A True Texas Medicine Woman

Hi! Lorraine couldn’t be here today so I’m filling in. I hope you’re not too disappointed, but she’ll be back on October 10th. Meantime, I hope you find this as interesting as I did.

gun-and-holster.jpgAt a time when strapping on a gun was as commonplace and as necessary as breathing, you can imagine that the odds of getting shot were fairly high. Treatments for gunshot were basic—dig the lead out if you could and if you couldn’t you were likely a goner. Not a good scenario when doctors were hard to come by.

When we’re crafting our western romances, we usually have to do a lot of research about various things and sometimes we run across truly amazing stories. Here’s one I stumbled upon when I was researching gunshot wounds and treatment. I thought you might like to know about one of the most unique women who lived in Texas.

sophie-herzog.jpgDr. Sofie Herzog who came from back East to Brazoria, Texas in the late 1800’s was quite colorful. The lady doctor’s arrival in the small coastal community of Brazoria created quite a stir. She was attractive, energetic and a highly skilled physician. Though not Texas’ first woman doctor, in 1895 she was definitely a pioneer in a male-dominated field of the Victorian era. Not only was Dr. Sofie out of place in her chosen profession, but her appearance shocked a good many. She wore her hair cropped short, rode a horse astride instead of sidesaddle, and shaded her face with a man’s hat. Needless to say, she set tongues wagging. But the doctor had obvious medical skill and little competition, so when someone needed assistance, they weren’t too picky about the gender. Soon folks were calling her simply Doctor Sofie. 

She became particularly adept at removing bullets from gunshot victims. One of her techniques was elevating a gunshot patient so that gravity would aid in getting the lead out. Only twice in her career was she unsuccessful in recovering a bullet. When she had accumulated 24 extracted pieces of lead from gunfighters, she had a jeweler fashion a necklace with a gold bead threaded between each slug. She wore it constantly as a good luck charm the rest of her life.


Word of her medical skills and pleasing bedside manner soon spread. Dr. Sofie made calls in her buggy or traveled astride a horse. Often, she rode on handcars or trains to get to someone along the rail line in need of a doctor. In 1906, the railroad formalized its relationship with Dr. Sofie, appointing her chief surgeon of the S.L.B. & M Railroad. But, when headquarters learned that a female doctor had been hired, Dr. Sofie received a polite letter asking her to relinquish her position. She stubbornly refused and remained on the line’s payroll the rest of her life.  

In addition to her medical practice, Dr. Sofie operated her own pharmacy, built and operated a hotel, and became wealthy by investing in real estate. She was very enterprising.

In 1913, the 65-year-old doctor married Marion Huntington—a 70-year-old widower—and moved to his plantation seven miles outside Brazoria. Having reached an age when many would have retired, Dr. Sofie continued her practice, commuting each day from the plantation to town in a new Ford—the first automobile in the county.Fourteen years later, Dr. Sofie died of a stroke at a Houston hospital on July 21, 1925. At her request, they buried her with her lucky bullet necklace, evidence of her surgical skills and charming eccentricity. 

Here are a few prices for medical procedures and assistance in the 1800’s: 

A visit within one mile    $1.00

Each succeeding mile — .50

Simple case of midwifery — $5.00

For bleeding — .50

Bullet Wounds — Between $1.00 to 10.00

For setting fracture — $5.00 to 10.00

Amputating Arm — $10.00

Amputating Leg — $20.00

For advice and prescription in office — $1.00

For difficult cases, fee based in proportion to difficulty.

But as was often the case, the doctor accepted goods in lieu of money. I haven’t heard of one doctor who refused to treat someone because they couldn’t pay.

Have you read about or know an interesting person with an unusual story?                                       Or maybe you’d like to comment on the cheaper cost of medical treatment in relation to today’s prices?

Also. . .If you haven’t registered yet for the Big Fall Bonanza Contest, better get your name in the hat. The contest ends on November 30th.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

30 thoughts on “A True Texas Medicine Woman”

  1. Oh that’s really cool, especially the necklace she had fashioned.

    Oh yeah, the prices of medical assistance had changed a lot and not only that, but I imagine most of her patients didn’t have any form of insurance either. Wouldn’t it be great to have flat rates nowadays rather than paying one cost without insurance and an entire other amount if you do have it?

  2. Fascnating story! I always enjoy hearing about an eccentric but little-known character from the past. You don’t exactly picture Dr. Quinn when you think about Doc Sophie, do you. *g* There’s a book called Doc Susie, a true account of a Colorado woman doctor.

