Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby

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Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby
Born Anna Pierce
1808 or 1812
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or Tennessee
Died 1869 or 1873
Rock Creek, Hardin County, Illinois
Nationality American
Occupation midwife, herbologist, doctor

Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby, born Anna Pierce (1812–1873), was a midwife, herbologist, and frontier doctor in southern Illinois.[1] She discovered that white snakeroot, (Ageratina altissima) contains a toxin. When cattle consume the plant, their meat and milk become contaminated and cause the sometimes fatal condition milk sickness. One of the most notable and tragic cases of the "milk sickness," was that of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of Abraham Lincoln, who died at 34 years old in 1818.

Early life[edit]

Anna was the daughter of farmers, who had moved from Philadelphia and settled in Southeastern Illinois, close to what would become the village of Rock Creek. After finishing school, Anna travelled to Philadelphia to train in midwifery and dentistry, but on her return to Illinois she became the only physician in her county, and consequently, a general practitioner for her community. Others claimed, she was a midwife, from Tennessee, married to her first husband, Isaac Hobbs.

Research on milk sickness[edit]

She became much interested in the milk sickness, which was causing a good deal of fatality among both people and calves, including Anna's mother and sister.[2] Noting the seasonal nature of the disease, and the fact that sheep and goat milk were not affected she reasoned that the cause must be a poisonous herb. However, she was unable to determine the precise cause until she was shown the White Snakeroot by a medicine woman of the Shawnee tribe.

Experiments on a calf confirmed the toxic effect of Snakeroot. However despite her efforts it was not until 1928 (55 years after her death) that research confirming her discovery was published. Her position as a frontier doctor and a woman would have made it hard for her to gain respect from the medical profession of the time.

Eson Bixby and his criminal activities[edit]

After Isaac Hobbs died, Anna Pierce married her second husband, Eson Bixby, who turned out to be a notorious outlaw, around the region of Cave-In-Rock, on the Ohio River.


According to local legend, Anna Bixby left a treasure trove concealed in a cave, named after her. The treasure is supposedly, buried in Rock Creek, Hardin County, Illinois and has never been found. A historical marker has been mounted in Anna Bixby's honor in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, near her home. Also in southern Illinois, the Anna Bixby Women's Center in Harrisburg, Illinois gives shelter and services to area abused women and children.


  1. ^ Bailey, Laurel (1996). "Dr. Anna and the Fight for the Milksick". Illinois History. Retrieved 5 May 2013.  Citing
    Kelly A. Cichy, Women Meet the Challenge in Southern Illinois History;
    Lowell A. Dearinger, "Dr. Anna and the Milksick," Outdoor Illinois (March 1967);
    Lowell A. Dearinger, "Free-Fer-Alls and Cornbread," Outdoor Illinois (October 1963);
    William D. Snivelyand Louanna Furbee, "Discoverer of the Cause of Milk Sickness," Journal of the American Medical Association (June 1966)."
  2. ^ Tabler, Dave. "The curse of Milk Sickness".  (Citing
    "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-20. Retrieved 2013-05-05.
    National Institutes of Health bulletin, Issue 56 By National Institute of Health (U.S.), Hygienic Laboratory (U.S.)
    1985 DANIEL DRAKE SYMPOSIUM syllabus; online at;jsessionid=90E5D6EEF7C667AE0DF5733A41C70095?sequence=1
    The Western journal of medicine and surgery, Volume 3, edited by Daniel Drake, Lunsford Pitts Yandell, Prentice & Weissinger, 1841"

Further reading[edit]

  • Hall, Elihu Nicholas. Anna's War Against River Pirates and Cave Bandits of John A. Murrell's Northern Dive. Unpublished manuscripts in Southern Illinois University Rare Book Collections. Revised and published as Ballads From the Bluffs. 1948.

External links[edit]