4. The Civil War 1861: A. T. Still’s enlistment and the post-war years

A.T. Still enlisted with the Northerners to defend the ideals of freedom and witnessed the most atrocious aspects of the war working in the infirmaries. In 1864 he lost three children to illness and this fueled his doubts about traditional medicine remedies. In the post-war period he was socially accepted as an entrepreneur, doctor and politician, but his studies led him to express ideas unacceptable for the social and religious community, which exhausted him until forcing him to move.

The War broke out on April 12, 1861, and, in the general excitement, all of Abram’s children enlisted except for Thomas: having two small children and a wife sick with tuberculosis, he offered to look after the families of those who left.

A.T. Still enlisted on September 6, 1861. Six days later, Dudley Turner, the first son from the second marriage, was born and died only a few weeks later.
The troops set up the winter camp at Harrisonville, afterwards Still’s unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Kansas Regiment, was disbanded. Officially, A.T. Still had served there as a hospital assistant, but in practice he had served as a surgeon. The experience in field hospitals reinforced his doubts about the effectiveness of medicines: at that time, the doctor’s bag typically contained calomel, quinine, whiskey, opium, some pieces of tissue, and a scalpel.

Most of the victims of the war did not die from their battle wounds, but from the consequent infections of gangrene, tetanus and amputations. In addition, diseases such as dysentery, malaria, measles, typhoid fever, smallpox, tuberculosis and pneumonia, against which medicine had not many weapons, spread easily in the camps. The use of morphine, opium and cocaine increased to the point of becoming a serious social problem (Trowbridge 1991:90-92).

In the winter of 1861-62 his wife Mary Elvira also enlisted as a hospital assistant (Stark 2007:48; Still Jr 1991:45).

After the disbandment of his battalion A.T. Still returned to Palmyra and was enlisted as a major in the 18th Kansas Militia, which patrolled the Santa Fe Trail. He was then transferred, always with the rank of major, to the 21st Kansas Militia.

On January 13, 1863, Mary Elvira gave birth to a child, Marcia Iona.
Although Kansas was not the scene of the major battles of the Civil War, raids continued along the Missouri frontier. In August, William Quantrill, a wanted robber who had previously lived in Lawrence, led about 450 pro-slavery men to assault the city, pillaging it and killing 150 civilians. A.T. Still made sure his wife and children were hidden in the corn field and joined the 200 men who had gathered to stop the advancement of the rebels towards Baldwin City, an operation that was successful also thanks to the intervention of federal troops (Trowbridge:93-94; Still Jr 1991:48).

In February 1864, 12-year-old Abraham Price and 11-year-old Susan, two of A.T. Still’s children from his first marriage, lost their lives along with a nine-year-old adopted child during a cerebrospinal meningitis epidemic. The treatments administered by the doctors could not save them. In addition, on the 23rd of the same month, Marcia Iona, his second child from his second marriage, who was only over a year old, died of pneumonia (Trowbridge 1991:94; Still Jr 1991:55). Only Marusha, his eldest, survived, as she was in Centropolis at the time with her grandparents Abram and Martha and would not return to her father’s house. The experience was devastating for A.T. Still, who moved to Baldwin City with Mary Elvira and for a time did not want to practice medicine. He eventually allowed himself to be persuaded to help a few patients, but felt increasingly encouraged to seek different therapeutic methods (Trowbridge 1991:94).

A.T. Still participated in the Battle of Westport on October 24, 1864, a major fighting that involved 30,000 men and ended three days later in favor of the Union forces. Still did not suffer any gunshot wounds, although a bullet passed through his greatcoat, leaving him unharmed. However, he suffered a ruptured inguinal hernia, according to some sources due to the weight of the weapons and ammunition he had to carry during the long march (Trowbridge 1991:94), according to other sources because he remained trapped under his mount that, frightened during the battle, had fallen onto him (Stark 2007:49; Still Jr 1991:52). The injury proved invalidating, and Still applied for a war pension in the following years, which was not granted to him for bureaucratic reasons (Still 1885).

On October 27 of the same year A.T. Still received orders to dismantle the 21st Militia, and decided to communicate it to the men by mocking them: he summoned them all and put them in line, then he informed them that they would face a long and tiring march, at the end of which there would have been a life-and-death battle. He asked all those who wanted to volunteer to take six steps forward, explaining that none of those who felt sick would be forced to participate in the mission. About a third of the men advanced, declaring themselves ready for anything. Still then issued the dismantling order, telling those who had not come forward to go to the hospital while the others could go home. They all burst into laughter, and within ten minutes there was no longer a single sick person in the entire army (Still 1897:90).

A.T. Still arrived home on October 29 and for an hour sat quietly on the porch, next to Mary Elvira, seven months pregnant (Still Jr 1991, 54). Because of the injuries sustained in the war Andrew did not have the physical strength to work in the fields. He was also increasingly disgusted with orthodox medicine, and even more distressed by the doctors’ rampant habit to prescribe tonics and syrups based on opium and morphine. These substances were addictive and were becoming a social plague. According to some sources, A.T. Still considered attending a medical school in Kansas City, but after a visit he was so disgusted that he abandoned the idea (Still Jr 1991:56-57; Trowbridge 1991:96).

Every time he would expressed his doubts in the social or medical community he found neither validation nor understanding, indeed he began to be hailed as a strange guy. He then decided that, for a few years, he would not speak in public about the issues that tormented him (Still Jr 1991:60).

