Last week, in writing about the destruction of the William Morrison cemetery, I mentioned that Morrison was a juror in a trial involving Dr. James C, Campbell whom I described as “an apparent crackpot who billed himself as a Surgeon and “Botanic Physician of the Reformed School.” There is more to say about Dr. Campbell than that.
James Claibourne Campbell came to Platteville in its early days (before 1841) and by 1845 had a thriving practice. The 1881 History of Grant County says about him: “The early physicians, it may here be observed, were Drs. Bevans, Russell and Basye, of the regular school, and J. C. Campbell, who killed or cured with lobelia and steam.” Nothing is known of his qualifications to act as a Physician and Surgeon, but it is probable that he learned what was then called the Thomson System of Botanic Practice.
Samuel Thomson, a native of New Hampshire, seeing the failures of standard medical practice in the first half of the 19th century, and being exposed to folk medicine, studied the use of plants to treat and cure disease. Self-taught, the herbalist then developed the use of “steaming” in treating the ill. Basically this consisted of pouring vinegar over hot stones while the patient sat over the stones and under a cover to concentrate the steam. Between the steam and herbal medicines and poultices, Thomson claimed to have much more success than conventional doctors. He noted the standard medical practitioners “would always either bleed or give physic (laxative).” He noted that the condition of a woman neighbor grew worse the more doctors visited her. The doctors, he said, could give her no relief “excepting a temporary one by stupefying her with opium and giving physic.” Doctors also administered mercury and other poisons which more often than not harmed rather than helped the sufferer.
In 1822 Thomson published a book, The New Guide to Health, which set forth his principles that the paths to elimination (bowels, lungs, pores) must be kept open and internal body heat maintained. Treatment consisted of using herbal concoctions or decoctions that induced sweating and a feeling of warmth, along with steaming and applying herbal poultices for lacerations, Canker-Rash (Scarlet Fever), Measles and Pox. Thomson gave certificates to those who bought and studied his system (above) and apparently Campbell was one of these. “Those calling on me for medicine” Campbell said, “shall receive the Botanic medicine, and no other.”
The interesting and frightening fact about Campbell is that he also billed himself as a surgeon, having to all appearances no training in the art. According to a memorial to Dr. Campbell, written by his descendant Clinton Kimball in 1952, he did receive a medical degree from a Missouri College, but not until he was sixty-five years of age (he was born on October 30, 1810). His claimed surgical repertoire in 1845 included Trephining (boring a hole in the skull, usually to treat penetrating head wounds or depressed fractures, but sometimes for headaches, epilepsy or mental illness), tying the iliac artery (to treat uncontrolled uterine bleeding) and Lithotomy (cutting out stones from the kidney, bladder, gallbladder, etc.).
Because of the utter lack of sterile procedure (the Germ Theory of Disease had not yet been developed) infection and death were common. Dr. Campbell was sued a number of times, usually not for malpractice, but he gave public notice nonetheless:
“TAKE NOTICE ALL: …if the patient dies, or the medicine docs no good, or the limb or part of the body operated upon by me as a Surgeon, is lame or in any way wrong, after the operation, I will not be responsible for mal-practice or bad treatment in any way, and will, in all cases, charge the full price of the above bill, whether they are benefited or not. In very many cases, the fault is in the patient, or nurse, for which I cannot and will not be responsible.”
Campbell was continually stymied in collecting his fees for services. His diary mentions him visiting patients, not to administer treatment but to attempt to collect for treatments given. In 1844 in the U.S. District court at Lancaster, a jury denied him the right to collect on certain fees he had billed. We do not know the reason. His response was to take out a nearly full page advertisement in the Platteville Independent American and General Advertiser on January 25, 1845 announcing:
“In order to form a more perfect system of doing business — establish justice — insure and provide for my own defence — promote my general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to myself and family, do ordain aid establish, That I will not sell any more Medicine, without the money or its equivalent paid in hand, except, the persons wanting the same are POOR — WIDOWS — ORPHANS. or objects of CHARITY, such can come and "buy without money or price.”
Campbell’s love of money apparently led him into both social and legal trouble. A case arose in which he apparently was named to administer the estate of one Edmund Locke. He withheld funds from the man’s widow and child claiming that $1,440.00 in fees were owed him. He was expelled from the Masonic Lodge for this outrage in 1852. That same year he took his family and moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Subsequently, Jonathan Moore, administrator of the Locke estate won a judgment against Campbell, and in 1854 his lots in Platteville and land in the country were sold by Sheriff William McGonigal to pay the Locke Estate principal and interest.
In 1852 Campbell acquired as a patient an important citizen of St. Louis, John F. Darby, former two term mayor of St. Louis and then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. From June through September 1852, Campbell made three trips to give treatment to Darby and provide him medications to use in his absence. Darby was suffering from some kind of “paralytic condition” which made it nearly impossible for him to raise his arms. Campbell told Darby it would cost him between $200.00 and $500.00 to cure him. The treatments consisted of steam treatments, “Life Liniment”, “Ague and Fever Physic”, “Composition Tea”, and Emetics. At this time Campbell was hawking his own “California Medicine” packets as well.
Campbell must have felt that there was more profit to be made in St. Louis than in
Platteville, for on November 8, 1852 He packed up his family and went to Galena, taking passage from there to St. Louis aboard the steam boat Shenandoah. “We had to pay $12.00 each for passage” he wrote in his diary. On the voyage downriver the Shenandoah struck bottom and began to sink. The passengers were transferred to another boat, the Wisconsin, which promptly began to leak. They almost sank, but the crew saved them and they finished the trip aboard the steamboat Regulator.
Campbell continued his medical practice in St. Louis, and late in life received a degree in medicine. He remained in St. Louis and continued his practice until 1880. In that year, at the advanced age of seventy, he and his wife returned to Platteville and took up residence in the old Campbell House, part of which still stands at 150 Market Street. The back portion and the third floor have been removed over the years.
James Claibourne Campbell died in Platteville on November 12, 1881. He is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Platteville. Campbell’s son James Alexander Campbell became a well-regarded Oculist (Ophthalmologist) and Aurist (otologist or ear doctor), the author of a number of books and papers on his specialty. By the time of James C. Campbell’s death, medical science had outgrown his concepts, and was ready to scientifically investigate and cure the killers of his younger years. The world today is a much better place to live a healthy life because scientific research has replaced folklore in medicine.
The James C. Campbell house as built
The James C. Campbell House today