Complicated medical care not necessary for survival
Sometimes I just get confused about how complicated medical care has become for all of us. I honestly don’t remember that it was that costly when I was a youngster and as a young wife and mother. My parents were farmers and members of the Farm Bureau. They paid a relatively modest amount for the membership and purchased Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical insurance through that group. But, the fees for us growing up were not that great. For one thing, until I was older there was no nearby hospital. My sister and I were born at my grandmother’s home in Hugoton, Kan. When my mother believed it had become her time to deliver, she packed a bag, and my father took her to her parents’ home in Hugoton. Then, when the delivery began, a local, and possibly one of few available doctors, arrived. I believe he was simply called Doc Kenoyer. He delivered us, checked us for overall good condition, gave us shots and advised my mother on how to take care of us.
I remember when my sister was born. I was not allowed in the bedroom where the birth took place and waited out in the parlor as people came and went. It seemed both magical and mysterious. One day I was an only child and the next day I was a big sister. But, as a farm-reared child, I was aware of the miracle of birth. Puppies, pigs, calves, horses, chickens, sheep all arrived newborn in my world, and we were privileged to be observers of the magic of the ongoing process of life, birth and growth. We also knew the darker side, the pain and disease and death. `
I watched my mother hand raise orphaned calves, pigs and lambs, keeping them wrapped and under heat lamps, feeding them various formulas to nourish them. Usually, they lived, but not always. My parents were teetotalers, but my mother kept a supply of liquor bottles, which the men who sometimes worked for us had tossed out. She considered them perfect for holding the formula for her orphans, adapting them with a long rubber nipple on the end.
My mother and her sisters had grown up with a natural bent toward folk medicine. My great grandmother Emma Whaley Milburn had been a midwife. She had arrived in Morton County in 1873. She had been an orphan. After her mother had given birth to her in Brooklyn, N.Y., and died in the process, her father George Whaley left her with relatives and returned to the British Isles. She married my great grandfather, Hosea Milburn, and gave birth to fourteen children. She only lost one child as an infant, and went on to bring up the others to adulthood. A couple of her boys died as teenagers, and another died in a rodeo accident after he was married, but the rest went on to lead adult and productive lives. She deserves great credit in bringing them up safely. At that time, medical care was scarce and lacking in the great resources we have today. Penicillin was a thing of the future.
My great grandmother’s story is part of a collection of pioneer stories in the Lilla Day Monroe collection located in the Topeka Historical Library, which inspired a book about Kansas Pioneer Women by Monroe’s granddaughter, Joanna Stratton. The book is called “Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier.” It was published in 1981 by Simon and Schuster. It is a memorial to the women who took care of our mothers and grandmothers and their families in a time when medicine was often more harmful than helpful and usually wasn’t even available.