Early school in county opened by pair of docs

Posted 6/30/20

Procrastination is one of my best talents or more likely, my worst fault. I’d rather do research and write Musings more than most anything, but I’m taking some time off from that now, to catch-up on personal matters. Hopefully you’ll be satisfied with reruns, or perhaps you missed it the first time this came out. I apologize.

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Early school in county opened by pair of docs


Procrastination is one of my best talents or more likely, my worst fault. I’d rather do research and write Musings more than most anything, but I’m taking some time off from that now, to catch-up on personal matters. Hopefully you’ll be satisfied with reruns, or perhaps you missed it the first time this came out. I apologize.

Madison County has been blessed with a competent and caring healthcare community. A good bit of information about past local medical caregivers was available, so there will be more than one Musings about them.

Dr. Reuben Westmoreland was born in 1834 in Georgia, the son of a doctor. He attended Atlanta Medical College where the Civil War interrupted his studies. Because of the need for medical personnel, Reuben served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the War, he finished medical school before coming to Madison County in 1866.

In 1868 he married Julia Victoria Cornelia Cora Mary Madora Martha Idel Odalie Deolece Connor, and the two had eight children. He was the first medical practitioner in Madison County for whom I can find records.

Yellow fever, transmitted by infected mosquitoes, plagued East Texas in those days. To protect his family during yellow fever season, he moved them to the family farm in the Jenkins community. Dr. Westmoreland died in 1893, but his home still stands today, on FM 2346, and belongs to a great-grandson.

Dr. Westmoreland, Dr. John Elijah Morris, and merchant Joe Westmoreland were anxious to improve education prospects for Madison County’s children. The three men used their own money to build a $2,500 school building, furnish it properly and with a piano, too, and hired a principal, assistant, and a music teacher. That school opened in September of 1880. It later became Madison Academy, and then Allen Academy, which moved to Bryan in 1899. It remains in operation there today.

Julius Zulch, Jr., was born in Zulch, TX, in 1868, the son of the Julius Zulch, for whom the town was named. He attended Georgetown Southwestern University and then Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, where he graduated in 1890. Then he attended the Post-Graduate School of Medicine in New York City, finishing in 1892. He returned home and practiced until 1896, when he was kicked by a horse, resulting in the withering of his left arm. After that, he gradually drifted away from his medical career, turning to farming and ranching interests.

John Elijah Morris was born in Kentucky in 1843. He was teaching school when the Civil War started, and he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private but was promoted to be a captain at the age of 19. He served throughout the war, including the campaigns of Corinth, Harrisburg, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, and was discharged June 16, 1865.

Morris decided to study medicine, and in March of 1874, he graduated with a degree in medicine from the University of Louisville (Kent.) Medical School. While practicing medicine in Fulton, he served as surgeon for the Newport News and Mississippi Railroad, and also as president of the Southwestern Medical Association.

By the late 1870s, John Elijah’s health had declined. A relative, Lodowick Rasco, had moved to Madison County at some time between 1850–1860, so Morris had connections here already. He heard reports that Madison County, with the Trinity River as the eastern boundary, had several springs with valuable medicinal properties, specifically a mineral water called chalybeate. (I Googled and found that’s a mineral water containing salts of iron). Residents here were reported to be healthy in contrasts to those in southwestern Kentucky, where there were often epidemics of yellow fever, typhoid, and cholera.

Morris moved to Madisonville mid-summer 1877 and began the life of a rural doctor. However, by then he had married and had children, and he was not pleased with the state of the local schools. He returned to Kentucky in 1881 and practiced medicine there for eight years. Then he returned here and practiced medicine until a few months before his death in 1913.

John Ethel Morris, eldest son of Dr. John Elijah Morris, was born in Kentucky in 1872. As it says above, his father moved the family to Madisonville in 1877, when John Ethel as only five. He first attended school here first, and then returned to Louisville, Kentucky, where he attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons 1891 – 1893. In those days, it only took two years to earn a medical degree. Then he returned to Madisonville and joined his father in practice. To save confusion, he went by the name “Ethel”, which was not an unusual man’s name in those days.

Dr. Ethel Morris married Rella Seay in 1894 and they had five children. Like his father, he was not blessed with great health, but he was always a hard worker. Day and night, he was always ready to answer calls. Those were horse and buggy days, and often he traveled 15 miles on calls. While returning home exhausted sometimes, he tied the wagon reins to the buggy whip and napped while his trusted horse, Morgan, took him safely home. As Dr. Ethel’s practice grew, he was forced to obtain 2 more horses. Tending them added more work, so he hired a young boy to live in, take care of the animals, and draw water from the well for the animals and family.

Dr. Ethel Morris was adamant about staying up-to-date on medical practices. He did postgraduate work at the New York Polyclinic, the New Orleans Polyclinic, and in Louisville, KY. He often attended conferences and lectures at Louisville and New Orleans.

In 1912, Dr. Morris suffered an appendicitis attack, and the organ ruptured. He had to travel to Houston for surgery and was in guarded condition there for three weeks. His condition was serious enough that the children were taken to Houston to see him, in case he did not survive.

His strength returned slowly. When his father died in 1913, Ethel took on a partner for three years.

Dr. Morris found the time to act as mayor in the 1920s. During his tenure, the streets around The Square were paved, and the City Water Works were installed.

Sally Singletary Knight (MHS, 1962), recently shared, “Dr. Morris delivered me and treated me for many serious ear infections long before there were antibiotics. I have a wad of cotton in my baby book that I had stuffed up my nose that he carefully removed.”

Though he continued to live in town, Ethel bought a farm outside of town, and he enjoyed tending animals there when time permitted. On May 1, 1939, his Jersey bull attacked him, injuring him gravely. Young Dr. J. B. Heath was called in to tend Morris’s injuries, which included three broken ribs and a fractured sternum. His right collarbone was fractured at the sternum, his left collarbone dislocated, and left shoulder dislocated.

Seeing the severity of the injuries, Dr. Heath had Dr. Morris transferred to Houston for care by specialists. Morris looked a fright too, bruised and skinned from head to toe. He was nearing the age of 70, so he didn’t bounce right back but he recovered.

Morris did return to practice, and all of his medical life he worked in Madison County. He left home on May 1, 1949, to attend the state Medical Meeting in San Antonio. While there he suffered a heart attack and was transferred to Herman Hospital in Houston. He died there that same day.

Dr. John Elijah Morris was a Madison County doctor for 28 years, and his son, Dr. John Ethel Morris, for 56 years. The two of them are responsible for many local men carrying the name Morris either as a first or middle name.

Like all rural communities, in earlier times Madison County had many local midwives, though the names of most have been forgotten. Two that lived “in town” were Vera Durant and Fannie McCloud. One superstition Miss Vera abided by was putting scissors under the bed or pillow, to cut the pain.

Charlotte Byrd (1893-1995) delivered babies in the Connor Community and beyond. Granddaughter Euraline Byrd Curvey stated, “She delivered for many years, for black, white, or Hispanic folks, no matter where or when. When she started, she charged $2 a delivery, and by the time age demanded that she stop, she was charging $10.” Pearline Wheaton Johnson and the late James Byrd were delivered by Charlotte Byrd. Pearline grew up with the nickname “Pee Wee”, as she was born premature and tiny, so her survival attests to Charlotte Byrd’s skills.

Madison County Museum, is located at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 6. It is closed at time. Hopefully soon I’ll tell you about the Museum opening back up.