In the 19th century people didn't understand what caused disease/how to treat it. Doctors did the best they could.
In the 19th century, one-third of the children in the U.S. did not live to adulthood. In the 1980s, about 98 percent of children lived to adulthood.
Pioneers often relied on home remedies to cure disease before they contacted a physician. Fever and ague struck many homes. People could come down with chills and fever one afternoon and die the next day. The symptoms included chills, fever and lack of energy. Doctors were helpless to find a cure.
A less serious, but annoying ailment was called prairie itch. Often the home remedy was a lotion made "from the roots of the skunk-cabbage."
Malaria, cholera, typhoid and small pox were serious health risks during the 1800s in Iowa. These diseases were often deadly. Scientists knew little about the causes and treatments for these diseases. In the mid-19th century it was believed that these diseases were caused by "bad air." It wasn't until the 1880s that scientists began to understand that germs caused certain diseases.
Physicians used simple drugs and instruments. In the medicine chests of most 19th century doctors were a stock of basic drugs: castor oil, bark, calomel, Dover's powder and quinine. They also carried unusual instruments. In case of fever, a patient was generally bled. Every physician carried lancets for this purpose. It was believed that bleeding would relieve the body of disease.
Physicians often advertised their services in newspapers. One doctor's rates in Bloomington (now Muscatine) were:
First visit in town in the daytime $1. 00
Every succeeding visit $ .50
Visit in the night time $1.50
Tooth Extracting $1.00
Attention on a patient all day or night by request $5.00
Not all physicians were strict about collecting their fees. Many doctors received food as payment instead of money.
(I was looking for mention of the typhoid fever that killed John Henry Gilliland in Patterson,Iowa.)