Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “He Got Well But Never Paid Us”: The Carthage Medical Bill of John Taylor

“He Got Well But Never Paid Us”: The Carthage Medical Bill of John Taylor

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 20, 2010

William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen’s Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers (New York: Knopf, 1958) carries a report of the martyrdom at Carthage from an unusual eyewitness: that of Dr. Thomas L. Barnes, the doctor called in to tend to the wounded John Taylor. Dr. Barnes wrote a letter to his daughter Miranda in 1897 reporting in great detail what he recalled of the events of that day, including these paragraphs:

I suppose by this time you are anxious to know what became of Taylor and Richards? Was they also killed, no they were not. Taylor was severely wounded, Richards was not hurt.

Shall I try to describe the wounds that Taylor received and got over them? Well let me tell you where we found him; I cannot impress your mind of his appearance as he appeared to us when we were called to him by the jailer.

We [Dr. Barnes, a Dr. Morrison, and John Wilson, of Carthage] found him in a pile of straw. It appeared that a straw bed had been emitted [?] in the cell where he was when we found him. he was very much frightened as well as severely wounded. It took strong persuading of the jailer, as well as our positive assurance that we meant him no harm, but was desirous of doing him some good. He finally consented to come out of his cell. When we examined him we found that he had been hit by four balls. One ball had hit him in his forearm and passed down and lodged in the hand between the phalanges of his third and fourth fingers. Another hit him on the left side of the pelvis cutting through the skin and tissue leaving a superficial wound that you could lay your hand in. A third ball passed through his thigh lodging in his [illegible]. A fourth ball hit his watch, which he had in the fob in his pantaloons. Which I suppose the Mormons have today, to show the precise time that their great Leader was killed.

The wounds had bled quite freely, the blood had had time to coagulate, which it had done, and where the clothes & straw came in contact they all adhered together so that [when] Mr. Taylor came out his self-sought cell he was a pitiable looking sight. We took the best care of him we could till he left us. He got well but never paid us for skill or good wishes.

Raymond W. Taylor, a grandson of John Taylor who researched the John Taylor biography The Kingdom or Nothing (completed by his brother Samuel after Ray’s 1972 death), read Among the Mormons in 1963 and found Dr. Barnes’ account. Always a bit of a showman, Ray decided he really ought to settle the Taylor account with the long-dead Dr. Barnes. But how to do that?

Ray wrote first to Dr. Elmer Belt of Los Angeles, who had provided the Barnes letter to Mulder and Mortensen. Belt was neither a descendant nor heir of Dr. Barnes, though; he referred Sam to Bertha Haskett Martin of Santa Rosa, California.

Mrs. Martin confirmed that she was indeed a descendant of Dr. Barnes. She declined to accept payment for the 120-year-old medical bill and felt that none of her cousins would wish to accept money, either. Instead, she suggested that if Ray wanted to make a gesture, he ought to send some amount to Stanley B. Kimball, who was then an assistant professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Afton Alton, Illinois. Kimball was already making his mark on Mormon history, and perhaps he would want to purchase materials about the Mormons for his university library.

So, Ray contacted Kimball, telling him that Dr. Barnes’ bill had been quit-claimed to him. Kimball responded:

I have no further information about this unpaid medical bill which you refer to. Someday perhaps I will find out something and if I do I shall certainly inform you of it. Since as you say, this bill has now been quit-claimed to me, please consider this letter as a statement to you for the sum of $1 which will fully satisfy this more than one hundred years old medical bill.

The $1 was promptly sent to Stan Kimball.

The long-overdue debt was, at last, settled.



  1. Pretty awesome story!

    Comment by Niklas — July 20, 2010 @ 6:54 am

  2. I wonder what kind of care they might have provided, other than removing the ball from Bro. Taylor’s hand, and bandaging the wounds.

    There were of course no antibiotics to stop an infection, and no anesthesia to ease the pain of surgery. And blood transfusion was in its infancy–and dangerous. Blood types were not discovered for another half century, and the process of storing blood in blood banks didn’t begin until about 1910–when refrigeration and the addition of anti-coagulants made it possible.

    Still a dollar seems a bit low for the service–to say nothing of 120 years worth of interest and late fees.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 20, 2010 @ 7:11 am

  3. great stuff ardis.

    Comment by g.wesley — July 20, 2010 @ 8:37 am

  4. emitted [?]

    I’ve seen this word rendered as “emptied” in other sources.

    He got well but never paid us for skill or good wishes.

    Based on his account of the medical procedure (“I really thought I had need of nerves to stand such surgical butchery, and that, whatever my nerves may be, his practice was devilish”), I assume that John Taylor didn’t think that the “quack doctor” (as he was described in HC) had any skill.

    Comment by Justin — July 20, 2010 @ 9:03 am

  5. This made me think of the recent news that the New York Society Library is still owed a late fee from George Washington for a couple of unreturned books.

    Oh, the descriptions of Taylor’s wounds sound terrifically painful. This was an interesting read. Thanks.

    Comment by David Y. — July 20, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  6. The professional charge for the extraction of a bullet today would be a couple hundred dollars (per bullet, reduce by 50% after the first), though there would be other charges as Mark describes bringing up the total considerably.

    If I back into the comparable price with the CPI I arrive at some thing in the $10 to $20 range. The CPI doesn’t really work for healthcare though since its cost is rising faster than inflation. So maybe a $1 might be pretty close.

