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Summertime was no picnic in Madera

May 18, 2019

Madera County Historical Society
Dr Dow Ransom, circa 1940, sitting beside his swimming pool at his home at 301 North C street in Madera.

Today summertime means fun and games for many Maderans, especially the children, but it hasn’t always been that way. Once upon a time, Maderans, especially the doctors, faced summertime with a certain level of trepidation. 


It seems that July was a particularly fateful month. Just consider some of the traumatic cases Dr. Dow Ransom had to face in Madera every time his calendar hit the seventh month of the year. 


The pioneer doctor’s succession of July tragedies began in 1911. It seems that a newcomer to Madera from Orange County, Ray Smith, had decided to take a wagon ride with his family on the afternoon of July 22. He hitched up the two-seated vehicle and put his wife and 18-month-old daughter, Jean Lucile, in the rear while he took his place in the front. He slapped the reins and the team pulled the wagon out onto the road. 


Everything went fine until they passed the Wide Awake Ranch. Ray didn’t see the hole in the road, so when the wagon hit it, everyone was jostled — especially little Jean Lucile. The child was thrown out of the wagon and landed underneath the running gear. One of the wheels rolled over her head, crushing it. 


The frantic parents jumped off the wagon, picked up their daughter, and carried her to their house, which was nearby. While they cradled their baby, someone sent for Dr. Ransom who came as quickly as he could in his horseless carriage.


The physician held the child’s lifeless body and pronounced her dead. He took her to Jay’s Funeral Parlor and extended his condolences to the parents.


Ray Smith and his wife took their daughter’s body to Southern California where she was buried and remained there. 


Meanwhile, Dr. Ransom steeled himself and got ready for his next July tragedy.  It came on July 24, 1914 from Grub Gulch. 


The day was Tuesday, and little Eleen Aksenan was out playing with her burro. Somehow, she fell, and the animal stepped on her arm, breaking it. She ran to the house, and her parents wrapped it in a wet towel. Their friends told them that the child’s arm was just bruised, but 24 hours later, it continued to swell, and Eleen was screaming in pain. Twelve hours after that, the parents decided to take their daughter to Madera even if it meant waking Dr. Ransom.


When the physician examined the child’s arm, he knew there was a problem, especially after he took a primitive x-ray picture of the injury. It showed that the arm was broken completely in two above the elbow, and the two ends of the bone were separated by at least an inch. One of the points was quite large and very near one of the arteries leading up the arm, threatening to puncture it. 


Dr. Ransom very carefully set the child’s arm, 36 hours after it had been broken. He watched over Eleen until he was certain he would not have to amputate her arm. In the end the child and her parents were able to return to Grub Gulch and Dr. Ransom to his popping practice. 


Dr. Ransom’s next July adventure took place in 1920 on the 28th of the month, and it almost took his wife’s life to say nothing of his beautiful North C Street mansion. 


Mrs. Ransom (Edythe Sarll) had set out to wash some woolen clothes in a container of gasoline. While she was scrubbing, static electricity ignited the washing, and soon flames were not only licking at the walls of the back porch, but both of her arms were on fire. 


Mrs. Ransom was able to extinguish the fire on her arms, but she could do nothing with the flames that threatened her home. Fortunately, the Madera fire department arrived in time to put out the fire, and Dr. Ransom rushed home to treat his wife. In the end, the doctor’s wife suffered no lasting injury, and the back porch suffered only minimal damage. Within a week, things were back to normal and Dr. Dow H. Ransom continued his role as a small town pioneer physician. 


A recital of Dr. Ransom’s medical practice alone would fill a book, and perhaps it will someday. If that happens, whoever the author is will certainly find abundant material in those summertime emergencies that plagued Madera’s most prominent physician in the early days of the 20th century.

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