Smith County, Texas

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VI. Charitable Actions/Loans

 

Like so many other rural doctors of the early days, Dr. Overton likely practiced medicine for the good of mankind, as much as for the good of his fortune. Charity probably showed up in various aspects of his life, perhaps not accounted for in the daily recordings in his medical journals. The following entries may help demonstrate those instances in which Dr. Overton overtly demonstrated his generosity and charity:

1868 - Mark Brandon (freed man), 50 cents loned money
1869 - Betty Lanham, settled as she was misfortunate in loosing her kitchen furniture (fire), $6
1869 - Asa Elkin, donated to the widow, $12.00 debt
1869 - James Allen, post mortum examination (no charge)
1869 - Henry Lane (a freed man), loaned two bits
1870 - J. Aplewhite, loned $20
1871 - Rease Smith (a freed man), loned money, $21.00
1871 - Frank Mims (a freed man) loned $2 ($4 total)
1871 - George Dennis (a freed man) loaned money, $1
1872 - William Stamps, loaned money $1.50
1880 - Parson Gilliam, to visit and med (donated), $5
1880 - A.W. Orr, loned money, $50
1882 - Joseph Swann (a freed man), to visit the dead (no charge)
1886 - Frank Melton, $1
1887 - John Fields, to Cash loned, $5.00
1890 - B.F. Curtis, full credit to account - killed, $2
1893 - Charley Wilson, donation of $26.73 from due to house burning down

VII. Veterinary Practice

Contrary to the practice of some rural doctors, Dr. Overton spent little of his time practicing veterinary medicine. Only on four occasions during the 21 years covered by A - E ledgers did Dr. Overton note medicine for animals. In 1866, he medicated George Harnage's horse for $1; in 1870, Dr. Overton entered a note in his ledger "to call, visit and med mule" for Jacob White; he assisted in the foaling of a colt on Willis Brown's mare for $6 in 1870 and in 1892 he attended to Phillip Horton's horse.

VIII. The Physician and the Court System

Nowadays, it seems that physicians and their employers spend an inordinate time in the courts. Likewise, Dr. Samuel Overton spent a fair amount of time in front of the bench. The major difference was that he, not the patient, was seeking redress of a purported wrong. In the doctor's case, it usually was a matter of procedure for him to get a judgment from the bench due to a payment default, albeit somewhat difficult to collect.

Dr. Overton spent considerable time and energy taking care of Alexander Denton's family in the mid-1870's. Yet after Mr. Denton died, the doctor noted in his journal that "The Court will allow me only $76.00 on A. Denton's estate." Subsequently, the estate paid Dr. Overton a total of $45.50.

On April 14, 1878, Dr. Overton visited and medicated the stepdaughter of "Lacy," charging $10 for the service. The next day, the doctor again visited the stepdaughter of Lacy and charged $5 for his services. Subsequently, "Lacy" refused to pay the debt, arguing that he had no control over his stepdaughter. Dr. Overton was forced to write off the $15 debt, noting in his ledger that "The Magistrate's decision was that a person can give their children to whom they may…"

Occasionally, Dr. Overton was overjoyed at a successful day in court, as when he entered the following notation in one of his journals on December 18, 1871: "I have sued a hellion one more time and have the money in my pocket given me on a Judgment by Malike, Esq." (Fortunately, the page was torn, so this writer was unable to discern the name of the offending party.)

IX. Dealing with Relations

Dr. Sam Overton frequently was called upon by near and distant relatives to attend to their medical needs. Two of his brothers, Jesse and Abdon, were also doctors, so it is unlikely that their families had a need for Dr. Sam's services. However, his older brother, John Franklin Overton, seemed to rely exclusively on Samuel. In almost every ledger transcribed for this article, John or his widow Mary Drucilla had numerous entries for visits made by Dr. Sam Overton.

John F. Overton and his family incurred charges on more than sixty occasions during the time span of these ledgers. Total charges amounted to than $220; however, the bills were always paid on a timely basis and in full. Even after John died in 1879, Samuel continued to call on the family, and was paid in full by the widow Mary, or by one of her sons.

Dr. Sam Overton often was a part of the life cycle of his immediate family. He attended to the births of several nephews, cousins and other relatives by marriage. He held the hands of the sick and infirm as they made their exits to the Other Side. Dr. Samuel paid visits to the bedside of his brother John ten times during July 1879, only to see John die of bronchitis at the end of that month.

Dr. Sam often provided medical services to the family of Obediah Childress and to Obed's son, Caleb. Later in life, Caleb Childress was to become Dr. Overton's son-in-law, marrying his third oldest child, Mary Elizabeth Overton, in 1873. The good doctor saw his daughter Mary die with the birth of her second child in 1880. Then, after Caleb Childress married Dr. Sam Overton's sister-in-law, S.E. Weaver in 1883, Dr. Overton made a series of thirty medical calls on Caleb during the summer months of 1885, as he lay dying of what likely was diabetes. While no cash payment was made by the widow of Caleb Childress, she offered to Dr. Overton all she could afford, a horse which Dr. Overton valued at $50 in his ledger. This writer does not know what path S.E. Weaver took after the death of her husband Caleb, but Dr. Overton and his wife Sarah applied for, and readily received, full guardianship over their grandchildren, Will and Mary, in 1893.

