In July 1926, the Garfield County News reported that “Panguitchites have been anxiously awaiting news from the bedside of Dr. J.J. Steiner, a man loved by every person in Southern Utah.” Residents of Richfield, Circleville, Marysvale, and the mining camps of Piute County, communities where the good doctor had served for years, must have been just as anxious for word from Salt Lake’s Holy Cross Hospital.
John Jacob Steiner was born in Wurtenburg, Germany in 1863, coming to Iowa about 1870, and later moving to South Dakota. He learned medicine from his father, and graduated from the St. Louis Medical College in 1889, with high honors. Steiner opened his first practice in The Dalles, Oregon, but finding that the low altitude did not suit him, he moved to Marysvale in 1892.
In 1900 he took additional training at Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore, and in 1907 he studied in Philadelphia. He never stopped learning more about his profession – he observed surgical practices at the Mayo Clinic in 1917, and as late as 1920, he spent a summer in New York perfecting his surgical technique and learning how to use x-rays.
One of Steiner’s early cases involved examining an 11-year-old boy living in Circleville. Some of his neighbors alleged that the boy was insane and sought permission of the court to confine the child in the territorial insane asylum. Steiner examined the boy and reviewed testimony about his behavior, and concluded that he was suffering from epilepsy. Instead of being sent to the asylum, the child was placed with a guardian to receive medical care.
Steiner served as physician at the Annie Laurie mines at Kimberly during the boom years of Utah’s gold rush at the turn of the 20th century. Along with treating broken bones, gas poisoning, and other injuries common to working miners, he patched up his share of bullet holes and knife wounds among the off-duty men.
Most of his career, though, was passed in service to families in towns along the Sevier River: He delivered countless babies. An 1896 diphtheria outbreak near Koosharem called him from Panguitch when local doctors could not help. He examined applicants for life insurance in 1900. He tended scarlet fever patients in Marysvale in 1903. He examined dozens of Utah men heading into the service for World War I. During the flu epidemics of 1918-1919, he left Richfield, where he was then living, to return to Panguitch, one of the hardest-hit towns of Utah, to help care for some 1200 patients.
Steiner married a Marysvale girl, Georgina Blanchett, in 1903. When their only child died in infancy, the couple adopted four children, some from local families where mothers had died in childbirth.
Early in 1926, Steiner felt unwell, and traveled to San Diego to rest and recover. He diagnosed himself first with a lung disease, then with a liver infection, and went to Salt Lake City for treatment – but not without first hiring another doctor to move to Richfield and care for his patients. The newspapers of Southern Utah followed his case closely. In Panguitch, they “hoped for the best.” In Richfield, they “anxiously inquired, ‘is there no hope?’”
There was none, and Steiner passed away on July 19, 1926. His body was returned to Richfield the following week; the train was met by Masons and Odd Fellows, Rebekas and Eastern Star members, who escorted the casket to the family home. Richfield streets were crowded that afternoon with automobiles from throughout southern Utah. Every seat in the LDS Second Ward chapel was taken, with mourners crowding the building’s halls, lobbies, and stairways. The local unit of the Utah National Guard served as an honor guard, and Steiner’s Masonic lodge served as pallbearers.
The doctor, lovingly remembered in so many homes, was lauded as “a progressive, able and uncompromising citizen, a genial, generous, versatile man of usefulness and unswerving principle.”