Dr. Joel Cook

A Twist of Fate Brought Doctor to Orestes

Dr. Joel Cook was an interesting man who made quite an impact during the early days of Orestes, Indiana.  Dr. Cook was born in 1854 near Sugar Creek in south-central Indiana.  He moved with his family to Oklahoma at an early age.  Life in Oklahoma region wasn’t what Daniel Cook had expected for his family, so he moved the Cook clan back home to Indiana.

Upon their arrival, Joel was abducted by an Indian squaw who was distraught by the loss of her own baby.  She thought that the Great White Father had taken her baby and given it to a white woman.  The squaw, in her confused state, sought Joel as her own being he had a dark complexion, dark eyes and hair.  Daniel Cook formed a search party and found the Indian tribe several days later.  A large sum of gold was paid as ransom to the tribal chief for the return of his unhurt son.

While still in his early 20’s, Joel Cook enrolled at the Louisville Medical College where he earned a medical doctor’s degree.  After graduating, he moved to the village of Osceola, just north of Orestes.  It was there Cook set up his first medical practice.  It is also here and about the same time he married Mary Ann Osborn.

By day he labored as a hired farm hand and, at night, traveled the countryside where he treated the sick and injured.  Cook carried all medical tools and medicines with him, riding horseback or horse and buggy to patients’ homes.  Cook performed minor surgeries, set broken bones, and prepared prescriptions from his own supplies.  Though he wasn’t a licensed dentist, Cook occasionally extracted teeth, including those of his own.  To fill the gap where his tooth once was, Cook simply stuffed chewing tobacco into the vacant space.

In 1887, natural gas was discovered in Monroe Township, Alexandria, Indiana.  Large quanities of gas attracted industries to Orestes including the Sunflower Gas Company, United Widow Glass Company, and the Powell Tire Works.  The population in Orestes grew to over 2,500 bringing the need for a resident doctor.  Joseph Powell, owner of Powell Tire Works, invited Joel Cook and his family to move to Orestes by offering the doctor an office and a home.  Dr. Cook agreed to the arrangement and became a well-known and successful doctor in northern Madison County.  He was called upon to treat the contagious diseases of the day–smallpox, scarlet fever, typhoid, and tuberculosis were not only epidemic, but a constant challenge when there were no vaccines or inoculations.  When an influenza epidemic hit the United States in 1917, residents of Orestes were not spared.  Dr. Cook worked around the clock on patients who suffered and became an authority on typhoid fever.  For his efforts, Cook was recognized by the Indiana Medical Association and was invited to speak at its annual convention on typhoid fever.

Though Cook was best known for being an accomplished physician, he also had the reputation of being his own man.  Cook was short and slender with a handlebar mustache decorating his otherwise clean-shaven face.  He drank coffee from a saucer and had a love for chewing tobacco.  He often wore a beat-up hat, an open shirt with sleeve garters,  and wrinkled trousers.  His shoes were seldom clean and his trousers were held up by yellow-green suspenders.  Profane in his speech, but not in a nonreligious manner as Cook was a member of the Orestes Baptist Church.  Dr. Cook was a meat and potatoes man and loved pancakes and biscuits for breakfast.  His favorite meal was fried steak, white gravy, biscuits, green beans, and black coffee.  When he was ill, he enjoyed soaking cold biscuits in coffee with cream and sugar.  Physically cold natured, Cook would warm himself by placing his feet on top of a wood burning stove.  Throughout his life, Cook owned several Model T Fords.  With the tops gone, he would race on roads of gravel and dirt, spinning the tires on curves and corners to scare his leery passengers.

In his later years, Dr. Cook had enough money to pay off his home and doctor’s office.  He and his wife, Mary Ann, purchased a farm together with more than 100 acres.  This became their source of income after the gas boom years in Orestes, that resulted in the deterioration of Cook’s medical practice.  Mary Ann was a gifted seamstress who continued to make gowns for the ladies.  Her income helped pay for the expenses of farming that she and Joel truly enjoyed.  The time spent together on the farm was very satisfying for Joel and Mary Ann Cook.  Joel loved the land and cattle up until the very last days of his life.  Dr. Joel Cook passed away in the winter of 1932, but not before becoming a true Orestes legend.

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Published on May 12, 2014 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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