Autobiography of A. T. Still
Andrew Taylor Still, D.O.
THE lad of the frontier enjoys many thrilling adventures
with wild animals of which the city boy can know nothing save what he reads
in books. If he is observing he learns more of the habits and customs
of the animals he comes in contact with than he can gain by a course in
natural history, for he has the great book of nature constantly spread
The Wild Game of the Frontier
Mr. Cochran's Deer
The Deer's Foot
Treed by a Buck
I Capture an Eagle
Brother Jim's Horn
The Philosophy of Skunks and Buzzards
Milking Under Difficulties
Attacked by Panthers
Soon after my father moved to Missouri, when I was
about eight years old, I was amusing myself in the yard with my younger
brothers, three and five years old, when "bang" went a big gun from the
back of our house, about a quarter of a mile away. My mother came
running to us, and said:
"Did you hear that big gun go off over west?" We
answered we did. She said: " I expect Judge Cochran has killed a
buck." He had said he was going out to look for deer at the spring-lick
where they came to drink the water that flowed out of the hill, and had
promised us venison for supper. By this time we were all wonderfully
excited. We climbed on the fence, brother John, Tom, Jim, and Ed,
with mother and the little girls standing in the door, all eyes turned
expectant toward the deer-lick about half a mile distant. Every nerve
in our bodies was on a perfect strain, with our eyes wide open to see who
could catch the first glimpse of Judge Cochran. In a very few minutes
he walked to an open place in the woods, and we saw him almost at the same
instant. I "jumped up and down," and brother Jim followed my example.
Soon the Judge was in the dooryard; but long before be got there we asked
him if be had killed a deer. He answered:
"Yes, I have killed a fine buck, and you can all
have some very nice venison, as I promised, for supper." He asked us if
we had ever eaten any. We told him no, we had never seen any, much
less tasted it. He said the deer was lying over at the lick, and
he would saddle up a horse and bring it in. When he mounted his horse
he asked me if I did not want to go with him after the deer. I jumped
on behind the Judge, and away we went. In a few minutes we were at
the lick, and dismounted by the dead deer, which was the most wonderful
thing I bad ever seen. It was about five feet long, from the end
of its nose to the end of its tail, full three feet high whe n standing,
and its tail was about one foot 1ong. Its feet and mouth were very
much like a sheep's, except the feet were very sharp-pointed. Its
hair was about the color of an Irish man's whiskers.
[graphic 36: "THE JUDGE AND I RODE BACK
TO THE HOUSE."]
Its legs and feet were very nice and trim, not much
larger than a broomstick, but about three feet long. I thought, "Oh!
how fast he could run, before he departed this life to cheer our table."
A deer can jump as far in one jump as a boy can in six, or about fifty
or sixty feet when running down a hill. He can jump over a man's
head and never touch his hat.
Soon the Judge and I were back to the house with
our deer. We took off his hide and hung him up in a tree to cool
off, so we could have some for breakfast. Next morning we were out
of bed bright and early. Mother cooked a big pot full, put it on
a great big dish in the middle of the table. It was the most palatable
food I ever ate. Perhaps the appetite of the boy and my continual
exercise made the meat seem the sweetest I ever tasted. Before I
quit the subject of deers I will narrate an adventure I once had with a
wounded buck about twelve years later, when I was almost a young man.
One day I was out with my gun
and three dogs, when I heard a noise thrashing through the brush toward
me, and soon a buck came in sight. He bad nine points on each born,
and was more than three times as large as the one Judge Cochran killed.
I began to realize the danger of an encounter with such a monster, if I
missed my mark. Realizing that if I killed him I was safe, and if
I missed him he would kill me unless my dogs could save me, I raised my
gun when he was within a few feet. Bang went my gun, and down went
the buck. "Hallelujah! Tom, I've got him!" By this time my
brother Tom was within fifty yards of me. I walked toward the deer,
supposing him dead, but when I got very close, to my amazement he raised
his head for fight. There was no time to parley, so I climbed a tree
in less than no time, and had presence of mind to take my gun with me.
