By LeRoy Long, M. D.1
In historic Rowan County, North Carolina, Peter Fite was born January 5, 1793. Early in his life he moved to McMinn County, Tennessee, where, on February 24, 1824, he was united in marriage with Nancy Carlock, the daughter of Isaac Carlock. He and his wife, destined to be the parents of a large family, moved to Georgia in 1844, settling on a farm near Resaca, Georgia.
Peter Fite died October 22, 1888, having lived 44 of his 95 years in Georgia. He is described as having been an enterprising planter and a highly respected citizen of rugged honesty and strong convictions. His wife was a refined, genteel and home-loving woman.
One of the children in the large family of Peter Fite was Henderson Wesley Fite. He was united in marriage with Sarah Turney Denman, the daughter of Felix G. Denman who lived near Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia. Henderson Wesley Fite became a Doctor of Medicine, and, later, was soldier and surgeon in the Fortieth Georgia Regiment of the Confederate Army.
Dr. Francis Bartow Fite was the son of Dr. Henderson Wesley Fite and his wife, Sarah Turney Denman. He was born October 17, 1861, in the home of his mother's father, Felix G. Denman, near Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia.
The year 1861 was a momentous year in the history of the United States, and particularly in the history of the South. Smouldering dissatisfaction over the question of State Rights burst into sudden flame. The South was in open secession. Beginning with the evacuation of Fort Moultrie by Federal troops in late December 1861 and the capitulation of Fort Sumter following a Confederate bombardment a few months later, the year 1861 un-
1Dr. LeRoy Long was Dean and Professor of Surgery, University of Oklahoma School of Medicine from 1915 to 1931. He has taken an active part in Indian Territory Medical Association, Oklahoma State Medical Association, The American College of Surgeons, and other International surgical organizations.
folded to the world a mixture of gruesome tragedy and unprecedented heroism that was to continue until the fateful day of Appomattox.
It is a reasonable assumption that the father of Francis Bartow Fite, Dr. Henderson Wesley Fite, was in the Army when his son was born, and that his mother had found a welcome asylum in the home of her father. But it was not to be a place of uninterrupted refuge and shelter, because the home of Felix G. Denman was in the path of Sherman's "march to the sea", and was burned to the ground.2
In his boyhood during the period of readjustment, the Dr. Fite to be, attended private and public schools in the neighborhood of his birth-place, later being a student for a time in Pine Log Academy, Pine Log, Georgia, and for a time in Johnstone Academy, Cartersville, Georgia.
At the age of nineteen, having been inclined to the study of medicine through association with his father, he discontinued his preparatory education, and joined his brother, Dr. R. L. Fite, and his half-brother, Dr. J. A. Thompson, at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, for preceptorial instruction in medicine. For a part of this time he had charge of a drug store.
A little later, following a successful examination at Cherokee Normal Institute, he was awarded a teacher's certificate, after which he taught school for one term.
In 1884 he was admitted to the Southern Medical College, now the medical department of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, and in 1886 that institution conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Medicine, with first honors of his class. During his last year in medical school he served as "student physician" at Central Ivy Street Hospital.
Following his graduation in medicine, Dr. Fite returned to Tahlequah, Indian Territory, where he was associated with his brother, Dr. R. L. Fite, until 1888, when he entered the New York Polyclinic Medical School and Hospital, New York City, where he served as first assistant to Dr. John A. Wyeth until 1889. The Polyclinic Medical School and Hospital was founded
by Dr. Wyeth, a native of Alabama, and soldier in the Confederate Army, in 1881. It had the distinction of being the first regular institution for post-graduate medical training in the United States. Dr. Wyeth, an original and capable surgeon, was head of the department of surgery. He was one of the master-surgeons of his time. Because of the intimate association between student and master, Dr. Fite always regarded his service with Dr. Wyeth as being of tremendous value to him in the shaping and the preparation for his career in medicine. From Wyeth he received practical training in surgery at a crucial period in the development of modern surgery. It was at a time when the teachings of the incomparable Pasteur and the brilliant and practical Lister were first given serious attention by a few leading surgeons of the United States. The enthusiastic young Dr. Francis B. Fite was an eager witness of the beginning of a great revolution in medicine and surgery that was to continue throughout his entire life. He took an active part in that revolution which was still uncovering the mysteries of life and death when he reluctantly, but with the consciousness of duty well done, laid down the scalpel, and placed the mantle of his years upon the shoulders of his splendid children.