    I wish I could find a bill from 1844 to compare it to. But all my searches so far yield modern billing examples.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — July 20, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  7. Maybe $1 was just about right, even with accrued interest.

    I once found a decades-overdue library book somewhere and took it in thinking they would get a kick out of having it returned so late. Instead, they started to calculate the overdue fine, not as a joke or as something cute, but seriously to charge me as if I were responsible for it. George Washington would be better off staying dead and not returning those books.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 20, 2010 @ 9:20 am

  8. Thanks for sharing this. Interesting.

    Comment by Rachymaree — July 20, 2010 @ 9:49 am

  9. Ha! That’s crazy, Ardis. We have lost library books before but were just required to pay for the price of the book and then a processing fee. None of this $14 gazillion dollar fine stuff! Sheesh.

    In any case, I’m sure the statue of limitations had long since run on the good doctor’s claim for payment. All’s well that ends well.

    Comment by David Y. — July 20, 2010 @ 10:13 am

  10. Great story about the bill. I’m not convinced that most doctors in that time period were a lot of help for anything of a serious nature, so I can understand the reluctance to pay the bill, especially if the recuperation was long and painful. As to overdue fines, I’ve heard of other similar stories about libraries and really extreme charges done in all seriousness.

    Am I remembering correctly, but hasn’t some further research determined that it wasn’t a rifle ball that hit John Taylor’s watch, but that he fell against the sill of the same window that Joseph Smith later fell through?

    Comment by kevinf — July 20, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  11. Great story!

    Comment by Jami — July 20, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  12. Personally, I think the city of Carthage, or the state of Illinois should have paid the medical bill. After all, John Taylor was in the custody of the state, and thereby they were responsible for his safety and protection. Having failed that, they should have paid remunerations.

    Comment by Rameumptom — July 20, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  13. This was great, Ardis, thanks.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — July 20, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  14. Among the Mormons is a great volume. Thanks for this great follow-up.

    Kevin, it is my memory (from a recent BYU Studies articl, I think) that you are correct about the watch.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 20, 2010 @ 11:47 am

  15. J,

    Now that you mention it, it was the BYU Studies article that I was remembering. Here’s a link to the article at their website.

    Comment by kevinf — July 20, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

  16. kevinf,

    The Joseph Smith Papers segment on the martyrdom also agrees that John Taylor’s watch was not damaged by the rifle ball but by his falling against the window sill.

    Comment by Maurine — July 20, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

  17. Ram, #12, I thought the only two under arrest in the jail cell were Joseph and Hyrum. Weren’t Taylor and Richards there as “visitors” (just keeping company for Joseph and Hyrum) and not under arrest?

    If so, wouldn’t have that a bearing on the city’s or state’s liability for Taylor’s injuries?

    Comment by Bookslinger — July 20, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

  18. what fun!

    fyi, ardis, it’s alton, illinois (not afton).

    Comment by ellen — July 20, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  19. Thanks — I’ll fix.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 20, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

  20. I missed a typo? Crap.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 20, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

  21. Niklas you are right, that is neat.

    Comment by Stephen M (ethesis) — July 20, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

  22. Keepapitchin rocks :)

    Comment by bbell — July 21, 2010 @ 10:07 am

  23. 12 & 17
    I agree that the State or whatever agency operated Carthage Jail would be responsible for Elder Taylor’s bill. Although he wasn’t a prisoner, maintaining reasonable security and safety in a public place is the responsibility of whoever operates that place — cf slip-and-fall liability of a grocery story.
    But was this principle of liability established in frontier 1844? It seems that if it were, Dr. Barnes would not have made his comment.

    Comment by manaen — July 21, 2010 @ 10:18 am

  24. In response to kevinf, the account of the hole in JT’s watch coming from an interior gear pin rather than a bullet is also found in Glen Leonard’s ‘Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise.’

    Every time I read a Keepa post I think to myself, “How in the world did she find that?!” Keep it up Ardis.

    Comment by Meghan — July 21, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

  25. It’s stories like these that make this blog awesome. Tidbits of history that fascinate and make names into individuals.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — July 21, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

  26. Re #24 “Every time I read a Keepa post I think to myself, “How in the world did she find that?!” Keep it up Ardis.”

    My sentiments exactly!

    And regarding the illegibility, is the word ’emmitted’ a mispelling of “admitted”?

    Comment by Clark — July 21, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

  27. Re: emitted — I don’t have access to the original handwritten letter so can’t make any real judgment. I could only type here what appeared in my transcribed source, and apparently either Mulder, or Belt, had trouble reading the word.

    As to “How in the world did she find that?” — I confess that if I set out looking for many of the stories told on Keepa, I wouldn’t be able to find them. It’s purely a matter of noticing what’s there as I go through materials for other projects. Most times I try to add to what I find by researching what went before or what came next, but finding the germ of the story is almost always luck, and the persistence of being always on the lookout.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 21, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

  28. Ardis,

    As usual, great stuff. And I will echo your sentiments about “How in the world did she find that?”. The most interesting stuff is often the accidental discoveries along the way, while you are looking for something else.

    Comment by kevinf — July 21, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  29. Ditto re: being excited to see what Ardis will share next!

    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — July 21, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

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