Chinese Doctors at Warren

USDA Forest Service
Payette National Forest, Heritage Program
July 2002
By Kathleen Prouty

In the backcountry of Idaho accidents or illness could mean death. A doctor was a rare commodity and when life was at stake people became less concerned about race and more concerned about skills.

Ah Kan and Lee Dick were two healers in Warrens, Idaho who, because of their skills in treating the sick, were called doctors. Although willing to call on American doctors in emergencies, Chinese miners generally depended on their own physicians for medical care. The Chinese commercial network regularly distributed imported herbal medicines to distant communities, and every major mining camp had at least one or two resident Chinese Doctors, who practiced their native medicine in town and travelled to remote areas to do so as well. (1)

Traditional Chinese herbal medicines were based on plant, mineral and animal substances. One of Ah Kan and Lee Dick's unusual methods of treatment was the use of mold for curing of infection. This was long before the discovery of penicillin. (2). Herbal medicines fulfilled an important health need in the nineteenth century for both Chinese and non-Chinese. (3) Patent medicines were widely used, and their contents were not regulated by any agency of the government. Non-Chinese doctors sometimes resorted to drastic measures, such as bleeding. On the other hand, Chinese herbal remedies had one to two thousand years of use behind them.

An ad for Ayer's Sarsaparilla, in a 1893 Warren newspaper, expresses the faith that non-Chinese held for Chinese Doctors. It also mentions the Chinese doctor's philosophy for treating general health. It reads, "The Chinese pay their doctors only so long as he keeps them in health. They believe in preventing rather than curing disease. This is sound sense, and one of the strongest recommendations, of a medicine that not only cures diseases but prevents them."

Many non-Chinese miners and residents also often relied on Ah Kan and Lee Dick for tretments of various ailments. John Rousteson tells of being taken to Warrens in the early 1900's to one of these doctors for a broken leg. He said he received excellent care and the leg was put in a cast made of different materials that white doctors use. Today one would never know the leg was broker. (4)

Early in the year 199, Dick Lee was called in to go to Edwardsburg to aid a young lady that had accidentally shot herself with a rifle.

The Warren Times, 1919, November 7 (PLS) "Lee Dick, a resident of Warren for the past 18 years, is returning to his home in China. Dr. Dick, as we call him, has saved many lives in this section owing to his knowledge of Chinese medicine. Hardly a person in this section has not come under his care and is with regret that we must bid him farewell He was the highest type of his class we have ever met, far above the average Chinese in this country. He left here with good fortune from placer mining."

(1) No Need to Rush, Liping Zhu, Montana Historical Society, Montana Magazine of Western History, Autumn, 1999.
(2) Idaho Chinese Lore, M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Idaho Corporation of Benedictine Sisters, Cottonwood, Idaho 1979.
(3) Five Views: Chinese Americans in California, Nancy Wey, Ph.D., Researcher, Writer, and Lecturer, California State University, San Jose and Long Beach 1999.
(4) The History of Chinese in Idaho from 1864 to 1910, Fern Coble Trull, A Thesis, University of Oregon, June 1946.