Isaac M. Howard in the 1800s

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We’ve all heard the story of how Isaac M. Howard (above) ended up in Texas and got his start in the medical field. For those that don’t remember, here’s L. Sprague de Camp in Dark Valley Destiny:

The stable organization of the Howard family was disrupted by the death of James Henry [Isaac Howard’s maternal grandfather] in 1884. Perhaps on the strength of their inheritance, the Howards decided to move to Texas; but before they could complete their plans, William Benjamin Howard [Isaac’s father] himself was stricken and died. Eliza Howard [Isaac’s mother, aka Louisa], determined to carry out her husband’s wishes, sold her property—fine timberland—for fifty cents an acre, and with her children headed west. In 1885 she located on a farm in Limestone County, between Dallas and Austin, near Waco. Mrs. Howard and her daughters, Annie and Willie, may have traveled to Texas on the railroad; but Dave [David Terrell Howard, Isaac’s older brother] and Isaac brought the family goods overland in a covered wagon with a group of other immigrants.

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Mark Finn has similar information in Blood and Thunder:

In 1884, when James Henry died, William and Louisa decided to make their fortune in Texas. Before the move could be orchestrated, however, William Benjamin Howard fell ill and died in 1885. Louisa was undaunted by the setback, and she moved her six children (many of whom were now grown) to Texas. The women went by train, and Isaac and his older brother David took the family’s possessions by covered wagon. They settled on a farm in Limestone County, near Waco.

Both biographers go on to say that Isaac didn’t much like the farming life and, by 1891, decided to sell his stock in the family farm to his older brother, David Terrell Howard, and go into medicine.

Here’s de Camp:

In that same year [1891], Isaac Mordecai Howard became his own man. Tired of playing second fiddle to his brother David—described as a stern man who was hard to work for—and knowing little and caring less about working a Texas farm, Isaac decided to sell his share in the property to his brother and become a physician.

And Finn:

David assumed responsibility for the family, and proceeded to whip the farm into shape.  By 1891, Isaac Howard had decided that he was not cut out to be a farmer. He left the family farm, sold his share in the property to his brother, and decided to practice frontier medicine.

On a trip to Limestone County last year, I uncovered documents that support some of this, but that also add a confusing wrinkle or two.

In the county’s Reverse Index to Deeds, 1800 – 1931, I found reference to a couple of transactions between “I. M. Howard” and “D. T. Howard.” The first (at left) is dated March 28, 1885 at Prairie Hill, in Limestone County. It records the sell of “one half of a one hundred acre tract of land” from I. M. to D. T. for the princely sum of $140. D. T. put a down payment of “ten dollars cash in hand” and agreed to pay the rest by November 1, 1895. He may have been a bit late, as the next document (below) is dated February 12, 1898. In this second document, I. M. Howard says that the money has been paid and that he has “hereby released, discharged and quit claim unto the said D. T. Howard all rights, title, interest and estate in and to the property” that is described in the 1885 document.

Now, Isaac Mordecai Howard was most likely born in 1872, the date on his headstone, 1871, notwithstanding. That would make him around 13-years-old at the time of the 1885 agreement and 26ish when the 1898 document was signed. In 1891, when both de Camp and Finn suggest that Isaac sold out and began his medical training, he’d have been 19. It appears that the sale actually occurred in 1885; so, where does the 1891 date come from? Beats me.

De Camp suggests further that Isaac may have received his medical training through an apprenticeship with his uncle, Dr. James T. Henry. Let’s have a look at that medical training, a la de Camp:

Physicians of that day often welcomed their kin as medical students. Such associations with older physicians afforded young would-be doctors opportunities for observation, access to medical books, and such didactic sessions as the preceptor thought necessary in exchange for the apprentice’s help in maintaining the dispensary, cleaning the office, and tending the horse and buggy if there was one. After a few years, when the older man deemed his candidate worthy, he would issue him a certificate to practice medicine. For an ethical man with strong family ties, the certification by a kinsman would be a real throwing of the torch.

Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register gives its first listing of “I. Howard” in 1896 as practicing in Forsyth, Missouri, in Taney County, just over the Missouri line, a short distance from his uncle’s home in Bentonville, Arkansas [about 70 miles, as the crow flies]. It is unclear whether Isaac Howard apprenticed himself to his uncle or whether Dr. Henry had passed him on to another doctor in Forsyth. The dates suggest the former. If Isaac Howard had left Texas in the early nineties, when he turned twenty-one, he could have finished his training and been ready to set up his own practice by 1896.

The young physician did not long remain in Missouri. Perhaps he was homesick. Whatever his reasons, on April 19, 1899, Isaac M. Howard of Limestone County, Texas, was examined by the State Board of Medical Examiners in Texarkana, Texas, and awarded a certificate of qualification to practice medicine. Then he went home.

