Frontier Medicine at Fort Davis


From a headless burial to cocaine toothache drops, the true stories hidden in the Wild West's medical records are a match for its tallest tales.

In the 19th century, when dying young was a fact of life, a routine bout of diarrhea could be fatal. No one had heard of viruses or bacteria, but they killed more soldiers on the frontier than raids. Physicians dispensed whiskey for TB, mercury for VD, and arsenic for indigestion. Baseball injuries were considered to be in the line of duty and twice resulted in amputations at Fort Davis. Donna Smith explains how an industrious laundress could earn more than an army private, a female army surgeon won the Medal of Honor, and a garrison illegally hanged its bartender.

About the Author

Donna Gerstle Smith worked for the National Park Service for almost three decades as a park ranger and park historian. Her fascination with history began while researching for her master's degree thesis on 19th-century medicine at frontier military posts. Inspired by reading old letters, journals, army medical records, and other primary source materials, she found them to be priceless windows for looking into the past.

  • ISBN-13: 9781467152464
  • Genre: History
  • Format: Paperback
  • Trim: 6" x 9"
  • Page count: 192 pages
  • Published by The History Press in 2022
  • Written by Donna Gerstle Smith
  • Audience: Adult
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