Physicians have been part of Ray County since the beginning

By Linda Emley

We recently moved the “Doctor’s Room” to a new location at the Ray County Museum. During this process I realized that I don’t know much about the early doctors of Ray County, so I got out the 1881 history book and started my search.
There are 27 men listed in the biographical sketches that have a M.D. after their name. I’m sure there are others not listed here, but it’s a start.
The first doctor in Ray County was described this way: “Dr. William Thompson, from Virginia, an educated, genial, and obliging gentleman, was the first practicing physician. He died in Grundy County, Mo.”
I wondered why he left Ray County and then found the following story. “Isaac Martin, a local politician, was among the first representatives of the county in the general assembly, and held other county offices. He was unlettered, but of strong natural sense, and was a good neighbor, and a true gentleman. In one of his races for the legislature, Martin’s competitor was Dr. W. P. Thompson, an educated, as well as a most worthy gentleman. A public meeting was held at old Bluffton. Dr. Thompson made a speech of some length, in which he mentioned with an air of pride, that he was from Virginia, and modestly referred to his scholarship and the school from which he graduated. Martin replied, ‘Gentleman and fellow-citizens: I was born in Kentucky. I never went to school but 3 days in my life; the third day I whipped the teacher and left. What little I got was in the field, and it’s right in here.’ (pointing to his head). Martin was a democrat and was elected.”
I found some doctors mentioned in the town histories. “The medical profession is most ably represented in Richmond by the following physicians, to-wit: Doctors G. W. Buchanan, H. P. Jacobs, W. W. Mosby and son, H. C. Garner, J. D. Taylor, James W. Smith, M. C. Jacobs (eclectic), and R. B. Kice (D. D. S.) Dr. Nathaniel Davis was a physician of Richmond for many years, but is now retired from the practice, and is living quietly at his home, just outside the eastern limits of the city.”
In Morton, the first physician was Dr. W. F. Yates, who was still living in Morton in 1881. R. S. Kestler from Illinois, was the first practicing physician in Orrick and moved to Tiblow, Kan.
The early doctors of Grape Grove township were Dr. George Kelly, who moved to California; Dr. McFadden, who moved back to Kentucky; Dr. Nathaniel Davis, and Dr. Roberts, who was killed at Millville in 1879 by James Keyes.
Dr. Kelly and Dr. Davis were also early doctors of the Knoxville township, along with Dr. John Tiffin. Dr. Tiffin had three sons that became doctors and his son Clayton had a role in our Civil War history.
Clayton was born in Ohio in 1837 and moved here when he was 5. He attended school in Knoxville until he was 13 and then went to school in Ohio.
He graduated from the St. Louis Medical College and spent time in Bellevue Medical College in New York City. He then visited the medical colleges at San Francisco, and while there agreed to travel to Europe with Dr. J. S. Potts.
In 1880, they visited London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Edinburg and Dublin. While in London he purchased the finest set of surgical instruments that could be found and paid over $800.
In 1861, Dr. Clayton Tiffin enlisted in the Missouri militia, and the next year was made captain of his company. I found the following letter he wrote during the war.
“Richmond, May 17, 1864, to Colonel Williams:
“SIR: Your communication, with that of Colonel Barr’s, is just received. I will state that Camden was entered by a band of robbers. Camden is situated on the Ray side of the Missouri River. The robbers crossed over from the other side of the river in skiffs, which were taken from Camden the same evening the robbery was committed. The robbers did not stay in Camden any length of time, as they were in dread of troops from here.
“Camden is 8 miles from here. I sent one of the men, who watched the robbers’ horses while they were committing the robbery, to Chillicothe this day. All things in Ray are quiet at this time. I have sent 15 men to Camden. I have about 52 men in my company. With the remainder, 28 men, which I am allowed to recruit, I think I can hold Ray County. I did not deem the robbery of Camden any sign that Richmond would be robbed, still I keep my men with their arms at all times. With my company full I can hold Ray County all right.
“– C. Tiffin, Captain, Commanding, Ray County, Mo.”
The last civil war battle in Ray County was 6 miles northeast of Richmond on Dr. Horace King’s farm. On May 23, 1865, Capt. Tiffin’s men went to battle with Arch Clemens and his band of partisan rangers. Tiffin drove the rangers all the way to the Missouri River.
Dr. Clayton Tiffin died on June 15, 1917 and is buried in the Highland Cemetery in Hamilton. His parents, Dr. and Mrs. John Tiffin, are buried in the Knoxville Cemetery.
If you would like to read more tales of Capt.Tiffin and the other doctors of our county, the 1881 history book can be found at the Ray County Museum and the Ray County Library.

Have a story about a physician or anyone else of interest in Ray County history? Linda would love to hear about it. You can reach her at or see her at the museum during business hours Wednesday through Saturday.

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