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Hopkins County Ky Folk Lore

Hopkins County Folk Lore

William Moore Hammack, M.D.

BY Dr. Orrin E. Hudson Jr, D.C.
Amateur - Historian/Folklorist/Archaeologist


I remember from childhood seeing Dr. Hammack making home visits in our neighborhood. This was in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Though he was approaching the age of 70 he was continuing his work on an around the clock schedule.

There were hospital rounds to be made in the early morning, then attending to the long line of first come first serve patients waiting at the office, then numerous house calls to be completed as he made his way from his office back to the hospital. After his evening hospital rounds it was back to the office to attend to more waiting patients. Many times this schedule would be interrupted for the call to assist in surgery or to help deliver a newborn. Many babies were still being delivered at home, and most would arrive during the very early hours of morning. He would do well to get by on 4 hours rest daily including an occasional catnap. He loved his work and followed this routine for many years.

His office was at this time located in the "Doctors Building" on the corner of Sugg Street and Main Street. This facility that had served as the old County Hospital for many years. The newly organized Hopkins County Hospital had moved to the new location on the corner of Waddell and Kentucky Avenue, leaving this location to be shared as offices by Dr's. Hammack, Salmon and Robinson. The Dr. Hammack-Moore Home residence was only 50 steps from his office. The Doctors Building was to be damaged by the tornado of 1961 and then continued to deteriorate until being demolished in the late 1960's. Dr. Hammack would be the last office to occupy these premesis. At present a mini-park occupies this site.

I remember well the good care Dr. Hammack and Dr. James Salmon provided when I suffered a complicated fractured leg. It happened while roller skating In the summer of 1955 and there were no orthopedic specialist in practice here at that time. I can remember laying on my back in the hospital while Dr. Hammack cradeled my elevated and extended right leg on his left shoulder. He would apply gentle pain relieving traction and gently moving the bone fragments into a close as possible relationship while Dr. Salmon gently wrapped my leg with plaster of paris soaked bandages. Following this treatment Dr. Hammack would make another X-ray to verify that he had performed the best reduction possible. Back in the 1950's it would take many weeks on crutches and several changes of the leg support cast before healing would be complete. I would later play football and pass the Army Physical Training Test with this mended limb. A testament to their skill and care. Today, with pins, screws and grafts there is a much shorter recovery time.

After finishing high school and attending several years of college which teaches the basic sciences of the healing arts, I would find myself returning to Madisonville to join my father (Dr. O.E. Hudson Sr.) in expanding his Chiropractic Practice into a partnership. Then too, I was busy in the renovation of the whole second floor above the Kington Appliance Store, now the location of the Law offices above Bryant's Jewlery Store. At that time most business and professional offices were located in the downtown area.

The business and professionals of downtown Madisonville formed a close family. The B and PW Club and (RMA) Retail Merchants Association were very energetic in promoting downtown activities.. Seeing each other daily and sharing lunch and coffee breaks at restaurants and lunch counters were a part of daily routine. One of the downtown's popular lunch, coffeebreak and meeting places was the lunch counter at Woolworth's Five and Dime Store.

Beginning in 1964, I too would become a regular and would become better aquainted with many very interesting local people. One of the many people to frequent this lunch counter as a part of his daily routine was Dr. Hammack, and it was during these visits and conversations, that I was inspired to make notes of these memories as a partial oral history of a few of his many life's experiences.

By this time the gracious doctor was 85 years old. He had ceased making hospital rounds and home calls but still spent a six plus hour day in his office attending to the routine work of primary care to include physical examinations for work and college, vaccinations, and after care follow-up examinations which required the use of x-ray and flourscope . His secretary and office assistant Emma McDonald efficiently regulated his appointments. His work day would now start in the mid morning and finish in the late afternoon. During his regular routine he would have both a morning brunch around 10 am and a 3:30 afternoon lunch. I too, would take a break during these moments. and would continue this routine for several months.

There we were, I the youngest chiropractor in the State of Kentucky was having the opportunity to revisit the past with one of the oldest practicing physicians in this area. He would share with me some of his most halarious, trying and rewarding events. These are precious historic time capsules of his extraordinary life. It is my endeavor now to pass on these ( time capsules) to future generations.


