El Dorado 150: 'The Great Indian Doctor' Nancy Griggs

Deanna Bonn
Butler County Times Gazette
Courtesy of the Butler County Historical Society Home of the Kansas Oil Museum
AO Griggs Grocery 1883
A large sign above A.O. Griggs Grocery store advertises "Mrs. Nancy Griggs Great Indian Remedies," circa 1883.

Celebrating 150 Years in El Dorado with "The Great Indian Doctor" Nancy Griggs, who, according to an article in the Walnut Valley Times in 1895, was described as a woman who “...came of that sturdy, rugged pioneer stock, whose indomitable will, honesty and courage laid the foundation of this nation and paved the way, through untold hardships for a civilization, the broadest and highest in the worlds history. This was the atmosphere in which she was reared and these were the environments in which she grew to womanhood.”

According to her obituary published on page 5 of the Butler County Democrat in El Dorado, Kansas, on May 5, 1911, she was born Nancy Johnson, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on December 24, 1828. However, her headstone shows her date of birth as December 22, 1828. She died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. W.P. Bradley in El Dorado, on Thursday, April 20, 1911, after months of sickness.

Mrs. Nancy Griggs in a photo appearing in the 1895 Pioneer Edition of the Walnut Valley Times.

Nancy Griggs lived 82 years, 3 months and 26 days. Between those two dates she lived a pretty incredible life. The podcast series “Celebrating 150 Years in El Dorado” airs on Wednesday at 12 p.m. on KBTL 88.1 will be sharing stories from the life of this remarkable woman on this week’s episode, “The Great Indian Doctor.”

Nancy Griggs first arrived in what is now Butler County, as Nancy Cowley, when Kansas was still a territory, in the fall of 1857. At that time, she was married to Mathew Cowley.

The Cowleys first settled in Little Walnut township. They later found that it was part of a a Native American reservation and in the winter of 1858 moved two miles north of El Dorado on the West Branch. Within a few years of settling there, Matthew Cowley enlisted in the Civil War and served as First Lieutenant in the 9th Kansas Cavalry. He died in Little Rock, Arkansas, in August, 1864, of typhoid fever. At that time, Kansas Territory was home to several tribes of Native Americans who were at war with each other — and with the incoming settlers.

An advertisement identifying Mrs. Nancy Griggs, M.D. as the Great Indian Doctor.

According to reports, Griggs won their confidence, ministered to their sick, fed the hungry and became famous among them. She acquired a practical knowledge of their use of herbs as medicine and became adept in their application. She studied nature and nature's remedies and went on to marry Albert (A.O.) Griggs on October 25, 1874.

Following their marriage, Nancy moved her healing practice into town. Mr. Griggs owned Griggs Grocery which, according to the El Dorado City Directory of 1885, was located at 129 N Main in El Dorado. In a photo taken around 1885, a large sign on top of Griggs’store advertised the services of Nancy Griggs: “Mrs. Nancy Griggs Great Indian Remedies.” “The Great Indian Doctor,” will air this Wednesday at 12 p.m. on KBTL 88.1 and following that airing, it will be available on the Everyday El Dorado podcast.