STUDY OF MEDICINE WHILE ENGAGED IN TEACHING
To return to my narrative, I finished the course in the academy in December, 1855, and at once took cars for Cincinnati, and a boat from there to St. Louis. I remember nothing particular of this trip except that the day or two before we reached St. Louis the weather became very cold and before we arrived there the river was full of running ice. The boat made but little headway and it was doubtful if we would be able to reach our destination; however, we arrived late in the evening of December twenty-second. On the next morning the Mississippi was frozen entirely over, and the boat could go no further. Many passengers for farther up the river were unable to reach their homes. A boy about my own age had paid all the money he had for his fare on the boat to a point some hundred miles up the river. I took him to my room for the night and the next morning I gave him five dollars, just half of all I had. I never heard from him again, but, no doubt he reached home, as he had but little farther to go.
The next day was so cold and snowing that the trains were not running. On the morning of the twenty-fourth I took the train to Pacific, forty miles, this being as far as the road was built at that time. I arrived at Pacific about noon, had lunch, and shouldering my valise, struck out for home, forty miles distant. That afternoon I made twenty miles before dark, though the roads were heavy with snow, which had not yet been packed to any extent by the travel. I stayed over night with some people whom I knew when I was at home before, and after a good night's rest and an early, but hearty breakfast, on Christmas morning I was off at the break of day, and arrived at home just as they were sitting down to their Christmas dinner. With my welcome home and a good dinner, and a night's rest, I felt no bad effects from my long walk. Although it was broken by a night's rest, I had walked over forty miles in about ten hours over almost impassable roads.
Of course, I wanted to be doing something, and though I would not follow teaching as a profession, it looked like the only thing for me to do, until I saw an opening to enter into some more profitable business. The schools in the county were all provided with teachers, it being in the middle of the term, but there was one unorganized district some six miles across the Meramec where there was a good school-house and some thirty-five children, large boys and girls, wanting a teacher. The parents subscribed a certain number of pupils and paid one dollar per month for each, so that a teacher, if he collected closely, could make thirty-five dollars per month, instead of the regular price in the public schools of twenty-five.
There were a number of big, rowdy boys in this school from sixteen to eighteen, who had made life unendurable for teachers for the last few years. They would lock the door and keep the teacher and pupils out. They had waylayed the teachers and beaten them up and, of course, had grown bolder each year. I hesitated a long time before I would tackle the proposition, but as I could find nothing else to do I finally accepted the position. I figured that if I was to teach the term out I must not allow these boys to get together before I proved my authority. I felt myself good for any one of them, but in the past they had piled a half dozen on the teacher at once. I opened school on Monday morning and all went well for the first few days, but towards the end of the week it was evident something was going on. The second Monday I walked in ostentatiously, displaying a big, black hickory, and put it carefully by my desk. I had my mind made up to look for trouble. The largest boy, and ringleader, sat near me on the left. About an hour after school opened I ordered the advanced pupils to spend a half hour in writing. As soon as they were well under way I called the bully's attention to the fact that he was holding his pen incorrectly and that he must correct it. I made my voice as imperative and offensive as possible. He answered back that he would hold his pen as he d—d pleased. Seizing my hickory in my right hand I was on him in an instant, and as he was leaning over the desk, before he could think, I had him by his coat collar, pulled him over the top of his desk, landing him face down on the floor. He kicked and squirmed, and swore, but I held him safe. All the time the hickory was raising stripes on his back and legs. I gave him a good thrashing and kept on until he promised to behave. I let him up, and told him to go home. He did not return for several days, and I heard, through some of the children, that he was having his wounds dressed and was unable to sit down. When he returned he came to me in a manly way and said he had concluded that I could run the school, and that if any further trouble came up I could count on him. He remained a good friend, and I never taught a better school.
In this connection I want to say that I have always avoided trouble whenever possible, but if I see it coming, and unavoidable, I have found it best to meet it a little more than half way. I taught this school until the summer vacation, but as it was a great deal of work to collect my money, I concluded to look in another direction.
