Source: NMHS NEWSLETTER November 1985

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE EARLY VET: B. E. Stauffer by Dorothy H. Joseph

Benias Elias Stauffer, better known as Ben to his family or later on as Dr. B. Elk was my grandfather.  He came to North Manchester in 1889 with a wife and three children and here set up his practice which lasted to the time of his death in 1911.

Although born near Reading in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, he came to Indiana as a child, the fourth in a family of seven children.  They lived on a farm in Elkhart County near Wakarusa.  He was 28 when he married my grandmother, Marguriete Ellen Blake in 1881.  Two years later they moved to Chicago where my grandfather entered a school of veterinary medicine.  The school had just opened, so he was a charter member along with eight or nine other students.  My mother from whom I received all the information on my grandfather did not remember the name of the school, but Dr. H. F. Terrill of the North Manchester Veterinary Clinic told me that there is still a Chicago School of Veterinary Medicine in existence for many years, so that could have been the school Ben Stauffer attended.

He received his degree after two years.  The first year was enough to set up in general practice, but Ben went the second year to become a surgeon.  Mother did not know how many years or the type of formal education he had had before.  Whether he farmed or took care of ill or injured animals without benefit of a formal education or degree, I do not know.  He was never interested in farming but always seemed to enjoy the care of domestic animals.  As to the courses of study, there had to be various sciences offered, such as anatomy, chemistry, and perhaps bacteriology.  Materia medica  would make use of chemistry and mathematics.  He was familiar with aseptic technique, so he must have had some bacteriology.

I have wondered about the financial situation, since he was not working for two years and had family responsibilities as my grandmother came back to Indiana during this time for the birth of their first child.  After receiving his degree, he set up his first practice in Elkhart County, although they returned to North Manchester after two years with their family of three children.

Practice in North Manchester

The year  was 1889.  There had been a veterinarian in this area, a Dr. Alber, who apparently had retired.  It is possible the Stauffers returned so soon because Ben knew that that practice was available.  Two more children (mother is the youngest of the family) were born in the 1890’s which completed the family of five children

Dr. Stauffer had several different office locations.  The first was at the J. B. Williams Drug Store on East Main Street.  This “office” was a desk on the main floor of the drugstore.  Later it was at the Willis Livery Stable at the southeast corner of West Main and Maple Streets.  This was more suitable and offered more room for him and accommodations for horses.  Another location was on North Mill Street in the Thrush Buggy Works (east side between Main and Second Streets).  The Thrushes had come from Pennsylvania where they had had a successful buggy works that was widely known.  Later a blacksmith shop was added to the north side of the building that was run by Sewell Thrush and Alvin Bugby.

When the family first came here they lived in “the Pocket” west of Front Street and south of Main Street, west to the old West Ward School.  My mother was born in this area.  When she was ready for the fourth grade, the family moved to Riverside (South Market Street), although she had spent her first three years at West Ward, two under Martha Winesburg who years later was my teacher at Chester School.

The Formula That Burned Down the Lab

Dr. Stauffer made many of his own medical formulas in the building behind the house.  One concoction, a thick black liquid called balsamic oil, helped ease indigestion in horses.  This had to be cooked over a coal oil stove and had to be watched very carefully so that the highly flammable mixture would not boil over.  This happened twice and both times the “lab” burned down!

Mother called these buildings a shed or an old chicken house, but to my grandfather they were his labs.  After much work he devised a way to make a more effective balsamic oil without cooking it.  Mother said the neighbors were delighted, too, as the first method caused a foul odor over the neighborhood and everyone knew Ole Doc Stauffer was making his medicine.  He made other medicines, too, including one for sore throat which attracted my mother because it was a large clear ball resembling rock candy.  He received a patent for this new method.

Since horse and buggy was the principal mode of transportation at that time, the practice of veterinary medicine was mostly horses.  Cattle and pigs were treated too, but small animals were a small percentage of the practice.  Hence the name “horse doctor” given by lay people.

A tour of a modern veterinary facility would surprise Dr. Stauffer for the differences in conditions are astounding.  Stauffer must have known about aseptic technique though it must have been almost impossible to apply that knowledge with the few facilities he had.  He probably did boil his instruments after cleaning them.  Whether he had rubber gloves to protect not only the patient but also himself, I don’t know.

Although general anesthesia had been known for some time, Dr. Terrill said at one time animals were hung up and tied into position, unable to move, and then operated upon without anesthetic.  It is of little wonder that very little surgery was performed.  As cruel as it may sound, humans were not treated much better until after the Civil War, although chloroform had been used as an anesthetic since the late 1840’s.

Mother often accompanied her father into the countryside when he went to attend animals.  She never bothered to watch the treatment but played with the farmer’s children or amused herself.  Of course, animals were not taken to the doctor as they are today.

In the spring Dr. Stauffer was busy with the castration of many animals.  A Dr. Nance from Milford came down and assisted my grandfather who must have returned the favor.  The practice continued to grow and in 1907-1908 Dr. Jake Cook came to this area and joined my grandfather as a partner.

Stauffer mentioned in his diary in 1905 that his legs were swollen or that he felt poorly or had the “jimmies.”  Sometimes this comment was made after he had to be out with a sick animal all night or perhaps had a fairly busy day afterwards without proper rest.  Other notes in the diary concern formulas for various medicines that he used.  He mentioned different customers, such as Dr. Balsbaugh, a Mr. Frey, J. W. Patterson, a Mr. Winebrenner, Suede Williams, son of J. B. the pharmacist, and Ezra Boocher, to name a few.

In his day-to-day entries he wrote that some days he had little to do, so he attended to accounts, much of which he collected in food rather than hard cash, and took care of correspondence.  He mentioned writing to a veterinarian dental school in Detroit and another time wrote that he “dressed” a horse’s teeth.

About a year before he died,  Stauffer bought a DeWitt car and was pleased to think that he would reach his patients sooner.  The car vibrated so badly and apparently grandfather had angina pectoris which the vibration aggravated.  One time someone found him lying along the road and having a painful heart attack.

Another boon in speeding up the treatment of animals of course was the telephone which came into this area about 1899.  Stauffer’s phone number was “6” so he must have been the sixth person to receive a telephone.  My mother remembers that J. B. Williams and the Sheller Hotel received their phone at about the same time.

Dr. Stauffer died in October 1911, and Dr. Jake Cook maintained the practice here for many years.  Dr. Cook’s son, Gene, and I graduated from high school together.  Gene went into the field of medicine as an M.D. and I as an R.N.  I am sorry I did not know my grandfather as he died when I was less than a year old.  He would have been proud to know that I also went into the field of medicine.  Now my grandchildren, were they so inclined, could write about the days of yore when Grandma entered nursing and the changes that have occurred since then.  I have a granddaughter who may enter into the field of nursing, so it goes from one generation to the next.