Autobiography of A. T. Still
Andrew Taylor Still, D.O.



  • Early Life
  • Schoolboy Days, and the Unsparing Rod
  • A Judge of Dogs
  • My Flint-Lock Rifle
  • The First Cook Stove and Sewing Machine
  • End of the World Coming

  • My First Discovery in Osteopathy
    I SUPPOSE I began life as other children, with the animal form, mind, and motion all in running order.  I suppose I bawled, and filled the bill of nature in the baby life.  My mother was as others who had five or six angels to yell all night for her comfort.  In four or five years I got my first pants; then I was the man of the house.  In due time I was sent off to school in a log schoolhouse, taught by an old man by the name of Vandeburgh.  He looked wise while he was resting from his duties, which were to thrash the boys and girls, big and little, from 7 A.M. till 6 P.M., with a few lessons in spelling, reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic sandwiched between.  Then the roll-call, with orders to go home and not fight on the road to and from the schoolhouse, and be on time at seven next morning to receive more thrashings, till the boys and girls would not have sense enough to recite their lessons.  Then he made us sit on a horse's skull-bone for our poor spelling, and pardoned our many sins with the sparing rod, selecting the one suited to the occasion out of twelve which served in the walloping business, until P. M.

    In 1831 my father moved from that place of torture, which was at Jonesboro, Lee County, Va., to Newmarket, Tenn.  Then in 1835 I was entered with two older brothers as a student in the "Holston College," located at Newmarket, Tenn., for more schooling, under the control of the M. E. Church, which school was conducted by Henry C. Saffel, a man of high culture, a head full of brains, without any trace of the brute in his work.

[graphic 15]

    In the year of 1837 my father was appointed by the M. E. conference of Tennessee to go as a missionary to Missouri.  We bade adieu to the fine brick college at Holston and at the end of seven weeks' journey reached our destination, and found we were in a country where there were neither schools, churches, nor printing-presses, so here schooling ended until 1839.  Then my father and six or eight others hired a man by the name of J. D. Halstead to teach us as best he could during the winter of 1839-40.  He was very rigid, but not so brutal as Vandeburgh.  The spring of 1840 took us from Macon County to Schuyler County, Missouri, where I received no more schooling until 1842.  That autumn we felled trees in the woods, and built a log cabin eighteen by twenty feet in size, seven feet high, dirt floor, with one whole log or pole left out to admit light, through sheeting tacked over the space, so we could see to read and write.  This institution of learning was conducted by John Mikel, of Wilkesborough, N. C., at the rate of two dollars per head for ninety days.  He was good to his pupils, and they advanced rapidly under his training.  The summer of 1843 Mr. John Hindmon, of Virginia, taught a three-months' term, in which mental improvement was noted.  Then back to the old log house, for a fall term in Smith's Grammar, under Rev.  James B. Calloway.  He drilled his class well in the English branches for four months, proving himself to be a great and good man, and departed with the love and praise of all who knew him.

[Graphic 16: "HOUSE IN WHICH A. T. WAS BORN."]

    In the spring of 1845 we returned to Macon County.  A school was taught by G. B. Burkhart, but I did not attend it, as he and I did not agree, so I left home and entered school at La Plata, Mo., conducted by Rev.  Samuel Davidson, of the Cumberland Presbyterian church.  While attending his school I boarded with John Gilbreath, one of the best men I ever knew.  He and his dear wife were a father and a mother to me, and I cannot say too many kind words of them.  His grave holds one of my best and dearest friends.  They opened their doors, and let myself and a dear friend and schoolmate, John Duvall (long since dead), into their home.  Mornings, evenings, and Saturdays my friend and I split rails, milked cows, helped Mrs. Gilbreath tend babies, and do as much of the housework as we could.  When we left she wept as a loving mother parting from her children.  There are many more of whom I could speak with equal praise, but time and space will not admit.  In the summer of 1848 I returned to La Plata, to attend a school given wholly to the science of numbers, under Nicholas Langston, who was a wonderful mathematician.  I stayed with him until I had mastered the cube and square root in Ray's third part Arithmetic.  Thus ended my school-days in La Plata.

