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January 5: A Courageous Doctor

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These days, a house call by a doctor is unheard of. In the early part of the last century, however, it was common for doctors to see patients in their homes. In North Dakota, that often meant traveling long distances at all hours of the day and night and braving dangerous weather. On this date in 1928, North Dakotans learned the full story of a courageous doctor who did not let distance or inclement weather stop him from making a house call.

Attorney M.A. Buchler of Grant County began hearing rumors of a diphtheria epidemic south of Raleigh. He was able to confirm that three children in one family and one child in another had died, and many more were sick. He contacted Doctor F.C. Lorenzon of Elgin and asked him to make the journey to care for the sick. Lorenzon never hesitated. He immediately agreed to go, but he couldn’t leave until he had the antitoxin. He had to gather a supply from nearby pharmacists before he could start.

By the time he was ready to depart, the roads were blocked by snowdrifts and it was impossible to go by car. Instead, Lorenzon and a driver loaded a sleigh with blankets and robes, carefully insulating the antitoxin. Wrapped in fur coats, they set out on their errand of mercy.

As the two men left Elgin the temperature dropped below zero. With fifty miles ahead of them, they knew they would need fresh horses. They planned to stop at farms at regular distances, counting on the goodness of North Dakotans to loan them horses. They were not disappointed. They changed horses five times.

Leaving Elgin on Sunday morning, they spent New Year’s Day on the road, driving all day and all night. Arriving at his destination at eight o’clock on Monday morning, Lorenzon discovered a dire situation. Six children ranging in age from one to sixteen were seriously ill. A child of three was close to death. The five others were sick, but expected to recover. Lorezon said his greatest fight with death was convincing the largely immigrant community to allow him to administer the antitoxin to their children. They agreed only after he threatened them with legal action. He quickly administered the antitoxin to twenty-one young people.

Returning to Elgin several days later, Lorenzon and his driver were hailed as heroes, having thwarted a diphtheria epidemic.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


  • Bismarck Tribune. “Elgin Doctor Starts Out on Mercy Errand.” 1/3/1928. Bismarck ND. Page 1.
  • Bismarck Tribune. “Four Are Dead From Diphtheria.” 1/5/1928. Bismarck ND. Page 10.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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