In the late 1990s, Michael Hankins and two of his pals were treasure hunting near Old Knik when they unearthed a surprise — an intact glass medicine bottle embossed with: “The German Doctor—J.A. Baughman, M.D.—Seward, Alaska.”
Hankins researched the name and discovered that Dr. John Albert Baughman, known as the “German Doctor,” had lived and practiced medicine in Seward from 1906 until 1929, after at least five years of doctoring in Skagway and before concluding his career in Juneau. This information told Hankins that the bottle may have lain in a trash dump near Knik Arm for 90 years before it was discovered by a probing potato rake.
But Hankins’s research also revealed another tantalizing discovery: Dr. Baughman’s second job. As autumn neared in 1913, seven years into his time in Seward, he accepted a gubernatorial appointment as a full-time game warden for the Third Alaska Division.
Seeking to replace two resigning officers, Alaska Territorial Gov. John F.A. Strong named Baughman to succeed John Crittenden Tolman as the peninsula’s chief game warden. Another Seward man, Aron Ericson, was also appointed to succeed outgoing warden George G. Cantwell.
His appointment effectively put Baughman in charge of managing wildlife on the entire 4-million-acre Kenai Peninsula. He pursued both his warden and medical careers simultaneously for eight years.
Just how effective a game warden Baughman was while practicing medicine can be debated. It can be argued, based on the record, that he hung too much close to home, allowing subordinates to do most of the backwoods work while he mostly remained in Seward and filed reports to officials in Juneau.
But there can be little doubt that Baughman stayed busy. Seward historian Mary J. Barry reported that in October 1913, after a brown bear mauled Otto Bergstrom 4 miles out of town, Bergstrom crawled to nearby home, the occupants of which called for Dr. Baughman. The doctor hurried hence to dress Bergstrom’s many wounds.
Baughman monitored malnutrition and an outbreak of measles across much of the Kenai in 1914. That same year, he also made a winter trek in sub-zero weather to the Russian Lake area to investigate alleged game violations. He dealt with what he perceived as law-skirting guides, and he was elected as one of the delegates to the Democratic convention in Skagway.
When he learned in May 1916 that fox farmer Hank Lucas, then living on Skilak Lake, was suffering from an abscess, Dr. Baughman made a 140-mile round-trip journey to retrieve Lucas and bring him to Seward for surgery.
In 1917, when Herman Stelter, a former member of the 1898 Kings County Mining Company living alone in a remote cabin below the Kenai River canyon, was seriously ill from heart trouble in 1917, Baughman traveled to his home to offer treatment.
He also promoted hunting restrictions. He toed the line on current regulations. He inspected the licenses of hunters sailing into Seward from out of state and then checked to see that they had not exceeded bag limits when they were ready to sail home.
During this time, he was not the only doctor in Seward, but the Gateway City was thriving — with its young population, its railroad and its shipping and other industries — and the need for medical providers was constant.
Many years later, after at least 40 years of practicing medicine in the States and in Skagway and Seward, Dr. Baughman estimated that he had safely delivered a thousand babies. In addition, he had treated hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals for illnesses and injuries great and small.
Coming into the Country
John Albert Baughman was born in Barberton, Ohio, in March 1856 to parents Israel and Anna (Weygandt) Baughman.
In 1879, when he was 23, he married Belle Caine in Doylestown, Ohio, and a year later he graduated from New York University’s Bellevue Hospital Medical College.
Numerous issues of the Akron (Ohio) City Times in 1889 display advertisements for the services of “specialist” Dr. J.A. Baughman. These ads feature an image of a stern-faced, heavily bearded man, presumably the doctor himself, and state his credentials: “prepared to treat all chronic disorders”; “spent many years of study at the best medical colleges of the country.”
“He invites the afflicted to call on him,” says the ad copy. “Are you suffering? … Dr. Baughman can cure you, if a cure is at all possible…. He has met with marked success in treating Rheumatism, Spermattorrhoea, Hemorrhoids. The latter he treats without pain and positively cures. Female Diseases a Specialty.”
By 1894, he was plying his trade in Barry, Michigan. Three years later, his wife Belle filed for divorce for what she alleged was “extreme cruelty.” Court records indicate that the doctor did not contest the allegations or the divorce, which was granted without conditions. One month later, Baughman married again.
His new wife, Mina Mae “Minnie” Barber, stood with John Baughman before a Justice of the Peace in Manistique, Michigan, on Feb. 25, 1897, and before that year was out, the newlyweds were on the move north.
According to the “Skagway Stories” website, John Baughman joined the stampede to Dawson during the gold rush. He had apparently planned to practice medicine in Dawson but was prohibited from doing so because he lacked Canadian citizenship.
At this time, Dr. Baughman also began to draw acclaim for his hunting and shooting prowess. In April 1898, the Vancouver (Canada) Semi-Weekly World noted Baughman’s part in an upcoming hunt: “Baughman is the nimrod (skillful hunter) of the party. He has already won fair fame as a slayer of big game, and he asserts that the Klondike will prove a mockery and a sham if he does not succeed in bringing out of it the head of at least one monster moose.”
By 1899, he and Mina had settled in Skagway. There, he started his first Alaska medical practice, ran a drugstore and worked as an assayer. He also became a financial partner in the first of several mining operations.
By 1905, however, the Baughmans seemed ready to depart Alaska. According to Skagway’s Daily Alaskan in mid-May, they were making plans to homestead in southern Oregon, while leaving their future beyond that summer open. Maybe, they said, they’d return in a few months, or perhaps in a year.
“Dr. and Mrs. Baughman … leave many friends at Skagway who hope they will return to the city to remain,” said the newspaper.
By January 1906, their plans had changed. Although they did return to Skagway, their sojourn was brief. On Jan. 8, the Daily Alaskan reported that the Baughmans were contemplating a relocation to Seward.
A notice in the Jan. 27 edition of the Seward Gateway noted Dr. Baughman’s arrival in town on the S.S. Farallon and announced that he was opening a new medical office in the front part of the Coleman Building.
Soon, he was a full-time physician and surgeon in the Gateway City, with an office in the A.B. Drug Store and later in the Owl Drug Store. He also had a “home office” at the Railroad Hospital. In 1908, when the Owl Drug Store was incorporated and renamed the Seward Drug Company, Dr. Baughman became its manager.
He joined the Seward Gun Club and the Seward Outing Club. He became one of the directors of a gold-mining operation on Groundhog Creek and a partner on a quartz claim called the Lisbon — both in the Moose Pass area.
And he remained consistently busy as a doctor. In 1908, when the famous trapper Harry Johnson was mauled by a brown bear near what is now known at Victor Creek, 20 miles north of Seward, Baughman stitched up his wounds after Johnson was assisted into town.
In 1915, when Kenai merchant and part-time deputy William Dawson delivered by dogsled a prisoner to the Seward jail and then fell ill with kidney disease, Dr. Baughman treated him until he had recovered enough to mush home.
He treated victims of heart failure, influenza and other diseases, and terrible accidents. He delivered more babies. He provided physical examinations for school children. Whenever he was called upon, he came.
And then there was his other job: chief game warden.