In the meantime, an educated man in St. Louis, Rev. R. A. Young, whom I had met and who had taken an interest in me, asked me to visit him while in St. Louis. During the vacation I visited some relatives in that city and called on him. In our talk the choice of a profession came up and he thought I should take up the study of medicine, even if I never practiced, and following his advice I visited Dr. Polk, the Dean of the St. Louis Medical College, who kindly made me out a list of books that I could study, between times, while teaching. I carried those books home with me and for a year I put in every spare hour on them. While in St. Louis I saw an ad in a paper for a teacher, offering one hundred dollars per quarter of the twelve weeks, for one qualified for for the position at Mount Sterling, Mo. This was a larger salary than I had ever received, or known of anyone receiving. I applied for the school, and my offer was accepted. In looking it up I found Mount Sterling was about fifty miles from my home on the Gasconade River. There was a cross-country mail route from Potosi to Mount Sterling, the mail being carried by a boy on horseback. I managed to load my books and some clothing on a young horse I had raised and got the boy to take the balance. That afternoon we went across the most bushy and unsettled country I had ever seen, and stayed over night at a Mr. Burchard's, who owned a fine farm on a small stream called the Borbois. The next day we traveled over some prairie and more broken country, arriving about two P. M. at a Mr. Cooper's, who was one of the Trustees of the school, and with whom I had engaged board. This Mr. Cooper was Sheriff of the county, with a wife and four nearly grown children. I found the town of Mount Sterling most beautifully situated on the banks of the Gasconade River. There were quite a number of houses, but not a single inhabitant, and the buildings looked as though they had not been occupied for years. I never learned the cause of this "deserted village" with its beautiful situation on the bank of as fine a stream as there is in the world. The Gasconade River heads up in the Ozark Mountains and debouches into the Missouri River at a point about fifteen miles north of Mount Sterling. At the latter place it is a stream of some six hundred feet in width, with clear water, and quite deep. On the banks are fine alluvial bottom, owned by a few wealthy people who were slave-holders. I found that the county as far as the Missouri River was rolling hills and occupied entirely by Germans, who had come over in colonies, bringing their customs, language, wooden shoes, preachers and teachers with them. The principal town was Herman, the county seat—all Germans. In the school district where I was to teach I found only two children in a school of thirty that could speak a word of English. The country was one solid vineyard, the soil being peculiarly adapted to the cultivation of the vine. There were some two hundred children of school age in the district, but I found a strong feeling against educating their children in the public schools. The ministers of the two churches, one a Presbyterian and the other a Lutheran, both finely educated men, had large private schools where the children were taught in German. In fact, I was told that former teachers had failed to maintain a public school of more than a few scholars.
I started in with only ten pupils, including the two English-speaking ones. As soon as I could, I visited the Presbyterian minister, had dinner and spent the evening with him and his good wife. She could not speak a word of English, and he very little, though he could read and translate, and was busy translating a whole Sunday School library from English into German. I knew not a single word of German, yet we got on wonderfully well and became great friends. From this time on my school increased in number. It was surprising how soon an eight-year-old boy, without a word of English, learned to read and speak the language from a teacher that knew no word of German. I taught this school for three quarters, or nine months of school, putting in all my spare minutes and until midnight on chemistry, materia medica, anatomy, physiology, and other medical studies. I worked entirely too hard, and found myself broken in health and strength.
I consulted a good German physician, who, as near as I could understand, said “Resign your school, box up your medical books, and don't look at one for two years. Go home and rest for two months, and then engage in some other occupation. If you do not you will not last another year.” I knew I must submit, and that once I had laid my studies aside for two years I would never resume them. So ended my hopes of a profession. I bade farewell to my many German friends, whom I had learned to like very much, and I think they liked me. The year I spent among them was the entering wedge that in a few years broke up the isolation of those good people and taught them to fraternize with the natives and in the end become good American citizens.
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