The Doc Francis Mystery

Doc's Wagon There weren't many doctors around back in the days when Juniper was in its heyday. One day a wagon, pulled by a team of horses, with one cow walking alongside it, rolled into this mining camp, known then as Gold River Valley. The men were living in tents, or covered wagons, but most of them were building living quarters and making arrangements for their families to join them.

When the miners found out that the driver of the wagon was a doctor, they wanted him to stay. With women and children soon to arrive a doctor would surely be needed. When he agreed, they all stopped their mining activities and pitched in long enough to build a little two-room cabin for Doc Francis. One room was the clinic and the other was the doctor's living quarters. They also built a barn for the cow and horses, with room for a chicken coop and plenty of storage space for winter hay. They also dug a well because someone said that doctors use a lot of water and it would be nice to have a supply nearby.

Doc's Office / Cabin

After the doctor moved in, no one ever saw the inside of the living quarters. Doc Francis was a bit strange, kept to himself all the time. When he wasn't needed in the clinic, he looked after his animals and he had a good size garden to tend. The Doc grew some of the herbs and plants he used to make some of his medicine but sometimes he went out into the country to find wild herbs too. The miners usually paid him with a small amount of gold dust, or with firewood.

Juniper Berries As the story goes, when Doc Francis arrived here, he brought trees with him. That's what I said, trees! Had the roots tied up in wet sacks, filled with dirt, and stood down into wooden boxes. When they started building his cabin, the first thing Doc did was plant them trees, must have been a dozen or more, about three and a half feet tall, and he watered them every day without fail. He said they was junipers, just a little bit of home that he brought along from back east. Turned out to be more than that, though, for Doc made medicine from the juniper berries that he said would help keep the miners healthy. Said it was an old remedy, dating way back to the Middle Ages!

Pretty soon, the trees were how people found Doc's place. Whenever a stranger came to town in need of a doctor, they were told, 'It's that little cabin at the edge of town with the juniper trees from back east. Ya can't miss it.' Well, as time went on, the trees grew and so did Doc's fame. Stories began to get mixed up and instead of talking about a doctor with juniper trees, they talked of a doctor in Juniper. That's how it started!

Doc Francis was average height and thin, compared to the miners but he didn't do much hard physical labour. He had small hands too, just right for performing surgical work, although he was pretty strong for a small man. Doc went into town occasionally, to pick up new things for his clinic, or a few supplies that his garden didn't provide. Most of his time was spent travelling by horse to the miners cabins, located around the outskirts of the ‘downtown’ area, checking upon the families and tending the sick. He was also known to lend a hand with the animals at times, whether it be an injury or a difficult birth.

He was always helpful and polite but not very social. Sometimes he would sit outside on Sundays, either reading or writing. None of the miners had learned anything about him or where he had come from. They weren't even sure if he was a 'real' doctor but he did good work so they didn't care. They just figured that Doc was a loner, an educated man, apparently a bit religious and left it at that.

Doc's Journals It wasn't until he passed away that they learned the truth - Doc Francis was a woman! There was a stack of journals where everything was written down. Everything she knew had been learned from her doctor father but women weren't allowed to practice medicine in many places. After her father's death, she had left her home in New York, with all her belongings, her father's medical equipment and supplies, and headed west. She disguised herself as a man and no one ever guessed her secret.

That's the truth, too. I got it from Doc Francis himself ... I mean, herself ... just before she died. Hey! Would I lie to you?

© Fay Herridge


Juniper Valley

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