(David) Frank Powell was born in a log cabin in the mountainous districts of Kentucky, near the Tennessee line, May 25, †1847.(1) 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.
Young Powell had no formal schooling but his parents, who were well educated, gave him his early training. Dr. C. H. Powell died in 1855, and the mother, to be near her aged parents, took her children, including Frank, George, and William, to a farm about thirty miles from Ithaca, New York. Farming, however, did not pay, so immediately after the Civil War they went West. They spent the years 1865-66 in Chicago where Frank, as he called himself, became a drug clerk at 33 Dearborn Street. From here they went to Omaha and Frank, from clerk, soon became a partner of Dr. James K. Ish, under the firm name of Ish & Powell. The family had bought a ranch near Lone Tree, on the Platte, and it was here that Frank was said to have made the acquaintance of Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill, Texas Jack, and other scouts. 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. He then became post surgeon in the Department of the Platte, but resigned to go into private practice. In 1876 he was made Medicine Chief of the Winnebagoes and was given the name "White Beaver." The next year he located at Lanesboro, Minnesota. In 1878 he was married to Bertie Brockway, of Minneapolis, and in September, 1881, they removed to La Crosse, Wisconsin, where Frank continued practicing. During the 1880's, when Indian doctors and Indian medicines were in vogue, he ventured for a time into the patent medicine field. The following advertisement appeared in 1885.(2)
White Beaver's Cough Cream. Heals diseased lungs and cures coughs and colds. Made only by Dr. Frank Powell, Medicine Chief of the Winnebago Indians, La Crosse, Wisconsin. Sold by all druggists.
Powell was elected mayor of La Crosse in 1885 and served until 1887. In 1888 he ran for governor on the Labor ticket but was defeated. He was re-elected mayor of La Crosse for the years 1893-97 as the People's Party representative, but the Democrats held all the city offices and controlled the council. The usual difficulties arose between the two factions, the council making reforms as difficult as possible for the mayor.
Powell died May 8, 1906, on a train en route from Los Angeles, a short distance west of El Paso, Texas, from heart failure.
Novels credited to Dr. Frank Powell were, according to Patten,(3) actually written by Col. Prentiss Ingraham, and under that name they are listed in this book.
Two brothers of Frank Powell, George and Will, were also plainsmen in their younger days, but later studied medicine and also practiced in Wisconsin. George, who wrote a few short sketches and innumerable poems for the Banner Weekly, died at La Crosse May 17, 1920.(4)
REFERENCES: Boy's Library, No. 32 octavo and 32 quarto; Pocket Library No. 438; Banner Weekly, II, No. 65, February 9, 1884; IV, No. 160, December 5, 1885, with portrait; IV, No. 186, June 5, 1886; IV, No. 202, September 25, 1886; VI, No. 311, October 27, 1888; Anon., Biographical History of La Crosse, Monroe and ]uneau Counties, Wisconsin, Chicago, 1892, 587—89; Anon., Wisconsin Jubilee, Proceedings of the Celebration by the County and City of La Crosse, 1898, 56; Journalist, VIII, September 22, 1888; La Crosse City Directories, 1884 to 1905; La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press, July 5, 12, and 19, 1942; personal communication from E. H. Hoffman, associate editor of the La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press; Hernngshaw's Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century, Chicago, 1906, 757 (1847 is here given as the year of Powell's birth). †Mary Hardgrove Hebberd, "Notes on Dr. David Franklin Powell, known as 'White Beaver,'" Wisconsin Magazine of History, summer number, 1952, 306—309 (with an illustration of Powell and Cody).
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
|1||In the Correspondents' Column of the Banner Weekly, No, 528, the year of Powell's birth is given as 1837, but this is doubtless erroneous.|
|2||Banner Weekly, Nos. 108 to 115, 1885.|
|3||Gilbert Patten, "Dime Novel Days," Saturday Evening Post, February 28, 1931, 126. If further proof is needed, it may be found in Ingraham's way of spelling "here" in frontier dialect—"heur," and it is so spelled in the stories credited to Powell, e.g., Dime Library, no. 158, p. 23, col. 1. Cowdrick occasionally used the same spelling, but rarely.|
|4||Wisconsin Medical Journal, XIX, July, 1920, 92.|