Finn condenses it down to this:

Isaac’s medical education, a combination of on-the-job training, apprenticeship to his uncle, himself a doctor, and attendance at a variety of schools, lectures, and courses, would spread out over the next four decades. His initial training took four or five years, and allowed him to practice medicine as early as 1896. From that time on, Dr. Isaac Howard moved frequently from place to place, venturing as far out as Missouri and back to the family farm in Limestone County again.

Sounds good, right? Just one problem—turns out de Camp is wrong again. True, “I. Howard” shows up in Forsyth, Arkansas, for the 1896 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register (above), but he also shows up ten years earlier in the 1886 edition (below; thank you Google Books). Further, Dr. James T. Henry is nowhere to be found in the earlier edition. So, is the I. Howard in these early editions of Polk’s our Isaac?

I guess there are two possibilities. Option #1: immediately after selling his share of the Limestone County farmland in 1885, Isaac went to his Uncle Henry’s place to start his apprenticeship and ended up listed in Polk’s at the tender old age of 14. Both editions of the register indicate that “No report received in answer to inquiry regarding graduation” for I. Howard. So, if this is Isaac Howard, he’s literally “practicing” medicine in Forsyth for at least ten years. Option #2: “I. Howard” is not our Isaac Howard. I lean toward option #2; I have trouble believing Isaac was listed when only 14.

Given this “new” information, let me spin a couple of scenarios that makes sense to me. The first listing of James T. Henry (seen above) in Polk’s (that I’m aware of) is in the 1893 edition, which has him in regular practice at Eagle Mills, Ouachita Co, Ark, population 250.  Henry was an 1873 graduate of the medical dept of the Univ. of Nashville, TN (hat tip: Rusty Burke). He shows up again in the 1896 edition in Millville, Ouachita Co., Ark, population 250. In 1898, he’s back in Eagle Mills. If the future father of Robert E. Howard was an apprentice of Dr. Henry’s, or anyone else for that matter, why would he be listed in Polk’s? Seems to me that he would have moved around with his uncle until he’d received enough training to strike out on his own or was making enough money to get by alone.

The second scenario is that Isaac Howard used brother Dave’s money to pay for training in Texas. (Dave’s headstone, from Mt. Antioch Cemetery, is above.) I like to have documents that support my suppositions, and, if I exclude the 1896 edition of Polk’s, I’ve got nothing to indicate exactly where Isaac M. Howard was between 1885 and 1898, when he was definitely in Limestone County, Texas, signing land documents. I have no problem believing he received medical training in the years in-between, because, according to de Camp: “In July 1899 the newly certified Dr. Howard presented his credentials at the courthouse in Fairfield, Texas, the county seat of Freestone County, adjacent to Limestone County, where his mother lived on the family farm near Delia.” If we exclude the 1896 Polk’s directory, we’ve got no reason to have Dr. Howard in Missouri.

What we do know, thanks to de Camp and Rusty Burke, is that the Medical Board of Examiners, Fifth Judicial District, State of Texas, done at Texarkana, Texas, April 19, 1899, I.M. Howard of Limestone County received his Certificate of Qualification to Practice Medicine in any or all of its branches throughout the State of Texas. We also know that three months later—July 20, 1899—as de Camp said, Dr. I. M. Howard filed his medical certificate in Freestone County (Physicians’ Certificates, Vol. A, p. 64; thanks again, Rusty). Where he received his training is, to me at least, still a mystery.

After he registered in Freestone County, Dr. Howard’s movements start to be a bit easier to track. There are still some gaps, but they’re not decade-wide gaps, at least. As the 1800s turned into the 1900s, Isaac M. Howard’s moves require some work. Perhaps I’ll get to them next time. I’ll let de Camp close out the 19th-Century and start the 20th:

For some reason Freestone County did not seem to meet Isaac Howard’s needs. While most of Texas was rushing southeast in 1901 to Beaumont, where a gusher had blown at Spindletop, starting the first big Texas oil boom, Dr. Howard headed northwest, where he filed his credentials in Montague County, just across the Red River from Indian Territory, which later became the State of Oklahoma.

UPDATE: After receiving Ed’s comment, I went back and found an Isaac Howard on the 1860 US Census in Webster County, Missouri. He’s 41, married to Esther, born in Rhode Island, and has “M.D.” listed under “Profession.” After the Civil War, the 1870 Census has the same Isaac as a “Farmer” in Swan Township, Taney County; the post office is listed as Forsyth and Isaac Howard appears to have been the enumerator—his name is signed at the top of the document as “Ass’t Marshal.” In 1880, he’s listed as a “Physician” in Oliver Township, Taney County. He’s 62 years old here. Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire, so no help there. All this would make Isaac 78 at the time of the 1896 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register. Seems pretty clear that the “I. Howard” in Polk’s is not our man.

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Isaac M. Howard in the 1800s. (2017, Jul 15). Retrieved from

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