“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
La Crosse in La Crosse County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

A Legend in His Own Time: Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver"

<i>A Legend in His Own Time:</i> Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver" Marker image. Click for full size.
November 12, 2021
1. A Legend in His Own Time: Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver" Marker
Inscription.  Dr. D. Franklin "Doc" Powell was indisputably one of La Crosse's most flamboyant residents of the late 19th century. He was a tall, handsome man with an imposing bearing, said to be both gentleman and scoundrel, a "man for the people" and an adventurer. Sporting a bushy moustache, Western-style hats, and fringed buckskin suits, Doc Powell seemed larger than life and his reputation extended far beyond the region. He was both a formally trained medical doctor and a Winnebago Medicine Chief, not a comfortable combination during the era, and one that eventually created a fair amount of trouble for him. Early in his career, he penned dime novels which painted highly romantic visions of the West. As the years went by, his own life evolved into a story fit for one of the novels; his life began to mirror the fiction he wrote.

Powell was born in Kentucky in 1847 to a Scottish doctor and the granddaughter of a Seneca chief. After his father's death, his mother moved her three sons to New York State, then to Omaha, and eventually to Lone Tree, Nebraska, on the Platte River. Powell studied to be a druggist in Chicago and Omaha, then switched
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to medicine at the University of Louisville, finishing at the top of his class. Immediately upon graduation, he contracted with the US Army to serve as a surgeon in the frontier army. After a multitude of adventures, close calls, and even a blacklisting, Powell left the military to practice medicine and sell his patent medicines in Lanesboro, Minnesota, and after 1881, in La Crosse. By this point, he had acquired the name "White Beaver," an honorific bestowed on him by a Cut-off Sioux chief named Rocky Bear, whose daughter Powell had saved from a dire illness.

Powell's years in La Crosse are well documented and incredibly colorful. He established a heavily advertised medical office and store at the corner of 2nd and Main Streets. The office was always open to the Winnebago tribe and did a thriving business, due in large part to his vast knowledge of Indian homeopathy. He promised "No Cure, No Pay," but marketed his practice by paying for "news stories" about himself in the local papers. An expert self-promoter, Powell rode a wave of popularity all the way to the mayor's office. Elected as an independent first in 1885, and in three more cycles over the following decade, Powell managed to give voice to many of the community's disenfranchised, including the immigrant labor force. He is said to have had the concerns of the common man at heart, but his combative and complex
<i>A Legend in His Own Time:</i> Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver" Marker, from the west image. Click for full size.
November 12, 2021
2. A Legend in His Own Time: Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver" Marker, from the west
character fomented unease and dissent. Ultimately, the incessant ideological battles and power struggles waged between Powell, his detractors, party contemporaries, and even his brothers undermined his political base. By 1899 Powell saw his political fortunes sink and decided to seek a new life out West. He invested in a copper mine and lumber mill at Grand Encampment, Wyoming, but lost everything in a devastating fire on the property in 1900. A subsequent mining venture failed, and at the end of his life, most of Powell's fortune was gone. He died in 1906 of a heart attack, and his ashes are scattered near Cody, Wyoming.

This park at the corner of West Avenue and Jackson Street was once the property of Doc Powell and his brother William. In the 1880s it was a sandlot baseball field known as the West Avenue Playground. By 1898 the playground was owned by the two brothers and referred to as Powell's Field. Frank sponsored a team called "The Beavers," and in keeping with Frank's reputation for excessive finery, the team had what were widely regarded as the fanciest uniforms in town. In 1909 the City of La Crosse purchased the lot, reframing it as a park and continuing its recreational use to the present day.

Photo captions:
Mayor Frank Powell. Doc Powell had strong populist leanings, which led him into politics and his election as mayor
<i>A Legend in His Own Time:</i> Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver" Marker, from the east image. Click for full size.
November 12, 2021
3. A Legend in His Own Time: Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver" Marker, from the east
four times between 1885 and 1895. He is credited with showing "an evenhanded treatment for all the people of La Cross." Courtesy of the La Crosse Public Library Archives

Portrait of William Cody, Frank Powell, and Unknown Boy, 1890s. "Buffalo Bill" Cody and his "blood brother" Powell shared an extremely close friendship that endured for decades. Powell traveled with Cody and his "Wild West Show" several times, including the 1887 trip to England as part of the country's delegation to Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Celebration. Powell was featured in these shows as a crack marksman. Courtesy Murphy Library Special Collection Unity of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Cover of "White Beaver's March, 1884, by William Doerflinger. Doerflinger was a close friend and admirer of Powell and dedicated this piano-scored composition to his friend at the height of Powell's local popularity. Courtesy Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Powell Place, former location of Doc Powell's office, 2nd and Main. The drinking fountain to your right was a gift from Frank Powell to the City in 1890. Among the carvings on its base are a beaver and the Sioux expression for White Beaver, "Lob ska ka." The fountain was originally located across the street from Powell's office. Courtesy Murphy Library Special Collections,
Powell Park image. Click for full size.
November 12, 2021
4. Powell Park
University of Wisconsin La-Crosse.

Interior View of Frank Powell's Office and Store, 1893. Powell's integration of Native medicine into his practice concerned local physicians and led to accusations of quackery. Powell responded with "news" stories about himself and his incredible skill with firearms, and decorated his office with Native artifacts and medical curiosities. Courtesy Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

White Beaver's Wonder Worker. Also known as "Yosemite Yarrow," this alcohol-chloroform-opium nostrum was one of several that built both Powell's wealth and reputation. The varied symptoms for which it promised relief are listed and include everything from cramps to chilblains. Courtesy John J. Satory

Erected by City of La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, MusicNative AmericansParks & Recreational AreasScience & Medicine. A significant historical year for this entry is 1847.
Location. 43° 48.024′ N, 91° 14.404′ W. Marker is in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in La Crosse County. Marker is at the intersection of West Avenue South (State Highway 35) and Johnson Street, on the right when traveling south
Drinking Fountain image. Click for full size.
November 12, 2021
5. Drinking Fountain
A gift from Dr. Frank Powell to La Crosse in 1890.
on West Avenue South. The marker is located in the southeast corner of Powell Park in La Crosse. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1106 West Avenue, La Crosse WI 54601, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. 10th and Jackson (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); 15th and Winnebago (approx. 0.4 miles away); 9th and Ferry (approx. 0.4 miles away); 6th and Hood (approx. half a mile away); 11th and Cameron (approx. half a mile away); 15th and Madison (approx. half a mile away); Dedicated to the Memory of Veterans of the Civil War (approx. 0.7 miles away); "Get into the game!" (approx. 0.7 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in La Crosse.
Additional keywords. A Legend in His Own Time: Dr D. Franklin Powell, or "White Beaver"
Credits. This page was last revised on November 16, 2021. It was originally submitted on November 15, 2021. This page has been viewed 411 times since then and 87 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on November 15, 2021. • J. Makali Bruton was the editor who published this page.

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Apr. 17, 2024