A recent Education Committee meeting at the Capitol led me to recall stories I’d heard about an early Drew County veterinarian. His name was Johnny Wiley Trotter and he was born in Drew County on February 1, 1868, to Curl and Patience Brooks Trotter. Wiley Trotter apparently inherited a gift for, and interest in, medicine from his mother. Patience Trotter was well known and respected in the county for her knowledge and skills with herbal medicines. It has been said that local licensed doctors often referred patients to her.
One of 12 children, Wiley Trotter directed his “gift” for medicine to the veterinary field. Dr. Trotter’s early knowledge of veterinary medicine came largely from practical experience. He also attended a veterinary school in St. Louis and later received licensure from a veterinary school in Canada. He practiced veterinary medicine in Drew County for over 75 years.
Described as a small man in stature, “a fine man, full of humor and common sense,” Trotter is remembered as a fast walker and a fast talker, always in a hurry when a sick animal needed his attention. He is widely remembered by farmers and stockmen who relied upon him for doctoring primarily their hogs, cows, horses and hunting dogs. He traveled widely tending sick and needy animals, often with little, or no, pay, but with love and compassion in his heart.
He purposely never owned a car, so his patients were either brought to him or he went to them by foot or by transport by the owners. His office was his porch, his home, a barn, a pasture or a hay-filled stable. He had few tools of modern medicine and relied on his keen sense of touch and careful observations from a look at the color of the gums, eyes or skin of the patient. His medications were common sense directions and herbs or a mixture of prescribed ingredients prepared by a local pharmacy. Monticello pharmacist W. J. McKiever recalled that he became Dr. Trotter’s pharmacist when McKiever bought the old Boyd Pharmacy and has great stories about Dr. Trotter and his medications.
I have heard or read many stories about Dr. Wiley Trotter and this is one of my favorites. Dr. Trotter was called to see a very sick logging mule. Upon examination he discovered a tumor “the size of a cantaloupe” on the mule’s chest behind a front leg. Dr. Trotter knew how to handle people too, so, after careful examination and deliberation, he asked the owner for a pistol to shoot the mule. While the owner went for the gun, Dr. Trotter told his driver he never intended to
shoot the mule, but wanted to prepare the owner for “the worst”.
When the owner returned, Dr. Trotter took the pistol and walked slowly around the mule for a short time before announcing that, since the mule would die anyway, he might as well operate and try to remove the tumor. He performed the operation and the mule recovered and lived for many more years.
Dr. Trotter later explained that if the mule had died the owners would have remembered it would have died anyway, but since it lived, they would remember him as a great doctor. What a psychology lesson.
Dr. Wiley Trotter continued his practice of tending sick animals until his age and bodily infirmities caught up with him. He was admitted to the old Leisure Lodge nursing home (now the Woods) in April of 1972 at the age of 104.
Dana Dean, social director at leisure Lodge from 1974 to 1979 recalls Dr. Trotter well. She was quite fond of him and remembers he called her “Missy”. She also remembers one Thanksgiving when he asked what was being served for the Thanksgiving meal. She told him turkey to which he responded that he didn’t like turkey because it was too tough. He wanted a big, fat hen. Dr. Trotter then asked what her family was having and she told him her father-in-law, the late Snookie Davis, was frying fish. When Dr. Wiley commented he liked fish too, Mr. Davis fried and sent him a plate of fish for dinner.
Dana also laughingly recalls the year Dr. Trotter asked for a “union suit” for Christmas. She had to go ask Billy Lansdale at Van-Atkins what that item was. Mr. Lansdale laughed and then ordered him two “suits” for Christmas. For the enlightenment of the younger generation, a union suit is commonly called long handled underwear. They came in red, white, off-white – and all had “trap doors”.
He was also given a new, large-print Bible that year because cataracts had dimmed his vision and inhibited his reading his old, smaller one. The new Bible was engraved with his name. Dana recalls that he said, “Oh, Missy! Look! It’s got my name on it.”
Dr. Wiley Trotter remained ambulatory for several years, but gradually became weaker with age. He passed away at Leisure Lodge in August of 1977 at the age of 109. This year was validated by S.S. records. It has been said that Dr. Trotter would never tell how old he was and actually had trouble proving his age when he needed to start drawing his Social Security benefits.
Dr. Wiley Trotter had a unique ability to work with, and be trusted by, both animals and people. He is, and rightly should be, well remembered in the history of Drew County. Today the museum houses a wonderful portrait of Dr. Trotter.