This article doesn’t focus on the politics of medicine, but it must begin with a basic understanding of the times. If statehood brought better education and regulation to the medical field, it also firmly established a concept that would affect the health and welfare of generations of Oklahomans.
The new legislature quickly set about to ensure that mixing of the races would not be tolerated. Jim Crow laws affecting education, marriage, and travel also created two major medical problems for black residents: a shortage of black doctors and sub-standard health care. In the early years when doctors were organizing into district medical associations, Caddo’s own Dr. LeRoy Long signed a document stating that “no Negro shall be eligible to membership.” Some hospitals had separate wings or entrances for blacks. Some clinics treated blacks only on certain days.
There were many all-black communities in Oklahoma and residents fared better there. However, even as late as 1967 the Journal of the National Medical Association reported that “only 2% of all physicians are black.” At that time Oklahoma had 30 and Texas had 135.
Doctors of this area formed “The Physicians Business Association” in 1905 and included Drs. Skillern and Clark of Millburn, Dr. Seely from Emet, Drs. Skeen, Stephens, and Loomis from Wapanucka, Dr. King of Nail, Dr. Dickey from Folsom, and Dr. Cranfill, Reagan. The formation of such groups led to many changes in patient care and in charges for services. But despite the changes, the basic job requirements of the general practitioner remained the same for decades: be available at all hours, travel wherever needed, treat any illness or injury. Doctors battled smallpox, meningitis, typhoid, measles, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, rabies, and influenza. The “house call” was the standard of service and Bokchito’s Dr. W. L. Moore set a fine example in 1915 when he delivered three babies in less than ten hours, traveling an average of 15 miles between each delivery, and in the rain! He delivered the child of Mrs. Toy Tigner of Albany, then drove his jeep to Bokchito to deliver a baby for Mrs. Gene Smith, then home to a quick lunch, and off to Bennington to the bedside of Mrs. George Williams.
Of course, the record holder for baby deliveries might be Caddo’s Dr. Roy L. Cochran. In 1954 his friends honored him with a surprise party for his 64th birthday. At that time he had been Caddo’s doctor for 35 years and had delivered 3,500 babies. It was not unusual for him to travel 50 miles to treat a patient.
As in earlier years, there were still a few charlatans and patent medicine salesmen traveling the country peddling their wares and practicing somewhat questionable medicine. In 1939 Dr. Rea advertised “One Day Only, Free Consultation-Examination, Royal Hotel, Caddo.” Dr. Rea represented “Medical Laboratory, Minneapolis, Minnesota,” and specialized in “stomach and intestinal diseases.” There were also some legitimate specialists who offered their services on specific days or held clinics in some of the larger towns. It was up to the patient to decide if a visit to an unknown doctor was worth the risks.
Most physicians were active members of community organizations, leaders in their churches, and members of medical organizations. Many were also veterans. Dr. Armstrong was a major in the U.S. Medical Officers Reserve. Dr. Coker was in the Navy for seven years. Dr. Baker received two Bronze Stars in the medical corps during WWII. One of the most active doctors in the county was Dr. A. J. Wells of Calera. In addition to several medical positions, he was City Treasurer for fifteen years, and awarded the Selective Service Medal for his “civilian services in both world wars.”
A few doctors had notable hobbies. Dr. Blount loved hunting in Idaho and Mexico. Dr. Hyde enjoyed playing golf. Dr. Dickey raised mules. Dr. Colwick was one of “Durant’s most ardent supporters of local athletics.” Dr. Houser had a citrus farm in the Rio Grande Valley. The editor of the Durant newspaper implied in 1932 that Dr. Houser’s real hobby was the consumption of good food. In an article about an impromptu eating contest at the Houser residence he said, “… the writer, living next door … and knowing them rather well, is bold to assert that Dr. Houser himself ate more than both the other two combined, but was impelled by modesty not to put in a claim as winner…”
In 1945 Durant had 13 physician/surgeons, 2 osteopaths, 1 chiropractor, 7 dentists, 1 optometrist, 2 occulists, and 3 veterinarians. Some of those doctors were: A. T. Baker, W. T. Blount, B. B. Coker, J. T. Colwick, W. K. Haynie, W. A. Houser, W. A. Hyde, Maurice Huckins, C. F. Moore, C. G. Price, R. E. Sawyer, and P. F. Smith. Osteopaths included Dr. Fisher, Mervine, and Noble. Perhaps best known at the time were Drs. Colwick and Haynie because they also managed their own clinics. Dr. W. A. Hyde came from Galveston in 1940 to work at the Colwick Clinic. He was later the first chief of staff of Bryan Memorial Hospital.
Durant had several hospitals and clinics in the past. On August 1, 1927, Dr. R. E. Sawyer held an open house for his new and modern Evergreen Sanitarium, a twenty-five bed facility on West Evergreen, where doctors “may bring their patients and operate or treat them themselves and have the privilege of calling in any doctor they wish to assist them.”
Dr. J. L. Shuler opened The Bryan County Hospital, located at 508 West Main Street, in 1931. Dr. Coker did some remodeling and opened it as Coker’s Hospital in 1934. It was a two-story building with an operating room and eight patient rooms on the second floor; four patient rooms and offices on the first floor. Dr. John W. Haynie and his son, Dr. W. K. Haynie, along with Dr. Wharton, joined the staff in 1938. When Dr. Coker and Dr. Wharton were called to military service the Haynie doctors operated the hospital. After the death of his father, W. K. managed the hospital for 21 years. The Haynie Hospital and Clinic, “A Modern Institution for the Scientific Care and Treatment of Surgical, Medical, and Obstetrical Cases” closed in 1967.
The Colwick Clinic, located on North 16th Avenue, on the grounds of the Durant Hospital, opened in 1941. It was filled with the latest in modern materials and equipment. The 18-room structure boasted four doctor’s offices, a laboratory, an emergency operating room, and other amenities. Nurses were Nathie Wallis Coble, Lena Stephenson Terry, and Louise Nelson.
Even superior skills, knowledge, and experience could not prevent some physicians from falling victim to the same maladies as their patients. In 1941 Dr. Allen Flythe, only 45 years old, died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. He was one of seven cases in the county and his was the second death. Dr. McCalib died in his office of a heart attack, ironically while attending to one of his patients. Other physicians worked until they were old and a bit weary. Dr. Colwick died in 1947, shortly after his retirement. Dr. R. P. Dickey, Caddo, died of a heart attack after serving the community of Nail (Kenefick) for eighteen years and Caddo for thirty-seven years. When Dr. Rushing died in 1949 at the age of 81, the newspaper noted that he was “Durant’s oldest practicing physician until he retired from active practice three years ago.” Regardless of how or when they died, the loss of a doctor was mourned by everyone in the community. After the passing of one beloved physician the newspaper noted, “The funeral was attended by so great a multitude of friends that the church could not hold half who assembled to pay respect to a great citizen, friend, and doctor.”
Mary E. Maurer is an avid historian who has previousl published articles in the Democrat.