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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 20, No. 3
September, 1942


Page 228


When the tall, young stripling alighted from the train in Atoka and saw the kind of community he had landed in, a thrill of delightful anticipation shot through his heart. He had never been west of the Mississippi before and the semi-foreign atmosphere of the Choctaw nation interested him tremendously. If he felt pangs of homesickness, the shining steel rails from which he came constituted a bond between him and the civilization he had left behind and banished the sense of distance which might otherwise have existed.

Atoka was a beautiful town, located among tree covered hills. It is said that it derived its name from the old Chief Atoka, who lived some twenty miles southeast of where the town was later built. According to Reverend J. S. Murrow, a Baptist clergyman and missionary who came from Georgia in 1857 to preach among the Indians, it began as a country community consisting of two families and was finally made a post office by his request. It remained a small settlement until 1871, at which time a railroad was completed from Muskogee to Denison Texas. Since Atoka was a post office on the old Fort Smith stage coach road and was conveniently on the line traversed by the railroad, it was made a station and immediately began to grow. It became the local point of federal activity among the Indians and was the headquarters of federal courts at certain seasons of the year. It soon acquired many splendid people of the leading Indian families as well as fine representatives of old southern families, who had moved to the new territory and had there begun to make their fortunes.

In 1889 Oklahoma Territory was opened to immigration and hordes of newcomers flocked into that territory. The resultant nation-wide publicity focused attention also on Indian Territory and caused an influx of people and money into that otherwise more or less settled community. Along with them came an increase of all kinds of business. Atoka became the center of a great territory between Texas on the south and Muskogee and McAlester on the north. Cattle were being shipped out of Fort Smith from all over the Choctaw nation; coal was being mined and sold from McAlester; new towns were springing up; electric lights and telephone systems began to make their appearance in the more populous centers; and the great territories which later were to become the state of Oklahoma took form in the national consciousness.

Along with the others came Dr. J. S. Fulton on January 9, 1891, from the Louisville Medical College. He found much wealth as

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well as poverty in the territory of his labors, and during the next two or three years he built up a practice which worked him night and day. In the spring of 1894 Dr. Fulton decided to go to New York City for some post-graduate work. There were other doctors in Atoka at the time, and he did not feel that he could afford to go away and leave his patients to shift for themselves. He decided to write to his old school and get a substitute, who would agree not to remain in Atoka after he returned. When he received Dr. Kelly's letter and letters of recommendation from all the other professors about LeRoy Long, he made arrangements for this young man to come and relieve him. When he reached Louisville and met Dr. Cochran in the clinic, Dr. Cochran asked him, "How do you like Long?" Dr. Fulton replied that he liked him very well but had seen very little of him. Cochran replied, "He is the brightest man who ever graduated from the Louisville School. He was my assistant and would have reached the top in Louisville."

Meanwhile back in Atoka, Dr. Long immediately became busy. Dr. Fulton had turned over to him two teams and an extra horse, because in those days there was much work and few capable physicians, the supply in no wise equaling the demand for their services. It soon became noised around that the young doctor was highly competent and that he had a diploma from a real medical school. Atoka was small enough so that within a short time he was acquainted with everyone within its bounds and even the neighboring communities.

Dr. Fulton remained away for two months and returned home to find that his substitute had been almost as busy as he himself was when on the job. The young doctor had indeed made hay during the summer vacation. He had made more than expenses and had enjoyed himself hugely. Far more important than this, however, was the fact that he had fallen in love with a girl, whose personality added to the lure of this country and made him want to settle down and spend the remainder of his days in the West.

It came about by pure accident. On April 5, 1895, a prominent lady became violently ill and asked for the young doctor. Since there were no telephones, she sent a neighbor for him, a sprightly and attractive young school teacher, named Martha Downing. At that time his calls were written on a slate, which was fastened on the wall of his office beside the door. Miss Downing came up to this slate, wrote down the call, then hastened back to take care of her friend. When the doctor came a few minutes later, she assisted him in relieving the patient; and then and there a romance was born. Miss Downing's brown eyes and quick and vivacious manner drew him toward her. He was so impressed that he cultivated her acquaintance to the exclusion of all others and soon determined for himself that this was the woman whom he wished to make his wife. Already the pulsing strength of this great new

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country had gotten into his blood and when in addition he fell in love with a woman who lived in it and was a part of it, it was utterly impossible for him to consider going back to the country from which he came.

