Telling the History of Claremore…one story at a time
Published in the September 1949 Ranchman magazine by Myron A. Hurd.
“I don’t like Doctor Bushyhead.” Young Viv Ross blurted out one day to his mother, Mrs. Nellie Ross of Claremore. Mrs. Ross was astonished. “Why in the world do you say a thing like that, son?” she asked him. “Because he is too bossy,” the frail child stated succinctly.
Mrs. Ross knew that something out of the ordinary had happened and when she saw Dr. Bushyhead she would learn what it was. Dr. Jesse Bushyhead of Claremore, I. T., was their family doctor. Since Viv was a lad with delicate health, the doctor looked after him like he was his own.
Mrs. Ross didn’t have to ask the doctor the trouble. The first time he saw her he gave her a mild scolding for letting Viv wade in puddles of water in cool weather. Then he told about coming upon the lad while wading and ordered him out of the water. Viv gave the doctor a little back talk and Dr. Bushyhead took his buggy whip and threatened to use it on him if he didn’t get out of the water.
Young Viv Ross, in his moment of boyish impudence, set a record of being the only person, as far as I have been able to find out, whoever said he did not like Dr. Bushyhead. Everywhere that one inquires hereabouts, folks speak of Dr. Bushyhead as the “beloved physician.” Although half of Dr. Bushyhead’s career as a doctor was spent during horse and buggy days, I find that folks at Oologah, Oowala, Inola and other points fifteen or more miles from Claremore speak of him with the same fond love and affection as the folks around Claremore do.
Dr. Bushyhead had a reputation of being a kind and loving physician. He served his clients first of all as a friend and with the love of service. The fees were absolutely secondary with him. According to Druggist Jim Collins of Claremore, the doctor never kept books, never sent out statements and often times, if his patients did not have the money for the medicine he prescribed, he would pay for it himself.
Bobby Vincent of the Ranchman had this to say about Dr. Bushyhead and his ancestors: “The name Bushyhead is of typical Indian origin. It began with Captain John Stuart of Scotland who came to America with the British Army in 1733. He was captured by the Cherokees and saved from execution through the entreaties of Susannah Emory, the half-white daughter of a prominent Cherokee family. After his release he married Susannah Emory. Because of his heavy growth of wavy, blond hair, Stuart was called Oonaduta (Bushyhead.) His only son, also known as Oonaduta, married Nancy Foreman, a half-breed Cherokee maiden. Their son was the celebrated Rev. Jesse Bushyhead, one of the outstanding figures in the history of the Cherokee Nation.”
“Rev. Jesse Bushyhead was an ordained Baptist minister and a learned lawyer, having been educated at Princeton University. He tried in vain to settle Indian differences with the U. S. government. Unable to do so, he induced many of his rebellious tribesmen to evacuate peaceably, and came over the “Trail of Tears” with his family in 1838-39. He was the first Chief Justice of Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation. Famed for his fluent oratory in both in the English and Cherokee languages, he was rated as the best interpreter among the Cherokees.”
“Chief Dennis W. Bushyhead was Rev. Jesse’s son, and father of Dr. Jesse C. Bushyhead of Claremore. Dr. Bushyhead was the first born of Chief Bushyhead’s marriage to Elizabeth Alabama Adair Scrimsher of Ft. Gibson. Dr. Bushyhead’s mother was a sister of the mother of Will Rogers.”
When Dr. Bushyhead first came to Cooweescoowee District in 1891, he practiced medicine with Dr. Lane at Oowala. Gazelle (Scrap) Lane, daughter of Dr. Lane, says that Dr. Bushyhead was so bashful and shy he could hardly face people and their ailments. Dr. Lane would often get the young doctor in the house with his patient, then slip off and leave him.
Dr. Bushyhead was a frequent Sunday dinner guest in the Dr. Lane home and often took his fiancée, Miss Fay Reynolds of Fayetteville, Arkansas, with him.
