Medicine Men and Developing A Jury

Looking at the rain reminds me of the summer of 51 in in South Dakota.

I don’t care much for South Dakota. In fact, I was pleased when Rand McNally omitted the state from their road atlas. That comes from my youngest days, when every town and wide spot in the state had a vagrancy law. A law they strictly enforced whenever the town treasury needed a transfusion.

If you were caught breathing South Dakota’s precious air or standing on a square foot or two of their millions of acres without being able to prove local residence or a local employer – you were going to get your wallet emptied.

Because the fines for vagrancy were whatever you happened to have in your kick. If you didn’t care to fork out all you had, you guested in their flea and bedbug infested crossbar motel long enough to become a resident. And you paid your board bill with the sweat of your brow.

Harvest hands, carnival people, travelling salesmen, and almost everyone else on the road thought this practice amounted to legalized armed robbery. The Supreme Court eventually agreed with us, but back in the ’40’s roadies passed on a warning, friendly wise, to anyone planning a trip to or through that state.

“Better not stop in Gregory, they are pushing the vag racket hard.” Or Brookings, Yankton, Mobridge, or wherever else the traveling folk were “held up and robbed by the law.”

Human nature being what it is, every so often you would warn someone who thought he was too fly to fall foul of bandits with badges. I remember the time my dad tipped Greener, the cook house king, that the word was the Winner town marshal was cleaning out every roadie who stopped for eats or gas in that burg.

Greener gave my dad the horse laugh, said he’d been gassing up in Winner for years without trouble, and talked about how “Big Jim talks like a nervous old woman, he says he’s going to detour around Winner, haw haw haw” the rest of the fair.

But the first person we saw when we pulled in the next fair grounds was Greener. And the fat man’s first words were “Jim, could you loan me twenty to pay the bread man? They throwed a vag rap on us at Winner and took every cent we had.”

Which want usually happens to those who will not take notice of a friendly word of warning. But on the other hand, there were a lot of places where the people were at least civil, and some places the people were downright nice.

While I was on vacation a few years ago, I came back through Baraboo, Wisconsin. The last time I was in Baraboo old Doc Hale was peddling his brand of patent medicine. Doc was genuine MD till he got inoperable cancer. Doc sold his practice and took up the patent med pitch, which Doc said the stuff he sold would cure you if you weren’t too sick and you believed in it, and that was better than he was ever able to do as a regular croaker.

Doc was out at the fairgrounds, peddling his 100 proof elixir of alcohol, sugar, anise and caramel, when the local law hailed him. One of the town croakers wanted the Doc hauled in for practicing medicine without a license.

Doc’s wife saw them coming so she slips back to thier trailer, grabs Doc’s license to practice medicine in the State of Wisconsin off the wall, and slips it face down in front of the Doc.

After Doc wound up his spiel, the Baraboo law dog asks, polite, if the Doc has a license to practice medicine.

“Oh, yes Sir,” says the Doc, holding the framed certificate up for everyone to see. “Wisconsin was the first state I was licensed in when I graduated from medical school.”

The local law smiled and left, muttering about crazy doctors, and the crowd, the “tip,” was highly impressed.

Of course, Doc was a real Doc, ministered to the carneys, and knew his onions. He was just a bit burned out with treating folks he could not help.

Anyway, the summer of ’46 Doc was making the rounds with a new line of liquid dynamite. He had a real pretty wife that shilled for him – which if you don’t know a shill is someone who stands in the crowd and buys the product, so as to get the marks hands out of their pockets and get some money in circulation. Rita had kids in college but she looked maybe 30 or so. One of the kind the late Justin Wilson said looked so good you looked her up one side and right back up the same side. Quick with a comeback, too.

One time in Indiana, Doc really got wound up, and a guy who had seen Doc at three or four places recognized Rita as being “with it.” He asked Rita “Will that stuff really make you live longer?”

“I don’t really know,” Rita said, “I only met the Doctor in 1856.”

I believe the mark bought a couple cases of the stuff.

Yessir, Rita was pretty swift on the uptake and a real diplomat. Whenever anyone knocked on her trailer door she would put her hat on. That way if it was someone she didn’t want to talk to she could say she was just going out – and if it was somebody she wanted to see she could say she was so glad to see them, “Just let me take my hat off and put the teapot on and we will have a nice long visit.”

Back then penicillin was brand new – if the sawbones knew then what the croakers know now Doc might have been saved. Or maybe not, life bein’ chancy.

However, I don’t know that life was any more chancy then than now. But the insurance is sure higher. There is more truth than poetry in that old joke…

How many doctors does it take to change a light bulb?”

“That depends on how much insurance the bulb has.”

And nowadays we have more specialists, too. A specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less. Either that or a croaker with a smaller practice and a bigger house.

I see that 175,000 people die every year from the croakers screwups and infections contracted while they were being treated. For true! Yep, every sawbones buries his mistakes. You still wanna know why I call ’em croakers?

I was talkin’ to a ham on 2 meters while I was pirootin’ around Omaha and he told me that there is a doctor in Iowa who makes house calls. Now don’t that beat all? I remember when the house call was the ordinary way you saw the doc.

Nowadays a lot of doctors are so high falutin’ they won’t make hospital calls. But this denizen of Zero Land told me that his doctor makes house calls but he won’t make farm calls. Not
unless the farmer gags the ducks.

Say, do you remember when Doc Johnson took a whole month off and went to Colorado on a big game hunt. When he got back his nurse asked him if he killed anything.

“Didn’t kill a thing. Didn’t even get a shot at killing anything,” he says, “I’d have been better off staying here.”

All joking aside, I do trust my doctor. If he treats you for dandruff that’s what you die of. Of course, doctors are a sight more useful than lawyers. Well, I better not get wound up on shysters, but I mind when Tag Taggert brought Lark Starr in for stealin’ cows.

Judge Ross asked Starr if he had anything to offer the court before he passed sentence on him.

Starr said “Sorry, Judge, I don’t have a smear. My lawyer took every last penny I had.”

Did you hear about the holdup man who held up a Jackson lawyers office a while back? The poor feller lost six hundred dollars.

Most lawyers practice because it gives them a grand and glorious feeling. Give ’em a grand and they feel glorious!

But you know, we should love all the lawyers. Who else would we get to get us out of all the trouble they get us into? And lawyers come in real handy whenever a felon needs a friend, too.

Say, I went to school once in Antlers, Oklahoma, one year. Miss Custis was the teacher there, and we had three grades in one room. You might say I was in the middle, I had the second grade on my right, and the fourth grade on my left.

Had a real pretty girl, her dad was a court clerk, in my class. That was another Sheila. Miss Custis asked Sheila to come up and explain to the fourth grade how the court system works.

Sheila stood up and said, “The lawyers make speeches and sit down. The judge makes a speech and sits down. Then the bailiff takes twelve of them into a dark room to be developed.”

Well, the rain has slacked up, so I suppose I had better gear up to do a little climbing.


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