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From the Civil War to Vietnam

Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society

Dow Harvey Ransom, M.D.,1880-1946.


One of Madera’s most productive generations was made up of its citizens who were born in the latter part of the 19th century and lived until the 1940s and ‘50s. In any historical survey, those individuals will stand out, and none more so than Dr. Dow Ransom.

We have written about Dr. Ransom before, especially with reference to his beautiful, old home on North C Street.

Some time ago a treasure trove of documents — letters, photographs, diaries — came my way. These sources revolve around Dr. Ransom and his family. I still have them and am still trying to figure out how to communicate the wonderful story these documents tell. Surely it will come to me sooner or later, but in the meantime, I want to take another look at Dr. Dow Ransom, pioneer physician and founder of the Madera Sanitarium on Yosemite Avenue.

Dr. Ransom came to Madera at the age of 12 in 1892. He came by train and landed in Borden where his aunt lived. He stayed with her for a while and attended Arcola School. He continued his education at Madera High School and graduated in 1897.

Following his graduation from high school, Ransom studied medicine at what is now Stanford University Medical School. After his internship, he returned to Madera to set up his practice. By that time, he had won the confidence of all Madera. In time, he would win their hearts as well.

Just before coming to Madera to set up his medical practice, Dr. Ransom married Miss Edythe Sarll of San Francisco. They had three children, including a son, Dr. Dow Ransom Jr., who followed his father’s footsteps and became a doctor. Dr. Dow Ransom Sr. also had a brother who was a physician. He had one sister, who married Craig Cunningham, Madera County Superintendent of Schools.

In 1918, Dr. Ransom earned the praise of the town. The Madera Mercury said it best. Its headlines on September 20, read, “Dr. Ransom is an honor to Madera.” The paper went on to read, “Madera is honored in the voluntary enlistment of Dr. Dow H. Ransom in the service of our country.” He gave up his medical practice that day and boarded the train for Camp Kearney to serve in World War I. In doing so, he continued a family tradition of going to war, a tradition which stretched back to the Civil War and came forward to Vietnam.

Dr. Ransom’s grandfather, J.B. Ransom, left his Wisconsin home in 1849 to come to California, leaving his family behind, including Dr. Ransom’s father, Lucius. When Lucius was old enough, he went to the little country school his parents had attended when they were children.

At the age of fourteen, Lucius Ransom enlisted in Company K, Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry to fight in the Civil War. When the recruits were lined up for inspection, the commander pushed him back and said, “Too young.” After the officials had passed down the line, Lucius stepped back into formation.

During the first five months of his service, Lucius was sick, and after his illness, because of his youth, he worked in a field hospital. He was the first Ransom to tend to the sick and wounded in wartime, but he wouldn’t be the last.

While engaged in this duty, he heard that his father, sometimes called Justice Ransom, had left California and joined the war, but it was on the other side — the Confederate army. So far as is known, father and son were not allowed to meet.

At the close of the war Lucius entered a seminary in Wisconsin, and completed his education. Following his seminary course, he taught in a little grammar school in Aurora, Illinois, for three years. Every Friday after school he walked fourteen miles home, where his mother and sister then lived.

In the fall of 1870, he took his mother and sister to Jewell county, Kansas, chose a homestead, and then married. Ten years later Dow Ransom was born.

Thus it was that Dow Ransom Sr. came to Madera with a heritage, that of providing medical aid in time of war.

When World War I was over, Dr. Ransom returned home and opened the Madera Sanitarium where he continued to perform the art and science of healing.

In the meantime, his son, Dow Jr. was following the path his father had set. As a member of the Madera High School class of 1937, he went to medical school, served his internship, and went almost immediately into the Navy. He survived the war, was discharged in 1946, and in the next year had a son who carried on the family’s tradition of going to war — this time in Vietnam — but that’s another story.

So, we have had this treasure trove dropped in our laps, and it tells a fascinating saga — one family’s story in America’s march from the Civil War to Vietnam. Now we have to figure out the best way to get it to you, the readers.


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