Early Medicine, From the Cradle to the Grave

For many folks, especially farm folks far from town, medical needs were met largely by home remedies.
Even professional medical assistance, when available, was very primitive, compared to facilities in the 1980s.
Doctors made house calls, but Mom's home remedies were a sure thing.

Narratives from the Georgetown's Yesteryears Book

A special thanks to The Georgetown Heritage Society and Martha Mitten Allen for letting us post these wonderful first person stories.

View Foreword and Preface

Beulah Yearwood Irvine - Frank Leffingwell, Interviewer

There were plenty that had their babies at home, and there's some of the ladies in the neighborhood that were midwives. They'd go and deliver the babies. But I went to the hospital for all three of mine, soon after the hospital was built there in Georgetown. Believe it or not, for $150.00, you had your baby. They kept you two weeks. You weren't supposed to lift your baby until it was a month old. A neighbor girl always came to help with the babies for two weeks, and she also came to help me at thrashing time to prepare the meals. She also helped me gather grapes and put up jelly. She is still a very good friend to me.

Emil Ischy - Gregory S. Brown, Interviewer

Both of our daughters were born out on the farm. In the early days, before we married, our doctor lived in Jonah. He moved to Taylor later on. When our girls came along, we used him, Dr. Helms. Our first one cost us thirty-five dollars. She was born on the farm [19261. He come out there and delivered her. The second one, eight years later, cost us forty-five dollars. The same doctor delivered her out on the farm. He come out in a T-Model Ford from Taylor.

Erna V. Richter - Marilyn Lane, Interviewer

In 1918, the flu was so bad. Everybody had the flu. Oh, my, that was something. So many had pneumonia, so many of them died. My daughter Elizabeth's husband's family, three of them died in two weeks. Oh, it was awful. Oh, the church bells were ringing. Then, they always rang the church bells when someone out of the congregation died. We were all at Christmas dinner. My brother-in-law was there and he was coughing around and the next day, one or two out of every family who were there had the flu. They had a medicine, I guess it was Lysoland. It smelled horrible. Daddy got down with the flu, too, and so Mama asked if she could use something to keep everybody from getting it at the same time. So many families everyone was sick with the flu they couldn't find help for everybody. They gave us that medicine to put in the mop water and then she mopped it with rags. That smelled so bad, it smelled just like dip, and we didn't like it, but Mama didn't let us get into the room and the rest of us slept upstairs. We always did, and she wouldn't let us go into the rooms where the sick ones were. They were the only ones that got it.

Erna V. Richter - Marilyn Lane, Interviewer

They went to Bartletts Grove to visit for a day or two and they left us children at home under Aunt Caroline's care. She was living close by and she watched over us. Well, Daddy had a blacksmith shop that he fixed his own sharpeners and sweeps and things, and he had dynamite capsules in there. He put them way up, and he had the door closed and he thought nobody would get in there, but a chicken got in there and scratched. She was trying to fix her a nest. The middle one of the brothers found one of them caps on the anvil and hit it with a hammer and it exploded, and, oh, he was just shattered with little bitty things under his skin, all over his chest. It was just little blood spots with little drops coming out.

Well, we, of course, didn't know what to do. Emma and I were the two older ones, and what should we do? We called Aunt Caroline and she said, "Bring him over, I want to see him." She said, "Don't let him get too hot." We had a go cart that one of his sponsors give him, so we put him in that go cart and hauled him over to that aunt, and she said, it was just under the skin, all that bloody stuff, and we should just put sweet oil on it.

We didn't have any sweet oil, so Emma said, "Erna, go and get the horse out of the pasture, and hook it up, and go drive to Weir," (that was three miles) "and get some sweet oil." So I had to go and catch the horse out in the pasture and get him home, and hook him up in the buggy. Then I went by myself to Weir to get sweet oil, and he didn't get sick from it. But it scared us half to death.

When my oldest brother was seven, it was so dry and people was hauling water. We had a deep well so we had plenty of water, and Daddy let the neighbors haul water from our place because their well was dry. Two girls always came with the wagon and had two barrels on there. They had a little boy the same age [as my brother] and he came along, and [the boys] went and played there at the anvil Daddy used for sharpening his sweeps and that, and then they had the hammer laying out there. Daddy didn't mind when we used his tools, but we had to put them back where we got them. [The little boy] said, "You want to see the fire fly once?" to my brother, and he took the hammer and hit on that anvil and a little piece flew off and flew in his eye. He didn't say anything right away, but then it started getting red and bad and he couldn't sleep at night. They took him to the doctor, brought him to Georgetown, and the doctor said, "He's got steel in it," and he couldn't do nothing with it. "Take him to Dr. Zeese in Austin," and so, they got on the train and went to Austin, and the doctor said it had been in there several days already and he didn't think he could do anything for it. So he grew up with one eye.

Florence Yearwood Wray - and Virginia Reagan Yearwood -

Martha Mitten Allen, Interviewer

(Virginia) When somebody was ill, somebody would have to get on a horse and go up to Corn Hill to get the doctor. When Florence was two or three years old, [her brother] Dick was chopping wood for her, with a little hatchet, for her to burn in a little iron stove she had. He was chopping wood, and she decided that she would reach out and get one of those pieces of wood.

