Witchy Women and Wiregrass Medicine

Among the earliest trained medical men at Ray’s Mill was John Thomas Clower (1830-1893), the son of a Revolutionary Soldier who immigrated from Germany to fight for American independence. A graduate of Atlanta Medical College, John Thomas Clower, served as a military surgeon during the Civil War. Afterwards he came to Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), GA where he practiced medicine in this community from 1870 until 1887.

There were the Medical Men of Ray’s Mill, and there were the home remedies. Ray City had its faith healers, too. In the 1930, one such healer was Stella Wright ~ Seeress of Ray City, GA.

In the earliest pioneer days of Wiregrass Georgia, medical science was little known, and the people depended more on home remedies and faith than doctors.  In 1922, Warren Preston Ward, of Douglas, GA wrote a series of sketches of early Wiregrass Georgia, and among these was a narrative on medical practices of the early pioneers:

Another thing that entered very largely in the economic life of the people was the question of sickness, medicine and the doctor.  There were no doctors in this section of Georgia when it was first settled, for the reason that there were not enough people to support a doctor; but in every neighborhood there was always someone who knew how to give such medicine and plain remedies as were used at that time.  Among the common remedies then in use were oil and turpentine, for colds; red oak bark as an astringent; elderberry bark as a purgative and an astringent.  The wise ones said scrape the bark down for a purgative and scrape the bark up for an astringent.  For cuts and to stop blood, use cobweb; that is spider webs hanging about the walls covered with smut.  Sweet gum and mullen was used for fevers, pepper tea was used for colds; for sprains, use a mixture of clay and vinegar; for stings, use tobacco; for snake bite, use whisky or poultice made of salt, tobacco and onions; for pneumonia, bleed the person during the first stages; for burns, use the white of an egg mixed with flour;  many people thought that fire could be talked out and there were always many old witchy women ready to talk it out; warts, moles and cancers were conjured (whatever that means). Sage, thyme and rosemary were given by nearly all the people and were used for teas.  Another peculiar remedy was for the hives; the remedy was for any person who had never seen their father to blow their breath in the child’s face and the hives would leave right now, so it was said.
     In these good old days old Uncle Stafford Davis was a celebrated cancer doctor of the conjure kind.  People came to see him for hundreds of miles.  They also wrote him letters for his absent treatment.  Many people thought he was gifted from God.  The old man did not charge anything for his services, if you had anything to give him he accepted it with thanks.  He lived to be 106 years old and died soon after the civil war.  Before his death he undertook to transfer his gift of healing to his grandson, Joseph Ward.  Some of the first doctors to practice in this section [Appling] of Georgia were Doctors Rambo and Smith; old man William Ward also done a little homespun practice.  Dr. C.G.B.W. Parker did a large practice, but people relied mainly upon their home remedies and upon advice of the men and women in the neighborhood who had experience in giving medicine and in nursing the sick.

About 1815 calomel came into general use among the common people.  Many persons got salivated and were afraid to use it.  But sure as you called a doctor he used calomel.  If it salivated, so much the better in some cases. During this time of hot discussion, pro and con, some one expressed his disgust at the use of calomel in these lines-

“Mr. Wade was taken sick,
Go, call a doctor and be quick,
The doctor comes and remembers well
To bring a bottle of calomel.

“He turns to the patient’s wife,
Have you a clean paper and a knife?
I think your husband would do well
To take a dose of calomel.

“The patient grows worse quite fast indeed,
Go call a council and make speed:
The council comes, and remembers well
To double the dose of calomel.

“The patient says to his weeping wife:
This nasty thing has got my life.
I bid you all a long farewell,
Let me do so without the use of calomel.”

    One of the sad features of sickness and death in these old days was that each family often had to doctor and nurse their own sick, and when they died they had to make their own pine-board coffin and put them away in their last resting place, often with no friend to offer a word of sympathy, or a minister of the gospel to offer a word of prayer or to point sad hearts to the better day and better time when they should all meet again in the morning of the resurrection.

During the “Age of Heroic Medicine” (1780–1850), educated professional physicians practiced aggressive techniques including bloodletting, intestinal purging (calomel), vomiting (tartar emetic), profuse sweating (diaphoretics) and blistering, stressing already weakened bodies.  Heroic medicine was strongly advocated by Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), trained in medicine at Edinburgh University and one of the “fathers” of American medicine, who also signed the American Declaration of Independence.  While well-intentioned, and often well-accepted by the medical community, these treatments were actually harmful to the patient.

