Biography of Dr. Theodore D. Felt
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





THEODORE DWIGHT FELT, M. D. - Few residents of Humboldt county have enjoyed as great a degree of affectionate esteem among their fellow citizens as the late Dr. Theodore Dwight Felt, who was a "forty niner," during his first years in the state a miner, a typical physician of pioneer days and also took a hand in the development of the county's industrial resources. An exceptionally skillful physician and surgeon, possessing personal courage, and unselfish to a fault in administering aid whenever it was needed, Dr. Felt's character won him the love and respect of a wide circle of admirers, and his achievements will long be quoted among pioneer reminiscences. The period of his practice here covered forty seven years until his death, although he lived to be over eighty. He maintained a position among the leading members of his profession throughout that time.

Dr. Felt was a native of Massachusetts, and of old New England stock. The family is of English origin, his emigrant ancestor in the paternal line, George Felt, having been born in England in 1601, and, according to tradition, came to America with John Endicott, who arrived at Salem, Mass., with a party of colonists in the year 1628. George Felt's name appears upon the town records of Manchester, Mass., in 1633.

Theodore Dwight Felt was born March 22, 1817, in Everett, and passed his early years upon a farm in the western part of Massachusetts. He began his education in the district schools, and took up the study of medicine under a physician in the locality, later taking a course at the old Transylvania College, Louisville, Ky., from which institution he was graduated. This college has since passed out of existence. Surgery seemed to be the branch of his work for which he was best fitted by nature, and for several years after his graduation he traveled over the eastern and southern states, doing orthopedic surgery and operating on crossed eyes, club feet and other deformities. In 1849 he came out to California, across the plains, and for a time joined the search for gold, following mining in Trinity county for two years with encouraging success. In 1851 he came to Humboldt county and made a location at Hydesville, taking up land; he was among the original settlers in the Eel river valley. Here he found the opportunity to indulge in one of his hobbies, his fondness for horses, and he became interested in raising cattle and horses, gaining some reputation for his success with the latter especially. His medical training, however, was too valuable in a new country to be allowed to go to waste. He and Dr. Jonathan Clark, of Eureka, were then the only physicians in the county, and his services were soon in demand all over this section. He had the usual experiences of physicians in a new country, being called upon at all hours to make trips wherever he was needed. He had to travel horseback, and most of his rides were long. There were no bridges in those days, rivers and streams being forded, and he was known to swim the Eel river on horseback when the water was so high the ferryman would not risk taking him over even in a small boat. But he had all the conscientious scruples regarding his duty of his New England ancestors, supplemented by a rugged constitution and hardy physique, and he could never refuse to visit a sick or injured person because of the physical hardships it would entail. It is said he "never found a night too dark, or the Indians too numerous or hostile, to prevent him from traveling almost any distance to administer to the sick, were the patient rich or poor." The latter part of this statement explains much of his popularity and also the thorough respect in which all classes held him. He took advantage of the many opportunities his profession afforded for assisting the poor and needy, not only with his medical services, but with other aid when necessary, and none ever had to hesitate about sending for him because of lack of funds to pay for his services. His experiences never dulled his sympathies or the generosity of his nature rather they were kept alive by such things. He had the faculty of doing the best possible in an emergency, and he saved a man's life on one such occasion by improvising a surgeon's saw from an old wood saw, and using a butcher knife for cutting, being far from home and without means of procuring any regular surgical instruments for the operation, the amputation of a man's leg at the hip joint. This readiness was of great value to him in the old days especially, and gained him confidence which never waned through all the years of his practice. The four different sets of saddle bags which he used in his practice in those early years are now the property of his son, Dr. Rae Felt.

In 1871 Dr. Felt sold out his ranch at Hydesville and his practice at that point and located at Rohnerville, this county. In 1876 he removed to the place now known as Felt's Springs, a piece of property which he had acquired on an original grant, where there is a valuable medicinal spring. He immediately undertook the development of the property, erecting a good hotel and a number of cottages, but he had the misfortune to lose them by fire within a short time, the loss amounting to about $50,000. This disaster left him about $10,000 in debt, but he was tindiscouraged and rebuilt before long. Again his buildings were destroyed by fire, and he returned to the practice of his profession, to which he devoted himself principally thereafter. He was located at Rohnerville until he opened an office at Eureka in partnership with his son Rae, in 1891, and there he continued to reside and practice the rest of his life. He attended to his work regularly, retaining his physical and mental vigor until ten days before his death, which occurred April 8, 1898, in his eighty second year.

In spite of the fact that he was negligent about collecting for his professional services (thousands of dollars owing him were never paid), Dr. Felt was a successful man from the worldly standpoint, although he met with many losses through no fault of his own. In the early days he recognized the possibilities of many enterprises, and one of his unfortunate ventures was a sawmill project which cost him considerable money. He built a mill dam on Yager creek, went east and bought machinery for a sawmill, and had the misfortune to have his dam washed away before the mill equipment arrived. It was then in San Francisco, and he paid for it, but the man who acted as his agent sold it and disappeared with the proceeds.

Dr. Felt was a Mason, a member of Eel River Valley Lodge, F. & A. M., and was buried with Masonic honors. He was a strong Republican in his political views.

No mention of the Felts would be complete without some reference to Mrs. Felt and the noble part she played in her husband's career and in the life of the community wherever her lot called her. Her maiden name was Catherine Miller, and she was born August 4, 1828, in Philadelphia, Pa., where her parents, John and Sarah (Kinsley) Miller, passed all their lives. Her father was a glass manufacturer and a prosperous business man. She was reared and educated in her native city, and in 1850 came with a brother and a sister to Colusa, Cal., where she met Dr. Felt, and where they were married June 23, 1851. During their life on the ranch at Hydesville she shared all the hardships of pioneer days, doubled by his frequent absences on professional trips. The Indians were still numerous, and they often lost stock through their depredations, but though Mrs. Felt was frequently left alone with her small children, with only a dog for protection, the savages seldom molested her. She devoted considerable time to reading medicine and familiarizing herself with pharmacy, and thus was able to assist the Doctor greatly and to be of real service to many sick people in the neighborhood. It is said there was always some poor cripple or invalid staying at their house. Truly charitable and benevolent, they gave many a poor emigrant food, medicine and clothing, and helped him on his way. Mrs. Felt helped her husband also to keep his books, but she admitted it was never easy to get him to give her the names and amounts that should have been booked from day to day. When his fortune was so seriously impaired by the fires above mentioned, she nobly came to his aid by conducting a drug store, at Fortuna, which she carried on for several years. After the Doctor's death she occupied her home at Eureka, her son Rae and his wife living there with her. She was an active member of the Episcopal Church, but her benefactions and donations were not confined to her own denomination, for she gave towards the building of almost every church in Humboldt county. She died June 25, 1914.

Of the children born to Dr. and Mrs. Felt five survive: Delos, born April 19, 1853, is a resident of Eureka; Theodore Dwight, born December 25. 1854, is a resident of Stockton, Cal.; De Ette, born August 4, 1856, is the wife of George A. Kellogg, of Eureka; Guy, born October 12, 1866, is in charge of the drug store at Sequoia Hospital, Eureka; Rae is a practicing physician at Eureka, and mentioned in a separate article in this work.

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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