York Powwow Doctor Said to Have Largest Practice in Pennsylvania
Powwow healing was very much a custom in York County well up into the twentieth century. There still may be some “powwow doctors” in the traditionally Pennsylvania Dutch (Pennsylvania German) counties, including York County. Powwow seems to be a word borrowed from Indians to describe the German Brauche, which means custom, because of somewhat similar customs in the two groups of using incantations and herbs for healing.
Rather unflattering national attention was focused on York County during the 1929 so-called “Hex” trial of three young men for the murder of a local powwower while stealing his copy of John George Hohman’s Long Lost Friend, a book of powwows. Some of the stories of the trial for the murder of the “witch” painted us as a superstitious lot.
Dr. David Kreibel, who has written articles and a recent scholarly book on powwowing, speculates that even though braucherei continued to be practiced after the trial, Hohman’s book was used less, perhaps because of the bad press.
I would have thought that powwowing as a whole would have been done more quietly in York County after 1929, so I was surprised to see a lengthy obituary for a “‘pow wow ‘ practitioner” prominently published as a news article, instead of with other obituaries, in the July 29, 1934 York Dispatch. It is partially transcribed below:
Lifeless Body of Andrew C. Lenhart, “Word Healer” Is Discovered by Daughter
‘Dr.’ Andrew C. Lenhart, whose reputation as a ‘pow wow’ practitioner and ‘word healer’ brought him almost national notoriety, died suddenly this morning from heat prostration. His lifeless body was found about 8:45 o’clock by his only daughter, Mrs. Alverta Abendschoen, at whose home, 161 East Cottage place, he resided recently. The deceased was 75 years old.”
Dr. A. C. Sorenson and the coroner, Dr. L.U. Zech “issued a statement that Mr. Lenhart was a victim of the heat.”
The article continues:
“‘Dr.’ Lenhart was reported by members of his family to have engaged in the healing arts for approximately 40 years. He was reputed by reliable sources to have at one time enjoyed the widest practice of any unlicensed physician in Pennsylvania. Mr. Lenhart was the central figure in controversies with the medical profession and the state board of medical licensure. He was accused on several occasions of having engaged in the illegal practice of surgery and medicine in Pennsylvania but he was never convicted of such a charge.”
The article concludes by listing his other survivors.
I was taken aback by the suggestion that he may have practiced surgery, as I have never heard that associated with powwowing. Perhaps that wording was just part of a formal charge of practicing medicine without a license.
These links will take you to previous powwow connected posts.
Powwow charm found in York County shotgun.
“Hex” murder defendant became artist in prison.
I welcome any comments–any experiences you may have had or heard about local powwowing.