“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” is the motto traditionally associated with the postal service, but it can just as aptly be applied to the country doctors of Indian Territory.
Like any new territory, southeastern Oklahoma desperately needed qualified physicians and a few arrived here from the east. However, there were also hordes of “quacks” because before 1900 Oklahoma had no legal mechanism for evaluating the qualifications of doctors, dentists, or pharmacists. “Diploma mills” such as the Twentieth Century Physio-Medical College operated in Guthrie (1900-1904) held no classes, but issued diplomas anyway.
The Indian Territory Medical Association, organized in Muskogee, I.T. on April 18-19, 1881, vigorously campaigned for testing and licensing, and by the time of statehood accomplished their goal. A federal law regulated medical practice in Indian Territory beginning in 1903, and most of the quacks were put out of business. This pioneer organization was the forerunner and foundation for all the regular medical associations in Oklahoma.
Members of the new association and their courageous colleagues returned the medical profession to its highest levels and devoted their lives to relieving the sickness and suffering of their patients. They served their communities at all hours of the day and night and went wherever they were needed. Dr. J. B. Jones advertised that he could be found at his office/residence “at all hours, day or night, unless professionally absent.” Doctors traveled on foot, horseback, and by buggy, despite the weather or lack of roads. Here is a fee schedule published in the Herald in 1874:
April 3, 1874
The following is a fee bill adopted by the physicians of Blue and Atoka counties, Choctaw Nation:
For an ordinary visit in town, $2.50
For an ordinary night visit after 9 o’clock, $3.00
For a visit to the country, per mile, $1.00
Office Prescription, $2.00 to $5.00
Obstetrical case, ordinary, $15.00
TERMS- As we are dependent upon our practice for our living our terms hereafter will be STRICTLY cash or its equivalent when visits are made or the case discharged.
T. J. Bond, M. D. – Boggy Depot
J. H. Moore, M. D. – Boggy Depot
I. W. Folsom, M. D.-Atoka
J. B. Jones, M. D. – Caddo
C. J. Williams, M. D. – Caddo
One has to admire Dr. Moore for his shrewd business sense. An ad in the same paper shows that he was not totally dependent on his medical skills for income:
J. H. Moore, M.D., Physician & Surgeon, Boggy Depot, C. N.
Dealer in drugs, medicines, chemicals, paints, oils, varnishes, glass, putty, etc. Wines and liquors for medicinal use. Dye woods and dye stuffs. Medicines warranted genuine and of the best quality. Customers will find stock complete, comprising many articles it is impossible here to enumerate and all sold cheap.
Other doctors in Indian Territory had pharmacy or sundry businesses. Dr. Jones was known in Caddo for the fine cigars that he sold. Dr. Rushing owned the Corner Drug store in Durant. Dr. Wells moved to Calera in 1907 and bought Sterrett Drug, which he owned until just before his death in 1946. And if more patients had purchased some of the patent medicines of the times, perhaps few would have needed the services of a physician. In 1894 Mul-en-ol promised a “complete cure” of cramps, colic, dysentery, diarrhea, cholera morbus and “all complaints of children.” Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was the cure for all ailments suffered by the women of 1907. And surely no one could resist druggist W. F. Wood’s offer: “I sell Dr. Thurmond’s Catarrh and Blood Syrup. No cure, no pay.”
Many country doctors worked with only minimal equipment, especially when they traveled on horseback. They did surgery by candlelight or lamp light. In 1879 The Caddo Herald reported that Dr. Thompson and Dr. McCoy amputated the toe of a young man after a barrel of water fell on his foot. Seldom near the conveniences of a hospital, they delivered countless babies, treated everything from snake bites to shotgun wounds, and battled the plagues of smallpox, typhoid, and influenza.
In 1899, Dr. Shannon, of the board of health, put Durant under quarantine because of smallpox. Doctors also served as friends and counselors, advisors and community leaders, and you’ll find their names on the rosters of many local organizations. Despite the fact that they were often lenient about collecting their fees, they donated money to many worthy causes.
