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Biography of George Benson Kuykendall, M.D.

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GEORGE BENSON KUYKENDALL, M.D. – This gentleman, one of the foremost physicians of Eastern Washington, was born near Terre Haute, Indiana, in the year 1843. When three years old he was taken by his father’s family to Wisconsin. In 1852 the family set out on the long, hard journey to the Pacific slope. That was the sad year of cholera and pestilence. Being somewhat late in starting, the Kuykendall family followed in the wake of sickness and death, the mournful evidences of which were most vividly impressed on the mind of the boy who afterwards became the man here described. many an abandoned wagon, many a dying animal, and many a hastily hollowed grave, did they pass. They themselves plodded wearily on, keeping double vigil, – on the sick and dying within, and the prowling savages without.

When the train reached Snake river, they crossed in the hope of finding better grass. Here the father was taken sick with typhoid fever; and for many weeks he was dragged helpless and seemingly at the point of death, over the dusty and dismal wastes of Southern, Idaho. Finally, nearly all the family stock having died, the wagon was abandoned; and the family was put into the wagon belonging to a brother, who was sharing with them the difficult journey.

Reaching at last the welcome Dalles, they gladly exchanged their broken-down wagon for an open flatboat, and set sail on the majestic flow of the Columbia. The father had not yet recovered; and a young sister yielded up her innocent life near the wild heights of the Cascades. There, in those most savage of Nature’s scenes, they buried her; and none of them to this day has ever been able to find her grave. As may be readily supposed, these stern experiences thus early in life inured the body and spirit of our subject to hardship, and taught him, as they did so many of our pioneer boys, the fundamental lessons of life. Reaching Oregon City on the 19th of October, the family remained there throughout the winter, and in the following fall located in the Umpqua valley near Roseburg.

The Doctor had, even in his childhood, a great taste for reading, a taste which a kind father encouraged. Thus aided he read with great delight all the works on travel, biography and history which he could get hold of; and as he approached manhood he became very fond of metaphysical reading. Unlike most of the boys of his acquaintance, he would spend days in poring over the mystical pages of Kant and the profound philosophy of Hamilton, Abercrombie and Stewart. Becoming at a later time interested in medicine, he devoted himself to it with his usual assiduity, and soon acquired a theoretical knowledge of materia medica and therapeutics. His father being at that time dangerously sick, and despaired of by the family physician, he devoted himself to the case with such success that his father recovered and still lives in a good state of health.

Going a few years later to the Willamette University, he graduated, at the head of his class, from the medical department, and entered at once upon the practice of his profession. He was soon afterwards appointed to the post of government physician at Fort Simcoe on the Yakima Indian Reservation. There he had a large practice outside of his government work. There, too, he devoted much time to microscopic and chemical research, particularly to toxicology and medical jurisprudence. He became noted for skill in the use of the microscope, and now has one of the finest collections of specimens in the Northwest. During this same period of his life he began a study of ethnology of the natives of the North Pacific coast. In connection with these researches he prepared a number of articles for publication in the West Shore of Portland.

Tiring of the government service, he went to Pomeroy, Washington Territory, in 1882, and established his profession. He has become justly noted as a physician, as well as a friend of education and every form of progress. He has two brothers equally distinguished with himself, one as a physician at Eugene, Oregon, and the other as a Methodist preacher in California.

He was married in 1868 to Miss E.J. Butler, a daughter of Judge Butler of Pomeroy. He now has an interesting family of five sons and three daughters. In his marriage the Doctor was peculiarly fortunate. His wife is a lady of marked intelligence and practical good judgment.

Dr. Kuykendall has had an extensive acquaintance with almost all the prominent men of Oregon and Washington. Father Wilbur was one of his most intimate friends; while Honorable Binger Herman, Judges J.F. and E.B. Watson, and Judge Rice and Honorable P.Z. Willis of Portland, were schoolmates of his in his old home in Southern Oregon.

In addition to his professional attainments, the Doctor has an enviable reputation as a writer both of prose and poetry. For an example of his ability, we refer the reader to the chapter in this volume entitled, “The Indians of the Pacific Northwest.”

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