I will discuss later and in some detail the extensive educational background he accomplished before beginning his medical practice.

The early 1900's was still the era of horse and buggy transportation. There were very few automobiles, telephones and newspapers. Word of mouth was often the quickest source of advertising. There were numerous requests for housecalls and these were usually delivered to the office by the sick person's neighbor who was going to town on business or to get supplies. For the new doctor to get the word out to attract new business took some ingenuous methods and this was one for that day and time.

The spirited horse would serve the young physician for both transportation and advertising. The older doctors had their horses and buggies. He wanted the public to know that he was very busy but could get there fast. Several times each day he would grab his saddle bag doctors kit , run out of his empty office, tie it down, mount his horse and yell, lets go, go, go and in a fury run the length of Main street out to the edge of town.

This was a good attention getter. Once out of town he would wait in some secluded place for a while, then reverse the process. He did not however have to follow this practice for long. The word would soon be out that the young energetic doctor was a busy man and his office was soon to be filled with sick patients. He was amused when the patients would comment on his good horsemanship.


It was during these beginning years when his transportation was on horseback that he was to suffer a terrible accident. He would severely fracture his wrist which could not be totally straightened. It would leave him a deformed wrist and cause him pain in later life. Here is how it happened.

On one of his not too busy days a visitor came into his office and said, "I was sent here to call on ya". " My neighbor lady has a sick girl and she wants you to come and see about her." He then gave him the directions and left.

The young doctor immediately picked up his sattlebag, mounted his horse and was off in a run. He recalled that the residence was located at the very edge of town. That was then where the Melody Bowling Lanes is now located.

He arrived at the house to be greeted by the mother who was waiting on the front porch. She took him to the bedside of a frail and thin but very pretty teen age girl. He gave her a very careful examination, then withdrew to the front porch to privately consult with her mother. With sincere truthfulness he related. "Lady, I am very sad to have to tell you, but I must tell you, your daughter is suffering the very last stage of T.B. and except for this medication to help her pain there is nothing that can be done for her." The mother ask, "how long?" His answer, "at the longest two or three weeks."

Pulling a medicine bottle from his bag he said, "I would like to prescribe" WHAM - WHAM -WHAM now in shock he found himself being attacked by a woman wheeling a broom that knocked his bag from his hands. He recovered briefly and was able to get his spilled medicines together and mount his horse. WHAM-WHAM-WHAM- In pursuit she continued to hit his back with the broom as he managed to mount his horse. After barely getting mounted and hopefully out of reach she started to hit the horses behind. This alarmed the now scared horse and the bucking began which would throw the young doctor into a hard fall. In breaking his fall he severely fractured his wrist.

Now that the mothers anger had been vented she went back into the house. In great pain he managed to get himself together and get back home. The small bones in his wrist had been shattered and for this day and time the injury would take many months to heal and the resulting deformity would become permanent.

The diagnosis and outcome of the sick girls condition was correct and the girls mother did come in to his office and gave him an apology and would later become a patient herself. I wonder how the young doctors of today would react. This is probably one reason for less primary homecare.


Dr. Hammack, a medical pioneer, had many firsts. First microscope, otoscope, to use antibiotics, to use x-ray and flourscopy diagnosis and use radioactive isotopes in cancer treatment. The new discovery of x-ray had just been established in 1895. This was the new frontier when he began his practice in 1905. Without a doubt he was the first person in Hopkins County to suffer from what is now called radiation sickness.

In fact, he had a true love affair with radiation. He loved the information that could be obtained by being able to look deep into the organs of the body. This intrigue to learn would cost him nearly all of the fingers and thumb of his right hand. He told me that eventhough he had put into place all the precautions to shield his work place from the harmful effects of radiation that he could not resist the temptation of taking his free hand and feeling the patients body mass being examined under the flourscope.