From my perch I loaded and fired until I killed him. My three dogs
were pulling away at him all the while, and I had to use great caution
to shoot the deer without killing my dogs, for they and the deer were fighting
for life. I have since seen men grapple in a death struggle, but
don't believe I ever witnessed a more desperate encounter. I was
not the first man who bad shot him, for when I skinned him I found eleven
balls that had penetrated his hide, all failing to reach a vital point.
[graphic 38: "I HAD TO USE GREAT CAUTION
TO SHOOT THE DEER WITHOUT KILLING
One night when it was very dark and the snow falling
fast, I was two miles from home with neither gun nor dogs. On looking
up in a tree, not over fifteen or twenty feet high, I saw an object, but
could not tell what it was, so I picked up a club and threw it into the
tree-top. I had a knife in my belt, which I drew to do the best I
could if that object proved a panther or any other dangerous animal.
I hit it with my club and down it came to the ground. It seemed to
square itself for a fight, and seizing another club, I pressed the object
down and got my foot on it. The night was so dark that I could not
tell until I felt the object with my hand that I had captured an eagle,
which measured seven feet two inches from tip to tip, while from head to
end of tail it was three feet long. The back claws on each foot measured
three inches and three quarters, with legs as large as broomsticks.
I took him under my arm, held his feet, and got him home safe and sound.
On another night I brought in two large bald eagles. If you
frighten an eagle after night he will always come to the ground, and can
be captured with ease.
[graphic 39: "I HAD CAPTURED AN EAGLE."]
My father owned a farm and raised a large amount
of corn, and had a great many horses, mules, cattle, sheep, and hogs to
feed on it, so our crops were consumed at home. We had so much corn
to husk and crib that we were compelled to commence very early, in order
to get it stored away before cold weather. When we were all in our
teens, my eldest brother nineteen, the next seventeen, and myself about
fifteen, we gathered corn from early morn till late in the evening, fed
the stock, ate our suppers, and prepared for a good hunt for coons, foxes,
opossums, and skunks. We always took a gun, an ax, big butcher-knife,
and flint and steel to make fire. We had a polished cow's horn which
we could blow as loud as the horn that overthrew the walls of Jericho.
As brother Jim was a great talker, we made him chief horn-blower.
He went into the yard, and bracing himself, tooted and tooted and split
the air for miles, while the dogs collected around him and roared and bowled.
You never heard such sweet music as brother Jim and the dogs made.
Shortly after his melodies began, we were in line of march, front, middle
and rear rank, and soon journeyed to the woods to hunt opossums, polecats,
coons, wildcats, foxes, and turkeys. Our dogs had a classic education,
hunting and killing all classes of "varmints." When on a coon hunt
we kept back all the dogs with us but two, Drum and Rouser. The roofs
of their months were black, their ears long and thin, their tails very
slim. If we wanted coons first, we told Jim to toot for coons, which
he could do very nicely. At his sound of music, Drum and Rouser moved
off in the darkness, and after some minutes Drum was sure to break the
silence by yelping and roaring on the track. The bark of the dog
indicated to our trained ear the kind of game he was after. If he
barked slow and loud we were pretty sure he had treed a coon; if he barked
quick and sharp, we booked him for a fox. If he barked fast and loud
we could count on a polecat. In case it was a skunk we ran to the
dogs as fast as possible, and ordered Jim at the same time to blow the
horn to call them off, for if they ever got the skunk's perfume on them
it was so stinking strong the scent of the animals was destroyed for other
game. Sometimes a young untrained dog had the temerity to take hold
of a skunk and spoil the hunt, so that all that was left for us was to
let the bugle sound the retreat, and go home. The skunk possesses
two wonderful powers: he can stink louder and faster than any other known
animal; and if you do not kill him within a few hours he will absorb all
of his disgusting odors and go away; such is the power and quality placed
in him by nature. I would advise you to never kill a skunk, unless
you leave his body just where be falls. By so doing the stench will
disappear in a very short time. In him you have one of the finest
lessons of nature: he gives forth only what he absorbs from his surroundings.
The polecat is the skunk of the ground, and stinks
worse than any other animal. The buzzard is the skunk of the air,
with but very little improvement in his stinking powers above the skunk
of the ground, His tongue is wonderfully constructed for cutting and tearing
flesh; otherwise his head and beak are formed just as a common turkey.