Calomel, a compound of Mercurous Chloride, became a popular remedy for a variety of physical and mental ailments during the age of “heroic medicine.” It was used by doctors in America throughout the 18th century, and during the revolution, to remove “impurities” from the body. Calomel was given to patients as a purgative or cathartic and was often administered to patients in such great quantities that their hair and teeth fell out, along with other horrific side effects.  One characteristic effect appeared in the well-known phenomenon of mercurial salivation –  a profuse flow of saliva in the body’s effort to rid itself of the deadly a poison.  For many patients the cure of Calomel was suffering and death resulting from mercurial poisoning.

According to Steve Spakov, Loyola University, “It is toxic and its toxicity is compounded because mercury accumulates as a poison. It acts as a purgative and kills bacteria (and also does irreversible damage to their human hosts). Some treatments are of historical interest. The three physicians atttending Gen. Washington’s final hours administered calomel to the dying President. Lewis and Clark carried it on their expedition and used it to treat their men’s STD’s. Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) suffered from its effects.

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The Last Run of the Iron Horse

On March 24, 1954 engine number 507 was the last steam locomotive to make the run down the line of the Georgia & Florida Railroad which passed through Ray City, GA.   The train, photographed below at its last passage through Nashville, GA,was manned by: Engineer Bo Dell Mead, of Douglas, GA; Fireman C. J. Bush, Pridgen, GA; and Conductor H. T. Sowell, of Douglas, GA.

Engine of the Georgia & Florida Railroad at Nashville, GA, March 24, 1954. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

Engine of the Georgia & Florida Railroad at Nashville, GA, March 24, 1954. Image courtesy of http://berriencountyga.com/

In Ray City, there was was the big wooden water tower which provided water for the old steam engines.  This tower stood just south of Main Street,on the east side of the tracks, next to Marvin Purvis’ Grocery Store.




March 18 in Ray City History

On this date…

March 18, 1854, Ansel Parish  (1824 -1891) was ordained an Elder in the Primitive Baptist church. He was a son of Henry and Nancy Parrish, and son-in-law of William Anderson Knight, pioneer settlers of old Berrien County, GA . Ansel Parrish had joined Pleasant Church at the age of 19, and thereafter dedicated his life to the service of the Primitive Baptist faith.  Elder Ansel Parrish was one of the ablest and best known Primitive Baptist preachers of his time. During the Civil War he ministered to the confederate soldiers in 50th Georgia Regiment at their encampment near Savannah, GA. He became a leader among the Primitive Baptists, and preached at many of the churches in the area.

March 18, 1877, Martha Ada Swindle was born in Berrien County, GA, a daughter of pioneer settlers Nancy Jane Parker and James Swindle. James Swindle moved his family to Berrien County some time in the 1860′s. The Swindle farm was located about two miles outside Ray’s Mill, GA.

March 18, 1908, it was announced that A. & F. Wright had been awarded the contract to lay track for the Georgia & Florida Railroad  from Valdosta to Nashville, by way of Rays Mill, GA. The track was to be laid in just three weeks, and regular passenger service scheduled to begin on October 1, 1908 with two trains a day stopping at the station in Rays Mill.

March 18, 1910, J. F. Buckholtz sold to J.M. Deloach the “lot No I in block No. 2″ in Ray City, located on the present day corner of Ward and Jones streets.   Bucholtz had acquired the lot from Dr. Charles X. Jones. Within a month J.M. DeLoach flipped the lot, selling it to Levi J. Clements, who later owned the Clements Lumber mill at Ray City.  During WWI, J. M. Deloach jumped from the deck of troopship HMS Otranto  when it went down off the coast of Scotland,  becoming one of the few soldiers from Berrien county to survive the sinking .

March 18, 1916, Ellen Gaskins and Wayne Putnal were married in Berrien County in a ceremony performed by Justice of the Peace J.W. Moore. Ellen was the 16 year-old daughter of Mary E. Strickland and Levi J. Gaskins of Rays Mill, GA. For a few years Wayne and Ellen Putnal lived at various locations in the area, before settling a big farm out on Park Street extension on the south side of Ray City. Wayne Putnal was known as a very industrious man. During the week he worked his farm, and on Saturdays he worked as a barber, cutting hair at a barbershop in Ray City. In their later years, the Putnals moved from their farm place to a house in town. They spent the rest of their lives in Ray City.

