Dr. Nichols

Come on and hear,
Come on and hear,
Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

When E.O. Nichols, M.D., arrived in New York by train, he remembered the sounds of Alexander’s Ragtime Band playing in a New York City beer garden. It was, after all, the biggest hit of 1911.

The music was upbeat but, according to historians, the hardships were a’plenty as the world entered a new century and Dr. Nichols was starting a new life in a city overflowing with immigrants. While at the beer garden, it is easy to imagine Nichols swapping stories of being the first doctor in Slaton, Texas.

President William Taft was in office, the Philadelphia Athletics were on their way to winning the World Series and, according to various accounts and historical documents, that year the city of Slaton was dedicated to the public on a hot summer day, officially opening on June 15, 1911 according to the book, Slaton’s Story: The History of Slaton, Texas 1900 – 1979.
It was that same year when Dr. Nichols, departed for New York City after a brief stay in Slaton.

Nichols gave detailed description of this account in his book, Medicine and Cowboys Sixty Years Ago and Today’s Politics. The book was published in February of 1969.

Practicing in Slaton for only three months, Nichols gave vivid account of the new town in his book and is one of the earliest writings featuring the birth of this particular boomtown.

In an essay written in 1979 about the early years of Slaton, Slatonite Vyola Hubbard wrote, “there was only one doctor in town – Dr. Nichols. Dr. Adams had not yet arrived [in Slaton]. Dr. Nichols was so young that he had to grow a beard to look professional – but when it came to medical knowledge he was really way out in front. He [Nichols] had been trained in the new ways that were to open up an amazing and marvelous world of medicine thru the first half of the twentieth century.”

Nichols said in the book that when he arrived in Slaton most people lived in tents. The early citizens waited for months and sometimes years, while the town progressed and homes and businesses were gradually built.

Nichols recalls the price of lots in the new town going for $300 each and in three days the price increasing to $2200. “A man would tell a lot owner I will give you a hundred dollars more than you paid – and prices went up and up.” He also recalls one man paid $300 for a lot and when the price reached $1400 he took his profit and left for another town.

Making camp in a tent at first, Nichols eventually decided to build a small barn for Old Dobbin, his horse. His wife agreed to move in with him (she was staying with her mother in Lubbock), if they could get a stove and a little furniture.

“My wife moved in to feed me some food that was not contaminated by flies,” Nichols wrote. “It [the barn] had a dirt floor and a hole in the wall for a window. While I was out making a night call, one of those wonderful little friends, a burro, stuck his head through the window and let out one of those long-drawn-out noises that will shake the rafters. My wife was in bed when the big noise started and in two seconds she was under the bed. We decided to build a little two-room house.”

Dr. Nichols’ office was located in the back of the first drug store in town, Red Cross Pharmacy. It is believed the pharmacy was located at 109 S. 9th the site of the current Slaton Bakery.

With people migrating to Slaton, within that three-month span, Dr. Nichols wrote that he would treat hundreds of patients. He charged residents $20 for his service and, yet, a few citizens complained that his fees were too high considering they could use a midwife for $5.

With the money he was receiving, Nichols eventually bought a horse and buggy for $75.
Nichols wrote about his hectic business of being the lone doctor in a boomtown. “I was busy doing everything from setting fractures, and suturing cuts from fights, to extracting teeth.”
At the end of his three-month stay, however, Nichols wrote that his service was becoming more in demand thus making life that much more taxing for him and his wife.

Then, one night, a man arrived at his office after riding in from nine miles east of the town site.
“He said his wife had a miscarriage and was hemorrhaging,” Dr. Nichols wrote. “I was following him in the dark, and the first thing I knew the buggy was on an incline and turned over – spilling me, my medicine case and instruments over the side. The horse was so frightened he did not move. The cowboy helped me turn the buggy upright, collect my medical case and instruments.”

Dr. Nichols arrived at the house to find an extremely ill woman. He wrote she had bled until he could no longer find a pulse. The cowboy left Nichols to aid the wife while he rode to a local rancher’s house to phone a doctor in from Lubbock or Floydada. Dr. Adams arrived early the next morning. Both Nichols and Adams curetted her and removed the afterbirth. The woman’s pulse eventually stabilized and Dr. Adams and Nichols returned to their respective offices; Nichols in Slaton and Adams in Floydada.
Three days later, the cowboy returned to Nichols’ office and said his wife had delivered a child.

“Why didn’t you tell me was going to have a chill (child)?” The man demanded.

“Hell, I didn’t know she would have a chill (child),” Dr. Nichols told the man. He returned to the house where Nichols helped the woman deliver a second child, the first was sick from infections.

Nichols stayed for two days and nights to help the ailing twins.

“I tried to sleep in a shed attached to the house,” Nichols wrote. “The ‘snuggins’ as the quilts were called had never been washed and the odor did not smell like roses. They had eight children, and she had never had a doctor during her confinement. His [the cowboy’s] mother took the place of the doctor. For food we had biscuits, golden yellow filled with soda. Fat meat swimming in grease with flies mixed in, and molasses with flies. I collected $60 and went back to Slaton.”

Nichols never revealed whether the twins survived.

A few days later, Nichols’ father arrived in Slaton for a visit. He told his father, “I had had a belly full of general practice and wanted to go to New York and specialize in eye, ear, nose and throat.” Nichols received a loan from the bank for the $1200 it would cost him to stay six months in New York for his training.

“We boarded the train, reached New York, and took a horse-drawn carriage to a house on River Side Drive,” Nichols wrote. That night, at the beer garden, Nichols retold his stories of west Texas, cowboy medicine and that new town of Slaton.

“We had talked to a woman in Lubbock whose sister lived in New York and rented apartments for $1 per day,” Nichols wrote. “That night she took us to a beer garden where we heard Alexander’s Ragtime Band played. The next night the landlady had a poker game going on in the next apartment, and we decided to move out. We got a nice apartment in a new building near Columbia University for $5 a week,” he wrote. “That night, we saw Broadway that we [had] heard about.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles about the 100 years history of Slaton to be published in The Slatonite in this year leading up to the city’s Centennial Celebration in 2011.

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About slatontx

The ramblings of one of the few remaining small town newspaper reporters left in the world!
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2 Responses to Dr. Nichols

  1. Those settlers sure had to be tough…especially that poor woman giving birth to twins…or was it triplets counting the doctor’s first visit? No wonder the “snuggins” weren’t clean…that woman had eight kids and was very sick with a ninth pregnancy. I know I’m not tough enough to have endured that life! (Surprising more women didn’t choose the nunnery!)

  2. Jim McGehee says:

    Hi–thanks for the story! Dr. Nichols was the brother of my great grandmother, Katie Mae (Nichols) McGehee of Hereford, who my oldest daughter is named after. He lived well into his 90’s and his wife was 103 when she passed in the late 70’s so I was one of the lucky few in this century to have some contact with my pioneer ancestors. I knew he wrote the book on “Cowboy Medicine”, but running across your blog made me think to check Worldcat and it is in almost all of the medical center libraries here in Houston. I will go check it out! Best, Jim

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