In the years before statehood, Bryan County had a plethora of physicians. In fact the Herald complained sarcastically in 1894 “Caddo needs a few more doctors. We only have five.” In addition to those previously mentioned, other early local physicians included Dr. G. M. Rushing, Dr. James L. Shuler, Dr. W. L. Kendall, Dr. A. C. Crank, Dr. Oliphant, Dr. Burk, Dr. Yeats, Dr. Haynes, Dr. J. E. Coyle, Dr. J. A. Humphrey, Dr. J. C. Terrell, Dr. Gerond, Dr. Hurley, Dr. Green, Dr. Darbison, Dr. McClendon, Dr. McCoy, Dr. Rappolee, Dr. Wells, Dr. T. J. Long, Dr. Bowman, Dr. J. B. Sims, and Dr. Melton. Most doctors were listed as a “physician and surgeon” or “osteopath.” However, Doctor Humphrey was an “eye, ear, nose, and throat” doctor, while Dr. Green specialized in “diseases of women.” Until 1946, Dr. Rushing was the oldest practicing physician in Durant, having begun his practice in 1879.
An early president of the Indian Territory Medical Association was Caddo’s respected physician, Dr. Leroy Long, who moved to the community in 1895. One of his biographers, Basil A. Hayes, called him the “greatest figure in Oklahoma medical history.” He was an eloquent speaker and frequently addressed the group on a variety of topics. At a meeting in Muskogee in 1900, President Long recommended that “plans be formulated to secure congressional legislation for the establishment of some modern methods of caring for the insane and feeble-minded and for dealing with tuberculosis.” He also served with Dr. Hailey of McAlester and Dr. Hendrix of Goodland as the Choctaw Medical Board for 1900. Physicians were required to comply with the laws of the Choctaw Nation and were warned that “those who fail to do so will be reported to the United States Indian Agent as intruders.”
Indian Territory doctors were a tough breed, but they were often in jeopardy because of their professions. They not only traveled to remote areas and worked in all kinds of weather, but they were also privy to some dangerous family secrets and called to many crimes scenes. They routinely dealt with alcoholics and drug addicts. They treated the seriously depressed and the criminally insane. In 1878 Dr. J. B. Jones was gunned down at the Caddo Depot by Wiley Stewart, who accused the doctor of “turning him in” to the marshals. Dr. Dickey was listed as a member of the posse that searched for the notorious Gerald Bryant, who murdered Deputy United States Marshal Ab McLellan in 1894. Dr. Rushing was stabbed in 1905 by the young son of a man with whom he was arguing.
Apparently he had nine lives because in 1914 he was also nearly killed in an automobile accident while returning from Dallas with Dr. Yeats and Dr. Haynes. Dr. Dickey was wounded in a fight with E. R. Settles during a poker game in 1906. He ended up shooting and killing Settles and was charged with manslaughter, but later acquitted by a jury after only ten minutes of deliberation.
Of course one of the most rewarding duties of a country doctor was delivering babies. Sometimes the baby they delivered was their own: “December 14, 1875, Born: It’s a girl and weighs 11 ½ lbs. and adds one more to the Jones family. The old woman says the doctor is doing as well as could be expected.”
Medical education underwent many changes during the years before statehood and country doctors were expected to keep up with the latest practices and discoveries. The primary training for Territory physicians was the two-year program offered by the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine which opened in Norman in 1900. In 1910 the school merged with the Epworth College of Medicine, which also trained pharmacists and dentists. Robert F. Williams became the dean of the new four-year program and the school relocated to Oklahoma City. It wasn’t long before the new school was turning out many more fine doctors and several set up their practices in Bryan County. In the next installment of our look back at the history of medicine we’ll take a closer look at some of the physicians who served the area from 1910 to 1950.
Mary E. Maurer has previously written historical features for the Democrat.