March 18, 2010, Dillard Maurice Markham passed away Thursday, March 18 at his residence in Virgina.  Born April 2, 1920, in Bedford County, a son of the late Elmor Dove Markham and the late Gracie Markham.  He was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Ruth Boyette Markham, who was born at Ray City, GA.  The two met while Markham was stationed at Moody AFB during World War II.

Howell Shaw at Sedalia Army Air Field

William H. “Howell” Shaw was born in 1925, a son of Chester Clyde Shaw and Golie Lee Gaskins. He was a grandson of Lacey Lester Shaw, of Ray City, GA.

Howell Shaw’s father, Clyde Shaw, grew up in Ray City, GA where as a young man he was a “collector” for the telephone company in  the 1920s. His mother, Golie Gaskins, also a native of Ray City, was a daughter of William Thomas Gaskins and Vinie Ellen Hall.

Howell Shaw was first enumerated in the census of 1930, when he was five years old.  At that time his family was living in Valdosta, GA in a rented house on North Alley Street. His father was employed as a bakery salesman.

Within a few years Howell’s parents moved the family back to Ray City, where Howell spent the rest of his childhood.

As a young man, Howell Shaw found his way to Orlando, Florida where he worked for the Orlando Steam Laundry.

1929 sketch of the Orlando Steam Laundry company, Orlando, FL.

1929 sketch of the Orlando Steam Laundry company, Orlando, FL. Image source: http://orlandomemory.info/sites/default/files/documents/AlbertsonFloridaPrestologyJuly1929.pdf

On May 15, 1943 eighteen year old Howell Shaw joined the United States Army as a private. He eventually was stationed at Sedalia Army Air Field in Missouri.

Greetings From Sedalia Army Air Field Vintage Postcard

There, in January of 1944,  William Howell Shaw made the rank of Private First Class. The achievement was noted in the January 17, 1944 edition of the Valdosta Daily Times:

William H. Shaw Gets Promotion

William H. Shaw Gets Promotion

Sedalia Army Air Field had its beginnings in 1942 when US Army Air Corps officials selected the Missouri site as a training base for WACO glider pilots. Following an intensive construction project the field officially opened three months later on August 6, 1942.

In November 1942, the installation became Sedalia Army Air Field and was assigned to the XII Troop Carrier Command of the Army Air Force. The field served as a training site for glider tactics and paratroopers. It was one of the eight bases in the United States dedicated to training glider pilots for combat missions performed by the Troop Carrier Command. Pilots flew  C-47 transports and the Waco CG-4A. The forest green, fabric-covered gliders could carry 15 fully equipped men or a quarter-ton truck plus a smaller crew. They were towed in either single or double tow behind the transport aircraft and could land on fields not equipped for larger aircraft.

The 99th Trooper Carrier Squadron was activated on August 1, 1943 at Sedalia Army Air Field in Missouri. The squadron’s first combat mission was to drop members of the 101st Airborne Division into France on D-Day as part of the June 6, 1944 assault on Normandy.

Other Ray City men in the Army Air Force included B-26 Marauder pilot James Swindle, B-24 Liberator pilot Max Maurice Johnson, and flying officer Jim Paulk.  Sgt. Mitchell Moore was assigned  to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bomber Group, flying as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator. Charles Shaw was sent to the 96th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force, stationed at Snetterton Heath, England where he joined the crew of the B-17 Mischief Maker II. William C. Webb served in the Medical Corps of the Army Air Force. Lt. Jamie Connell, of Nashville, served as a  navigator-bombardier. Saunto Sollami served in the Army Air Corp and came to the area after the war.

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Bound by a Band of Steel

By 1908, Valdosta already had railroads and so did Nashville. Now The Douglas Enterprise reported the Georgia & Florida Railroad would lay track to close the 26 mile gap between them, “Two of the brightest stars of the group of South Georgia’s cities bound by a band of steel.”

The citizens of Ray’s Mill had secured the routing of the tracks to pass through the small community, over a competing route that would have passed through Cat Creek (see Rays Mill Wins Route for the Georgia & Florida Railroad).

At that time Mr. J.S. Swindle owned much of the land around the present site of the town.  It is said that he bargained with the railroad company to give them the right of way if they would give him a station.  This agreement was made and thus started the town [of Ray City].