(Florence) I said, "Don't chop that piece," and Robert said, "Dick, chop it." And I grabbed for it and Dick minded Robert instead of me, and I hollered as he cut off half of my finger. Mama had a little baby, Ruth, in her hands. Eunice [the older sister] came running and grabbed me, wrapped a towel around my finger. The finger was still there. I kept hollering for Boyce and he actually heard me over in the field. They had mules, then (they didn't have a tractor), and he heard me, and he unhooked the traces from the plow, and he came up on one of those mules. He had to run on a horse to get Dr. Foster. Well, he wasn't in, and he left word for Dr. Foster to come as soon as he got home, which was at night.

I remember Mama said, "Robert, I told you to put that hatchet up." He said, "Yeh, but you didn't tell me not to get it back out." And I was screaming. I had this little old rag doll, and the blood got all over it. Poor Eunice washed and washed it, and every time I'd see it, she said, I'd scream, scream, scream.

Then when Dr. Foster came, he had me on the ironing board. Poor old Clifford brave as he could be, the only one that went to war [later] was holding the kerosene lamp and when he saw all that blood [when the doctor unwrapped it], he fainted, and they left me there, while they had to revive Clifford, because everybody else was screaming. The doctor sewed it up, but then when I got blood poisoning in it, he had to cut it off. Robert and Dick took the finger to bury and had a funeral and sang songs.

(Virginia) That's the least they could do give it a proper funeral.

Lois A. Burkhart - Caroline Jones, Interviewer

We had two teachers that stayed with us, and they roomed at our house and took their meals with us. There was another teacher that stayed down the street. They went to see her one afternoon. Well, one of them spent the night with her, and the teacher took real sick in the middle of the night. Of course, Dad was the doctor, and he went down, and he pronounced it was diphtheria. Well, they quarantined in those days for diphtheria.

We were quarantined because the teacher came home, and I guess, the disease, the germs, could've been spread. Anyway, we were quarantined. Ten days, I believe it was it was quite some time, I remember. I was young.

Oh, they did everything in the world to pass the time off, these teachers and Grace. Daddy had some horses. He had a couple of them, Winnie and Minnie. They were bays. So he let them ride Winnie and Minnie, and they could ride up and down in front of our house on the road, but they couldn't go anywhere else. My Grandmother Atkinson was a Puritan in beliefs and she got word of it, and she called Dad up, and told him that he was gonna let Grace just go to the devil for riding astride. Dad said, "Ma, that's so much better than riding sideways," he said, "because that's hard on a woman, to ride sideways." I never will forget that! Then, one of the teachers would climb up on top of the windmill and look downtown because her boyfriend was working at a drugstore, and she thought she could see him! A lot of funny things like that happened.

E. C. "Pete" Bouffard - Bobby Deaton, Interviewer

Mother was real good. She believed in herbs of all kinds. She made camomile tea and elderberry tea. I don't remember them all. We took castor oil in the fall. Daddy would give us a round. Everybody took a tablespoon of castor oil to tone your body for the winter, so you wouldn't take a cold. If you got a cold, Mama made a poultice out of Rawliss Camphophenique and put it on you pretty heavy, and she'd put a hot cloth on your chest or on your back, depending on where it hurt the worst. It cured. It worked good. In the spring, Daddy always gave us sulfur covered with some sugar, a teaspoon of sulfur, to ward off spring fever. I guess it worked, 'cause I'm just as healthy as a cedar post.

In my early twenties, I brought babies into the world, I sit with the sick, I held the hand of the dying, I dug the grave, carried them to it, and covered them up. I've done it all. You name it.

I sat with one old man—I think I sit with him twenty-one nights. I'd get there at twelve o'clock at night, and there was another man the other side of him. He and I would sit from midnight until seven o'clock in the morning. The old man was in his nineties, and he would stop breathing every so often. We found that by, each one of us, one on one side of the bed and the other on the other side of the bed, reach up and get his arm and pull him forward, and set him back down, just about like the stroke of a breath—you do that anywhere from three to eight or ten times, and directly, he would sigh and go to breathing. We kept that man alive at night, twenty-one nights like that. Finally, he died. He just didn't take that breath when we pumped him the last time.

Florence Yearwood Wray - Ruth A. Davis, Interviewer

At that time, if a neighbor died, your family or your friends went and dug the grave. The family went and bought the casket. You used your wagon or something to carry the dead to the grave site. At that time, they didn't have hospitals; people died at home. They didn't have morticians for many years. Usually they would buy a shroud. Some-times, I remember, they'd give Mama some of the clothes, and she'd bring them home and we'd wash them and she'd take them back and dress them, and she'd dress their hair. She was always good to do a lot for neighbors. I'm sure there were other neighbors who would go in and help, but they always called on Mama to help dress the dead.

Sometimes, if you couldn't buy a casket, the men made one, just made out of a wooden box. It was a whole lot cheaper than trying to buy one, because maybe there'd been a lot of illnesses and they didn't have one in stock. The funeral director always had a furniture store and in connection with it, he had these caskets. They were just out of pine. They just lined them with white cloth, like sheets or something. They never embalmed them, so that's why they had to bury them soon after death.