Early medicine in Manitowoc County
When recorded settlement first began in Manitowoc County in the 1830s, the area was home to about 800 Native Americans. It was during this time, according to Dr. Louis Falge in his 1911 book, “The History of Manitowoc County”, that this area had a “Medicine Man” known as Louis Kisco. As Falge described, “I can distinctly recall this tattered old man with his basket. His predilection for firewater brought on protracted sprees, in one of which he gave up his ghost in a Neshoto saloon. He was buried at public expense by the authorities of the town of Two Rivers in the little cemetery on the farm of Christian Kiehl.”
As settlers began to make Manitowoc County their home in the 1840s, the nearest medical office was at Fort Howard in Green Bay. One story that was recorded from that time was from H. Hubbard and retold by Falge. “A messenger was hurriedly sent to Green Bay, but when the doctor arrived after two or three days, the patient was dead and buried. Such an experience was by no means rare, not only in our region but all over the sparsely settled great northwest.”
Soon medical workers could be found in the established Manitowoc settlements. With a population of nearly 630 in 1845 there was a clear need for those with medical training. One of the earliest doctors was Mrs. Walter McIntosh, “whose home was on the island just above the dam at Rapids, whose work was mostly limited to the settlements up the river.” Another woman, recorded only as the “stepmother of Perry Smith of Manitowoc, a native of Pennsylvania” spent much of her time assisting the sick in Branch, Neshoto, and Mishicot. As Falge described, “when her services were desired, a messenger would arrive with a [Native American] pony for her exclusive use. After a hasty preparation the two started out for the primitive log habitation of the sick one, along the winding trails…”
The first professionally trained medical professional, Dr. Abram W. Preston, arrived in 1847. By this time, the population of Manitowoc County had grown to 1,268. He was also elected as the Register of Deeds from 1849 to 1851. Preston was invaluable as the cholera epidemic spread throughout the area in August 1850. Within the first week, over 50 people had died. A second round of cholera spread throughout the county in the fall of 1854. Graves were dug at Evergreen Cemetery in Manitowoc, which opened in 1852. Those buried at the old cemetery at the corner of North Eighth and Park Streets were relocated to the new Evergreen Cemetery. Kossuth and Rockland were also hit hard by cholera, which was also referred to by many early pioneers as ship fever.
By 1911, Manitowoc County was home to a “general hospital (Holy Family Hospital), an up-to-date, excellently managed county insane asylum, twelve drug stores, twenty dentists, a number of graduate nurses and registered midwives, as well as thirty-eight graduated licensed physicians to look after the ills or mortal man.”