 he was made surgical assistant to Prof. Alexander Hugh Ferguson in charge of his private institution (the Chicago Hospital). In 1906 Dr. Palmer returned to Morris and entered into partnership with his father, the late Dr. A.E. Palmer. He now takes care of a large private practice and is on the staff of the Morris Hospital.


The Coroners of Grundy County have been as follows: Leander Leclere, 1841-1843; Samuel Ayers, 1844-1848; Henry Beebe, 1849; James H. O’Brian, 1850-1853; James B. Jones, 1854-1858; E. Ridgway, 1859-1860; Norman R. Griswold, 1861-1862; J.B. Jones, 1863-1864; Levi Hills, Sr., 1865-1866; John N. Freeman, 1867; George E. Parmlee, 1868; E. Ridgway, 1869-1884; Truman A. Hand, 1885-1888; E.T. Abell, 1889-1892; H.M. Ferguson, 1893-1896; J.E. Brock, 1897-1903; H.M. Ferguson, 1904-1911; W.G. Sachse, 1912-1914.


When the editors of the History of Grundy County first prepared their prospectus of the proposed work, the late Dr. A.E. Palmer was asked to write of his recollections of the medical men of earlier Morris, the county seat, and of the profession in the county. This he most kindly consented to do, and had the article well planned when death claimed him. Unfortunately he had committed but little to paper, and therefore much of interest that would have been forthcoming had he been spared is lost. His son, Dr. F. A. Palmer, however, generously assumed his father’s work along this line, and prepared as far as lay in his power the following article relative to the men of his profession in Grundy County, although much of the information is necessarily meager, owing to lack of sufficient documentary records.

Source: History of Grundy County, Munsell Publishing Company, 1914

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