In spite of the fact that he loved the medical school in Louisville with its dissecting room and its library and its brilliant professors, he felt that Indian Territory offered him a field of activity in which he could be intensely happy. Accordingly he determined that when Dr. Fulton returned, he would seek a location and remain permanently in the new country. He realized that he could not remain in Atoka and compete with Dr. Fulton, who had been kind enough to invite him in as his substitute; but he knew that there were numerous other locations where he could fit in and build as large a practice as anyone could want or need. When Dr. Fulton returned, therefore, he settled up his affairs with him and moved to Caddo, a village some twenty miles to the south. Shortly after going to Caddo, he became sick with typhoid fever and was brought back to Dr. Fulton's home for five weeks, where he was nursed to health, then returned to Caddo and continued his work.

When Dr. Long first saw it, Caddo was a typical small town with one main street built along a railroad. It was begun in 1870, at which time it was a temporary railroad terminal, from which wagon trains transported supplies westward and southward. It is said that these wagon trains were sometimes miles and miles in extent, and came into town, loaded, and departed with much noise and dust. It is supposed to have been named from a roving band of Caddo Indians, who came from the western plains about 1840, and who were very unwelcome to the Choctaws. There were perhaps five hundred of them in all, including women and children. While the Choctaws were hospitable to them in the beginning, they soon tired of having such permanent guests and began to try to get them to move out. Being unsuccessful, they turned their warriors loose on them and began an irregular war which lasted until all the Caddos were killed.

In 1896, however, this spectacular page of the town's history was over. It was a civilized place with a railroad, a post office, and a business district fronting the railroad tracks. It boasted a newspaper, and in the Caddo Banner of June 14, 1895, on page 4, column 1, is the following paragraph:

"Dr. Long came in from Atoka Thursday and will hereafter make Caddo his home. We unite with the people here in giving him a hearty welcome and wishing him every success in his profession."

Thus did he arrive and soon became an important part of the community. He found other doctors before him, but his training was such that he did not fear for himself. Like most young doctors he still had no ready cash, but in this new country expenses were light and it was not necessary to make a show. At first he shared an

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office with a young lawyer who was in about the same state of development as he. This lawyer was named J. L. Rappolee, and the two young bachelors lived, practiced law, and practiced medicine in the same room. This room was fitted with a long table upon which they ate, advised clients, about legal matters or advised patients about their ailments, according to the demands of the case. Dr. Long had purchased a horse and buggy from his friend, Dr. Fulton, and used it largely for going back to Atoka to visit his fiance. After a time, however, he began to gain a foothold in the community, and nine months later he felt justified in bringing his bride to Caddo permanently. He married Martha Downing on April 29, 1896, thus giving up his bachelor quarters with Judge Rappolee and beginning his real career as a doctor.

Caddo was quite different from Atoka, being purely agricultural because there was much rich land around it; and the real wealth of the community was outside the limits of the town. This being the case, his work consisted largely of country drives and of practice in the homes of farming patients. The work was hard and unpleasant, the weather was often bitter and cold and wet. He had many periods of discouragement and promptly would have lost hope and given up had it not been for the never failing cheerfulness and helpfulness of his practical and business-like wife. She took care of his calls, kept him on the move, and saw to it that he ate and slept properly, and relieved him of the details and troubles of running the family. This left his mind free for his profession, which was an arrangement suitable to him. His practice covered all classes of citizens and he had many interesting experiences among his Indian patients.

On one occasion he was driving across a lonely portion of the countryside when he spied an Indian sitting on a horse. Thinking that he would speak to him, Dr. Long turned toward him. The Indian sat quite motionless until they were some fifty yards apart, when suddenly taking fright, he dug his heels into his horse's sides and disappeared in a cloud of dust over the horizon. Later when these people came to know him, however, they loved him greatly. Since his wife was a member of the Choctaw tribe, he also became a member by virtue of his marriage and made many friends among them. Some of them could not understand why he worked so hard and seemed so intensely serious about taking care of the sick. Governor Jones used to tell him, "You ought to get a farm and cattle; they grow while you sleep. You work too hard." Such advice did not deter the young physician from spending all his time and energy in perfecting himself in learning newer and better methods of healing the sick.

