Love in the Time of Influenza

Dr. Sam Houston Adams

The murder of Dr. Sam Houston Adams is not a tragic tale.

It’s not necessarily a gloomy story. Nor is it a hopeful story about overcoming hardships or tribulations.

It’s not quite folklore either.

No.

For lack of a better description, it is simply – a love story.

It’s a tale of love shared between two people, their daughters, and the place they called home – Slaton.

It is a love story beginning in 1918 – the year of the Influenza.

Like most of the world in 1918, Slaton was not completely spared by the flu epidemic. However, according to some, she may have been rescued from the worst of its deathly grip through the tireless efforts of one of its citizens.

As most townspeople stayed in homes that protected them from the monstrous blizzards during the winter of 1918, on any given day, Dr. Sam Houston Adams could be seen roaming the wintry streets. “Many developed the dreaded pneumonia, which was the real killer, more than the flu. Dr. Adams often brought in wood and built fires, fixed food, and administered to the sick in any way necessary,” Dr. Adams daughters’, Frances Adams Kerrigan and Josephine Scott Adams Westefeld wrote in Slaton’s Story. “He slept with his clothes on for eleven days, and though his entire family had the flu at the same time, he never got sick.”

Whether it was late into the hours of night or early mornings, through sleet and snow, carrying his doctor’s bag, going on little to no sleep, and with Calomel and Castor Oil; Dr. Adams traveled from house to house treating citizens who had been affected by the deadliest pandemic since the Bubonic Plague.

“Besides the big snow of 1918, the great influenza epidemic caused the deaths of millions of people in the country and throughout the world,” Frances and Josephine Scott wrote. “The little community of Slaton had at least one member in every household with the disease, and often a whole family was stricken at one time.”

Julia Ann Adams

After he aided those who had been stricken by the Influenza, it was his wife, Julia Ann Adams, who consoled the doctor and supported him that demanding winter.

However, according to Slaton’s Story, the Adams met years before they even knew they would be spending the rest of their days in a town that did not yet exist. It was the summer of 1905 and young Dr. Adams looked across a crowded room at a church meeting in Georgia to see the love of his life, Julia Ann. “He saw a young lady at a church meeting,” Frances and Josephine Scott wrote. “On asking his friend who she was, he said, ‘I’m going to marry her.’”

First Methodist Church in Plainview, Texas, where Mr. and Mrs. Adams were married in 1907.

More than a year later, on Christmas Eve, Julia Ann Price agreed to become Mrs. Adams. The couple married on October 1, 1907 in Plainview, Texas. They lived in Louisville for two years as Dr. Adams completed medical school.

In 1911, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad appointed Dr. Adams as the local surgeon for a new town being developed fifteen miles south of Lubbock. By train, the young couple made their way to the new frontier town with a briery name – Slaton.

“For several years, Dr. Adams was the only physician in Slaton, and he and Mrs. Adams underwent the hardships of the usual lot of pioneer families in a new country,” Frances and Josephine Scott wrote. For many years he walked to make his calls in the town. Across from his office, where vacant buildings now stand on West Panhandle Street, a once thriving livery stable stood. From the stable he would hire a horse and buggy for rural calls.

In 1915 the Adams built a house at 255 South 10th Street. Almost un-changed the house still modestly stands on a street corner. Many of the organizations and civic duties the Adams overtook, also continue flourishing. They were the driving force for building the first Methodist Church. Although Dr. Adams was reared as a Baptist, he converted to the Methodist Church when he married the love of his life, who happened to be Methodist.

Another institute the Adams assisted in establishing was Slaton’s first school. Prior to the building of Slaton Schools, classes were held at the Methodist Church. When the new school was built, coal stoves were used to keep the children warm. “Dr. Adams went many a morning, before school, to build the fires,” Frances and Josephine Scott wrote. “He served many years as a member of the school board and twelve years as its chairman.”

In 1923, as other doctors moved into Slaton, Dr. Adam’s and his family of four loaded their vehicle and went on their first vacation since moving to Slaton. At the time, the family consisted of their two daughters. “Little Josephine’s grandfather, Winfield Scott Adams, was so disappointed when their second child was a girl, that they named her Scott for him,” Frances wrote.

It is believed, according to Slaton’s Story, that this adventure was a pleasant

The home of Dr. and Mrs. SH Adams in Slaton, Texas.

and joyous event in the young family’s life. It had been 37 years since Dr. Adams had visited his birthplace near Lumpkin, Georgia. “The house he was born in had long since burned, and only a brick chimney with a crepe myrtle brush remained,” Frances and Josephine Scott wrote. “We visited many historical places and returned to Georgia other times, but it was never so great an adventure as in 1923.”

Throughout the 1920s, the family continued thriving and in 1925, their first daughter, Frances, set out to make a life of her own as she enrolled in Texas Women’s College in Fort Worth. It was five years later, in 1930, when their youngest daughter, Josephine Scott, followed in her sister’s footsteps. Frances eventually transferred to the University of Texas before finding her niche in the dramatic arts and made her way to New York City and became a student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

In August of 1932, as the Adams’ daughters continued on their venture of a life outside of Slaton, Woodie Tudor, son of A.L. Tudor who built many of the first Slaton homes, was involved in an auto accident where he sustained a broken arm. When his father took him to see Dr. Adams, it is believed, A.L. told Dr. Adams that Woodie had a weak heart and that he should avoid ether. However, the mistake had already been made and ether had already been administered.

Forty-five minutes after the mix up, Woodie died.

It was two months later October 13, 1932 that Julia Ann discovered that her husband’s body, surrounded by a shallow pool of blood, lay lifeless on the cold floor of his office on 9th Street where Brite Way Cleaners now stands.

Dr. Sam Houston Adams was 58-years-old when he was shot with a revolver held by the hands of another grieving Slaton founding father, home builder, A.L. Tudor.

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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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3 Responses to Love in the Time of Influenza

  1. Tragic tale for sure! James, the railroad’s name is Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. Maybe it’s not too late to correct the misspelling of “Atchison”. Isn’t it amazing what profound and painfully human stories can emerge from a little, obscure town on the West Texas plains? You spin these stories well. I’m sure other people in Slaton like me look forward to each new chapter week by week. Y

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review: Not too shabby! | Slatontx's Blog

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