Pioneering Medicine

John McLoughlin. Marcus Whitman. David Maynard.

What do these three men have in common? In addition to being pioneer settlers of the Oregon Territory all three were also physicians. From the days of its earliest exploration, the Pacific Northwest has been shaped by pioneering physicians. The original culture of enterprise continues to this day as local physicians continue to make groundbreaking discoveries.

By the time the Denny party landed at Alki Point in West Seattle on November 13, 1851, physicians had already been active in the Pacific Northwest for years. John McLoughlin first arrived in Vancouver in 1824 as Superintendent of the Columbia District, establishing fur trade and overseeing operations of the Hudson Bay Company. Marcus Whitman founded the Whitman Mission near Walla Walla in 1843 and his treatment of Native Americans contributed to his eventual death at the hands of Cayuse Indians in 1847, along with his wife Narcissa and eleven others.

maynardUniversity of Washington Libraries. Special Collections. Photo Collection 563.

David Maynard, better known as ‘Doc’, traveled across the Oregon Trail originally settling in Olympia. In April of 1852 he laid claim to a section of 640 acres and moved his general store north at the behest of Seattle, chief of the Duwamish tribe, where he became the first physician to practice medicine in the burgeoning city. Because of his strong relationships with area tribes, Maynard put forth the name of Seattle for the young settlement, successfully convincing his fellow settlers it was a better choice over its original name Duwamps. This was the first of many innovations attributed to Maynard.


Maynard’s accomplishments have become both embellished and diminished by time as the result of Bill Speidel’s ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’ approach to history and Maynard’s early death in 1873 when Seattle was still getting its footing. Consequently, Maynard’s legacy was left to be told by the other members of the Denny party — conservative and teetotaling, two things Maynard was not — and, as a result, his name slipped from the early historical accounts of Seattle.

Yet Maynard has a long list of firsts attached to his name including the founding of the

maynard_1863The Seattle Gazette (Seattle, Washington Territory), 10 December 1863, pg. 2.

Seattle’s first hospital. The two-room facility, in what is now Pioneer Square, failed because white settlers refused to use the hospital after Maynard insisted on serving Indians, as well. Maynard was also the first Indian agent — appointed by Governor Isaac Stevens — because of his good relations with the local tribes. At various times Maynard served as a notary public, clerk of the court and school superintendent, in addition to platting one of the first maps of Seattle on May 23, 1853. He was admitted to the bar in 1856 after the only lawyer in town drowned. He also served as a Justice of the Peace, marrying early settlers David Denny and Louisa Boren — the first marriage in King County — on January 23, 1853.

Maynard’s generosity was also his downfall and he made and lost several fortunes during Seattle’s early years. Pacific Northwest historian Thomas Prosch described him as “a man of marked individuality and richly endowed with good qualities. No one could be more liberal and kind than he” in his biography of Maynard.

Maynard’s story is just one of those featured in an exhibit, Pioneering Medicine: Milestones from Seattle’s First Century 1850-1950, currently on display in Special Collections at the University of Washington. Like Maynard, many of the physicians were also civic leaders, organizers and elected officials involved with many aspects of establishing Seattle as a city to rival any in America. Join us for two gallery walks scheduled for anyone interested in hearing more about some of Seattle’s early physicians and their contributions:

  • Wed, January 27, 9-10am
  • Thu, February 4, 4-5pm

All are welcome!

Guest blogger Lisa Oberg, Special Collections


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