Historical Events

Steward confirms that Dr Romig was a highly skilled doctor and that his discoveries about native peoples and nutrition were true.

Letters from Benjamin D. Steward and Reverend Henry H. Chapman

Benjamin D. Stewart, of Sitka, Alaska, is a retired territorial commissioner of mines, now past eighty, who knew Romig in his middle years. I sent him for comment the Price interview of 1933, including the statement that Romig was a surgeon of great skill and that he was “the best loved man in all Alaska.” Mr. Stewart replied February 6, 1958:

“As to my first-hand knowledge of Dr. Romig, I can confirm all of the good things said of him in the extracts you sent ... I knew him well during the time he was in charge of the Railway Hospital in Anchorage and later when he was for a time practicing privately in Seward. In fact I called on him to help me recover [from a heart attack] ... I have always believed [that he] actually saved my life. Naturally I have always looked upon him as a highly skilled doctor ... There is no doubt he was widely beloved and that he was regarded as the outstanding doctor in Southwestern Alaska.”

The second letter on Romig is from the Reverend Henry H. Chapman, rector of St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea, Sitka, who wrote September 8, 1958:

“My father was a missionary of the Episcopal Church at Anvik, Alaska. I was born in Anvik, in 1895. The native people of that area are [Athapaska] Indians. My acquaintance with Dr. Romig dates from the years 1923-27 when I was in charge of the Episcopal Church at Fairbanks. Dr. Romig was my physician, surgeon and friend during those years. At that time the Episcopal Church maintained a boarding school for Indian boys and girls at Nenana, 65 miles south of Fairbanks. Dr. Romig used to visit the mission periodically examining the children in the school ... always without charge.”

This is the sort of man and physician it was who told Dr. Price in 1933 that “he had never seen a case of malignant disease among the truly primitive Eskimos and Indians, although it frequently occurs when they become modernized.” Confirming this to me in 1940, Dr. Romig further indicated, both then and later, that he looked upon cancer as nonracial in its selection of victims. He thought it certainly environmental in its cause, and probably nutritional.

Romig thought it interesting to compare malignancies with other troubles that were extremely rare, if found at all, among the primitive Athapaskans and Eskimos of southwestern Alaska around 1900. What some of these rare or missing diseases and troubles were we here set down alphabetically from two sources, the extended text of the Price interview [from which we earlier extracted the quoted remarks on cancer], and then the 1948 paper which Romig submitted in first draft as a contribution to our Encyclopedia Arctica. According to Romig, the very rare or missing nutrition-linked difficulties of the pre-Europeanization time were these, among others: appendicitis, arthritis, beri-beri, cancer, caries (dental), constipation, corpulence, diabetes, epilepsy, gall stones, gastric ulcer, hypertension, night blindness, pellagra, rheumatism, rickets, and scurvy.

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