Country Doctors: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Early settlers in Faulkner County did not “go to the doctor.” Doctors in Faulkner County, as in most early settlements, made house calls. If a doctor was needed, someone would go “fetch” him and he would ride on horseback to the sick person’s home.

In one medical bag, he carried three standard tools—a stethoscope, a clinical thermometer and a hypodermic syringe. He carried powders and solutions in his other bag and dispensed them at the bedside. Antiseptics were not in use and if any cleaning was done at all, it was usually done with carbolic acid.

Operations were performed in houses. If time allowed, word was spread so that all doctors in the area could attend the operation. A kitchen table, a wash pot of hot water out in the back yard, two or three dishpans and some sheets and towels were all that was usually required. Neighbors might take the day off and assemble outside, either to show sympathy or just be part of the excitement.

One of the first doctors to establish a practice in the area was Dr. Hamilton B. Wear (1829-1896) who studied medicine in Nashville and Atlanta. After his marriage to Nancy Townsend in 1857, he moved with her family from Cherokee County, Alabama to East Fork Township where he set up an extensive practice.

After serving as a surgeon captain in the 17th Arkansas Infantry during the Civil War, he resumed his career as a medical doctor and practiced medicine on both sides of the Arkansas River. It was not uncommon for him to ride his horse five or ten miles to visit a patient.

Many other doctors began to settle in the area after the Civil War. One of the earliest to settle in Conway was Dr. R.T. Harrison who also served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army during the war. He came to Conway in 1869, homesteading a 40-acre tract north of Conway Station which later became known as the Harrison Addition. He opened the first store on what would become Front Street and served as Conway’s first postmaster. He also served as county coroner from 1873-74.

Two other early Conway doctors were Dr. John J. Jones and Dr. J.F. Kinchloe (1836-1900). Dr. Jones, also a surgeon in the Confederacy, practiced medicine and had a drug store in Springfield before he moved to Conway in 1876. Dr. Kinchloe was a doctor and druggist on Front Street for 20 years, setting up practice in 1876.

Dr. Joseph S. Westerfield (1852-1942) was one of the best sources about early medicine in Faulkner County. Dr. Westerfield, whose father and grandfather were also doctors, began practicing medicine in Greenbrier in 1876. He moved to Conway in 1894 where he continued his active practice until 1933.

For many years, Dr. Westerfield and Dr. George S. Brown (1848-1928) were partners in the office of Brown and Westerfield. Dr. Brown was also a trustee at the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Booneville which achieved notable results in the treatment of tuberculosis patients.

Dr. Westerfield assisted in founding the Faulkner County Medical Society in 1902 and served as its secretary for nearly 35 years. For several years, he was also the city and county health officer. In 1916, he became the vital statistics registrar for Faulkner County, continuing in that capacity until his death.

Out in the county there were several other well-known doctors who tended the sick. Dr. J.B. Munn (1854-1932) and his nephew, Dr. J.D. Downs tended to the medical needs in the Vilonia area. Munn began his 30-year practice in 1899. As was often the case in small communities, Dr. Munn was active in the community, serving as school board president. Downs joined the practice in 1907.

Dr. Martin C. Burnett (1874-1930) taught school in Wooster before going to medical school in Louisville, Kentucky in 1901. He then set up a medical practice in the Wooster area. A few years later, he attended the University of Arkansas Medical Department. He also served on the Wooster school board until his death.

Other early doctors in the county were W.I. Clark of Enders, J.E. McMahan of Kendall (Bono), J.F. Brown of Enola, O.J. Owen of Black Fork, I.N. McCollum of Greenbrier, J.F. and son, Tavner Powers of Mt. Vernon, W.J. West of Holland and J.H. Matthews of Palarm. Each of these country doctors provided care for the early settlers in Faulkner County.

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