    The reader must not suppose that all my time was spent in acquiring an education at log schoolhouses.  I was like all boys, a little lazy and fond of a gun.  I had three dogs, -- a spaniel for the water, a hound for the fox, and a bulldog for bear and panthers.  My gun for many years was the old flint-lock, which went chuck, fizz, and bang; so you see, to hit where you wanted to, you had to bold still a long time, -- and, if the powder was damp in the pan, much longer, for there could be no bang until the fizzing was exhausted, and fire could reach the touch-hole leading to the powder-charge behind the ball.  All this required skill and a steady nerve, to hit the spot.

    I was called a good judge of dogs, and quoted as authority on the subject.  A hound, to be a great dog, must have a flat, broad, and thin tongue, deep-set eyes, thin and long ears, very broad and raised some at the head, and hang three inches below the under-jaw.  The roof of his month had to be black, his tail long and very slim, to be a good coon-dog.  That kind of pups I was supposed to sell for a dollar each, though I usually gave them away.  When I went to the woods, armed with my flint-lock and three dogs, they remained with me until I said, "Seize him, Drummer!" which Command sent Drummer out on a prospecting trip.  When I wanted squirrels I threw a stick up a tree and cried: " Hunt him up, Drummer."  In a short time the faithful beast had treed a squirrel.  When I wanted deer I hunted toward the wind, keeping Drum behind me. When he scented a deer he walked under my gun, which I carried point front.  I was always warned by his tail falling that I was about as close as I could get to my game without starting it from the grass.

    This old-fashioned flint-lock hunting was under the Van Buren and Polk's administration; but when Harrison -- "old Tip" -- came in, I possessed a cap-lock gun.  Now I was a "man."  "Big Injun me."  To pull the trigger was "bang" at once, and I was able to shoot deer "on the run."  Shotguns were not in use at that time, but the frontiersman became very expert with the rifle.  I could hit a hawk, wild goose, or any bird that did not fly too high or too fast for my aim.  I killed great numbers of deer, turkeys, eagles, wildcats, and foxes.  My frontier life made me very fleet on foot.  Brother Jim and I ran down and caught sixteen foxes in the month of September in the fall of l839.  Fearing some one will regard this as a fish story, I will explain that during the summer and fall some kind of disease got among the foxes, and we found them lying in the hot roads in the dust, feeble and shaking, as though they had the fever and ague, and incapable of running away from us.  I have never since tried to outrun a fox.


    As furs were not worth a cent in September, our sixteen foxes were useless, but during the preceding winter we caught a mink, and concluded to go to market with it, as we must have a five-cent bar of lead before we could shoot more game.  So I saddled my horse Selim, and went to Bloomington (nine miles) to exchange my mink-skin for lead.  The barter was made with my good friend Thomas Sharp (an uncle of Rev.  George Sharp, of Kirksville, Mo.), and soon the hide was with other furs, coons' and opossums'.  Then I mounted Selim and started for home to tell Jim that I had found a permanent market for mink-skins at five cents apiece. In short time I shot a deer, and had a buck-skin to add to the fur trade, and took my "big" fifty cents in powder, lead, and caps.

    Early in the forties I was very much in dread of the Judgment Day, or some awful calamity.  I was told of the signs and half-signs that were to come before the "end cometh" until my young mind was nearly distracted.

    Men had grown so wise that they knew just when the great wheels of time would stop.  But the story of the Day of Judgment was nothing compared to a wonderful invention a great and wise man had gotten up, called a sewing-machine, which could make over a hundred stitches in a minute.  I knew it must be so, for I read it in The Methodist Christian Advocate of New York.  I told my chum, Dick Roberts, the story, and he said it was a lie, because his mammy was as smart a gal as there was in the country, " and she couldn't make but twenty, so he wasn't going to swallow any such stuff."