Thus nature has provided amply for all things by which they move, defend
themselves, and live, from the mighty lions of the jungles to the ant of
About the year 1852 I killed a great number of deer.
I skinned, salted, and dried the meat, supplying not only myself, but my
neighbors with all they wanted. One afternoon I killed a very fine
young deer, brought him home, and put him in the smokehouse. My clothes,
saddle, and horse were badly stained with the blood of the animal.
It being late after changing clothes, I took a bucket and went to a lot
adjoining my stable to milk my cow. In the lot I had about twenty
large hogs. I sat down, and was milking the cow, when all at once
the hogs jumped up and ran to the farther side of the lot, sniffing the
air in great terror. I looked to see the cause of their flight, and
there in plain view, within thirty feet of me, stood a monster panther
not less than nine or ten feet from the point of his nose to the end of
his tail, and fully three feet high. I was milking in a tin bucket,
which made a great deal of noise, so he did not molest either myself or
the hogs, but jumped out of the pen and ran to the timber. Then he
began to roar and scream like a woman in distress. I was very fond
of his music, but the farther it was away the sweeter it sounded.
I am glad he didn't think enough of me to spend any more time in my company
than he did. No doubt it was the blood on the horse and saddle that
brought him there. I did not ask him, and only guessed that he came
for a haunch of venison.
[graphic 44: "THERE WITHIN PLAIN VIEW
WAS A MONSTER PANTHER."]
One day while driving home in my ox wagon I came
upon three panthers in the road, -- two old beasts and a young one.
I had neither rifle nor knife to defend myself , and had they attacked
me they would have killed my oxen and myself. My dogs saw the dangerous
brutes, and made a bold charge upon them, and they ran up a tree.
No doubt they had seated themselves to feast upon my oxen. Even when
they had reached safety in the tree-top, they cast fierce, hungry glances
[graphic 45: "I CRACKED MY WHIP, AND
THEY SPRANG OUT OF THE TREE-TOP AND RAN OFF IN THE WOODS."]
I cracked my whip, which sounded very much like a
pistol, and they sprang out of the tree-top and ran off into the thick
woods. I drove my oxen home in a hurry, every hair on my head feeling
as stiff as a knitting needle, and I never had any more desire to encounter
My frontier experience was valuable to me in more
ways than I can ever tell. It was invaluable in my scientific researches.
Before I had ever studied anatomy from books I had almost perfected the
knowledge from the great book of nature. The skinning of squirrels
brought me into contact with muscles, nerves, and veins. The bones,
this great foundation of the wonderful house we live in, was always a study
to me long before I learned the hard names given to them by the scientific
world. As the skull of the horse was used at my first school as a
seat for the indolent scholar, I have thought it might be typical of the
good horse-sense that led me to go to the fountain-head of knowledge and
there learn the lesson that drugs are dangerous to the body, and the science
of medicine just what some great physicians have declared it to be, --
But I am digressing from the purpose of this chapter,
which is to give some of my adventures during my early days on the frontier.
My adventures were not confined alone to panthers, deers, skunks, and coons.
We had an enemy far more subtle and dangerous than either. His fang
was poisonous and his bite often death. I refer to the snakes of
Missouri in an early day.
I have killed thousands of them, big and little,
long and short, from ten feet in length to six inches, and all colors,
red, black, blue, green, copper, spotted, dangerous and harmless. They
were so abundant in the timber and prairie country in the early days that
it was necessary to carry a club about the size of a common walking-stick,
three or four feet long, as protection. All persons carried something
in their bands to kill snakes during the warm weather. Many kinds
were very poisonous. I remember a man named Smith Montgomery who
was bitten on the foot in the harvest-field, while he was at work bare-footed.
The snake's tooth penetrated a vein which carries the blood to the heart,
and he cried:
"I am bitten by a rattlesnake!" walked toward the
other men, but after taking about six steps sank to the ground and was
instantly dead. The poison of the rattlesnake produces a numb feeling,
which runs all through the body, and the lungs and heart cease to move
as soon as the blood is conveyed to the heart and the poison gets into
the large blood-vessels.
