Archeology Month 4: The Country Doctor

Posted by : admin | On : October 28, 2011

By Peggy Smith
Henderson County Historical Society

I thought I would wrap up archeology month with the country doctor. The Henderson County Historical Museum in Athens houses several artifacts that have been found pertaining to medicine. In the course of history medicine has evolved greatly from blood-letting and surgery without anesthesia often until the end of the 19th century. Examinations included a general observation of the body, using the stethoscope or the analysis of blood. Other treatments included diet instructions, rest, baths, massage, blistering specific areas of the body, sweating, hand mixed medicines, or a host of creams. Surgery was done in someone home, a doctor’s office (if he was lucky enough to have one) or in a hospital in large cities. These hospitals didn’t have the best sanitary conditions either. Risk of infection from surgery or asphyxiation from chloroform was high.
A doctor generally rode out on his horse or buggy to treat patients. They could check on the whole family while there since it was a long ride to each home in the country. Many people did not have money to pay the doctor so they would compensate him with something they had made, grown, or some service the doctor might need himself.

The doctor must have the knowledge of mixing drugs together. He mixed liquids and powders. He would put the powders in a small rolled up paper or envelope and give instructions like any druggist of today.

The Apothecary was considered a doctor early in the century since they treated ailments as well as mixing potions. The Apothecary sometimes grew their own plants and a “secret formula” often included alcohol.

The Drug Store was rare in the country but with towns and cities popping up by the railroad they began showing up in the back of grocery stores, in with the doctor’s medical practice, or sometimes in a larger town as an individual store. Stores in the area included the Stirman Drug Store in Athens, H.L. Flagg and Allen & Hoover in Malakoff, Stuart & Gray in Chandler, A.J. Cook in Eustace, W.A. Palmer in Larue, E.F. Huddle in Murchison, The Rose Drug Store in Poynor, The Burtis Drug Store in Frankston.

Many doctors came to our fine republic before it even was one. Alexander W. Ewing, Thomas R. Erwin and Jack Shackelford were here before 1836. Anderson and Henderson Counties split off from Houston and Nacogdoches Counties and attracted more doctors.

In the Fincastle community was Dr. S.E. Campbell and Dr. B.P. Adams. They cured ills all over the area and had a combination doctor’s office and drug store when the town was booming in the mid 1800’s. In the Baxter community was Dr. William Richardson. In New York there was Dr. T.H. Hall, Sr. Just down the road in Larue, where the railroad came through, was Dr. B.C. Wallace and Dr. W.E. Campbell. I have been told that Dr. Wallace delivered my mother and her brothers. Murchison gave us Dr. E.F. Huddle and Z.N. Thornton. If you remember E.F. Huddle also had the drug store there. Dr. D.O. Jeter practiced for a while in Kaufman, but then moved to Murchison for the remainder of his career. Malakoff had J.K. Webster, J.L. Evans and J.F. Merritt.

Two sons of William Foster Moss became doctors. They lived in Fosterville, practiced medicine there and in Poynor before moving. G.H. Moss moved to Frankston and practiced medicine, loving the community and is given credit for performing the first appendectomy in Anderson County on his front porch. Wow! M.M. Moss married Malena Milner and moved to Brownsboro where he lived and died. The story is that he came home from taking care of someone and never got back up.

Dr. M.A. King practiced medicine in Poynor before going to Frankston. He practiced above the drug store in Frankston before moving to Hwy 175 and then to his office on Main Street. He gave more bottles of pink medicine than you could count. We hated it but it sure worked. Dr. Ayres also practiced in Frankston. He came from Tennessee by way of Mississippi.

In Chandler we have Dr. R.L. Belcher, Dr. A.T. Bryant and R.L. Gray. R.L. Gray practiced medicine in the Stuart & Gray Drug Store. In Brownsboro Dr. S.H. Dickerson, Dr. Bud Wells and Dr. Arthur Horton practiced medicine. Dr. Wells began his practice in the Shady Grove area, moved to Murchison and then to Brownsboro. His cousin Arthur Horton moved to the Brownsboro area and made a name for himself helping as a county health doctor. He volunteered in the New London disaster.

Athens had many doctors settle there since it was the county seat. Dr. W.C. Larkin was among the first. His son Dr. Percy Larkin was well loved by the community. Dr. J.K. Webster came to Texas with his parents in 1871 and he eventually settled in Athens. Dr. A.H. Easterling was another who found his home in Athens. There are too many others to name.

The country doctor was loved or hated but always overworked because he had such a large area to cover to serve his patients. Many lived modest lives because people didn’t have much money to pay for services, but the country doctor always had food to eat and help with whatever needed to be repaired at home. I hope you will visit the museum on Prairieville Street in Athens. Curator Sarah Brown will welcome you and show you many treasures from our past.

Thank you, Peggy Smith, Henderson County Historical Commission