Jimmy Davidson talks about Dr. Davidson
Interview with Jimmy Davidson by Mary Beth Pennington and Nancy Conley
Mary Beth: Today is December 11, 1995. We're interviewing Jimmy Davidson about Dr. Davidson. The first question is What was Dr. Davidson's full name?
Jimmy: James Joseph Davidson Mary Beth: Who were his parents?
Jimmy: His father was John Allen Davidson and his mother was Mattie Jane Harmon from Tazewell.
Mary Beth: Where was he born and raised?
Jimmy: At the old Davidson home in South Gap which was a log home, somewhat South of present 606. That home was later torn down and moved across Wilderness Creek and became a barn and has been vacant for about the last 25 years.
M.B.: Was he married?
Jimmy: Dr. Davidson married Lena Grayson and I assume that they met at what was then called the Sharon College which is near Ceres, Virginia now. She was a native. uh closer to the college than what we are here and he later went on to the Medical College of Virginia and he graduated from there in 1904.
Nancy:Was he trained to be a General Practitioner?
Jimmy:That's correct he did it all!
Nancy: Did he practice anywhere else before coming to Rocky Gap?
Jimmy: He started his practice at Welch, West Virginia. I assume
either in late 1904 or in 1905 and was there for about three years and left there and came here to the old Davidson home place which was vacant at that time and set up his home and his practice and stayed there until about 1914 or 1915 and bought some land from the Honakers at Rocky Gap and built a house there and I'm pretty sure it was a Sears & Roebuck house that come up Wolf Creek on a train.
M.B.: Where was his office located?
Jimmy: At Rocky Gap he had a little office building in the corner
of his yard about a 16 by about 20 foot structure and that's where he did all of it except delivering babies and for that part of his medical practice, he went to the homes.
M.B.: Was there a waiting room there?
Jimmy:The waiting room was in your car or in your buggy, outside, whatever. The office was fairly crowded. There was a chair and a kind of a daybed, sofa type thing where he worked on limbs and what not and for pulling teeth, he would get you to sit down in the door stoop and hold your hands between your legs and rare your head back and held get straddled over you with a pair of pliers and that was how he did his dental work.
M.B.:Did he have a nurse?
Jimmy:No nurses and not much Novocaine.
Nancy: What was it like before there was electricity or telephones?
Jimmy: It was pretty rough. We carried lots of water around here. We didn't get electricity where we live here until 1946. I was 13 years old. We had a spring about three or four hundred feet away and we could usually carry two-two and a half gallon buckets full of water at a time. We didn't use so much water then.
Nancy:How wide an area did Dr. Davidson serve?
Jimmy:There was another doctor in Bland at the time and I'm not
sure, I guess they alternated on pieces halfway between, whatever. But I do know that he went down Wolf Creek almost to Narrows and went out here in the Wilderness area all the way to White Gate on occasions. How far he went towards I assume Bastain. Pretty wide area. He started his practice on horseback and he told me one time that lots of times when he could be fording the creeks when they were up, cold like it is right now and he would be frozen to the saddle and he would stop at the next house and get whoever was there to chop him loose from the saddle so he could go on and make his house call wherever it was. He was a tough old bird!
Mary Beth: What kind of transportation did he use? What model car?
Jimmy:He usually, in my lifetime, kept Chevrolet coupes and he was hard on his vehicles. He learned to drive at a late age and he never learned to drive very well. So he used up cars pretty fast. Used him one every two years and sometimes one every year.
Mary Beth: Did you ever go with him on any of his visits?
Jimmy: Never did.
Mary Beth: Do you remember any out-of-the-way or hard to get to places he had to go to?
Jimmy: I can't specifically name any but I do know that due to the terrible shape of roads in the early part of this century and when he was doing a lot of his practice that houses were way back on mountain and he would drive as far as he could. The rest of it he would have to go on foot. Wherever.
Mary Beth: What about high water or extreme cold?
Jimmy: He didn't ever let it phase him the way I understand it. He kept on going for the needs of the people. He told my dad one time that a country doctor was the people's dog. I guess with good reason.
Nancy:How many babies did he deliver?
Jimmy:He told me over twenty-two hundred.
Nancy:Did women usually have their children at home?
Nancy:Did they use mid-wives?
Jimmy: I think so where it was possible. I do know some cases where it was done.
Nancy:Do you remember any particular deliveries?
Jimmy:Just my own! No.
