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Kate Tarnow, early Hewitt medic

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Kate Tarnow, early Hewitt medic
Wadena Minnesota 314 S. Jefferson 56482

By Ethelyn Pearson

"Never give the blue pills with the pink salve. If you give the pink salve, you gotta use the pink pills. An' the other way 'round too." That standard advice was left with the patient before Kate Tarnow headed back to her drugstore in Hewitt, Minn.

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As far as anyone ever found out, Kate had never so much as walked past a medical college. Her background in pharmacy was debatable. Yet she is remembered by old timers in the Hewitt area as having an innate ability to correctly diagnose most common ailments of that era as efficiently as a real doctor (few and far between). She was especially effective at confinement cases and was known for 'pulling folks through' a particularly vicious brand of flu around the turn of the century.

Kate was a tiny woman who was too busy to 'fuss' so she wore her hair severely pulled back into a tight knot. Few remember having seen her without a floor-length dress covered by an enveloping apron and a battered black cloth bag that held her medicines and a few instruments that she used.

While Kate was out doctoring or waiting for another brand new citizen to 'land', her husband waited on the customers in the drugstore. The Tarnows had several teenage children and the family lived in rooms in the back of the building.

Trained or not, Kate seemed to know what to do with the vials of oils and potions on the store's shelves. She concocted many of them herself, particularly the pink and blue pills and salves. One old timer remembers the pills being the smallest things he had ever seen. "drop one by candleight and a feller could forget findin' it until mornin'-light," he said.

Another remembers that when a baby brother got into a supply of pink pills, eating an unknown number of them, Kate soothed the distraught mother with, "nevermind, ain't nothin' in'em anyhow."

Kate had no transportation other than walking. Often, members of the ailing ones' family came after her, then fetched her home again. She stayed until the patient was well or a more urgent case called her away.

The exact date the Tarnows moved to Hewitt is unclear, but it is generally agreed that they were established in the early or mid-1890s. Mr. Tarnow passed away while living in Hewitt and is buried in the oldest section of Mount Nebo Cemetery along Hwy 71, halfway between Hewitt and Wadena. The sons in the family kept the store going so their mother could keep up her practice.

In the early 1900s the drugstore was sold and Kate went to live with one of her children in California where she ultimately died. About that same time a bona fide doctor with a brand new license to prove it, Dr. George Lothian, took up practice in town. His assessment of 'Dr. Kate' was that "she did a remarkable job with what she had to work with (often hot onions were applied to the chest for congestion, or to the feet to draw the blood away for a headache.)" Lothian thought Kate had an uncanny ability to correctly diagnose then do all she could about it. Kate also set many fractures that turned out fine.

Many are those who were ushered into the world with the help of 'Dr. Kate's' gentle hands and then were kept going by those pink and blue pills and salves.

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