Octagon House Museum • Hudson Wisconsin

John Till the Plaster Doctor

John TillThat’s right – the plaster doctor of Somerset, Wisconsin, a self-described “doctor” who treated patients without a license between 1905 and 1908. John Till allegedly cured hundreds of people with various ailments – ranging from cancer to corns, all with his handy plaster. Of course not without the help of his wife, Hedwig, who was dubbed his “Chief Assistant.”  To make matters even stranger, Journalist Earl Chapin described his work attire: “He wore a plain woolen shirt open at the neck, an unbuttoned vest, and generally went barefoot… Two small gold rings adorned pierced ear lobes. He went long periods without shaving and he took snuff.”

This barefooted doctor would treat his patients with a plaster mixture of kerosene and croton oil – and it worked. Till garnered a following of thousands of people who would flock from near and far to be treated by this miracle doctor. Every house and hotel in Somerset was filled with patients. Till and his family moved frequently, usually to avoid the law, and took residence in New Richmond, North Hudson, and Turtle Lake. Eventually the State Medical Board shut his “practice” down, and Till was sentenced to six months in jail for practicing without a license. Till’s fans couldn’t accept the sentence, and he was granted early release – only if he left the country. In 1922, Till reluctantly returned to his homeland in Austria, but he didn’t leave forever. After WWII, Till took advantage of his US citizenship and returned to the St. Croix Valley. Till lived in Hudson until his death in 1947.  But his famous plaster treatments will always live on in memory – and for some, in practice.

July 1947, Hudson Star-Observer

The Rewards of John Till
Song, Words, and Music by John Till; Published by John Till at the Barron County Jail, Copyright by John Till

An excerpt of his song:

 “There was a corporation form’d and called the Institute,
John Till he was the President and he was smart and cute.
Our – Savior of suffering for life, –
John Till sure done wonders when all the doctors failed,
But for jealousness he’s thrown in jail.

John Till a happy prisoner of the Wisconsin state,
You can watch him ev’ry day thru the Iron barred gate.
Our – Savior of suffering for life, –
No robber, no murder, and nobody hurt,
That is why he is happy like a bird.

Wisconsin Lore and Legends Lou and John Russell

A song by Samuel Tufts from Knapp, regarding “Doctor” Till:

“So off we start for Somerset, our hears began to cheer,
We are all bound to reach the goal, for life it is so dear;
We know he’s cured thousands, more feeble yet than we,
So all hurrah for Somerset that Dr. there to see…
I can run and jump so nimble now, like 20 years ago,
So I thank the Doc at Somerset, and to him you all should go.”


Sources: From a Collection Provided by the Hudson History Room Courtesy of Nancy Hawkinson.
Russel, John and Lou Russel. Wisconsin Lore and Legends. Oak Point Printing: 1982. Print.
“John Till and His Miracle Plaster.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 1956: V39 N4. Print.

Comment(1)

  1. REPLY
    John C. Meyer III says

    My grandmother and her sisters worked in the three “hospitals” her father built for John Till patients in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin — John C. Meyer III

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