Friday, Mar. 08, 2013
Who were the first doctors in Los Banos?
By Lucita Villarrea
"I am all right. I am getting good care"
-- Henry Miller
You have your cattlemen, your reverends, your barkeeps -- but no town is complete without a doctor.
In the early days, when roads were few and the population heavily interdependent, the first doctor came from China Camp, northwest of Los Banos, in May 1891.
Dr. Wade was known to be a very qualified physician. When Henry Miller, cattleman and Los Banos founder, had a bad case of gout, Dr. Wade was called to tend to him.
According to Milliken Museum accounts, a friend of Miller by the name of Wallis wanted to have his doctor from San Francisco care for Miller (Dr. Reginald Smith), but the cattleman protested, claiming, "I'm all right. I'm getting good care." Eventually, however, he would give in and Dr. Wade would be snubbed.
When Dr. Smith arrived, the woman who had been nursing Miller under Dr. Wade, a Mrs. Sherman, was dismissed. After a careful once over, Dr. Smith called the woman back, asking particular questions about the bandaging she had used on Miller. Mrs. Sherman, under strict instructions from Dr. Wade, had bandaged Miller "as good as anybody could have done," which was something coming from a big-city doctor.
A native of Massachusetts, Dr. Charles Frederick Wade was a civil servant and lodge man. He brought the Odd Fellows Lodge, Mountain Brow Lodge No. 82, from Chinese Camp.
Dr. Wade also organized the Masonic Lodge, Los Banos Lodge No. 312, bringing it from there as well. He organized the first fire department, the Alert Hose Company, and was a prime mover in starting West Side Union High School. Reportedly a strong Republican, he was sometimes called the Mark Hanna of the Westside. Hanna was a Republican fundraiser in the early 1900s.
While Dr. Wade was soon followed by the McLellands, Dr. James Long McClelland and Dr. Sophia Byrd McClelland. They also proved to be big movers and shakers.
J.L. McClelland was born near Mercer, Pa. At 20, he became the literary editor of the Pittsburgh Leader and later the Pittsburgh Sun.
McClelland became a pioneer schoolteacher after moving to Visalia for health reasons, where he met Sophia Byrd. Sophia's family moved to Visalia from Texas via ox wagon; she was one of eight children. They married in 1876, she at 16 and he at 25, and the couple moved to Los Banos shortly after. J.L. McClelland taught in Los Banos, San Luis and Snelling for the next four years.
It wasn't long, though, before the McClellands left Los Banos to pursue higher education. Husband and wife attended Cooper Medical College (now Stanford University, School of Medicine). Afterward, he undertook graduate work while she pursued a second degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in San Francisco. It was a rarity for a woman to be a physician, let alone a Stanford University graduate.
When their formal education was finished, the two practiced medicine in Fresno, Selma, San Francisco, and as far away as Chicago. It was nearly 15 years before they finally returned to Los Banos in 1899 after a distressing letter from Billy Stockton, a longtime Los Banos man and blacksmith.
The letter explained how another doctor who had set up practice in Los Banos had been tarred, feathered and run out of town and how there was a great need for a good doctor. According to information from the Milliken Museum, "gambling debts and gang ties did him in."
Within a week, the McClelland doctors were back in town and ready to set up shop. Dr. Wade was not so eager about this new development. From that point on, the doctor treated Billy Stockton, his once-close friend, with something of a cold shoulder.
Much like Dr. Wade, Dr. J.L. McClelland was a dedicated civil servant. He helped organize and became the first secretary of the Los Banos Chamber of Commerce, was a promoter of the "Yosemite-to-the-Sea" Highway, became instrumental in building the Los Banos Public Library, ultimately was responsible for bringing electric energy to Los Banos, and with the help of local hunters he arranged the Bird Exhibit of the Panama Pacific Exposition, "Bird Life of the West Side" in San Francisco in 1915.
As for his wife, tales abound as to her great qualifications as a birth doctor and healer of wounds.
Dr. C.F. Wade died in 1931, at 84, after more than 40 years of service in Los Banos. J.L. McClelland died in 1932, age 79.
Dr. Sophia Byrd McClelland Olson died in 1956, at the age of 95. She outlived her husband, second husband (a Dr. John Olson), and son (Dr. James Hugh McClelland).