Nancy:When did women start going to hospitals?
Jimmy:I assume that some women around here went to Bluefield hospitals in my early lifetime although I can't specifically name any. I do know that when Dr. Kegley returned to Bland County after World WarII in the late 1940's that he had his medical practice set up over what was then the bank building at Bland. And had a suite of rooms there and he did deliveries there. The reason I know is that he delivered George Harless's first baby there and I carried him down the steps one cold night about like tonight; Rick Harless. You know him?
Mary Beth: Do you remember any epidemics like Polio or measles that Dr. Davidson had to treat?
Jimmy: No, I don't specifically remember it but I do know that a lot of old timers told me that during the extreme flu epidemic that killed about a third or a fourth of the people worldwide.They attributed their lives to Dr. Davidson. At the risk of his own life waiting on them. That was in 1917,1918. It was a terrible winter(to have the flu . . . ?) He went and administered to them
Nancy: Do you ever recall any terrible accidents in Rocky Gap or near Rocky Gap?
Jimmy:What kind of accidents?
Jimmy:Yes! Billy Joe French shot Verris Burton crossways through the body with a 38 pistol at close range and one of the slugs went through his lung and it was hot weather and they sent for Dr. Davdison to wait on him and he patched him up and put a tube in his side to drain and Verris Burton told me this. He said that he just sweated profusely for two or three days and was drifting in and out of consciousness and the doctor came to wait on him one day and told Verris’ parents that they had to get him to the hospital. He was losing ground and losing it fast. They took him to Pearisburg and he said the doctor down there, a young doctor, took one look at him and jerked that tube out of his side and gave him some medicine and he said he continued going downhill near the point of death and so three older doctors came in one day to examine him and said after all three of them examined him, they went over in the corner and had a little huddle and chit chat. In a little while they came and inserted the tube back in his side and gave him some more medicine and he started to get well immediately. Dr. Davidson was on the right track to getting him cured, he just didn't have all of the facilities he needed to complete the job. Another time . . . Who all is going to listen to this tape? My dad was a surveyor and he was a brother to Dr. Davidson and he was surveying in a particular section of Bland County. It was about lunchtime and a lady at the house asked him if he would come in a have their meal with them and he did and my brother was there and there had been a big fight about two Saturday nights before this and this lady's son had had his eyeball ripped with a pair of steel knucks in this fight and she asked my dad if he was kin to Dr. Davidson and he said "Yes, he's my brother." This lady said well up here we call him divine healer. Dad said he might be a healer, but he's not divine. You can guess the rest.
Mary Beth: Did he have a black bag?
Jimmy: He had a little black bag.
Mary Beth: What did he carry in it?
Jimmy: He carried just about everything he needed and you could smell that black bag and you could smell him just about ten feet away. He always had the smell of medicine.
Nancy: Was Dr. Davidson ever paid for his services with anything besides money?
Jimmy:He sure was.
Jimmy: Well I know of one case for delivering babies he got a 38 pistol with a cartridge belt which I have.
Mary Beth: By who?
Jimmy: Ha! Ha! Ha!
Mary Beth: Did he have any interests or hobbies?
Jimmy: Yes. He was a gungho Democrat and attended all of the conventions and he represented Bland and Giles County in the legislature. In 1941-1942 I assume, about that time he was one of the original stockholders of St. Luke's Hospital. In cases where hospitalization was required, he went there to see his patients.
Mary Beth: Did he hunt or fish?
Jimmy: He never hunted nor fished to my knowledge.
Mary Beth: What magazines or newspapers did he read? Did he have any favorite authors?
Mary Beth: Mainly medicine right?
Jimmy:You'd have to ask Pete Sands. He’d know more about that.
Nancy:Did he attend church?
Jimmy:Rocky Gap Methodist when he went. He was a Christian, but he just was not a regular church goer and he did leave a large sum of money at that time to the Rocky Gap church.
Mary Beth: Was he always on call?
Mary Beth: Did he ever have any other doctors cover for him?
Jimmy: I'm sure he did but I can't prove it. Dr. Walker was in Bastain sometime after Dr. Davidson was established at Rocky Gap and there was a doctor out in the Kimberling area, Dr. Miller. I'm sure they switched whenever it was necessary. I do know that he was travelling through the Wilderness on his horse in 1923 and his horse threw him and broke both wrists and my mother was pregnant with my sister and the doctor told my mother that she should go up to Hicksville and stay with her mother when her time was about up so that she could get Dr. Walker to deliver my sister. So Dr. Walker was actually practicing up there in 1923 that I know.
