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


  • The End of the War
  • Rejoicing at the Dawn of Peace
  • New Dangers
  • The Evil of Drugs
  • TerribleVisions
  • 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?
    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.

    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."

    Druggist says:

    "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 benefited.

    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 existed.

    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 dwells.

    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 the afflicted.

    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.