Frontier Doc

Wild Bill’s Disease of Passion?

Venereal disease in the Old West.

fronter-doc_wild-bill-hickok_deadwood_bob-boze-bell_art_pete-dexter

Click image above for larger view

In his 1986 book Deadwood, Pete Dexter depicted Wild Bill Hickok as suffering from some form of venereal disease (VD) and more so from the remedies of the day.

The historical accuracy of Bill’s condition was probably fictional. Dexter’s depiction of Bill’s misery, however, can help us examine the true nature of VD in the Old West, and how these disorders were managed medically in the days before antibiotics and modern diagnostic methods.

Gonorrhea or Chlamydia Jane?

Dexter depicted Bill as having a “blood disease” that affected his urinary tract, which would probably mean he had either gonorrhea or a chlamydia infection.

In the novel, Charley Utter, Bill’s traveling companion, said he believed that Bill’s diminishing eyesight and his difficulty passing urine (spending 30 minutes in the bush) were not separate problems.

From today’s medical perspective, Charley may have been on to something. Chlamydia was then and is now one of the leading causes not only of urinary tract problems but also of blindness.

Dexter,  however, attributed Bill’s problem to glaucoma, a condition in which elevated pressure inside the eye causes damage to the optic nerve, which, if left untreated, may lead to blindness. If glaucoma was the cause, Bill probably would have had gonorrhea.

Poisoning and Other Tortures

Bill was confronted by the unfortunate medical reality that the “cure is often worse than the disease.” Dr. Wedelstaedt, a specialist in “diseases of passion,” prescribed the mercury treatment for Bill.

Dexter described Bill’s condition...

The full text of this article is available to True West Magazine subscribers only.

Get instant access to subscriber content on TrueWestMagazine.com!

When it comes to keeping the lore of the West alive, nobody does it better. True West readers get the no-holds-barred, straight shootin' facts about the West from our staff of experts and historians.

Save up to 67% off the newsstand cover price!

1 year (12 issues) - only $29.95
(Newsstand cover price--$71.88)

For even greater savings:

2 years (24 issues) - only $49.95
(Newsstand cover price--$143.76)

3 years (36 issues) - only $69.95
(Newsstand cover price--$215.64) BEST OFFER!

After subscribing, just come back here and register with us by clicking on the register link below.

AUGUST 2014

True West Magazine Issue August 2014
Buy This Back Issue: August 2014

SEPTEMBER 2014

True West Magazine Issue September 2014
Buy This Back Issue: Sept 2014

OCTOBER 2014

True West Magazine Issue October 2014
Buy This Back Issue: October 2014

NOVEMBER 2014

True West Magazine Issue November 2014
Buy This Back Issue: Nov 2014

DECEMBER 2014

True West Magazine Issue December 2014
Buy This Back Issue: Dec 2014

True West Site Guide

Mission

True West captures the spirit of the American West with authenticity, personality and humor by linking our history to our present. Whether you call it the Wild West, the Old West or the Far West, America's frontier history comes to life in True West, the world's oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine.

Western movie fans, re-enactors, history buffs and road warriors, we got your history covered: outlaw, cowboy, Indian, lawman, gunfighter, fur trapper, miner, prospector, gambler, soldier, entertainer and pioneer. Check out these True Westerners now!
 

Product of the Month

The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

"Your book is fascinating, coupling your powerful illustrations [and] tracking...from birth to Tombstone to the legend [Wyatt] had become;...even Wyatt would approve." --By Hugh O'Brian, of the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

"Hands down the definitive books on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday." --By Allen Barra, New York Newsday