    A good resource I found years ago is called Horse and Buggy Doctor, but I think the biography is set a little later, pushing toward 1900 and maybe after.

  3. What an amazing story, Linda! Loved the list of fees for what she did. And the necklace! You have to wonder where that necklace is now.
    My blog for Thursday was already written when I saw this one–mine is about Calamity Jane. But I like this one even better. Your account of this relatively unknown woman is so interesting. Thanks for a great read.

  4. I read something about women doctors in about the mid 1800s once, they were few but they existed in larger colleges…then some law was passed about 1870 to create a special doctor college for women only….and not one single woman doctor graduated in America for … about twenty years. I’m guessing at this, but it was interesting. Under the guise of this special college, they were able to bar all women from regular colleges, but that special women’s college never materialized
    …which the article infers was the plan all along to get those pesky women out of such an inappropriate career.

  5. Elizabeth, I agree! Wouldn’t it be fun to see that necklace? Obviously, Doc Sofie was proud of her accomplishments.

    When I was growing up in western Nebraska, our doctor – ol’ Doc Ziegler – was an old-time cowboy doctor who wore his boots to the office after doing chores at his ranch in the morning. Wasn’t unusual to see manure on his heels. But he was devoted to his patients and worked until a ripe old age. I remember when I was sick in bed–my fingers were swollen and I was running a fever– he feared rheumatic fever and came over to our house. My memory of him in my bedroom with my mother, both of them bent over me while he examined me is a memory that’ll never happen again.

    Great post, Linda!

  6. Also, my mother in law…age 88 … has an old account booklet of her fathers where it makes note of paying $5 to the doctor for delivering her, at home of course. That was 1919.

  7. Ellen and Taryn, I’m glad you enjoyed my little bit of history. I was afraid that only I found the story fascinating.

    Mary, yes they did try to bar women from medical universities. Although I didn’t mention it in my post, Sofie went back to her home in Vienna to get her medical degree. Then she came back and completed the U.S. requirements before she opened her own practice. An enterprising woman found a way around the male roadblocks and Sofie was nothing if not determined. I’d like to have met her. I think we’d be good friends.

  8. Cheryl, Elizabeth, and Pam, I agree with you about the necklace. Sure would like to see what it looked like. I think they buried it with her because it had always brought her good luck and maybe her children thought she might need a little in the Hereafter. Sofie must’ve been a real corker. She definitely flaunted her unusual manner of dress and hairstyle. Such a free spirit. I see all kinds of things in this woman that would be useful in forming one of our heroines. Good fodder for the grist mill.

  9. I love stories like this. It shows the courage and ingenuity of women in the west. That’s why I like to write westerns, to show women weren’t meek, mild, and soft like so many historians would have you believe. (probably all males who wrote those books)

    Stories about unique people in history are what spark my imagination for books.

    Thank you for the story and the prices. I actually have the book after the one I’m writing now that has a female doctor in it. So this is a great start to getting more ideas flowing for that story.

    Thanks, Linda!

  10. Fabulous post, Linda! I get tired just reading about Sofie. Women like her who broke ground for the rest of us, no matter our occupation, sure deserve our praise and respect…Cleaning out my mom’s old house, I recently came across the bill for my oldest brother’s birth in 1947 at a suburban Los Angeles clinic: $100…and it included a TEN DAY stay! (lady OB-GYN too. Sofie would be proud!)

  11. Paty, I’m glad you got some good ideas from Dr. Sofie and her prices. Good luck on your western that has a female doc in it! I know it’ll be good. I agree that looking back in history we can so many things that provide a spark for a story. Make your heroine strong and make her proud and you’ll have a great one. Good luck!

  12. Hi Tanya, great that you dropped by. Yes, the West was littered with strong, independent-thinking women who paved the way for all of us. We have some outstanding examples to guide us through life.

    Yep, the prices were lots cheaper back then. I can’t even imagine paying $100 for birthing a baby plus a ten day hospital stay. Wow! Sure can’t do that now. 🙂

  13. What a great post! Sofie sounded just like a heroine from a book, didn’t she? And it’s great to know that she kept her free spirit right up until the end (and I guess after, since she wanted buried with her necklace 🙂 ). Great story and it sets the imagination churning, doesn’t it?

  14. Terry, thanks for commenting. That bullet necklace was really unusual. I find myself wondering why she kept those bullets and why create a piece of jewelry from them. I don’t think it was because she was keeping a tally. Sofie didn’t seem egotistical. Maybe she thought they were pretty? Or maybe she saw them as a badge of courage. I don’t know but it sure is interesting. I appreciate you dropping by.