On November 1, 1889 Dr. Fite began the practice of medicine at Muskogee, Indian Territory, (now Oklahoma), where he lived the remainder of his life. While engaged in the general practice of medicine, he was called upon more and more frequently to perform emergency surgical operations. He worked under many disadvantages, it being necessary to perform surgical operations very often in homes or in a room of a small building he used as an office. In an effort to improve the situation, he established a sanitarium very early in his career. The name of it was St. Mary's Sanitarium, the name being changed later to Martha Robb Hospital. This was the first institution of its character in Indian Territory.
In 1893 he was joined in the practice of medicine by Dr. J. L. Blakemore, still in active practice at Muskogee, the association with Dr. Blakemore continuing until 1933 when Dr. Fite retired from the active practice of medicine.
The year 1889 was an auspicious year for the young Dr. Francis Bartow Fite. He had completed his professional training and had started out on a promising career in medicine. But the event of transcendent importance was his marriage with Miss Julia Patton, of Vinita, Indian Territory, on November 13, 1889, and for forty-nine years they lived together.
Dr. Fite was a congenial, aggressive, public-spirited citizen. Largely through his initiative, resourcefulness, and influence, the Dawes Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, headed by the late Tams Bixby, Sr., fixed its headquarters at Muskogee in 1897, occupying the Fite Building, now known as the Fite-Rowsey Building, erected by Dr. Fite in 1893, and offered to the Commission. This led to the later selection of Muskogee as permanent headquarters for the Five Civilized Tribes Indian Agency.
He served as mayor of Muskogee from April 6, 1905 to April 11, 1906, and again from December 26, 1919 to April 13, 1920, he having been chosen by the city council to succeed John L. Wisener, deceased. This term expired with the advent of the managerial form of city government. In 1896 he was offered the presidency of the First National Bank of Muskogee, but declined. For two years, 1896-97, he was a member of the Board of Directors and Vice-President of that institution.
Dr. Fite was a good family man. From the beginning of his career he felt very keenly the responsibilities for the welfare of his wife and children. With energy and conservatism, he acquired property in the City of Muskogee and in the surrounding country. He had the ability, all too rare among members of the medical profession, to build a competency for old age and for his family, notwithstanding the trials and vicissitudes of professional work. His first home at Muskogee was a splendid and well-appointed home for that period. Prosperity continuing to smile upon him, he erected a splendid residence at Sixteenth Street and Emporia Avenue, Muskogee, in 1906. It is a palatial home, and in it he ended his days.
But to Fite the acquirement of property was simply a means to an end. He provided in a material way for his own house hold, but in doing it he did not forget the finer things of life.
There were four sons and one daughter. All of the sons are graduates from the University of Virginia and the daughter from Vassar. He has been heard to remark that the most important investments that he had ever made were in connection with the bringing up and the education of his children; that the most important legacy that he could leave the world was his children.
He did not hold himself aloof from other men, but took part with them in laudable enterprises. He was a member of Muskogee Commandery of the Knights Templar; the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks.
The second of three generations of physicians, Dr. Fite was actively interested in the progress and the efficiency of the medical profession. It is significant that Indian Territory Medical Association was organized in May, 1890—the very next year after he had located at Muskogee—and the initiative in connection with the organization was taken by Dr. B. F. Fortner, Vinita, who was elected the first president of the Association, and by Dr. Francis Bartow Fite, Muskogee. He was one of the founders of Indian Territory Medical Association. That organization had an uninterrupted existence, with regular meetings twice a year, from its organization in May 1890 until, and including, 1906, when, anticipating statehood, a committee was created to confer with a like committee from Oklahoma Territory Medical Association for the purpose of agreeing upon terms of merging the two organizations. The committees had a conference in Oklahoma City that year (1906), and it was agreed to merge the two associations under the name of "Oklahoma State Medical Association." The name was chosen because it was generally believed that "Oklahoma" would be the name of the new state. At that time Indian Territory Medical Association had had an uninterrupted existence for sixteen years. Oklahoma Territory Medical Association had had an unbroken existence for thirteen years, it having been organized in 1893. The beginning of progressive medicine in what is now the State of Oklahoma was in Indian Territory, and Dr. Fite was a prime mover in the beginning. He
was elected to the presidency of Indian Territory Medical Association in 1893.
During his career in medicine, he served for several years as secretary of the Board of Health of the Cherokee Nation. For a time he was president of the United States Board of Pension Examiners, and for a time Federal Physician at Muskogee. He became Local Surgeon for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway in 1891, holding the position to the end of his life.
