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Rover would seize the snake and literally shake him to pieces

Posted by | June 25, 2015

This dog’s real metier as a guardian, however, rested with his skill in dealing with snakes. His technique for killing snakes was masterful and varied, for he didn’t always adhere to the same strategy and tactics. For black snakes, garter snakes, etc., he would just pick them up wherever he could conveniently catch hold and snap their heads off in much the same manner as a teamster snaps or “cracks” his whip.

With a copperhead it was a different story. Rover entertained genuine respect for this treacherous and highly poisonous snake that, unlike the rattler gives no warning, but can leap forth and sink his poison with the best of them. Rover kept a lookout for these mean and vicious snakes in clover fields and in patches of wild strawberries where we picked many gallons every June.

dog attacking a snakeWhenever he or any of the children (it was usually the dog) came upon a coiled copperhead, Rover’s standard plan of attack would be to draw a lead from the snake. By one heckling device or another he would make the copperhead spring out of his coil, then with lightning-like swiftness Rover would seize the snake and literally shake him to pieces.

It was a magnificent sight to see this great dog standing straight up on his hind legs with a copperhead in his mouth and turning his head from side to side with such snap and speed as to prevent the snake from doubling back and biting him. The snake had little time to bite, for the piece that flew off first and often landed at the feet of the onlookers, frequently turned out to be the snake’s head.

Rover didn’t always come off unscathed in his battles with copperheads. He was bitten a number of times. With the first couple of bites the swelling was so marked about his head and throat as to make swallowing even of warm sweet milk extremely difficult. But as time went on and he had been bitten several times, bites of copperheads affected him scarcely at all, so powerful was his acquired active immunity. This was just as Pasteur would have expected it to be.

As an index of Rover’s efficiency for finding and killing all manner of snakes, no member of our family ever was bitten by any kind of a snake in all of the years we were exposed to them.

—Herbert Lamont Pugh (1895-1984)

Pugh was born in Batesville VA, and rose to become US Surgeon General from 1951 to 1955. This excerpt is from his autobiography “Navy Surgeon,” Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1959


The curse of Milk Sickness, part 2 of 2

Posted by | June 24, 2015

(continued from yesterday…)

Not everyone sided with Drake, however.

On February 18, 1841, the KY legislature offered a reward of two thousand dollars to anyone “who shall, within five years after the passage of this act” succeed in discovering “the true cause of the disease, now known to be caused by the poisonous effects of the wild, flowering white snakeroot [editor’s emphasis] transmitted by the milk, butter, and flesh of cattle consuming the plant.” The reward went uncollected.

Dr. Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby (1808–1869), the town physician of Rock Creek, IL for 35 years, was wrestling with the cause of milk sickness about the same time John Rowe was experimenting on his cows back in Ohio. The disease had claimed the lives of her mother and sister-in-law.

In the mid-1830s, Dr. Anna Bixby consulted a Shawnee woman about milk sickness. This midwestern Shawnee village illustration dates from 1841; it's titled ‘Kanza Village.’ Litho by George Lehman.

In the mid-1830s, Dr. Anna Bixby consulted a Shawnee woman about milk sickness. This midwestern Shawnee village illustration dates from 1841; it’s titled ‘Kanza Village.’ Litho by George Lehman.

Many residents in Dr. Bixby’s community, in southern Illinois, blamed milk sickness on potions scattered by witches. This explanation didn’t satisfy Dr. Bixby, and determined to find the cause, she studied the disease and its characteristics.

She determined that the illness was seasonal, beginning in summer and continuing until the first frost. It was more prominent in cattle than in other animals, suggesting the cause might be a plant eaten by the cattle.
Legend says that while following the cattle in search of the cause, Dr. Bixby happened upon a Shawnee Indian woman who told her that white snakeroot plant caused milk sickness.

She tested the hypothesis by feeding the plant to a calf, demonstrating its poisonous properties. Dr. Bixby and others in the community then began a campaign to eradicate the plant from the area. Although Dr. Bixby was correct in her analysis, when she died in 1869, she had received no official recognition for her discovery of the cause of milk sickness.

“With the advance of civilization, as forests were cleared and pastures fenced the disease became less frequent; by the time of the civil war [sic] the disease was by no means common,” reported the National Institutes of Health in a 1909 report. “At the present time it is one of the rarest of diseases. Trembles in animals is now almost as rare as milk sickness in man.

Eupatorium rugosum (White snakeroot)

Eupatorium rugosum (White snakeroot)

“Small epidemics are reported in some part of Tennessee every two or three years. The cases now occur only in the thinly settled regions, usually remote from lines of communication. Most frequently they are attended by a layman known locally as a milk sick doctor, who has a local reputation for curing the disease.”

