Autobiography of A. T. Still
Andrew Taylor Still, D.O.
THE war ended as every thinking person must have reasoned
it would end. Hate, passion, and avarice might prevail for a while,
but in the end the spunky little South which fought so gallantly was compelled
to yield to the determined North.
The End of the War
Rejoicing at the Dawn of Peace
The Evil of Drugs
A Picture Drawn
Digging in Indian Graves for Subjects
Studying from the Great Book of Nature
The Ravages of That Terrible Disease Meningitis
Prayers and Medicine
Death of Four Members of My Family
Is Medicine a Failure?
On the one side, men and money became too scarce
to continue the struggle longer. A surrender, and peace was proclaimed,
and human slavery ceased to be a part of the institutions of America.
All gladly quit the conflict and resumed the life of the peaceful citizen.
I gladly left the field of bloody contention, with all others, to resume
the duties of a private citizen. I was not long in discovering we
had habits, customs, and traditions no better than slavery in its worst
days, and far more tyrannical. My sleep was wellnigh ruined; by day
and night I saw legions of men and women stagger to and fro, all over the
land, crying for freedom from habits of drugs and drinks.
My heart trembled, my brain rested not by day nor
by night, to see man made in the image of his Creator treated with such
little respect and sense by men who should know better. I saw men
and women dosed with drugs whose poisonous fangs showed the serpent of
habit, that was as sure to eat its victim as a stone would return to the
earth when cast into the air. I dreamed of the dead and dying who
were and had been slaves of habit. I sought to know the cause of
so much death, bondage, and distress of my race. I found the cause
to be in the ignorance of our "Schools of Medicine." I found that
he who gave the first persuasive dose was also an example of the same habit
of dosing and drinking himself, and was a staggering form of humanity,
wound hopelessly tight in the serpent's coil. In vain he cried:
"Who can free me from this serpent, who has all my
liberties and joy of myself and loved ones?" In the anguish of his
soul he said:
"I wish I was as free as the negro for whose freedom
I faced the deadly cannon three long years."
"Oh!" says one, who is cultivating this habit of
drugs and drinks, "I can quit my master any time I choose, but the nigger
could not, because the law held him in slavery with rawhide whips, bloodhounds,
and shotguns, to torture him to obedience; and I am free to use drugs or
quit just when I want to."
If you will chalk his back and watch him, you will
soon find him about a drug-store complaining of not feeling well.
He has taken a cold, and says:
"My wife belongs to church, and the meetings are
held so late, and room so hot, I caught cold going home, and think I ought
to take something."
"Professor, I think a little Jamaica ginger and about
an ounce of old rye is just what will fix you up."
"Well, I will try some, I believe; still I hate to
go to church stinking of whisky."
"Chew a few cloves and cardamon seed, and they will
disguise the whisky smell," says the druggist. Soon church ends its
night sessions, and Professor still comes with pains in back to say:
"I was out all last night after a fox, and caught
more cold," and winks at druggist, and says: "Fix me the same you did before,
and give me half a pint to take to granny."
This hypocritical pretension became more and more
disgusting to me. I who had had some experience in alleviating pain
found medicines a failure. Since early life I bad been a student
of nature's books.
In my early days in wind-swept Kansas I had devoted
my attention to the study of anatomy. I became a robber in the name
of science. Indian graves were desecrated and the bodies of the sleeping
dead exhumed in the name of science. Yes, I grew to be one of those
vultures of the scalpel, and studied the dead that the living might be
I had printed books, but went back to the great book
of nature as my chief study. The poet has said that the greatest
study of man is man. I believed this, and would have believed it
if be had said nothing about it. The best way to study man is to
dissect a few bodies.
My subjects were the bodies exhumed from the Indian
graves. Day and night, like any other grave-robber, I roamed about
the country, and often at moonlight and often in the day-time with shovel
disinterred the dead Indian and utilized his body for the good of science.
Some one says the end justifies the means, and I adopt this theory to satisfy
the qualms of conscience. The dead Indians never objected to being
object-lessons for the development of science. Their relatives knew
nothing about it; and as where ignorance is bliss it is folly to be wise,
and as the knowledge which I gained by this research has aided me to relieve
countless thousands of suffering human beings, and snatch many from the
grave, I shall not allow my equanimity of mind to be disturbed by the thoughts
that I once was a grave-robber.
My science or discovery was born in Kansas under
many trying circumstances. On the frontier while fighting the pro-slavery
sentiment and snakes and badgers, then later on through the Civil War,
and after the Civil War, until like a burst of sunshine the whole truth
dawned on my mind, I was gradually approaching a science by study, research,
and observation that the world is receiving.
