About Frank “White Beaver” Powell

Frank Powell, M.D. was born in a log cabin in the mountainous districts of Kentucky, near the Tennessee line, May 25, 1847. His father, C. H. Powell, also a physician, was of Scotch descent, and his mother, a woman of extraordinary beauty, was the child of a full-blooded Seneca Indian, “Medicine Chief,” who had married the daughter of one of the early pioneers of New York. The daughter took the maiden name of her mother, Miss Tompkins. Frank never went to elementary school, instead relying on his parents for his education. His father died when he was eight years old, and his mother began to move the family of four around the country to keep all the mouths fed.

The family spent time in Ithaca, NY, Chicago, and Omaha. It was in Omaha where Frank met Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, and Texas Jack Omohundro. The period of residence in Omaha, however, was not very long, for in 1868 Frank entered Louisville University, in Kentucky, and was graduated in 1871 at the head of his class in medicine. As legend has it, Frank Powell got his famous nick name from riding into the camp of a hostile tribe, just days after killing a couple of the members in hand-to-hand combat, in order to vaccinate the entire assemblage against smallpox. For this gallant action the natives accorded him the honorific “White Beaver.”

In 1876 he was made Medicine Chief of the Winnebagoes, and demonstrated to his final days an actively egalitarian empathy for Indians in a society that sought to eradicate them. Buffalo Bill was quoted as saying, “a natural-born doctor, and don’t you forget it.” When Powell was not acting as a physician in Wisconsin, he was touring with Buffalo Bill as camp doctor and exhibiting his skills as a marksman. Cody and Powell were also associated in a number of business ventures. They founded a cereal company that produced a coffee substitute from roasted bran called “Panmilt”. The primary target market were Mormons who did not drink caffeine. They also made, marketed and patented “White Beaver’s Cough Cream, The Great Lung Healer”. The name played on Powell’s ancestry, claiming ancient Indian herb preparations for part of its unusual healing powers. After early success, both businesses failed. Powell was elected mayor of La Crosse in 1885 and served until 1887. Powell died May 8, 1906, on a train en route from Los Angeles, from heart failure.

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