“Dr. Till of Somerset”


"We took a trip to Somerset not very long ago.... Our health it was so poorly, We thought that we would try That doctor there at Somerset For he was all the cry." Doctor Till can cure cancer without a knife; his treatments are worth a "California mine."


I know of no real evidence that this song was traditional, but it was written by folk for folk, and managed to be remembered after some seventy years, so I've included it.

John Till, according to Wyman, was born in Austria and came to Wisconsin as a lumberjack. He apparently had only two remedies, an ointment and a plaster, which he used for everything. He did not call himself a doctor, and did not charge directly for his remedies (though he accepted donations). But enough people swore by his cures that this song was written -- and enough people called him a quack that a newspaper wrote an expose and he ended up in prison, going back to Austria in 1922 (though he came back to the United States late in life, dying in Kiel, Wisconsin in 1922).

Frankly, his cures sound more frightening that death to me. But what do I know about truth -- I actually believe that facts actually mean something.

Somerset, Wisconsin is a small town not far from the Minnesota border. It's about 15 miles northeast of Stillwater, the town in which the anti-Till article was published in 1907. - RBW


  1. ADDITIONAL: Walker D. Wyman, _Wisconsin Folklore_, University of Wisconsin Extension (?), 1979, pp. 35-36, "Dr. Till" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, WyWF046


Author: Words: D. Adams / Music: W. Broughton
Earliest date: 1979 (Wyman); reportedly written 1907
Keywords: doctor disease
Found in: US(MW)