The practice of medicine to him was a religion, in which he could lose himself completely and forget that all else existed. It is said that he was never found to be idle and jovial but rather al-

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ways seemed to be serious and thinking of some deep problem. He practiced medicine and surgery the hard way, ever keeping his patients in mind, subordinating not only his own comfort, but oftentimes his social obligations and his family pleasures to the good of those whom he was serving. On one occasion Mrs. Long had prepared a Thanksgiving dinner with invited guests. She had spoken to him that morning and had told him to be home at twelve o'clock because they were to have company. When twelve o'clock came, the guests were on hand, the turkey was ready, the table was loaded, but Dr. Long was not there. They waited for a short time and still not having heard from him, they were forced to sit down and eat without him. Late that afternoon he showed up, about six o'clock. On inquiry they learned that he had forgotten all about it being Thanksgiving day, because he had been called out into the country to take care of a very seriously ill patient. This and this alone had been on his mind the entire afternoon. Needless to say, he ate cold turkey.

Perhaps it is superfluous to say that when he was sitting detached in a group who were idly chatting, playing cards, or visiting, he was doing the thing he loved best. When as a boy under the tutelage of Dr. McLean, he dedicated his life to the healing art, he meant it with all his soul. When he left the farm and the school room to go into a scientific profession, the change was complete and clean cut. He felt that others could do the things he had been doing but that one who professed to be a true physician must be none less than the best. Whether he willed it or not, his eyes were fixed on a star and he followed it by day and by night. Over the rough roads, across the hills, through the swamps and muddy lowlands, sometimes held up by floods, sometimes having to go horseback, but ever with the same goal fixed in mind, and that was to reach a patient and relieve his suffering. Those were horse and buggy days and many times after working all day and part of the night, his horse's head would turn toward home and he would tie the lines to the side of the buggy top and doze as the horse carried him faithfully back to his doorway. All country doctors of that era had such experiences. Up to the advent of the automobile, the faithful horse was a doctor's only companion for days at a time. These trusty and affectionate animals took them on drives across the prairies, over old buffalo wallows, down the sides of hills, across the creeks, and through clumps of trees where whippoorwills often broke the night's silence with their mournful cries. Sometimes the weather was good with clear skies and shining stars, but other times there were rough and stormy clouds pouring down rain, rumbling with thunder, flashing with lightning, and pelting him with hail—but always he was on the go, always needed, and always doing good.

On such drives his mind became attuned to solitude as he thought out his problems; like David among the hills of Judea,

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tending his sheep, he worked out his relations to God and men in ways peculiarly his own. Countless country doctors have done so, and have gone down in history as one of the beloved products of a Christian civilization. Dr. Long was this kind of a doctor. People not only valued his scientific knowledge, but loved him as a man and sought his advice in all respects. And none was happier than he to give such advice, because when he was not busy, he became unhappy. On one occasion of inactivity when his practice dropped off and he had become somewhat discouraged, he suddenly left the drug store and street where he had been conversing with neighbors, went up to his office, closed the inside door, got down his medical books and began to study. Years later in telling of this incident, he said, "I made up my mind that I should not waste my time. If there was no work for me to do, I could study and make myself more efficient when the work did come. I felt that it was sinful to waste time and that it was my duty to humanity to know all that was to be known about medical science" This creed he followed throughout his life and is the key to all which subsequently came to him Those who were associated with him years later in the University Hospital have frequently seen him leave everyone, go into his office, and shut the door. Once inside he would read and study until the early morning hours of the night.

During the time of residence in Caddo, his two sons were born, LeRoy Downing and Wendell McLean. The burden of rearing them was largely thrown on his wife, because he was so busy that he was away most of the time; and it is to her eternal credit that she did a splendid job. Many long hours she waited through the night while her husband was out on the countryside, and many times did she see him depart, leaving his own infants sick on her hands while he attended the families of other men. Sudden surgical emergencies, night vigils by the side of infants or of borning babes, closing the eyes of the aged, and comforting the bereaved—this was his work, and it was her work to assist him in this, answer calls and otherwise pass messages on to him while he was busy.