Despite its position as an official representative of government health policy, the NIH report makes no mention whatsoever of Bixby’s or Rowe’s experiments, and still considers milk sickness uncured:

“Satisfactory accounts of the disease are rare. Drake, who is much quoted in all accounts of the disease, appears not to have been personally familiar with the malady; indeed in his memoir he states that he has seen no case in man, nor in the lower animals. Yandell, who is also frequently quoted and has written much on the subject, makes no mention of having himself seen cases, and in his later publications expresses grave doubt as to the existence of a specific disease corresponding to that described as milk sickness.

“In his own words: ‘Upon a review of the whole matter the conclusion to which all the testimony on the subject has brought me is that we who have written upon milk sickness have been egregiously imposed upon by careless and incompetent observers.’

Eupatorium rugosum (White snakeroot)

Eupatorium rugosum (White snakeroot)

“A large number of the articles published on milk sickness were written wholly with the object of proving that a plant poison is the cause of the disease; many others that a mineral poison is the causative agent. A few writers have regarded the disease as a manifestation of malarial poisoning.”

Finally, in 1928, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, led by Dr. James Couch, isolated from white snakeroot a highly complex alcohol they named tremetol, and the American Medical Association recognized that Eupatorium rugosum was the cause of the milk sickness. The culprit plant had, finally, been officially discovered. As this information spread throughout the medical and agricultural communities, fencing laws and supervised milk production largely solved the milk sickness problem.

National Institutes of Health bulletin, Issue 56 By National Institute of Health (U.S.), Hygienic Laboratory (U.S.)

1985 DANIEL DRAKE SYMPOSIUM syllabus; online at;jsessionid=90E5D6EEF7C667AE0DF5733A41C70095?sequence=1
The Western journal of medicine and surgery, Volume 3, edited by Daniel Drake, Lunsford Pitts Yandell, Prentice & Weissinger, 1841


The curse of Milk Sickness, part 1 of 2

Posted by | June 23, 2015

Variously described as the trembles, the slows, or the illness “under which man turns sick and his domestic animals tremble,” milk sickness was a frequent 19th century cause of illness and death throughout much of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Ohio (also Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan). It sometimes killed as many as half the people in a particular settlement.

There are no photographs of Nancy Hanks. Artist Lloyd Ostendorf painted this 1963 interpretation of her for the US Department of Interior.

Nancy Hanks died of milk sickness in 1818. There are no photographs of her—artist Lloyd Ostendorf painted this 1963 interpretation of her for the US Department of Interior.

William Tompkins and Barnet Fowler, farmers in Kenton County, KY, were the first to be officially identified as having died of the mysterious ailment, in 1795. Nearly one fourth of the early settlers in Madison County, OH, fell victim to the pestilence, but the worst recorded incidence was the ‘epidemic’ of 1818 in which nearly all of the residents of Pigeon Creek, IN, were exterminated. The disease’s most famous victim was probably Nancy Hanks, mother of Abraham Lincoln, who died of it that same year, in Spencer County, IN.

Dr. Thomas Barbee of Bourbon County, KY, the first to diagnose the disorder, in 1809, understood that his patients became sick as a result of drinking milk or eating butter from cows who trembled, though it wasn’t at all clear to him what was causing the cattle themselves to become ill.

The following year, Dr. Daniel Drake of Ohio published a description of the symptoms in Notices Concerning Cincinnati: “It almost invariably commences with a general weakness and lassitude, which increase in the most gradual manner. About the same time, or soon after, a dull pain, or rather soreness, begins to affect the calves of the legs, occasionally extending up to the thighs. The appetite becomes rather impaired, and in some cases, nearly suspended; sensations of a disagreeable kind affect the stomach upon taking food.” Drake, however, did not name the disease and apparently at the time of this first published piece did not even connect its occurrence with tainted milk.

Daniel Drake (1785 –1852)

Daniel Drake (1785 –1852)

The legislature of Tennessee passed an 1821 act requiring fences to be made around certain coves in Franklin County “to prevent animals from eating an unknown vegetable, thereby imparting to their milk and flesh qualities highly deleterious.”

In 1840 Daniel Drake traveled within a 150 mile radius of Cincinnati, on horseback and foot, studying the geology and botany of the area and consulting with physicians and farmers to uncover the ‘unknown vegetable.’

From his study of the etiology Drake suggested five plants that might cause milk sickness: Eupatorium rugosum (White snakeroot), Bignonia capreolata (Creeper), fungi, Rhus venevata (Poison sumac) and Rhus toxicodendron (Poison ivy). He narrowed the plants down to white snakeroot and poison ivy, then rejected the former because it was so common and had no poisonous properties.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), which Daniel Drake suspected to be the cause of milk sickness.