  15. LOL – I thought this was going to be a post on Dr. Quinn – Medicine Woman – what with Jane Seymour being on DWTS and all. *sigh* I loved that show!!
    But very interesting article all the same. She sure did wait until late in life to marry didn’t she?

  16. Linda — I love this real life stories about men or women who pioneered the west. Sofie is a tribute to all women today. It’s fascinating to see what a doctor charged in those days. My how things have changed!!

    And surely Sofie does remind me of the independent feisty Dr. Quinn. I once met Jane Seymour on the set of Medicine Woman. She was great. We’d taken our class to a filming at a national park where they filmed all the outdoor scenes. The entire set is still there, town and all. Jane saw the kids heading for the bus and ran over to the class to make sure she met them all. I was very impressed. Now, she’s on DANCING WITH STARS!!! But I digress…

  17. I love Dr. Q. and whined to Hallmark aplenty when they stopped showing it. Aaargh. Why 2,000 MASH’s in a row (not that I don’t love MASH!) when we could admire Micaela…and Sully…and (I confess to liking bad boys…) Hank.

    Thanks for a wonderful read today, Linda, and all you ladies.

  18. Ohh, Linda. I’ve barely made it in time for today’s blog–had company all day.

    What a great story! I, too, love these stories about real people doing the unusual, or great acts of heroism, bravery, endurance, etc. One of the greatest pleasures I find in doing research is running across these little gems. Sophie certainly sounds like a candidate for a book to me! :o) And how typical of the times that she had a necklace made from the lead she’d dug out of her patients.

    I lived in Brazoria for a brief time around 25 years ago. (had to stop and think how long ago it was and, WOW, it’s always scary to realize how time flies) In fact, that’s where my daughter started school for the first time. Wasn’t there long enough to learn the local history. Now I wish I had.

    Terrific post, Linda! Thanks for sharing, and sorry for chiming in late on the discussion.


  19. Annette, I apologize for leaving out a crucial part of Sofie’s story. She was born in Austria, the daughter of a doctor. And she became the teenage bride of man who was also a doctor. They had 15 children, eight of whom died in infancy. Strangely, she had two sets of twins. I’m not sure exactly when Sofie and Dr. Herzog immigrated to America, but some of their children were born over here. Hope this clears up some questions. Thanks for dropping by and be sure to come back tomorrow to see what’s in store.

  20. Hi Linda,

    What a great story. Dr Sofie was definately ahead of her time, but the people who lived then must have been very thankful to have her. Fees have definately taken a big hike from those days.

    I think it is a shame about her necklace but glad her wishes were carried out.

  21. I have been researching Dr. Sofie (and “playing” her for almost 20 years. She is, indeed, a fascinating woman and I hope to finish my book about her by Feb. 4, (her birthday) 2010.
    While her bullet necklace contained 24 or 26 bullets, I am certain that it did not contain all of the bullets she removed. In a presentation to a medical society in 1897, she stated that she had removed 15 bullets and 2 buckshot in the 22 months she had been in Brazoria. Since she was a doctor in Brazoria for another 23 years, I suspect the bullets in her necklace were from only her most difficult cases. I actually have 2 photographs of her in the bullet necklace–the earliest one does appear to have buckshot in it, but the one of her in later life does not. The Brazoria Community Historical museum has an exhibit on Dr. Sofie.

  22. Dr Sophie as she is called in my family was my great great grandmother…she started the Episcopal Church in Brazoria and many of my family still live there. I grew up hearing all the stories about her…she evidently cursed a lot never rode a horse side saddle and beat an alligator with a fire iron…the most momentous was her necklace that she wore to her grave…my grandfather wanted it…she had 13 children…some did not live past infancy as was common in those times and one of her daughters married into a Mexican family named Silva…a distant but well known relative who broke with tradition to keep the Herzog name is Jesus Silva- Herzog

    • Hunter Hobbs says:

      To David White or any relative of Dr. Sofie……
      Dr. Sofie Herzog was my great great great grandmother, and Elfrieda Herzog and Randolph Prell were my great great grandparents. My family and I do still live in Brazoria. We were curious to know of others that may be located near us or still continue the Herzog name. Please reach me at hobbshunter@hotmail.com

  23. To David White or any relative of Dr. Sofie……
    Dr. Sofie Herzog was my great great great grandmother, and Elfrieda Herzog and Randolph Prell were my great great grandparents. My family and I do still live in Brazoria. We were curious to know of others that may be located near us or still continue the Herzog name. Please reach me at hobbshunter@hotmail.com

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