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Herbert Wilson, Fort Berthold Doctor


Doctor Herbert Wilson was born in Bethel, Vermont, on this date in 1921. Wilson was a physician at Fort Berthold for 43 years before retiring. Herbert’s college education was interrupted by World War II, which turned his life in a new direction. He served on B24s as a navigator and gunner. While in England, he met Lilian May Osborne, a corporal in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. They married in 1945.


He went to Harvard, then Tufts Medical School. Upon completing his “government-subsidized education,” Wilson was ordered to serve one year on the Fort Berthold Reservation. He and his family arrived in Elbowoods on a hot August day in 1951.


The people of Fort Berthold were undergoing a major upheaval with the pending loss of their homes and rich bottomlands to the Garrison Dam and its subsequent reservoir, Lake Sacagawea. The Elbowoods Hospital had been closed, and people were being urged to use an innovative “off-reservation care program.” But, many had turned back to traditional medicine. Babies were being born at home; lacerations were filled with sage rather than being sutured.


Tuberculosis was a significant problem at the time. Dr. Wilson reported: “In my first year, two infants came down with tubercular meningitis. One survived; one succumbed.”


Much of the doctor’s practice consisted of setting broken bones and treating cuts and bruises. When his year was up, Wilson realized his patients were more restless and troubled than ever. The Wilsons decided to stay and open a part-time, private practice that would include non-Indians. Their second year led to a third, a third to a fourth, and finally, forty-three years after the move to the Missouri River bottomlands, it was time for a rest. Finding it difficult to slow down, the Wilsons retired in a more urban setting – Bismarck, and he remained quite active. He opened a weekly free medical clinic in Selfridge, ran for the state legislature, volunteered with the state Heritage Center and the crisis hotline, and served on the board of the Former Governor’s Mansion.   He joined numerous Bible study groups, Kiwanis, Physicians for Peace, and the American Lung Association.


On June 1st in 2020, Dr. Herbert Wilson passed away at age of 99. 


Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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