Poison Ivy (Rhus Toxicodendron), which Daniel Drake suspected to be the cause of milk sickness.

Meanwhile, in 1838, Fayette County, OH farmer John Rowe, suspecting that white snakeroot might be the cause of milk sickness, fed leaves from the plant to some of his animals. Sure enough, they developed the disease and died. The farmer published his exciting find in the local newspaper. But farmers don’t make medical discoveries, do they? No, at that time, only certified professionals were allowed to make discoveries.

Drake commented on John Rowe’s experiments in The Western Journal of Medicine and Surgery: “It must be admitted that the plant on which Mr. Rowe experimented possesses some active properties, as four animals under its use died with what were pronounced to be symptoms of Trembles. Still, the mode of conducting the experiments differed too widely from that in which the animal is likely to eat the poisonous plant—in the woods—and the decision that the animals killed by it had the Trembles is far from conclusive or binding.

“A professional scrutiny only can be relied on in such cases. The testimony adduced by Mr. Rowe is therefore defective and inconclusive, even if nothing could be found to oppose it; but there are several facts which directly invalidate it.”

Because Drake was such a prominent physician and scientist, his theories were accepted by most in the mainstream medical establishment.

(continued tomorrow…)

National Institutes of Health bulletin, Issue 56 By National Institute of Health (U.S.), Hygienic Laboratory (U.S.)

1985 DANIEL DRAKE SYMPOSIUM syllabus; online at;jsessionid=90E5D6EEF7C667AE0DF5733A41C70095?sequence=1
The Western journal of medicine and surgery, Volume 3, edited by Daniel Drake, Lunsford Pitts Yandell, Prentice & Weissinger, 1841


The unsolved murder of Mamie Thurman

Posted by | June 22, 2015

On June 22, 1932, her lifeless body was found where it had been dumped on 22 Mountain, which was then called Trace Mountain. She had been savagely murdered: shot in the head twice, neck fractured, face disfigured and powder-burned, throat cut from ear to ear. Garland Davis, a young deaf-mute, stumbled upon the gruesome scene while picking blackberries. Little did he know that his discovery would lead to sensational headlines, and still have people wondering to this day who killed Mamie Thurman.

Mamie was a housewife in Logan, WV. She and her husband, Jack Thurman, had moved to Logan, from their hometown of Louisville, KY in 1924. Jack and Mamie rented a small two-room apartment over a garage, located in the backyard of the Harry and Louise Robertson home. Robertson worked for the National Bank of Logan, and served as treasurer of the Logan Public Library. His wife was the treasurer of the Logan Women’s Club, and both were said to be active church members.

Jack Thurman had worked as a Logan city patrolman for fifteen months prior to his wife’s death. He landed his job due to the efforts of Robertson, who was president of the city commission.

Mamie ThurmanSome folks said Mamie had been a good wife, a saintly woman, and a faithful church worker at Nighbert Memorial, a prestigious church near the train tracks at the intersection of Cole and White Street in downtown Logan. Others surely smirked as they murmured across the picket fence that this same lady was a married woman living fast and loose in a small town that could keep few secrets.

Mrs. Thurman allegedly had an ongoing relationship with Harry Robertson and more than a dozen other powerful men in the county.

At about 8:30 on the evening of June 22, Harry Robertson and his black handyman Clarence Stephenson were both arrested and taken to the Logan County jail for questioning. Stephenson had never been married and lived in the attic of the Robertson home. He did many odd-jobs for the Robertson family, but his main duty was to feed and care for Mr. Robertson’s dogs. Robertson was a prominent sportsman.

Robertson admitted to police that he had been having an intimate relationship with the deceased woman, and told how he arranged dates with Mrs. Thurman with the help of Stephenson. He would tell his wife he was going fox-hunting, and they would take their guns and drive off in Robertson’s Ford. Stephenson would drive him to one of the rendezvous points that Mrs. Thurman knew well.

On July 29 throngs of people started gathering around the Logan court house at six o’clock in the morning. Many Logan County prominent citizens, some who were associated with suspect Harry Robertson, served on the Grand Jury. Robertson said Mamie gave him a list of sixteen men with whom she had illicit affairs. He claimed the list was given to him about a year before the murder, when they both worked at the Guyan Valley Bank.

“One of the men is dead, all except three live in the city of Logan, and all are married but one,” he testified. The list of sixteen men who were said to have had sexual relations with Mamie was never made public. Many claimed some of these men were later named to the Grand Jury. Robertson said he continued seeing Mamie even though she refused to stop seeing the other men.