    I didn't tell Dick all the wonderful things I had heard.  I wanted to tell him that "Sister Stone," just four miles from where we stood, had told me she had brought a cook-stove with her from the East, and she could make coffee, fry or boil meat, bake bread, make syrup, and cook anything on it in good shape; but for the sake of my own veracity I determined to go and see if it was true before I told it to Dick.

    I told father I was going to hunt stray cattle.  He said "all right." Having joined the church a few Sundays before, he supposed I was holiest about looking for cattle, while I really wanted to see Sister Stone's cook-stove, and determined to let evil prevail that good might come.  So I mounted Selim, and as soon as I could get out of father's sight, I "put the bud" to his sides and hind legs, till four miles were left far behind us.  Reaching Sister Stone's, I called:

    "Hello, Sister Stone; have you seen any of our cattle around here for a day or two?"

    "No," she said; "but get down and come in."

    I slid off Selim too quick, asking:

    "Can I get a drink of water?"

    "Oh, yes.  It is mighty warm!"

    While drinking, she called my attention to her cook-stove.  I asked her all about its cooking powers, and she explained all about it.  I asked her if she could bake corn-bread in it.

    "Oh, yes, just wait a few minutes, and I will bake you some." She did it to perfection, and I filled up with bread and milk.  I thanked her for her kindness, jumped on Selim, and soon found the cattle where I knew they were when I left for her house; so father never knew I lied to him "just a wee bit.".


    In a short time I saw Dick and told him my stove story.  He gave me an incredulous look, but did not deny my statement.  I suppose he was afraid I would hurt his feelings by punching his nose.  This was one of the signs of the end coming, and the sewing-machine story was another.

    This happened about the time that Miller's prophecy that the world was to come to an end was frightening so many people, and many were making preparations for the great event. One good man had a nice pig to bake for the Saviour's supper when He came, and was much disappointed when told that He did not eat pork.  So the story went, in the early days of signs and wonders.  This same devout man, about that time, met an Indian who wanted to stay all night with him, and made many mysterious gestures at the clouds, and down to the ground, to tell white man, "Chee muckeeman," he wanted to stay in the house for fear of snow.  The good man let him in, believing he might be the Saviour.  He was at a great loss for not being able to speak Hebrew, or understand the Saviour, and was surprised that the Saviour could not understand English.  After awhile Bill Williams came in, and said, " Sago, Towanin," and entered into a friendly chat with Towanin, the chief of
the Sac Indians.


    Not more than ninety per cent of the people living in America know anything of the trials and realities of a Western Pioneer's life.  It is profitable amusement to read of their history when written by one whose childhood youth, and old age were all spent in the West, during the days of hardships required to settle and civilize a country in which your happy homes now stand as monuments of civilization.  The brain and energy of that day are mostly among the forgotten dead, but they fill the graves of some of the great minds of America, among whom are Boone, Benton, and legions just as good.  Their voices are hushed, but their deeds are left on all the roads to fame.  They were the men and women who tamed the savage, and cleared and tilled the fields, thus removing hardship and danger.  They gave their comforts for the generations to follow, lived on but little, stood guard all the time until schools and civilization were planted in our wild country, and began the work of educating the minds to live another kind of life.  You are today rich in the inheritance left you by the blood and sweat of the pioneer, and though you may smile at his superstitions and sadness, you are
bound to respect his memory.

    After many days the fears aroused by Miller began to pass away.  The society of Millerites became a thing of the past, and their antics only remembered as amusing anecdotes.

    My frontier experience varied.  I enjoyed advantages which few did.

    My father, who was a man educated to do all kinds of work, was a minister, doctor, farmer, and a practical millwright.  My mother was a natural mechanic, and made cloth, clothing, and pies to perfection.  She believed "to spare the rod would spoil the child," and did use it in a homeopathic way.  My father said if you wish to get meal in a bag, hold the mouth open.  If you wish to get sense in your head, hold it open.  If you wish to ride a horse, get on his back; and if one wished to be a skillful rider, hold on to him.  My mother said if you wish to drink milk, put it in your mouth, and not on your clothes; for there was but one way to drink milk. My father, being a farmer, concluded that a little corn-field education would be good with my mill-wright knowledge, and at an early age I was taught to hold the teams and do the duties of farm life, until I could manage teams, harrows, plows, scrapers.  When I came from the corn field for dinner, father told me I could rest myself by carrying slop to the hogs.  I did not mind the work; it was the exercise that bothered my mind.  When I passed old Dan, the colored man, he would say:

