Ask the Experts: What sickness did Ma have?

Folks, we’ve been remiss in posting the questions received by our readers lately, having a tendency to respond by email and never put them up on the site for others to read. We’ll try to rectify that, so don’t be surprised if you see a number of questions put up in the next couple of weeks. 🙂

I was wondering if you have any idea what sickness Ma suffered, during the time they were at Burr Oak, I think it was? It is written about in the book “Old Town in the Green Groves” (which I know wasn’t written by Laura, but I know that it did include factual events). I think I also read about it somewhere else, maybe in some book which was describing the events from that time. It had been raining quite a bit, and the creek was quite high. Laura went out to call to the neighbors to get a doctor for Ma, at Pa’s request, (who forgot about the water),and was nearly washed away by the water. I can’t remember the exact details, but that is the time I am talking about. I don’t know if there’s enough information on it to know what sickness she had, or not…

~Cadie Purdy

Cadie, the situation you describe above actually occurred in Walnut Grove, before the family moved to Burr Oak. Laura writes of it in her unpublished manuscript, Pioneer Girl, and in the manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek, and sets the time period as being the spring of 1876. “Ma was taken desperately sick,” Laura writes, having terrible pains in her side. One morning the pains were so severe that forgetting that the creek was high, Pa told Laura to run and tell Mr. Nelson to go to town and telegraph for the nearest doctor, who was forty miles away.

Laura did as Pa said, but when she came to the creek, she was afraid to go in because the water was so high that the footbridge was out in the middle of the creek. “…But Pa had told me to go and Ma was awfully sick, so in I waded,” writes Laura. Fortunately, Mr. Nelson saw her while in only to her knees and yelled at her to go back. Laura called out her message to him, and the doctor came the next day. Pa had to bring him (and some women from town who came to help) across the creek in his boat!

The doctor diagnosed Ma with liver problems and gave her some medicine. He returned a second time, and “after awhile Ma got well” and her skin lost its yellow color.

Posted in Caroline Quiner Ingalls (Ma), On the Banks of Plum Creek, Research Tagged with: ,
3 comments on “Ask the Experts: What sickness did Ma have?
  1. JimP says:

    Liver + yellow hue sounds like Jaundice.
    Pa’s reaction certainly seemed grave, but
    the fact that it was easily cured in that era indicates the more common causes of blockage or infection rather than genetic, Hepatitis, etc.

  2. Chris says:

    I realize this is an older topic, but I thought it was interesting.
    I’ve always believed that Ma had a gallbladder issue that resulted in jaundice – the symptoms, especially the pain, fit. It could’ve also been a pregnancy related toxemia. We will never know, but such severe illness that rectifies itself so quickly and with medicines of that time were rare- unless it was undiagnosed toxemia that was remedied by a miscarriage.

  3. TLW says:

    She got sick after she had Freddie, correct?