In the early 1940's my wife's grandmother (Rosa Pearl Hoard) was treated by Dr. Hammack with radioactive isotobe for cancer. This resulted in a complete clinical cure. His method was simple but effictive in many instances. Especially with cervical cancers and isolated tumors. He would order the radiation which would come in viles, and looked like pencil lead. He would break them off as needles and implant them in the tumor. Then on a scheduled basis he would remove the dead tissues and advance the needle until the tumor was gone. In the 1940's this was the latest and most modern radiation treatment.


Dr. Hammack's patient was critical. She had to have surgery and had to have it soon. The patient had a ruptured gall bladder. Dr. Gant Gaither, Internal Surgeon, from Hopkinsville was summond to do the surgery , Dr Hammack would be his assistant. It was a hot steamy August day in the late 1930's as the meager Hospital staff prepared the operating room and patient. Dr. Gaither could make the trip from Hopkinsville to Madisonville in less than 30 minutes travel time.

There was no air conditioners then but the ice plant was close by. To get through these grueling hot surgery schedules they would take buckets of ice and the surgery assistants would cold towel the surgeons and patient to prevent heat exaustion. Dr. Gaither arrived and the surgery had begun. Then, a loud BOOM. A thunderstorm was on and lightening had struck the nearby electric service. Sunset was near and they were plunged into almost total darkness.

The next directive was to go to the nearest store and aquire candles - then - pass the call through the building requesting that anyone who had a compact mirror and could stand the sight of blood, without fainting, to go to the operating room. Dr. Hammack related to me that " they were lucky".

Seven or eight people showed up to help and each was given a candle and instructed to place it in front of the mirror and direct the light into the scene of the operation. This was done and the surgery was finished with a positive outcome. The patient had survived a most serious surgery. Dr. Hammack commented that "what people can and will do during an emergency will surprise you". This experience was still fresh in his memory.


I ask the Doctor, "of all the places to eat in Madisonville, why do you choose the Woolworth Lunch Counter"? I was expecting him to answer that it was the nearest to his home and office.

His answer was this, " I have served as a Public Health Inspector which taught me one true lesson. "Never eat anywhere that you cannot watch the people prepare the food that you are about to consume". " I want to be able to see inside the refrigerator and to look up close at the hands that are preparing my food" "An untidy refrigerator, dirty hands or fingernails, or a soiled apron and I am gone". This statement should give good testament to all the ladies who ever worked at Mr. Pilson's Woolworths Five & Dime Lunch Counter. In his eyes you were the best in town back then.


I ask the Doctor, "What was your most pleasant surprise during all your many years of practice?" His answer was so stunning that after his death one year later I wrote it into a poem that has remained a part of my notes for the past (36) thirty-six years. Since semi-retiring and revisiting some of my old notes I have been further compelled to present this account.


REMEMBERING DR. W.M. HAMMACK, M.D. The Country Doctor by Orrin E. Hudson Jr., D.C. Dr. Hammack was my friend I knew him fairly well He practiced here for many years and I longed to hear him tell Of those "poor folks" down by "Richland Creek" Who lived in a little shack who had so many sickley kids they would call him back and back He never expected much for pay for he knew their hearts were right as they would sneak a fresh dresses hen into his parked car late at night On the way home he felt gratitude and filed their bills away because they were doing all they could in their own poor modest way Years had passed and "Doc" had forgot that the family had moved away as he went about his busy life working night and day One day into his office came a well dressed couple he could not name When he ask them to explain their ills they said, "thank you but we are here to pay our bill" "We left here and found good work Our kids are healthy too And we know without a doubt We owe much of that to you" "We have thought of you so many times every time we called, you came There wasn't a time you ever turned back through snow, sleet or rain." "Doctor" please check your books," She asked which presented him a difficult task So he made up a little story that wouldn't be too far-fetched. Well folks, we had a little fire and many record books were lost So I'll just leave it up to you to estimate the cost. She opened her hand bag, and said "I have it all right here" I recorded every time you came the month, day and year" They figured it and paid in full and left his office in a glow of pride "Doc's" heart was extremely touched that day with a special good memory to hold inside "This was one of the noble acts that forever restores my faith in man" "You never know you sow, you reap" "You work hard day and night you can never doubt just because they are poor, or down on their luck, that their hearts aren't right"

A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians, Volume 1, 1912, Pg. 1705-6
The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities

A list of Dr. William Moore Hammack M.D. Achievements as recorded in 1912 One must remember that he was only 33 years of age and had only been in medical practice for (7) years when this profile was recorded.


