John Till, the Somerset Doctor
John Till, "The Somerset Doctor", was a practicer of alternative medicine in the early 20th century, gaining the most notoriety in the Somerset, Wisconsin region.
Till's signature treatment was to apply a poultice or "plaster" of Kerosene and Croton Oil, which -- through the caustic and painful inclusion of croton oil -- was believed to draw out infection by causing huge pustulant blisters to appear on the skin. The poultice was applied to the large surface of the back, allowed significant time to cause caustic burning to the skin, causing it to appear "like raw beef". Cotton was sewn into the back of a shirt, to adsorb leakage, and after several days of healing either the person was cured, or the treatment was applied again.
Meline Cloutier, Patient and Benefactor
Near death from an infection, Meline Cloutier was brought to John Till in 1905 for treatment. Till's painful poultice worked, and Cloutier repaid Till by offering her and her husband's farm as a base of operations for curing all those that desire it.
Till saw patients from dawn to dusk, treating them with his poultice and other unconventional medicines. Patients were encouraged to give a free-will payment for the services, which built into a significant amount daily. Word of his miracle cure spread across the upper midwest, and hopeful patients filled trains to receive Till's treatment. A cottage industry grew around Till's business, chartering coaches to carry customers to the Cloutier farm and housing traveling patients.
Till, of course, ran afoul of the state medical board and local police. Local juries, however, had no interest in convicting Till, so he went free. Till, it seems, never directly called himself a doctor nor wrote prescriptions, which hindered prosecution as well.
End Of His Run
Till traveled to his home country of Austria more than once, taking the Cloutiers with on the last trip. This last trip, however, turned bad when Till was detained upon returning to the United States. The Coutiers left Till at the point of entry, and Till took it as a slight. Upon returning to Wisconsin, Till went to a relative's home, abandoning the Cloutiers and the Somerset area. Attempts to start his 'practice' anew did not succeed, and without local support, a conviction was able to 'stick', sending Till to jail with the stipulation that he leave the country upon his release. Till did return to the country, shortly before his death in 1947.
- John Till and his Miracle Plaster", Wisconsin Historical Society website, 8/18/2007.
- Dunn, James Taylor "The 'plaster doctor' of Somerset" Wisconsin Magazine Of History. Volume: 39 /Issue: 4 (1955-1956)