A Brush With Madness

I know, it’s an intriguing title.  But don’t worry.  It’s not what you think.

If you visit Four-State Lookout, near White Cloud, Kansas, be sure to take a panoramic camera.  The spectacular view from a platform at the top of the hill overlooking the Missouri River, is supposed to include parts of four states, although you might need binoculars and a clear day to glimpse the rolling fields of Iowa, thirty miles to the northeast.

White Cloud is today almost a ghost town, but it was once a thriving burg where newcomers crossing the Missouri River first entered Kansas and stocked up on supplies before scattering into a vast frontier.  Around the end of March or the first of April in 1866, the White Cloud Steam Ferry chugged across the river carrying the Lovewell and Davis families, along with their teams and wagons, back to a land they had briefly tried to settle on the eve of the Civil War, when Kansas was still a young territory, struggling to make up its mind over the issue of slavery.

Entering White Cloud, Thomas Lovewell immediately sought out a doctor for Orel Jane Moore, Daniel Davis’s unattached sister, who had recently left her worthless drunk of a husband in East St. Louis, boarding a train with her one-year-old to return her parents’ home in Iowa.  When Daniel Davis and his wife Duranda hoisted their young children aboard a wagon and accompanied Thomas Lovewell on his journey to Kansas, Orel Jane tagged along, bringing her little boy, Vinson Perry Moore.  Somewhere along the trail, after leaving Andrew County, Missouri, where they had spent a few snowy winter months, Orel Jane came down with erysipelas, a severe skin infection.

There may have been more than one doctor to choose from in White Cloud, but Daniel Davis remembered the one who treated his sister as a man of compound accomplishments, also serving the town in some civic capacity.  Daniel believed he was a justice of the peace.  The young man he was thinking of may have been a newly-arrived physician, who, besides hanging out his shingle for the very first time, had also recently been elected mayor of White Cloud.

When he was twenty, Dr. John Wesley Waughop (Pronounced Wah-op) began his medical training at Eureka College in Illinois, schooling that would be interrupted by military service at Shiloh, Donelson and Vicksburg.  With his health declining, Waughop spent the last eighteen months of his enlistment as a medical assistant, helping Army surgeons lop off limbs and treat camp feavers, before continuing his medcial studies at Ann Arbor and Long Island College Hospital.  Physician of White Cloud was his first civilian medical job, and it did not last long.  After marrying the daughter of a big shot in Cook County, Illinois, Dr. Waughop resigned his position as mayor and soon moved back to Illinois, where his medical practice must have been more lucrative.  Joining a wagon train in 1871, he brought his family to Olympia, Washington, where he hoped the climate would improve his frail constitution.

In 1880, Dr. Waughop accepted the position of superintendent at the state’s only mental hospital, a post he held for sixteen years, a time when the study of the mind was in its infancy.  Sigmund Freud was starting to jot some notes for a work he would call The Interpretation of Dreams at the very end of Dr. Waughop’s tenure.  According to The National Cyclopaedia entry on Dr. Waughop, “He was much interested in psychiatry, and his reports during his incumbency of that office commanded wide attention.”  While on vacation in Hawaii, the doctor fell in love with the islands, moving there and spending three years as a government physician, then opening a private practice for another three.  He died aboard the S.S. Moana while returning to Seattle in 1903.

That’s all.  It’s a slender connection, but, I think, an interesting one.  In the spring of 1866, a man who would one day be a pioneer of American psychiatry and would end his career practicing medicine in Hawaii, probably spent a few minutes painting silver nitrate on Orel Jane Moore’s patch of swollen, reddened skin.  Erysipelas often attacked the face or extremities, usually after a harsh winter, and was accompanied by high fever and violent shivering.  Orel Jane came down with it during March, the most common month for an outbreak.  The doctor might have given her a bottle of lotion and instructed her about its application.  At the end of her course of treatment, she would take another look at the tall, slender man who had brought her to the doctor’s office and walked her back to the hotel, deciding that, even though he was almost twice her age, he did have his fine points.  Within a few days of their visit to White Cloud, the two would make a lasting connection, spending the next fifty-four years together.

By the way, almost every source I’ve read concerning Dr. John Wesley Waughop mentions his time helping Army surgeons lop off limbs without benefit of anesthesia.  Despite everything you may have heard, or anything you remember seeing in “Gone With the Wind," surgeons on both sides in the Civil War used anesthetics quite freely, and were seldom hampered by a shortage. 

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com