Early in his Caddo career it became necessary to obtain some means of communication between the office, drug store, and home. Dr. Long managed to get a private telephone line built to these three points, thus saving himself and his family much running back and forth. Telephone lines were not in general use, however. There was no exchange in the town nor in any other town of that territory. This meant that there were no lines running out into the country, and many times he would get in home after a ten or fifteen mile drive only to be told that someone needed him directly back to within a few miles of where he had just been. He would be forced to turn around and go once more to the same neighborhood. Since there is a great deal of night work in the general practice of medicine, he frequently lost most of a night's sleep and would have to

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remain at home the following morning in order to get enough rest to continue on. Thus he began to form a habit, which stayed with him in later life, of going to bed late and sleeping late the following morning. Many noted men have formed this habit. They are able to think clearer and do better mental work after the interruptions and noises of the day have passed; therefore, they stay up when the others are asleep, when they can think in peace and carry on their labors to the accompaniment of midnight oil. This has its advantages in mental results but has its disadvantages in physical results. Possibly here began the foundation for the heart weakness which ultimately ended Dr. Long's life. At any rate, he did not spare himself. We know that the scene of his labors extended for at least fifteen miles eastward as far as Armstrong Academy and Bokchito. We know that he went northward as far as Emory and southward past the Boggy creeks; that he frequently consulted with Dr. Fulton at Atoka, twenty miles distant; that his brother from Bennington called upon him for help and occasionally assisted him in operations. We know that his territory extended westward as far as the old Boggy Depot neighborhood; and that he was constantly in demand, yet at the same time we know that he was able to so organize his work that he could travel throughout the entire Choctaw nation as he became more and more prominent in medical and political circles. Besides all this since he felt it to be a solemn duty to be continually abreast of the times, he rarely allowed a year to pass without making a trip to St. Louis or Chicago, where he attended clinics of all the noted men.

Finally the burden of the work became so great and the reward so little that it seemed advisable to make a change. He considered moving to McAlester or to the new metropolis of the West, Oklahoma City. He talked with Dr. Gunby at Sherman. Dr. Gunby said, "You are too active for so small a town." Their children were growing older and they wished to place them in better schools. Also Dr. Long felt that he was capable of bigger and better things. After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each possible move, he and his wife in 1904 decided that it was vital to the interests of themselves and their growing children to move to a larger community. This was the year of the World's Fair in St. Louis, and he and Mrs. Long took a trip to St. Louis to see the Fair and to visit the surgical clinics of that city. This was the first time Mrs. Long had ever left her children to go with him. Always before she had taken the babies and accompanied him as they attended the meetings of the Indian Territory Medical Association.

After their visit to St. Louis, they chose McAlester as their future home because it was nearer to where they had been living and was more advantageously located from the standpoint of drawing practice from Atoka and Caddo. It was true that Oklahoma City now had three railroads and gave promise of developing into

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a large city, but McAlester was closer to Mrs. Long's people and she and the children could visit them with greater ease. Also he was much more familiar with McAlester, and frequently went there. It was already well established with much business going on and approximately fifty thousand people living in it or in the nearby territory, who worked for coal mining companies; and he felt that there was a great field wherein he could develop. Another reason that he preferred McAlester was that he had made many friends in it by virtue of his work on the Choctaw Board of Health.1 Another member of this Board was Dr. W. T. Hailey, who came from Haileyville. During April and May, 1902, there was a great smallpox epidemic in Indian Territory, particularly in the region of McAlester; and Dr. Long had to go there a great deal in order to help control it. He and Dr. Hailey worked together in this matter and while they were already good friends, they became much more attached to each other during this epidemic. Dr. Hailey suggested that the two of them move to McAlester and form a partnership, feeling that he was well acquainted with the people and that the two of them would make a go of it better than either one singly. Accordingly, they arranged their affairs and moved to McAlester in the year 1904, where he and Dr. Hailey began a general practice. After about one year, Dr. Hailey decided that he was not doing his share and decided to draw out of the partnership. He did so and went back to Haileyville, where he practiced during the remainder of his life, passing away about five years ago. Meanwhile Dr. Long's clientele continued to grow in McAlester, but after several years he began to be more and more interested in surgery and finally limited his work entirely to this.

(To be continued)

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