Other men's services to the people and state can be measured by definite deeds, by dangers averted, by legislation secured, by institutions built, by commerce promoted. The work of a doctor is entirely estranged from these lines of enterprise, yet without his capable health giving assistance all other accomplishments would count for naught. Mans greatest prize on earth is physical health and vigor. Nothing detoriates mental activity as quickly as prolonged sickness -hence the broad field for human helpfulness afforded in the medical profession. The succesful doctor requires something more than mere technical training; he must be a man of broad human sympathy and genial kindness, capable of inspiring hope and faith in the heart of his patient. Although still young in years, Dr. William Moore Hammack has already demonstrated that he is of this fine type, and he is held high in the estimation of both the profession and the laity of Hopkins County.

Dr. Hammack was born on a farm in Webster County, near the town of Clay, the son of M.R. Hammack, and he was the scion of a pioneer family which came from Virginia in the early days of Kentucky's statehood. His mothers maiden name was was Lucy McGill and the maternal grandfather was a native of Scotland, who came from "the land o'cakes" to claim his share of the good things offered by the newer country.

The early youth of Dr. Hammack was passed amid rural surroundings and his primary education was secured in the schools of his native county. He took a classical course in the Ohio Valley College and after leaving that institution he was occupied for three years in a drug store, where he gained some valuable experience for the professional career he contemplated. His medical training was aquired in the University of Kentucky and in the University of Louisville from which he received his well-earned degree June 30, 1905. In the latter part of October of that same year he began his practice in Madisonville and won almost immediate recognition as a physician and surgeon of no small ability.

Dr. Hammack takes an active part in civic, social and professional affairs of the county and state. He holds membership in the American Medical Association, The Hopkins County Medical Association, and the Kentucky State Medical Association. He holds the office of health officer and is a member of the board of censors for the town. He is loyal to the tenets of the Democratic Party and is prominent in the work of the Baptist church. In addition to his general practice which includes both major and minor surgery, he holds the position of surgeon for the Reinecke Coal Company. He does his own pathlogical and microscopical work, mounting all his specimens and investigating all the latest discoveries in this line.

In 1906 Dr. Hammack established an independent household by his marriage to Miss Aro J. Slaton, a native of Union County, Kentucky. Their home is one of the popular centers of the city. Dr. Hammack has several lodge affiliations and fraternal connections in adding to those already mentioned: he is a Mason belonging to Madisonville Lodge No. 143; to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; and Phi Nu, a Greekletter medical fraternity in its chapter at the University of Louisville.

Dr. William Moore Hammack - b. Oct 16, 1879 - d. December 1, 1965
Wife - Mrs.Ora Slaton Hammack - 1886 - 1924
Daughter - Mary Kiel Moore - Nov 24, 1914 - Apr 14, 1997
Son-in-law - J.B. Moore - July 17, 1911 - July 29, 2001
Infant daughter of Mr. & Mrs. J.B. Moore - died July 22, 1924.
Son and grandson - Michael Hammack Moore - Sept 6, 1946 - May 14, 1967

Married second time to : Ruth Crick Bassett. now deceased

They are interned in Odd Fellows Cemetery, Madisonville, Ky.


Dr. W.M. Hammack - Orrin E. Hudson Jr. D.C. - Personal conversations (1964)
Emma McDonald - Personal conversations
Rosa Pearl Hoard (1890-1962)- Personal Medical History via. survivors
Keith Hammack - Great nephew of Dr. Hammack - History reference
David Sutton - Great nephew of Dr. Hammack - History reference
Teresa Ruddell - Regional Medical Center - Librarian - Archive search
Ms. Alice Chaney - Archive photo
Hopkins County Genealogy Society - Obituary Archive
E. Polk Johnson - History of Kentucky and Kentuckians, Volume 1, 1912, Pg's 1705-6

Date of completion - September 8, 2003

by Orrin E. Hudson Jr., D.C. Rights reserved