Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Kerrville's English doctor

There are few today who would remember Dr. E. E. Palmer, but there was a time when he and his wife were among the most beloved citizens of Kerrville. When they both died in a tragic car accident in October, 1936, the entire town mourned. The public schools dismissed for the day. Businesses all over town closed. The two newspapers recorded the community's grief.
Dr. E. E. Palmer
His office, a little white frame house, once stood where Grape Juice stands today, next to the print shop here in the 600 block of Water Street in downtown Kerrville.
I think his story is an interesting one:
He got to Kerrville seven years before the rails arrived, in 1882, traveling here by stage.
J. E. Grinstead, in the June 1940 issue of the Frontier Times Magazine, tells the story of that journey to Kerrville:
"Is this the stage for Kerrville?"
"Yes, sir," replied the driver, sensing that her was no ordinary man. He was a young chap, straight as a reed, athletic, handsome, with jet black hair and sea-blue eyes. No inside seat for this passenger. He mounted beside the driver, and that driver is still living and tells of the trip. On that long drive the young man asked many questions, and being a great lover of nature he feasted his eyes on the sights along the way. Deer and wild turkey darted across the old stage road from time to time. After crossing the mountains, the road lay along the winding Guadalupe River. At crossings, when the team would stop to drink, the young man saw great schools of bass in the clear water. By the time he reached Kerrville he had fallen in love with the Hill Country, and that that love lasted to the end of his life."
The stage left San Antonio most mornings at 7; it didn't arrive in Kerrville until 10 the same evening, if all went well. Often it the trip took much longer.
In 1882 many of the landmark buildings in downtown Kerrville had yet to be built. The Weston Building, the Masonic Building, even the Guthrie Building -- they weren't yet standing. And the Favorite Saloon, now home to Hill Country Living, was a fairly new building at the time.
What Dr. Palmer saw when he came here I do not know, but it was enough for him to devote the rest of his life to serving those in need.
"With no hospitals, and no modern equipment for surgery, Dr. Palmer performed wonderful and delicate operations in the homes of the people, many of them far in some isolated mountain cabin at night, with only a kerosene lamp, or perhaps a candle, for a light. In spite of these handicaps, his success was outstanding."
A native of Kentshire, England, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh , and trained at the Physicians & Surgeons College in London, "he had come to America on a voyage of adventure before settling down to practice his profession, little dreaming he would settle in the then wild and almost uninhabited mountains of Texas."
Many noted, in the magazine story and in the newspaper articles, that Dr. Palmer "could have been a millionaire."  When Grinstead asked him about this, Palmer "made no reply for some moments, as he sat slowly pulling at his pipe. Through the wreaths of smoke his glance traveled from the wide hearth, up over the smoke-blackened fireplace, and finally rested on a picture on the mantel. 'Yes,' he said at last, that may have been true, but I don't think I would be happier now if I had done that.'"
Grinstead tells the story of that painting in Dr. Palmer's home:
"It was a painting done in oil. A picture of [Palmer's] original little home [on Water Street] in bluebonnet time. I made the remark that it was a very faithful reproduction of the place as [Grinstead] first knew it. 'Yes, it is that,' he said, seriously, 'but it is much more  than that to me. It is part of the million dollars that you mentioned.'"  Then Palmer told the story of the little painting.
"An artist brought his only daughter, a  lovely young girl, to Kerrville, in quest of health for her. Dr. Palmer was called in, and saw that the malady had goon too far, but he did what he could to relieve her suffering.
"Then one day he told the artist that the end was near, and the artist said 'Well, Dr. Palmer, I know that you have done your utmost for my daughter. I have spent about all I had trying to do something for her. Perhaps there is enough left to pay you. How much is my bill?'
"'Nothing,' replied the doctor. 'I have done your daughter no good, except to relieve her pain a little. You will need this money. I can get along without it.'
"Before he left, the artist painted that picture. It was more than a picture of the little house in its field of bluebonnets. The artist had mixed his colors with the tears...."
I remember years ago walking through what was left of Dr. Palmer's house, and I have a distinct memory of the fireplace. Though the painting was no longer there, I do remember stopping and looking at the hearth for a long time, wondering about the family who gathered around it. The house by then was in sad disrepair, and would eventually burn down. But that fireplace was quite memorable.
It turns out the family who lived in that house was memorable as well.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 30, 2013.

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  1. That was very interesting.

    Thank you.

  2. I greatly enjoyed your article.

    What year did Dr. Palmer's house burn?


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