As noted earlier, Dr. Overton's older sister Margaret Caroline married Colonel John McKay in Tennessee and soon moved to Texas. This family became longtime patients of Dr. Overton, with the J.L. McKay family calling on the doctor's services sixteen times in the 1870's, but always paying the balance down to zero. One of Colonel McKay's sons, Joseph Robert McKay (click here to read diary entries made by Joseph during a family visit to Tennessee in 1888), made good use of Dr. Overton, using him for various illnesses sixty-three times from 1888 through 1897. After running the unpaid balance up to as much as $188.50, Robert finally gave Dr. Overton's widow Sarah a note in 1900 for $166 and four hogs which she valued at $22.50, leaving a balance of zero dollars.

One of the more interesting, yet unexplained, transactions involving relatives of Dr. Overton was a payment of $230 he made to Obediah Childress on the behalf of John F. Overton on November 11, 1869. Earlier, on August 28, 1869, Dr. Overton loaned John F. Overton $200 in gold. Whether these two transactions were related is unknown to this writer.

X. Collection Problems

Dr. Overton seemed to be relatively lenient when it came to patients paying their bills. There are numerous examples of debts going unpaid for years at a time. Finally, when the customers refused to pay their bills with currency or trade, Dr. Overton would request that they acknowledge the due amount with the creation of a "bearer note," which would specify the amount to be paid, with interest due at the end of a certain time period. These notes were treated as currency, to the extent that the recipient of the bearer note had faith in ultimately collecting on such instruments. On January 1, 1880, Dr. Overton paid A.W. Orr $30 in cash, likely for tuition so that one or more of his children could attend the Summer Hill Select School, a highly reputable, local finishing school owned by Mr. Orr. In addition to the $30 cash payment, Dr. Overton also "let him have one note on William Green for $28.66 bearing interest one year."

One other such note created on February 18, 1898, about four months after Dr. Overton's death, read as follows: "One day after date for value received, I promise to pay to the order of S.C. Overton as survivor in community with Samuel Overton, deceased. Seventy four and 50/100 Dollars with interest at 10% per annum."

In the rarest of cases, payment was made at the time of service - in cash. Otherwise, doctors hoped to be paid for their time, effort and expenses around the conclusion of the year. As Dr. A.P. Manley of La Grange (Texas) in 1845 had hoped to be paid at the end of each year "for the support of his family {so} that his purse, and hands, and mind may be kept wholly untrammeled." 1.

Likewise, Dr. Overton's push for collection of debts seemed to hit a crescendo of activity around Christmas and the end of a year. On Christmas day in 1891, for example, Dr. Overton "collected" $668.62 in debts from 17 different customers. Unfortunately, only $8.50 of the "collection" was in cash; the balance was in bearer notes created in anticipation of future cash.

Occasionally, Dr. Overton's patience with a non-paying patient would expire, and he would then resort to handing the financial matters over to another individual, who, if not part of the community of law, presumably would hold sway over the debtor with other means. On April 1, 1867 Dr. Overton entered into his ledger the following notation: "Put out for collection in Captain P.J. Flinn's hands," R.R. Walker, $5. After seeing John Field's wife in July of 1869, then visiting the Field's home two days straight in May of 1870 to medicate the daughter, Dr. Overton gave up trying to collect the $8 due him and "put it in Hutchin's hands for collection" in September 1870.

Of course, there were those random acts of extreme grace by Dr. Overton's base of customers, such as the time in 1885 that he entered into the ledger the following note of praise for one Benjamin Malone: "Rec'd of Cobby Malone (Deceased) in full of her account by her faithful and smart son, Benjamin Malone." Benjamin obviously had chosen to honor the debts of his beloved mother and pay off the $43.75 in medical services that Dr. Overton would otherwise have had little hope of ever collecting.

1. Sylvia Van Voast Ferris and Eleanor Sellers Hoppe, Scalpels and Sabers, Nineteenth Century Medicine in Texas (Eakin Press, Austin, Texas), p. 46.

XII. Dr. Overton, the Obstetrician

Accouchement - A confinement during childbirth; lying-in. French, from accoucher, to assist in childbirth, from Old French.

Over the course of the approximate 25 years that the A-F ledgers cover, Dr. Sam Overton was at the bedside of the mother delivering newborn children 264 times, not including the many years missing from the subject records. In addition, Dr. Overton was called in "after the fact" to "extract the placenta" an additional 34 times, or about 13% of the cases. It is this writer's estimate that over the 40+ years that Dr. Overton practiced medicine in Omen, he delivered in excess of 400 babies, or about one per month.

Dr. Overton's ledgers portray the delivery of a child as an "acouchment," as in "To visit and Acouchment." For this service, he charged fees ranging from as little as $5 (June 26, 1871, "To visit and Acouchment Wife" of Willis Scot, a freed man) to as much as $20 (March 1, 1871, "To visit & Acouchment wife (1 day & 2 nights) for the wife of Joseph M. Moore).

Complete listing of all births and birthing procedures recorded by Dr. Samuel Overton in the ledgers transcribed for this article.

The last entry recorded for the delivery of a baby in the community of Omen was on Sunday, September 19, 1897, a little over a month prior to Dr. Overton's death. On this visit, Dr. Sam delivered a child at the home of Allen Nelson, a freed man, for which he charged his standard fee for the last 40+ years of $12.

Note: ©This work is the property of the East Texas Genealogical Society and J.P. Childress, collectively. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

 

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