Robertson said the last time he saw Mamie was the day she was killed. He left his house shortly after that to take his children to a swimming pool at Stollings. Later that evening he said he went to the Smoke House to listen to a prize fight with his son, and was home about nine o’clock. His wife later confirmed his statement.

Magistrate Elba Hatfield told the Grand Jury that all the evidence was circumstantial, but claimed it very damaging against both defendants. For that reason he ruled that Robertson and Stephenson should be held to answer any indictments returned by the Grand Jury. The jury ended a four-day inquiry on September 15, and the following day the Logan Banner headlines cried out, “HARRY ROBERTSON NOT INDICTED.”

Clarence Stephenson was indicted by the Grand Jury, and stood trial for the murder of Mamie Thurman. According to the Banner, witnesses at the trial accounted for every minute of Clarence Stephenson’s time up until eleven o’clock on June 22, when Mrs. Robertson said he went up to his attic bedroom. However, the jury was only out for fifty-minutes before returning with a guilty verdict with the recommendation of mercy, which carried a life sentence. Stephenson’s attorney immediately entered a motion for a new trial.

On November 15, pleas from the Logan County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) went across the county to raise the six-hundred-dollars needed for the appeal. Fifty-six churches in Logan began taking donations. More than three thousand people attended a mass meeting held at Aracoma High School with both whites and blacks attending. Despite all the efforts, the Supreme Court turned down Stephenson’s appeal in 1933.

Stephenson was sent to Moundsville Prison on August 22, 1934. On June 11, 1939, he was transferred to Huttonsville Prison Farm where he died of stomachic carcinoma (stomach cancer) on April 24, 1942. He was buried on the prison farm May 2, 1942 almost ten years after the death of Mamie Thurman.

Norman Sloan, a Logan County resident who spent time in jail and prison with Stephenson, said “He told me he was hired to take the body to 22 Mountain, and that he didn’t do anything to Mamie Thurman. He never did say who killed her, but he said that he didn’t do it. Stephenson told me it was all politics.”





The Ashe County WWI deserters

Posted by | June 19, 2015

The vast majority of the 86,000 North Carolinians called into service during World War I served willingly, but four thousand of their number did desert during the war. Discontentment with conditions in training camp or bad news from home was the most likely reason for young recruits to go “AWOL” (absent without leave) long enough to earn the technical distinction of deserter. Most were either caught or voluntarily returned to face their punishment.

In Ashe County in June 1918, however, a group of forty deserters decided to hide out in the hills for the duration of the war. “The Ashe County Case” consists of a series of telegrams exchanged between officials in Ashe County and Governor Thomas W. Bickett on the crisis. When Bickett received the first telegram, the renegade band had just held off an armed civilian delegation that had tried to apprehend the deserters. One member of the posse had been shot and killed.

Thomas W BickettIn an effort to avoid further bloodshed, Governor Bickett went to Jefferson, the county seat of Ashe, to address the anxious townspeople. He ordered the local draft board to “send notices by special messengers to every nook of Ashe County, especially the disaffected districts” about his upcoming speech. Bickett stressed, “I especially want all friends and relatives of delinquents notified.”

Before Bickett began to speak, one of the deserters presented himself to the Governor. Bickett, in turn, gave the lad a letter to present to his commander at Camp Jackson in South Carolina in which the governor vouched for the deserters’ loyalty and urged leniency on their behalf.

In his oration, Bickett pledged to “save wayward and willful boys from the sad and certain consequence of ignorance and sin.” He expressed his belief that the deserters were not cowards but were somehow ignorant of the purpose of the war and the details of the draft law. He also commended Ashe County’s patriotic heritage and discussed the war and the draft.

Bickett’s justification of U.S. involvement in the war is a prime example of wartime patriotic rhetoric. He first emphasized America’s peaceful nature, stressing that the nation only reluctantly joined the conflict after German aggression made neutrality impossible. He then cast the war as a contest between American democratic civilization and the despotic German Kaiser and the brutal German “Hun.”

World War I doughboysAfter Bickett returned to Raleigh, the rest of the deserters turned themselves in and asked to be reinstated. The Ashe County case was commented about in the North Carolina press for weeks afterward, but the county disputed any reputation it might have gained for disloyalty. In all, 536 Ashe County men served in the military in World War I, 461 draftees and seventy-five volunteers. The statewide draft evasion rate was 2.7 percent; Ashe County’s was less than 1 percent.

Source: ‘Public Letters and Papers of Thomas Walter Bickett, Governor of North Carolina, 1917-1921,’ Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1923; summarization by Michael Sistrom, at Documenting the American South

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