• Last modified 705 days ago (June 5, 2019)



A daguerreotype of pioneer physician T.T. Davis

‘Old Doc’
was right out of ‘Gunsmoke’

A fixture in most Westerns was the old town doctor — a talented and charitable healer with a somewhat irascible streak.

Befitting the stereotype, Marion had its own “Old Doc” — Talton Taylor Davis, a Civil War veteran from Kentucky who moved to Marion in 1870 at age 34.

He arrived on Nov. 17, a date later referred to as “the day of the big Indian scare,” when folks in the scarcely 10-year-old pioneer town feared a raid by nearby Native Americans.

Unfazed, Davis “immediately asked for a gun and went to the front,” according to a Marion Review article years later.

As a physician and drug store owner, Davis was known for both his charity and his medical prowess.

In 1890, after the death of President James A. Garfield from an assassin’s bullet, Davis wrote how he had saved the life of a similarly wounded gunshot victim whom other doctors had given up on.

Forgoing many advanced technologies and procedures available, he stressed the simple task of extracting the bullet, and the patient survived.

“This may not savor sweetly in the nostrils of that class of professional gentlemen who are sticklers for code and professional formalities,” he wrote in a letter to the Wichita Daily Times, “but we ignore the professional paraphernalia where there is danger and regard them as relics that justly belong to incompetent bigots.”

His case was even written about in the American Medical Journal.

His reputation grew with procedures that were more complicated.

“We learned that last week Dr. T.T. Davis removed an epithetial [digestive system] cancer from the person of F. Zieke, a well-to-do Bohemian farmer living nine miles north of this city,” the Marion Record reported in 1894. “Dr. Davis has performed some remarkable cures in this county, and many people consider him a specialist of rare ability.”

Under a Record headline “Tape Worm 60 Feet Long,” appeared this account of Davis’s medical prowess in 1900:

“‘High’ Smith of Florence has been afflicted with a tape worm for a long time, and of late its annoyance to him became so great that his health was failing rapidly and he made up his mind that something had to be done or he would be a personage of the past.

“He felt somewhat hopeless, having tried several physicians who failed to remove it but nevertheless called on our fellow townsman, Dr. T.T. Davis, who bottled the pest in short order and now has it at his office for inspection.

“Mr. Smith is a happy man, and he can’t say any too much about Dr. Davis as a specialist.”

Davis frequently volunteered to accept the county’s “pauper practice” — tending to those who could not afford doctor bills in exchange for a modest annual fee from the county.

Sometimes, however, politics interfered.

In 1908, Davis bid $150 (the equivalent of $4,167 today) to continue his pauper practice, but another doctor, Gideon Penrod Marner, received the contract after bidding $25 more.

“We are reliably informed,” the Marion Review reported at the time, “that Dr. Davis’ work was satisfactory, and we fail to find any reason for letting the work at the higher figure unless it was because Marner is a Taft supporter and Davis is a Bryan follower.

“Dr. Davis promises to properly ventilate the matter later on. He claims this is not only an injustice to the taxpayers but a reflection on his work as well.”

Republican William Howard Taft defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president later that year.

Regarded as a sometimes-miraculous healer, Davis took ill himself three years later and died at age 74 in a Kansas City sanitarium, where tuberculosis sufferers often were sent.

Eulogizing a man he called “Old Doc,” Record editor E.W. Hoch wrote at the time:

“Dr. Davis was one of the most unique characters I ever knew outside of fiction. He would have been a rich find for Charles Dickens. I could write a book myself about his charities, his controversies, his hatred of shams, and his eccentricities of many manifestations.

“He had a bushel of brains and lacked only college training and mental discipline to have made him a man of wide distinction.

“I can never forget his participation in the debates of early days before modern lyceums and chautauquas took the place of pioneer entertainments in Marion. He was resourceful in debate but amusingly handicapped in expression because of the intensity of his emotions when he ‘warmed up.’”

His grave marked with a Grand Army of the Republic star, Davis is buried in Marion Cemetery near the grave of his daughter, Pattie, better known as noted Marion historian Mrs. T.B. Matlock (1874-1951).

Last modified June 5, 2019