Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/55

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51
THE INDIAN'S HEALTH PROBLEM

Furthermore, the Indian had not become in any sense immune to disease, and his ignorance placed no check upon contagion and infection. Even the simpler children's diseases, such as measles, were generally fatal. The death rate of children under five was terrific. I have known women to bear families of six or eight or ten children, and outlive them all, most dying in infancy. In their state of deep depression, disease had its golden opportunity, and there seemed to be no escape. What was there to save the race from annihilation within a few years? Nothing, save its heritage of a superb physique and a wonderful patience.

 

The Indian Service Physician

The doctors who were in the service in those days had an easy time of it. They scarcely ever went outside of the agency enclosure, and issued their pills and compounds after the most casual inquiry. As late as 1890, when the government sent me out as physician to ten thousand Ogallalla Sioux and Northern Cheyennes at Pine Ridge agency, I found my predecessor still practising his profession through a small hole in the wall between his office and the general assembly room of the Indians. One of the first things I did was to close that hole; and I allowed no man to diagnose his own trouble or choose his pills. I told him I preferred to do that myself; and I insisted upon thoroughly examining my patients. It was a revelation to them, but they soon appreciated the point, and the demand for my services doubled and trebled.

As no team was provided for my use to visit my patients on a reservation nearly a hundred miles square (or for any other agency doctor at that time), I bought a riding horse, saddle and saddle-bags, and was soon on the road almost day and night. A night ride of fifty to seventy-five miles was an ordinary occurrence; and even a Dakota blizzard made no difference, for I never refused to answer a call. Before many months I was supplied by the government with a covered buggy and two good horses.

I found it necessary to buy, partly with my own funds and partly with money contributed by generous friends, a supply of suitable remedies as well as a full set of surgical instruments. The drugs supplied by contractors to the Indian service were at that period often obsolete in kind, and either stale or of the poorest quality. Much of my labor was wasted, moreover, because of the impossibility of seeing that my directions were followed, and of securing proper nursing and attention. Major operations were generally out of the question on account of the lack of hospital facilities, as well as the prejudice of the people, though I did operate on several of the severely injured, after the massacre at Wounded Knee. In many cases, it was my task to supply my patients with suitable food and other necessaries, and my wife was