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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Navasota Doctors: The very early days: Part Three

The early Texas doctor, this is one of a collection of life-sized portraits I painted for the Star of the Republic Museum at Washington on the Brazos.

Wow, I was writing about our wonderful medical history here in Navasota when several music events kind of blew all that out like a blue Norther in a chicken coup. I think it is too late to gather all the chicks and put them back in… but I do want to pursue this subject, for posterity.

Like I said before, nobody has ever put down the story. Or asked the questions. For a pretty small town Navasota had a bunch of physicians. Why or how come so many? I am fortunate enough to have several great sources to tell you about our pioneer doctors, who they were and some wonderful anecdotes about them… So we will approach them like a doctor would, chronologically. In past segments we have learned about the very first doctors in Texas, about Cabeza de Vaca and La Salle’s murderous surgeon Liotot… Thank goodness some real physicians finally showed up! These three men were our doctors and leaders during the Republic of Texas days.

Benjamin Briggs Goodrich. B. B. Goodrich was perhaps one of the most prominent men in Grimes County for many years. But not because he was a doctor. Goodrich was one of the earliest pioneers to settle here, and became a political leader from the very beginning.

Born in 1799, B. B. Goodrich graduated from medical school in Baltimore and then migrated south, with short stays in Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama where he was soon elected to the State Legislature. He and his younger brother John, known as the “bee hunter,” finally found Texas in 1833, settling in Eureka, later to be combined with Fanthorp and renamed Anderson. John Goodrich was one of the men who made Texas forever famous when he died at the Alamo.

B. B. Goodrich served early Texas as a delegate to the Consultation in 1835, and the Convention at Washington on the Brazos in 1836. He was a signor of the Declaration of Independence. He also helped to write the Republic of Texas Constitution. Later he was instrumental in helping to select the town site of Anderson as the County seat for the new County of Grimes in 1846 when it was separated from Montgomery County.

Dr. Robert Caldwell Neblett. Born in Virginia in 1795, his early training was in carpentry. Robert abandoned this vocation and took up going to school and playing the violin. His father burned the violin and sent him to work. Robert joined the Virginia Militia instead. At age seventeen he volunteered and ended up in the War of 1812, where he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major. After the war he taught school, then in 1818 decided to attend medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. After he graduated, he started practicing in Clarksville, Tennessee. From there he moved to Wayne County, Mississippi where he married Marie Poe in 1825.

He kept moving west. He and his family settled in Louisiana, and there he farmed and practiced medicine and went into merchandising at Neblett’s Bluff, and this town was named after him.

But by 1840, Dr. Neblett arrived in Texas, very near the present town of Navasota. Here he “planted his ebenezer” and continued to use all the talents he had developed to that date. At that time, the other doctors were engrossed in political affairs, and Dr. Neblett served the region between the San Jacinto and Brazos rivers! He helped to organize one of the first schools, the Masonic Collegiate Institute, in Anderson in 1843. He was a charter member of the Orphan’s Friend Lodge.

Medical supplies were scarce and costly, and Neblett carried the only medicine known to exist within hundreds of miles in his saddle bags; calomel and quinine. He had no anesthesia, not even chloroform. Patients often could not be carried, and he made many house calls, travelling the country on horseback. His most frequent foes besides ignorance and superstition were infection and Malaria. One of the more interesting superstitions he ran into was the use of a native root called the Mandenke, or May Apple root. Its root grew into a shape not unlike a man, and it had a fork which looked like legs. Users believed that they should take a part of the root from the corresponding part of their own body which was ailing, and make a tea from it and consume it.

Dr. Neblett was elected into the Texas Legislature in 1855. Neblett helped to bring St. Paul’s Episcopal College to Anderson in 1861. Dr. Neblett was active serving his community until 1970, and died in 1871. The U. S. Government placed a marker on his grave at the Orphan’s Lodge Cemetery recognizing his bravery in the War of 1812.

David Catchings Dickson. D. C. Dickson was another early doctor from Anderson that fell into a leadership role in Texas very quickly. After his first wife died in Mississippi, he married her younger sister and came to Texas in 1841. Dickson was the first doctor to open a practice in Alta Mira, a village west of present day Anderson. He was soon elected as the Justice of the Peace. He helped to found the Orphan’s Friend Masonic Lodge in Anderson. He was elected as a Representative to the State Legislature in 1846, where he served four terms. In 1851, he was elected the Speaker of the House. In 1853 he was elected as Lieutenant Governor. In 1855 he became snared in a political strategy that backfired when he announced his candidacy for the office of Governor, challenging then Governor Pease. Pease replaced him on his ticket and he then was defeated.

D. C. Dickson represented Grimes County in the Texas State Senate during the Civil War. Perhaps his most heroic challenge was while working for the Texas Prison system. After the war, he was appointed as the financial agent of the Huntsville Penitentiary. When the Yellow Fever epidemic broke out in 1867, he stayed at his post and provided essential care to the guards and inmates during this deadly time. His own son died during epidemic, but he was credited with continuing his fight against the disease, which raged in the unhealthy environment inside the walls. He served out his remaining years assisting his brother Lawrence here in Grimes County as Deputy Clerk. He died in 1880.

Most of this was taken from Blair’s History of Grimes County, pub 1930, and The Medicine Man in Texas, 1930.

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