    "De crown is for de faiffful," and many other words of encouragement, such as " Go and brung de eggs," "Start a little smoke under de meat," and then sing the "Sweet Bye and Bye" for my edification.  In due course of time I entered my gawk age, for a long journey.  I was awkward, ignorant, and slovenly until I got into my mother's real training school, in which she used soap and switches freely.  After which it seemed I had more spring in my heels and head than ever before.  She gave me two buckets and a cup, and told me to go and milk the cows, and be in a hurry about it, so as to help her and Dan'l shear the sheep.

    By seven o'clock we were in the sheep-pen.  Old Dan'l says, " Ketch dat sheep," mother reiterated, "Catch that sheep," and Aunt Becky echoed, "Catch me one." By this time "old black Rachel" came in with her shears, and said: "I wants one too." And right here is where the gawk was knocked out.  When I caught a sheep for her, the old ram said, "It is time for music," and sprawled me with his bead, causing me to bowl, and the others to laugh.  This incident taught me to look backward and forward, upward and downward, right and left, and never sleep in the enemy's country, but always be on guard.


    My instructors thinking I was well enough trained to be admitted into better society, I was permitted to go with Dan'l to the timber, to be instructed in chopping wood, splitting rails, burning brush, and clearing up the ground for the plow.  All went off well except once or twice, when old Dan'l revived my see-ability by playing ram until I could see a limb as big as your finger.  He then closed with the proverb, "'Cleanliness is next to godlidess.'  I wants all dis trash cleaned up, every moufful of it." At noon be gave the welcome information, "Come on, we's gwine to dinner."  When we came near the house, we met Aunt Becky, and she told us the preacher had come to take dinner, and for me to water his horse, take the saddle off, curry him down, then come in the smokehouse and she would give me a piece of pie, but it was not large as my hunger was.  She said she had something to tell me.

    "What is it?" I asked.

    "Maybe that man will be your uncle some day.  If you will stay in the smokehouse and wait till the second table, I will bring you out the chicken gizzard."  I took her at her word and got the gizzard, and she got the preacher, and became the wife of a circuit-rider.  Not long after I took a great notion that I would be a circuit-rider, too.  I mounted horses, mules, and calves, and tried to look like a preacher.  My favorite clerical steed was a calf which had a very stately step.  I took him out to the meadow with halter, mounted him, and began to play preacher.  All went well, and I was wondering where my appointment would be, when a snake ran under my calf's nose, and spread all my preachability before the calf on my back, and it has been there ever since.


    I will conclude this chapter of my boyhood experience with an incident which, simple as it was, may be said to be my first discovery in the science of Osteopathy.  Early in life I began to hate drugs.

    One day, when about ten years old, I suffered from a headache.  I made a swing of my father's plow-line between two trees; but my head hurt too much to make swinging comfortable, so I let the rope down to about eight or ten inches of the ground, threw the end of a blanket on it, and I lay down on the ground and used the rope for a swinging pillow.  Thus I lay stretched on my back, with my neck across the rope.  Soon I became easy and went to sleep, got up in a little while with headache all gone.  As I knew nothing of anatomy, I took no thought of how a rope could stop headache and the sick stomach which accompanied it.  After that discovery I roped my neck whenever I felt those spells coming on.  I followed that treatment for twenty years before the wedge of reason reached my brain, and I could see that I had suspended the action of the great occipital nerves, and given harmony to the flow of the arterial blood to and through the veins, and ease was the effect, as the reader can see.  I have worked from the days of a child, for more than fifty years, to obtain a more thorough knowledge of the workings of the machinery of life, to produce ease and health.  And today I am, as I have been for fifty years, fully established in the belief that the artery is the father of the rivers of life, health, and ease, and its muddy or impure water is first in all disease.