Is the frontier a place to study science? our college-bred
gentleman may ask. Henry Ward Beecher once remarked that it made
very little difference how one acquired an education, whether it be in
the classic shades and frescoed halls of old Oxford or Harvard, or by the
fireside in the lonely cabin on the frontier. The frontier is a good place
to get the truth. There is no one there to bother you.
Beecher was then in mature years, and knew whereof
he spoke. He had by the experience of a lifetime come to realize
that a college education would not put good sense in a head where no brains
The frontier is the great book of nature. It
is the fountainhead of knowledge, and natural science is here taught from
first principles. How does the scientist learn of the habits and
manners of the animals which he wishes to study? By the observation
of the animals. The old frontiersman knows more of the customs and
habits of the wild animals than the scientist ever discovered. Agassiz
with all his knowledge of natural history knows not as much of the mink
and beaver as the trapper whose life business has been to catch them.
In the quiet of the frontier, surrounded by nature,
I prosecuted my study of anatomy with more zeal and more satisfactory results
than I bad at college. With no teacher but the facts of nature, and
no classmate save the badger, cayote, and my mule, I sat down to my desk
on the prairie to study over what I had learned at medical schools.
With the theory firmly fixed in my mind that the "greatest study of man
is man," I began with the skeleton. I improved my store in anatomical
knowledge until I was quite familiar with every bone in the human body.
The study of these bodies of ours has ever been fascinating to me.
I love the study and have always pursued it with a zeal.
Indian after Indian was exhumed and dissected, and
still I was not satisfied. A thousand experiments were made with
bones, until I became quite familiar with the bony structure.
I might have advanced sooner in Osteopathy had not
our Civil War interfered with the progress of my studies. We cannot say
how a thing will appear until it is developed, and then we often find that
the greatest good follows the greatest grief and woe, as you all know fire
is the greatest test of the purity of gold. It may be good for the
metal, but it is hard on the gold. Not until I had been tried by
fire did I cut loose from that stupidity, drugs. Not until my heart
had been torn and lacerated with grief and affliction could I fully realize
the inefficacy of drugs. Some may say that it was necessary that
I should suffer in order that good might come, but I feel that my grief
came through gross ignorance on the part of the medical profession.
It was in the spring of 1864; the distant thunders
of the retreating war could be easily heard; but a new enemy appeared.
War had been very merciful to me compared with this foe. War had
left my family unharmed; but when the dark wings of spinal meningitis hovered
over the land, it seemed to select my loved ones for its prey.
The doctors came and were faithful in their attendance.
Day and night they nursed and cared for my sick, and administered their
most trust-worthy remedies, but all to no purpose. The loved ones
sank lower and lower. The minister came and consoled us. Surely
with the men of God to invoke divine aid, and men skilled in scientific
research, my loved ones would be saved. Any one might hope that between
prayers and pills the angel of death would be driven from our door.
But he is a stubborn enemy, and when he has set his seal on a victim, prayers
and pills will not avail.
I had great faith in the honesty of my preacher and
doctors then, and I have not lost that faith. God knows I believe
they did what they thought was for the best. They never neglected
their subjects, and dosed, and added to and changed doses, hoping to hit
upon the defeat to the enemy; but it was of no avail.
It was when I stood gazing upon three members of
my family, -- two of my own children and one adopted child, -- all dead
from the disease spinal meningitis, that I propounded to myself the serious
question, " In sickness has not God left man in a world of guessing?
Guess what is the matter? What to give, and guess the result?
And when dead, guess where he goes." I decided then that God was not a
guessing God, but a God of truth.
And all His works, spiritual and material, are harmonious.
His law of animal life was absolute. So wise a God had certainly
placed the remedy within the material house in which the spirit of life
With this thought I trimmed my sail and launched
my craft as an explorer. Like Columbus I found driftwood upon the
surface, noticed the course of the wind whence they came, and steered my
vessel accordingly. Soon I saw the green islands of health all over
the seas of reason. Ever since then I have watched for the driftwood
and course of the wind, and I have never failed to find the source whence
the drifting came.
Believing that a loving, intelligent Maker of man
had deposited in this body some place or through the whole system drugs
in abundance to cure all infirmities, on every voyage of exploration I
have been able to bring back a cargo of indisputable truths, that all the
remedies necessary to health exist in the human body. They can be
administered by adjusting the body in such condition that the remedies
may naturally associate themselves together, hear the cries, and relieve
I have never failed to find all remedies in plain
view on the front shelves of the store of the Infinite.
When I first started out as an explorer, there were
some remedies in bottles and jars high up and low down on the shelves,
not so visible as those in general demand. But by a close study,
I found they would blend with all other drugs, and give the wanted relief.
Thus I have prosecuted the voyage from sea to sea, until
I have discovered that nature is never without necessary remedies. I am
better prepared today, after a twenty-years' voyage and close observation, to
say that God or nature is the only doctor whom man should respect. Man
should study and use the drugs of his drug-store only.