Mary Beth: Was he ever able to take a vacation?
Jimmy: I'm not aware.
Mary Beth: Was there a doctor in Rocky Gap before Dr. Davidson or was there one after him?
Nancy:When did he retire?
Jimmy:Can't pin down exactly. About a year before Pete Sands's daughter Susan was born. He delivered her but he had actively retired about a year before.
Nancy:When did he die?
Jimmy:About the last day of the year 1952.
Nancy:Where is he buried?
Nancy:Did many attend the funeral?
Jimmy:Yes it was heavily attended. People paid respects. His wife had died, predeceased him, in 1948 and she was buried there and his daughter died, probably suicide, in New York in the Hudson River in 1950 and she is buried there. So the whole family died in four years time. Kind of sad.
Mary Beth: What kind of man was Dr. Davidson?
Jimmy: Snappy. He could bite your head of f . He had a sharp tongue.
Mary Beth: Describe what he looked like.
Jimmy:He was small in stature. Probably 5’8" or 5’9"; maybe a little overweight, but very little if any. And always seemed like he was trotting. Just like a (rat?) . Moving f ast and always chewing Brown Mule Chewing Tobacco. Held keep a plug up in his pocket and a sharp knife and held cut off a little quid and put it in. I didn't see him spit too often.
Mary Beth: Why do you think that people speak so highly of Dr. Davidson?
Jimmy: He saved a lot of their lives and the lives of their loved ones at the expense of his own. And didn't charge much. As a matter of fact as little has changed, I think it's about 30,000 dollars on his books when he died of unpaid bills people owed him and I don't recall any of it ever being collected.
Mary Beth: Do you have anything else you want to add, any more stories you could tell?
Jimmy: I don't believe. You can get the rest off of Pete Sands.
Mary Beth: There was one about him fighting a hawk or something?
Jimmy: That was out on Wilderness Road too. An eagle landed on his back or his shoulder one and was just about to claw him to death and he managed to get in his pocket and get his pen knife out and cut that thing's throat while still fighting the eagle off and holding the horse. It was bucking and jostling and what not. He managed to kill the thing and brought it home with him as the proof. I don't know how bad it cut him up, but I'm sure it scratched his back pretty keen. And another time, again out in the Wilderness, he ran up on two baby bears and he captured them and brought them home and kept them until they were real large. According to George Peery, because he was the overseer down here, it was his job to catch them in a little building and take them out and chain them to a tree so they could exercise. I'm sure he embellished the story a good deal.(laughter)
Nancy: What about the story when you went to see him in the hospital?
Jimmy: That was when he was near the point of death. The family had taken him to Bluefield St. Luke's and his buddy Dr. Scott was administering to him over there and he was dying and Dr. Scott knew he was dying and Uncle Jim said he wanted to go home. Dr. Scott told my dad and Pete Sands and other members of the family he reckoned a man ought to be able to die where he wanted to so they moved him back to his home at Rocky Gap. Different members of the family would sit up with him at night and Pete and his wife would take care of him during the daytime and I was with him one night way in the wee hours about two or three o'clock and he raised up and shook his fist toward me and says I'm tough as a pine knot and I said I know you are. That was . . . for him to get his hand up that far. He was reliving the days when he was tough and he was. When he was a very young man, just a big boy, thirteen or fourteen years old and he had two older brothers and I guess that old Grandaddy Davidson recognized that Uncle Jim was the toughest one of the bunch and there was a depression in the country and Grandaddy had some gold in a bank at Pulaski and he put Uncle Jim on a horse and told him to go get that gold and it was about fifty miles in a straight line across I don't know how many mountains. You can count them between here and Pulaski. He brought the money back.
Nancy: Did he show a lot of interest in medicine when he was young?
Jimmy: I don't know where that came from. I have no knowledge of any member of the family in older generations that was a doctor. There was a doctor on Clear Fork, and I don't think he practiced, that was a little related to us, (to me; to my mother), but not to Dr. Davidson; Dr. J.J. Bishop that lived where the Kinsers now live. Whether that old man inspired him or whether he just had that feeling that he could do it and wanted to do it for the people, probably that. It's hard to say.
Mary Beth: Anything else?
Jimmy: We ought to quit there.
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