Hidden History: The quack of Quenemo

By Wendi Bevitt

At the turn of the 20th century, Quenemo was on the rise. The Missouri Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads were constructed through town not long before, and the population and businesses started growing. And then someone arrived in town that propelled this little town’s fame throughout the Midwest – Orrin Robertson.

Orrin Robertson, along with his twin sister, Ann, was born in Missouri in 1858 to parents Jefferson and Martha. The family moved to Texas where he became a local newspaper editor. His sister died in 1885 of tuberculosis and this no doubt influenced the turn that his life took shortly thereafter.

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Orrin pursued healing through medicine, but not just mainstream medical practices. He supposedly collected more than 31 diplomas from institutions in America and Europe in subjects such as psychic therapeutics, personal magnetism, psychology, metaphysics, oriental mystics, spiritual science and philosophy. He became the self-proclaimed “old reliable specialist, discoverer, originator and founder of Anthropology, the Pneumo (respiration)-Psycho(spirit)-Manas (mind)-Soma (body) System”.

Using these credentials, Orrin began setting up health-oriented institutions known as “Anthropological Non-Surgical Sanitariums” in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. He established his sanitarium at Quenemo in 1901. This campus consisted of three main buildings, with the primary building being constructed for a cost of $10,000.

During the patient’s stay at the sanitarium, qualified staff would cater to their needs, free from worries of home. The patients would benefit from state of the art technology and techniques and healthy meals. The sanitarium’s buildings could provide services for up to 300 patients.

The facility specialized in chronic cases, such as gallstones, curing them with various non-invasive techniques. One preferred treatment was Dr. Robertson’s Seven Sacred Oils. These oils reportedly were obtained from seven different climates and intended for use on seven different zones of the body, to be administered at seven-minute intervals. This grouping of sevens was integral to Robertson’s successful treatment.

Of course, there were those that opposed his ideas and called him a “quack”. One even went so far as to say about Roberson’s methods, “It causes the thoughtful to wonder whether the average intelligence in 1914 is above that found in the days when magicians, witches, gnomes and fairies were established institutions.”

The campus was not only for those seeking relief from their ailments, but also housed the American University of Anthropology. The university would award diplomas in the degrees offered to paying students. The institution circulated a monthly Journal of Anthropology. This publication would discuss the science used within the sanitarium and answer concerns raised by its opponents.

Despite the critiques to the contrary, Dr. Robertson claimed that in the 7,318 cases he treated from 1901 to 1904, there were only 21 deaths. The New England Journal of Medicine states that out of 100,00 deaths in 1900, 1,100 were caused by chronic illnesses. Treatments at the sanitarium must have been beneficial, if the doctor’s boasts are to be believed.

Haunted by two failed marriages and increasing financial problems during the time he was at Quenemo, Dr. Robertson moved on to start another sanitarium in Kansas City, then to Agra, Okla., and finally to Arkansas City, Kan.

In 1912, Quenemo citizens attempted to rejuvenate the dwindling economy lost after Robertson moved on by encouraging the doctor’s return and an incorporation of nearby mineral springs with his treatment. However, Robertson’s return was not to occur, as his increasing financial troubles and the bankruptcy of his Arkansas City sanitarium sent him on the run from creditors and the law.

He found a chance to practice his non-invasive medicine one more time in Chariton, Iowa, at the Vita-O-Pathic Non-Surgical Sanitarium, and kept that job until he returned to Kansas for the last time. He died in 1933 in Wichita.

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Sanitarium photo provided by Osage County Historical Society; Robertson photo and sanitarium drawing from Topeka Daily Capital, Aug., 28, 1904.


wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She has lived in Osage County for 18 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.


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