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Early medicine in North Stoddard County

Posted Tuesday, March 16, 2010, at 4:43 PM

Okay, well - I know this photo is used a lot - but I don't have any pictures of the town square in Advance as it would have looked in 1938, when Dr. E.C. Masters first started practicing medicine there. So this one will have to do, as it does show a rather riotous atmosphere, in which the Saturday night crowd could get into fights and cut each other up with knives. This photo is probably from about 1910 to 1920, when wagons & buggies were still the predominant mode of transportation. I see no cars.
The Monday, March 22 meeting of the Stoddard County Historical Meeting is going to feature a talk by Dr. Bill Shell, a retired Sikeston doctor, who is going to speak on the topic of early medicine before and during the Civil War. Come join us at the Stars & Stripes Museum in Bloomfield for some fascinating history! The business meeting will be at 6:30 and the program should start about 7 p.m

In light of this topic, I am re-printing an NSC story I did last June, after the old Masters Medical Clinic was razed in Advance to make room for the new Cross Trails clinic. Dr. Masters' daughter Rusty loaned me his autobiography, which is full of unbelievable accounts of his medical practice in those early years.

Masters Clinic is gone, but memories remain
By Madeline DeJournett
Advance Staff Writer

When Dr. E.C. Masters opened a medical clinic in Advance in 1938, the area was about as primitive as it was possible for a small Missouri town to be. Doctors during this period of time had no penicillin, tetracyclines or mycins, so malaria, pneumonia, and other diseases were common causes of death. Dr. Masters reports in his 1980 autobiography that malaria became chronic, so most people over 50 developed rheumatic hearts.

Though Masters built his clinic in 1952, he practiced from the back room of the old Kinder's Drug Store for several years before that, traveling by wagon and mule-powered mud sled into the remote regions of swampland in North Stoddard County. In his autobiography, Masters describes one unbelievable incident when he was called out to see a patient in "Kinder swamps":

"I closed my office and ate a bite and got down there, and here Mr. Bidewell was at the railroad junction and he said, 'Well, here's a mule. You get on this mule and just let him go and he'll take you there; he'll go back home.' Of course, I didn't know the way down through those swamps. I'd never been down in this particular area, and I didn't know where Mr. Walker lived or anything else, but he told me, 'Just let the mule have his way, and he'll take you there.'

"Well, I got my bag and got on the mule. It happened to be in the early spring, still cold, the water was covered with a thin skim of ice. It was dark and I had to stay in a position to keep the limbs from hitting me in the face going down through the swamps. We'd get in water all the way from knee deep on the mule all the way to belly deep, and I'd have to lay my legs up on the top of the mule to keep from getting my feet wet. You know, we fooled around in that swamp all night long, and I just about froze to death. In fact, if it had not been for the heat from the mule's body, I don't know what I'd have done, because I hugged that mule all night long in order to stay warm."

When he finally found the house, he had to pack a man's nose to make it quit bleeding - just one of many unusual cases in which the old doc had to be innovative in figuring out how to solve a multitude of medical problems with hardly any supplies.

Advance Mayor James J. Harnes, Sr., in recalling the stories he'd heard, repeated one told to him by Dr. L.A. Masters, E.C. Masters' cousin. Dr. L.A. practiced with Dr. E.C. for a period of time, and they shared some of the same experiences. Dr. L.A. remembered going out in the middle of the night to deliver a baby, only to discover that the woman wasn't ready, so the exhausted doctor lay down on the bed beside the woman and took a nap until she was ready to have the baby. Dr. E.C. shares an identical story in his autobiography.

Rusty Newton recalls a scene she once witnessed in her father's clinic.

"I was in there one day after school, when a bunch of people brought a young blonde girl in with a head injury so bad that I could see pieces of her brain showing," Newton remembers. "My dad sewed her up, and she survived. He was always getting people with really traumatic injuries brought in from the Wappapello area. He would fix them up and send them on to Cape. His clinic worked like a M.A.S.H. unit in time of war."

Dr. E.C. Masters described several miraculous operations in which he sewed severed fingers back on, and in one case, he sewed a man's neck back together, when the steering wheel of his car went straight through. The man insisted on going home to Marquand without going to the hospital, and, remarkably, he lived. He came to see Dr. Masters years later to prove he was still alive.

In doing this story, I interviewed E.C. Masters' son, Dr. Ed Masters, who passed away last year. He practiced in the clinic with his father from 1972 to 1974, and he described their practice as like an emergency room.

"We did everything," explained Dr. Ed Masters. "I remember one day after lunch, I was seeing a patient, when someone said, 'Dr. Masters, come quick!' I went to the back of the clinic, where they had brought in a man who had tried to commit suicide. He had a through-and-through gunshot wound in his head. We fixed him up the best we could, but he died on the way to the hospital. We saw everything from an acute heart attack and severe trauma, to a ruptured tubule pregnancy."