In 1911 he was invited by Governor Lee Cruce to take a position on the State Board of Medical Examiners, and to nominate other physicians for the remaining places. One of his interesting reminiscences in connection with that duty reveals his broad and unselfish attitude touching the duties of members of the medical profession. It transpired that one of the nominees on the list that he handed to Governor Cruce was well known to him as a member of the medical profession, but he was not sure at the moment about the political affiliation of the nominee, his impression being that the nominee was a Republican. He believed that it was his duty to transmit this information to the Governor at the time that the nomination was made. Cruce told him that if he recommended the nominee, he would be appointed, and the appointment was made. It developed later that he had confused the politics of the nominee with a brother of the latter who happened to be of a different political faith.
After serving as a member of the Board of Medical Examiners, most of the time as president, for two years he was asked to serve as a member of the State Board of Education. This was in 1913. At that time the State Board of Education had control of all the schools of the State, including the State University. With characteristic zeal, industry and intelligence, he took an active part in stabilizing the educational system of the State.
He was intensely interested in the development of the medical department of the State University which was then classed as a "B" grade, or second-rate medical school. Due largely to his persistent efforts over a period of nearly two years, there was a change of administration of the school, after which its progress was satisfactory.
During the period of. Dr. Fite's service as a member of the State Board of Education the United States entered the World War. He was appointed by Governor Robt. L. Williams as the medical member of the Exemption Board for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, and served in that capacity until the work of the Board was completed.
Dr. Fite was a member of Indian Territory Medical Association from its foundation in 1890 until it was merged with Oklahoma Territory Medical Association in 1906. After that date he was a member of Oklahoma State Medical Association. He was a member of the International Association of Railway Surgeons, of The American Medical Association, and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
Dr. Fite was a good man, being survived by five children. There is one daughter, Mrs. Frances Fite Ambrister, Oklahoma City; and four sons, Dr. William Patton Fite and Dr. Edward Halsell Fite, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Julian Bixby Fite, Attorney-at-law, Muskogee, Oklahoma, and Francis Bartow Fite, Jr., Attorney-at-law, Seattle, Washington. Dr. Fite is survived by thirteen grandchildren: Francis Bartow Fite, III, William Patterson Fite, Mary Fite, and Julia Rector Fite, all of Seattle, Washington, and children of Francis Bartow Fite, Jr.; Pauline Ambrister, Oklahoma City, daughter of Mrs. Frances Fite Ambrister; Jane Fite, William Patton Fite, Jr., James Mitchell Fite, and Frances Fite, children of Dr. William Patton Fite, Muskogee, Oklahoma; Edward Halsell Fite, Jr., Fulton William Fite, and Coleman Bartow Fite, children of Dr. Edward Halsell Fite, Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Betty Jo Fite, daughter of Julian Bixby Fite, Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Dr. Fite is survived by three sisters: Mrs. Bob Bradford, Seattle, Washington; Mrs. W. B. Treadwell, Lufkin, Texas, and Mrs. Mary Montgomery, Houston, Texas.
There were two brothers, Judge A. W. Fite, for many years Superior (Circuit) Judge at Cartersville, Georgia, who died about ten years ago; and Dr. R. L. Fite, Tahlequah, Oklahoma, who died in December, 1937.
Dr. James A. Thompson and Rev. Gilbert Thompson, both of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, were his half-brothers.
The name of Dr. Fite is perpetuated in the Fite Clinic, Muskogee, Oklahoma, established by him in 1923, his sons Dr. William Patton Fite and Dr. E. Halsell Fite; and Dr. J. L. Plakemore being associated with him. The establishment of the Clinic was the logical result of his constructive efforts in medicine over a long and vicissitudinous period of his life. For ten happy years he worked with his sons, always submerging himself, always looking to the best interests of his wife and children.
Dr. Fite was a good church man. For many years he was a member of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Muskogee, Oklahoma. Later he helped to organize St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and it was from this shrine he had helped to rear that, on August 15, 1938, momentary farewells were said, and the soul of a great citizen of Oklahoma was committed to the tender care of our Heavenly Father.2
2Data furnished by family, and partly found in Indian Territory Biographical and Genealogical Data, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1901, pp. 248-250; Papers and records of Dr. Fite; Journal of American Medical Association, Vol. 78, p. 1738; Records of City of Muskogee; Oklahoma State Medical Journal, Vol. 31, No. 9, September 1938; Personal communication from Dr. J. L. Blakemore; Personal communication from Dr. E. O. Barker, ex-secretary Oklahoma State Medical Association, Guthrie, Oklahoma; Archives, State of Oklahoma. Much of the data used in this article were assembled by Judge R. L. Williams.