Mrs. Bushyhead (nee Fay Reynolds) came to Cooweescoowee District in 1895 to teach in the Presbyterian Academy School at Chelsea, for both whites and Indians. She said she was amazed at the Indians because they could read and write and that she was intrigued by their native ability as scholars. Dr. Bushyhead was very appreciative of his wife and lifelong companion and often told her that he owed everything to her.
Like most country doctors in a sparsely settled country, Dr. Bushyhead served his patrons day and night, braving storms, high waters, freezing temperatures, inadequate heating facilities, and many other handicaps which took their toll of his strength. But he was always happy in his service to his friends and neighbors, and that meant everybody he came in contact with.
Probably no man had a closer association with Dr. Bushyhead or knew him better than Druggist Jim Collins of Claremore. The doctor was in the drugstore about as much as he was in his office, and he often used the back room of the drug store instead of taking his patient to his office.
“One of the doctor’s first cases after coming to Claremore,” says Mr. Collins, “was a call to the Verdigris by a family whose children had become ill after eating wild berries. The doctor sent the man to the livery stable to get him a horse to ride, and then hastily consulted his medical books to see what to do in the case of poisoning. He made the call and treated the children, then made a hasty departure and galloped away. The doctor said he was afraid they would call him back and he wouldn’t know what else to do for them. He made himself hard to find until he heard that the children were well.”
Mr. Collins said the doctor was a little careless about putting the names of his patients on his prescriptions. This resulted in a woman patient getting the wrong prescription. She had been coming to the doctor for five or six years, seemingly never very sick, but with a variety of complaints. When the druggist reported to the doctor that he had given the woman patient the wrong medicine, he looked the prescription over and said, “Don’t worry about it. It won’t hurt her.” In about a week the patient who got the wrong medicine came in to have the prescription refilled. The doctor asked her how she was feeling and she replied, “Doctor, that is the first time you ever gave me any medicine that did any good.”
From the Pocahontas book As I Recollect, “The Bushyhead Field House at Oklahoma Military Academy was named in honor of Dr. Bushyhead for the services rendered by him to the students while he was school physician. His heart went out to every Cadet in illness and trouble and he would take the same care of every complaint coming to him that he would of his own sons. He contributed his efforts toward upbuilding of the O. M. A. and sent three of his own sons through the school.”
There was a great affection between Will and his cousin Jesse. Although he had never flown in an airplane, when he was 60 years old, he and Tom Kight and Morton Harrison flew to Hollywood to see Will Rogers and solicit his help in getting the U. S. Indian Hospital located at Claremore.
While Dr. Bushyhead was taking a post graduate course at Polyclinic in New York on children’s diseases, Will Rogers sent him complimentary tickets to the show that Will was playing in at that time. Will stopped in the middle of the show and told the audience that some of them had been doubting whether or not he was an Indian. “In the audience tonight is an honest to goodness Oklahoma Indian…my cousin, Dr. Jess Bushyhead of Claremore,” Will told them. “Bush, get up and show these folks what an Oklahoma Indian looks like,” Will shouted at him. Dr. Bushyhead kept his seat. Will threw his rope around the doctor and pulled him out of his seat and onto the stage. The crowd went wild and gave Dr. Jess a big ovation and called him back several times.
Dr. Bushyhead was born near Tahlequah in 1870, graduated from the Male Seminary in 1888, from St. Louis University and took a post graduate course at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Dr. Bushyhead came to Claremore in 1891 and won the affectionate title of “Beloved Physician” from all his patients. The Oklahoma Historical Society elected Dr. Bushyhead to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame on November 16, 1940 and honored him with a dinner and program at the Skirvin Hotel.
Dr. Bushyhead’s daughter, Oowala, says that her father lead such a full life, saw so much and did so much that it thrills her to think about it. No life is empty that is spent in service to one’s fellow man. Dr. Bushyhead’s life was full because his was a life of service. He lives today in the hearts and minds of his friends and patients.
Note: Jesse Crary Bushyhead died July 12, 1942 in and is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Claremore.