Dr. Ed Masters confirmed that the clinic delivered some 4,500-5,000 babies during the years it was in operation. Practically everybody in Advance was either delivered by Doc Masters or called on him to deliver their children.

One of the things Dr. E.C. Masters was proud of was the number of doctors he had brought in and located in the area. He tells in his autobiography that he located 27 doctors in and around Advance, from Lutesville to Bernie. These doctors consulted with each other quite often.

However, Dr. E.C. Masters' influence on the community spread much farther than the medical profession. When he came to Advance, there was no sewer and water, no fire department, no paved streets, hardly any street lights, no city hall, and no marshall. To make matters worse, 84 city wells were contaminated, and there were knife fights every Saturday night.

"Advance was not a safe place for anyone to bring his family, especially on Saturdays," Dr. E.C. Masters wrote. "I never had any family practice on Saturdays. It just wasn't a safe place for women and children to be. In fact, there's been, I believe, seven different people killed on the streets in Advance, from fighting and at Cash Corbin's place by the Greenbrier Junction, and Hamlin's place in Sturdivant. I would stay up late patching people up from fights. They'd slash each other with knives something terrible. I've had numerous times when I'd put a hundred sutures in people who'd been stabbed with a knife. "

In fact, Dr. E.C. admitted that these lawless conditions were the main reason he became mayor. Pulling together other members of the community, such as Ed Mirley, Dr. Masters succeeded in getting a public water system, a fire truck, a city hall, a factory, and street lights. One subdivision in the city is called the "Masters Subdivision."

Thus, the legacy left behind by this remarkable man extends far into the Advance community, even to this day. He would be gratified to know that his grandson, Reid Masters, has recently graduated at the top of his class at the University of Illinois School of Medicine and is now a Navy physician, married to a classmate who is also a doctor. Two more doctors named Masters are embarking into the future.

Showing comments in chronological order
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An amazing story of early days in Advance and surrounding towns. It's a wonder enough folks lived to populate North Stoddard County.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Tue, Mar 16, 2010, at 7:57 PM

These swamps were deadly in so many ways. We learned a while back about a Union troop that was stationed in Bloomfield -- so many of them died of various lung diseases. So sad to think of all those young men going off to war and being sent to Southeast Missouri, where they died as much from disease as from bullets.

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Mar 16, 2010, at 9:38 PM

Fighting and cutting. Ah,'The good ole days'.

-- Posted by dave grincreeper on Fri, Mar 19, 2010, at 2:03 PM

There is a lot of nostalgia for the good 'ole days, but even in civilized places like Advance, in various ways they were much more dangerous than today.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sun, Mar 21, 2010, at 6:00 PM

From the sound of it, Advance wasn't too civilized in the "good ole days"! But that's sure not the way people remember it! In the "good ole days, a huge number of Americans died of tuberculosis,which is practically unheard of today. Pneumonia was much, much more common as a cause of death - esp. in this low, wet region.

I often wonder how mankind has survived in this part of the country in the first place!!

And we're in for more gory facts about the past tomorrow night at the history meeting, I'll bet! "Gone with the Wind" medicine time!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Mar 21, 2010, at 10:23 PM

GL, you forgot polio. Although it wasn't specific to swampy areas, it was a scourge that could strike anyone with little that could be done, like MS is now.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Thu, Mar 25, 2010, at 2:49 PM

You're right, FJ. I thought of polio, but I decided not to include it, for some reason -- maybe because it wasn't as prevalent for this region as T.B. & pneumonia. I'm not aware that polio is affected by a person's climate.

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Mar 25, 2010, at 8:34 PM

The birth defects were massive back then, too -- and there was NOTHING the doctors could do about them. I don't even want to think about them -- too horrible!

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Mar 25, 2010, at 8:38 PM

GL, another angle is that the people who survived had good genes. People with weak immune systems or susceptibility to different ailments typically got sick and died early in life before they had a chance to have kids. Man has completely disrupted natures natural process of ensuring that the strongest and most capable humans would survive and propagate, while the weak generally would not.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sun, Mar 28, 2010, at 4:07 PM

Actually, FJ, I've thought about that. However, when it comes to something like malaria, tuberculosis or pneumonia, these things were just as likely to kill healthy individuals as weak ones. In fact, the speaker at the Sto. Co. Historical Society said that many of the soldiers in the Civil War died of childhood illnesses that have practically been eradicated now.

Your theory holds true for the birth defects, however.

Mmm....Madeline hasn't written about that meeting, has she? Big oversight there, MD!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Mar 28, 2010, at 4:59 PM

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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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