Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

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Malachite’s Big Hole

Dr. Robert Thomas & His Medical Book:

During the 1837 Small Pox epidemic references are made to attempts to prevent the disease by inoculating according to procedures described by Dr. Thomas in his medical book.  Dr. Robert Thomas was an eminent British physician who lived from 1753 to 1835.  Thomas was a leading proponent in Europe of purgative (physic) methods for curing disease and his book, The Modern Practice of Physic, Exhibiting the Characters, Causes, Symptoms, Prognostics, Morbid Appearances, and Improved Method of Treating the Diseases of All Climates (Mostly referred to as The Modern Practice of Physic) was first published in 1802.  According to Thomas, the book was intended for beginning doctors and medical students and soon became the standard for medical practice in the first half of the 1800’s.  New editions were published regularly in both Europe and in America.  So far I’ve documented editions published in 1802, 1809, 1811, 1813, 1815, 1816, 1817, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1824, 1825, and 1828.  The last American edition was published in 1853, eighteen years after Thomas died.  

Dr. Thomas’ method for preventing Small Pox essentially consisted of transferring live virus contained in puss from an infected individual and introducing it to a healthy individual.  With our modern knowledge of medicine, the results of this procedure are only too predictable - the healthy individual contracts the disease as well.  This was well documented at Fort Union in 1837 where nearly everyone that was “inoculated” according to Dr. Thomas procedures contracted the disease and died.

According to Thomas, in the section of his book addressing Small Pox, “It has been computed that a third of the adults die who take this disease in a natural way, and about one-seventh of the children; whereas of those who receive it by inoculation and who are properly treated afterwards, the proportion probably is not greater than one in five or six hundred.  Where Thomas obtained his statistics from is not noted.  Thomas does indicate that acceptance of inoculations is not universal and he does seem to be attempting to provide evidence in favor of this procedure.  Thomas does go on to mention that “Although inoculation for the small-pox may have been beneficial to individuals by greatly lessening the chance of death, yet it may safely be asserted that it has proved of no benefit to the community at large, but the reverse; which is evident by the bills of mortality, as they clearly prove that the disease of small-pox has increased in England since the introduction of inoculation, in the proportion of 19 in every 100.”

Dr. Thomas concludes the procedures for inoculations by proposing the eradication of the disease by inoculating every adult who has never had the Small Pox and every child shortly after birth.

Follow this link for an extract from The Modern Practice of Physic which describes Small Pox and the progression of the disease.

Follow this link for an extract from The Modern Practice of Physic which describes the procedures for a successful inoculation.

The entire book may be viewed or downloaded from Google Books.  


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