On January 2, 1865, his son Charles was born, a full-of-life and healthy child, who was baptized with the name of Mary Elvira’s father. In May 1867, twins Harry and Herman were born. These joyful events were followed by another mourning: at the end of the year his father Abram, then seventy-one and bedridden by a seasonal illness, decided to replace a preacher for the Christmas mass. A few days later he contracted pneumonia and died surrounded by some of his children and his wife. When Abram asked A.T. Still if he had any chance of recovery and received a negative answer, he got ready to leave his earthly life in the hope of being welcomed by a merciful God. A.T. Still asked his father if he could tell him some certainties about the afterlife, but Abram replied that it was “a leap in the dark” (Trowbridge 1991:95-96).

In the following years A.T. Still worked as a doctor and as a mechanic, and built a sort of belt that allowed him to work in the fields despite his groin injury, and his farm became one of the most prosperous in the county. Some years of favorable weather had produced a good harvest, so in the early seventies he was able to buy new land and several heads of cattle (Still Jr 1991:60-61).

In the post-war years, besides practicing medicine Andrew Taylor Still cultivated his passion for technology and mechanics. He devised a machine that made harvesting machinery more efficient, but he made the mistake of talking about it to a salesman so the invention was patented and exploited by others (Trowbridge 1991:113). In 1871 he was awarded a prize for inventing a new type of churn that allowed him to obtain butter with less effort, and in the following years he worked to commercialize his invention (Trowbridge 1991:115).

A.T. Still showed interest in all theories and methods of healing, including the newest and most alternative such as phrenology, mesmerism, magnetism and spiritualism.
Gradually he became convinced that structural manipulations could affect the course of many diseases. For example, he noticed that sometimes there were variations in skin temperature, like in the cases of diarrhoea in which the abdomen would be cold and the lumbar region warm.

He also started digging up corpses in Indian cemeteries to further his studies on anatomy and bones. He began experimenting on the sick, massaging and applying pressure on the affected regions, and then went back to talking about his ideas. Malignant rumors began to circulate about him: he was said to have lost the light of reason.
A.T. Still would read all the texts he could find and talk to doctors who were criticizing the pharmacological system in place. The walls of his Baldwin City house were covered with anatomical sketches and drawings (Trowbridge 1991:115).

During the winter of 1872 and spring of 1873, Douglas County was hit by drought. The harvest was meager or non-existent, so in October many were forced to sell their goods and move elsewhere. The community fell into a severe financial depression. A.T. Still barely managed to keep a portion of his farm, but fell ill due to a recurrence of the old pains and a chest disease which kept him in bed. Mary Elvira was pregnant again, and many of the house and farm chores had to be carried out by Charles and the twins Herman and Harry. In January 1874 his son Fred was born.

A.T. Still had a wife and four children to feed, however, he seemed to be putting his efforts into unprofitable activities that the townspeople thought to be bizarre and the religious ministers judged diabolical (Lewis 2018:86; Trowbridge 1991:121). Survival in Baldwin City became increasingly difficult: one day A.T. Still’s wife and two children were sitting in church when the Methodist pastor who officiated (former rector of Baker University) thundered from the pulpit that A.T. Still was an apostate of the first hour, and that he would have gone to hell had he not changed (Trowbridge 1991:122).

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Life of Andrew Taylor Still

Bibliography of the chapter dedicated to the life of Andrew Taylor Still


7. Andrew Taylor Still founds the first school of Osteopathy

By this time, A.T. Still had become well established and well known, therefore he could no longer manage by himself the patients who crowded his practice. The first school of osteopathy was founded in 1892 to train new practitioners and it was a crucial turning point: the town of Kirksville attracted teachers, students and patients who, at the turn of the century, developed the theoretical and practical aspects of osteopathy. As a consequece of such collective work, osteopathy gained the same recognition as the other forms of medicine in several US states.


6. Kirksville (1875-1917): first steps towards the first school of Osteopathy

In 1875 A.T. Still settled in Kirksville, but he was not well received either in the religious community or within respectable society. However, he became friends with some people close to spiritualism who gave him moral and material help. For about ten years he lived in poverty, working as a doctor traveling in nearby cities, presenting himself as a magnetic healer and then as a "lightning-fast adjuster". In 1886 he could afford to buy a house where he opened a studio.


5. 22 June 1874: osteopathy is born

A few months after moving into his brother Edward's house, A.T. Still had no certainty about his future while his brother was sick and in need of care. Suddenly, in the morning of June 22, 1864, he was struck by an overwhelming vision: all his reasoning of many years about health and disease came to a solution. At that moment he raised the flag of "osteopathy", the name that, years later, he would give to his new science.


3. A. T. Still from moving to Kansas to his second marriage

In 1853 A.T. Still moved to the Wakarusa mission, where he learned the Shawnee language and completed his apprenticeship with his father, becoming an Orthodox physician. After the closure of the mission, he practiced the profession, although with some initial doubts about the effectiveness of orthodox remedies. He founded a sawmill, bought land and was an abolitionist politician in the State of Kansas before its annexation. In 1859 he became a widower with three young children, and the following year he married his second wife, Mary Elvira Turner.


2. A. T. Still: from birth to his first marrige

Andrew Taylor Still was born into a devoted family of pioneers who devoted many hours of their day to Bible study and to the education of their children while living in the wilderness. Two important home moves interfered with regularity of his school attendance. Even though, A. T. Still's great curiosity pushed him to study his father’s medical books, to analyze the anatomy of the animals he would hunt, to carry out mechanical repairs and to keep himself informed on the state of the art of new technologies and ideas.


1. Origins and descent of Andrew Taylor Still

The roots of A.T. Still reflect the typical confluence of America’s diverse sociocultural contributions in that era. His mother, Martha Poage Moore, came from a wealthy and proud family of pioneers with Scottish origins. His father, Abram Still, had English, German and Dutch ancestry, but also - on his mother’s side - a Native American grandmother; growing up on a plantation, he converted to Methodism and became a physician and a staunch abolitionist.




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