It was projected that regular passenger service on the new G & F line would begin on October 1, 1908.     Two trains a day would stop at the station in Rays Mill.   The train depot and local offices of the Georgia & Florida Railroad were to be among the first businesses in the newly incorporated town of Ray City.  In addition to the depot, the railroad would build a number of section houses at Ray’s Mill to house railroad employees and their families. The new line, it was said, “opens up a splendid territory in this [Lowndes] and Berrien County.”  Ultimately the G & F Railroad would connect Augusta, Georgia and Madison, Florida.

By March, 1908 surveying was underway for the final segment of the Georgia and Florida railroad connecting Nashville and Valdosta, GA.

Surveying the route of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. Valdosta Daily Times, March 7, 1908

Surveying the route of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. Valdosta Daily Times, March 7, 1908

Valdosta Daily Times
March 7, 1908


Work on the Line to Nashville to Start in Short While.

The Georgia and Florida Road Secures Additional Offices Here to be Used During the Period of Constructing the Line – The New Outlets at Augusta.

(From Tuesday’s Daily.

     The links that will complete the Georgia and Florida Railroad are to be built at once and the big road for which Valdostans have hoped and wised so long will soon pass from a dream to reality.
     Mr. G. M. Jones, assistant chief engineer of the road, arrived in Valdosta yesterday.  He has located an office in this city from where he will supervise the construction of the road between Valdosta and Nashville. It is learned on good authority that work will begin right away and be pushed to completion as early as possible.  This is the only line of much length between Madison and Hazlehurst, unless a new one from Douglas is built which would straighten the main road considerably between that city and Hazlehurst.
     It is thought that by the end of the year the whole road will be finished and that through trains will be running from Augusta to Madison.
     It is hard to estimate the benefit this road will be to Valdosta, as it will give the city direct passage into a rich and fast developing territory that it has been hard to reach heretofore.
     It will give her another big trunk line which, it is claimed will be the equal of any one of the lines she now has, which is a pretty big claim.
     With the completion of this road new enterprises are bound to spring up which will add greatly to the city’s material prosperity and growth.
     There is now a road being built from  Augusta to Elberton the Southern has a road from Elberton  to Toccoa, and when the Georgia and Florida is completed a direct route into North-east Georgia will be had which will add greatly to the travel and trade from that part of the state.
      It will open up a field in Georgia for the early melons and truck and field products of this section that has hardly been touched heretofore.
    With the Georgia and Florida road in operation Valdosta should become one of the biggest truck and melon centers in the South.
      It will open up a new territory for the foundries and machine shops, buggy and harness factories and for the production of every factory and field of this section.
     It will be a glad day for Valdosta when train begin to move between here and Augusta.

On March 18, 1908, Engineering and Contracting magazine announced that a contract had been let for construction of the railroad line that would pass through Rays Mill, GA:

“Valdosta, Ga.—Georgia & Florida Ry., J. M. Turner, General Manager, Augusta. Ga., is to construct a line from Valdosta to Nashville, Ga., about 30 miles, to link two of the properties of the company.   A. & F. Wright have been awarded the contract. The Georgia & Florida Ry. controls a number of small roads which it is proposed to connect. Much of this work has already been done.” –  Engineering and contracting. (March 18, 1908). New York: The Myron C. Clark Pub. Co. Pg 25



Lyman F. Giddens’ Barbershop

Lyman Franklin Giddens 1876-1963 in his barber shop in Ray City. He served in many capacities for the Ray City community including Justice of the Peace and Mayor. Image and caption courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Lyman Franklin Giddens 1876-1963 in his barber shop in Ray City. He served in many capacities for the Ray City community including Justice of the Peace and Mayor. Image and caption courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Lyman Giddens’ barbershop was one of the historic businesses of Ray City, GA.

The barbershop was in a small one-story wooden building located on the south side of Main Street, about where the present day Post Office is located.  Next door, on the west of Franklin’s barbershop was the first gasoline station ever built in Ray City, GA.  The gas station was in a brick building constructed around 1925 by Gordon V. Hardie. The gas station was set back further off the street than the other businesses, but a shelter extended out from the building to cover the gas pumps.  Next in line was was Leon Bradford’s barbershop.  Then came the grocery store owned by Marvin and Arlie Purvis which was next to the tracks of  Georgia & Florida railroad.  Between Purvis’s Grocery Store and the tracks, was the big wooden water tower which provided water for the old steam engines that pulled the trains.  These buildings were located on the south side of Main Street just east of the tracks.

In addition to operating the barbershop, Lyman F. Giddens was Justice of the Peace. He conducted his official business out of the barbershop. He kept a desk in the corner of the shop that was always piled high with papers.