Rattlesnakes are stubborn antagonists. I have
formed a ring of hay about a foot high, set it on fire, and when in full
blaze all over, at the very hottest time, have thrown the rattlesnake in
that ring of fire. He would fight and squirm until he was as stiff
as a walking-stick, and only ceased when his body was cooked. Thus
you see he is grit to the very last.
As I was traveling through some timberland with my
friend Jim Jessee, we saw in front of us a very large rattlesnake, six
feet in length. I proposed to Jim to have some fun out of the gentleman.
I drew my knife from my belt, cut down and trimmed up a bush, left the
upper limb so as to make a fork, with which I straddled his neck, while
with other sticks I opened his mouth and filled it with hartshorn (aqua
ammonia); then we let him loose and stepped back to see the fun.
To our great surprise he never
cut a caper. The ammonia had done its work instantaneously.
I tied his tail to a bush, thinking he might be only temporarily inactive.
At the end of six hours I returned to find him dead and in possession of
the green flies. By that experiment I learned that ammonia would
destroy the snakes deadly virus. In all cases of snake-bite, after
that, I always used ammonia as an antidote, and if it was not handy I would
use soda or some other alkali with equal success, but not so active.
I would advise you to always have a little ammonia or soda in your pocket
when going among snakes. And if your dog should go mad while out
snake-hunting and bite you, apply sulphuric acid three parts water, and
the virus will do you no harm, as it is alkali, and will yield to acids.
I once treated a girl bitten by a rabid dog on the face, leaving two cuts
two inches long, with sulphuric acid for ten days. Her face healed,
and she is still alive, and though this was thirty years ago, has never
shown any signs of rabies, while all the stock bitten by same dog went
During the year 1847, when the United States and
old Mexico were fighting like two she-tigers, I wanted to go to fight Mexicans.
Being under age, my father would not consent to my going into the service.
One day while riding on horse-back I was boiling over with fight, when
my blood was at its highest heat, and I felt that I could thrash all such
fellows as Samson, John Sullivan, Fitzsimmons, and Corbett, I raised my
head and looked in front of me about one hundred paces. I saw something
lying across the road which I took to be a fence-rail or a pole about three
or four inches in diameter. I gave no farther thought of it until
I had traveled about the distance to where I thought I had seen it.
I looked backward and forward in search of my pole, but it had disappeared,
and as it was a very hot day, I began to wonder if I bad been asleep and
seen a pole in my dream. A few more steps brought me up to a place
in the road which was very dusty, and I was dumfounded to see the track
of the snake in the road.
The imprint in the soft dust was about an inch deep
and something over a foot wide. On discovering it was a snake-track
without mistake I knew I could get war and plenty of it without going to
Mexico. I rode out in the weeds, which were about a foot high, in
the direction I thought I was most likely to find him. I found Mr.
Snake coiled up; coil, snake, and all would easily have filled a half-bushel.
He raised his head two feet in the air, and fixed those basilisk orbs on
me -- about three inches across, just back of the eyes. I knew well
enough if this snake was ten feet long be could jump his length.
To run was cowardice, to fight was dangerous. The thought came in
my mind, How will it look in a young man who wants to fight all
Mexico to back out and run from a snake? I had seen the snake,
and could not tell mother it had run off and I could not find it.
In desperation I took the stirrup strap off my saddle,
to which was attached a very heavy iron stirrup, and with great a amount
of emotion in both legs approached the general commanding the opposite
side. He had ordered music by the band, which band was twenty-nine
rattles fastened to the rear rank of his whole army. I gave the command
in a low whisper to strike. With a circuitous swing with strap and
stirrup, which weighed about one pound and a half, I unjointed the general's
neck and took his whole army prisoners. I lined it up on dress parade,
and found he was three full steps long and one foot over, with twenty-nine
rattles, which equal seven inches, making the snake a fraction over ten
feet long. Thus ended the greatest snake fight I ever had.
As the snake is an emblem of poison, and as all drugs
are poison, this conflict may be said to be the first conflict between
Osteopathy and poison, in which Osteopathy came off victorious.
[graphic 50: "FIRST CONFLICT BETWEEN
DRUGS AND OSTEOPATHY."]