In the absence of many of Llano County's earliest records due to a courthouse fire that destroyed almost everything prior to 1880, there are few sources available to determine exactly WHO the earliest doctors in Llano County were. The most reliable sources are the United States Census records, which began in 1860 for Llano County since the county itself was not created until 1856. Physicians were usually identified by the vocation listed for them on the census, but in Llano County in 1860, for whatever reason, this was not the case. Knowledge of any physician who came into the county between the census decades would most likely be totally lost unless they remained in the county until the next census enumeration. In the absence of good early documentation, information regarding these doctors would have to come from their descendants or from other scant, scattered records.
The only persons whose profession is listed as a physician on the Llano County Census for 1860 were G.W.P. Bedford, whose residence was in the newly organized county seat of Llano Town, and D. B. Anderson, who lived in northwestern Llano County around present day Field Creek. At least two other persons living within the county at that time have proved to have been identified with the medical profession, but for some reason, they are not specifically named as doctors in 1860. Instead, they are merely recognized for their agricultural vocations as a farmer or stockman.
One of these men was William Miller McCraw, an obvious resident near the Salt Works at what was then Saline, later Tow Valley. The only reason it is known he was a physician resulted from a family search of Llano County's earliest settlers, whereupon it was discovered that Mr. McCraw WAS listed as a doctor prior to his moving to Texas. Perhaps he was not officially registered to practice medicine in his new surroundings, which is why he did not list himself as such on the 1860 Census. Nevertheless, any man with knowledge of medical procedures who lived in the harsh environment of the untamed Texas frontier would be greatly needed to meet the medical demands of the general population.
William Miller McCraw was still living in his home state of Virginia in 1850, specifically Buckingham County. In 1851, he married Mary Elizabeth Ballou in Halifax County Virginia. Their first child, Martha, was born in Virginia around 1853, but for reasons unknown the couple moved to Texas soon afterwards. Exactly when they came to the Colorado River area of Llano County is not clear, but it is known they were here prior to the county’s creation. Mr. McCraw signed a petition in November, 1855, along with other men in the Salt Works and Colorado River region, asking the State to create a new county. The couple’s next two children, Charles Thomas and James Witt, were born in 1856 and 1859, respectively. Since William Miller McCraw was an experienced physician, it was probably he who attended the birth of Ike Maxwell’s first son in July, 1859, the same day Robert Adams, a neighbor on the Burnet side of the Colorado, was killed and mutilated by the Indians. When a local posse showed up at the Maxwell home to trail those responsible, the doctor joined in the search, leaving Ike to handle the remaining midwife chores.
Not a lot of additional information about the family can be gleaned from other Llano County records since so much pertinent information was lost during a later courthouse fire. Later deeds on file, however, do make reference to a McCraw Creek in the Salt Works area. There is no creek in that area by that name today, but it might be the same as Calvert Creek. Tax records in early Llano County show he died sometime around the year 1862, and that his widow, Elizabeth, turned the handling of the family’s property responsibilities over to a friend/neighbor, Edward W. (Ned) Davis. After a few years, the McCraw name disappears from all records. It is not known if William contracted a fatal disease from a patient, which was a common thing in the absence of drugs like penicillin, or if he might have joined a military unit after the Civil War broke out and died as a result of that experience. Some family researchers claim he died in Hope, Arkansas, which might suggest a military assignment. IF he died in Llano County, his grave is unmarked. All that is known is that Elizabeth returned to Virginia, and that the sons in later years ended up living in Tennessee.
Another man known to have been a bona fide physician, but who was not labeled as such on the 1860 Llano County Census was Dr. Hardin Oatman, son of John Oatman, Sr., who brought his family to Llano County several years prior to the creation of the county in 1856. Hardin, along with his father and several of his brothers, also signed a petition to the State asking for the creation of a new county. Dr. Oatman is well recognized for his role as a physician in Llano's earliest days through other avenues. The most important reference is found in all accounts written about the famous Legion Valley Indian Massacre in 1868. Dr. Oatman was summoned out of the town of Llano following the atrocity to be the attending physician for the severely mutilated and wounded Matilda Jones Friend. Mrs. Friend had not only been scalped in three places, she had been stabbed and further mangled by the Indian intruders. After she was assumed to be dead and the Indians had retreated, she then made her way some distance to her nearest neighbor's home for help. Fearing the Indians would also attack their home, the Bradford family did what they could for Matilda, then left her by herself while they snuck into the nearby woods to hide out. She was left alone for a good number of hours before medical assistance finally arrived. Miraculously, the woman not only recovered, she went on to live a full life for many years to come. Dr. Oatman remained in Llano County a good many years, but he also eventually left the area and died in 1897 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Although officially not a licensed physician, another man who signed one of the 1855 petitions to create Llano County was known for having some knowledge of medicine. He was one of the oldest men to ever live in Llano County, born in 1797, and his name was Joseph R. Shults. Mr. Shults came to Texas from Polk County Arkansas around 1852 with his double brother-in-law, Elijah Arnold. (Elijah’s first wife, Elizabeth Shults, was a sister to Joseph, and Elijah’s second wife, Cynthia Duff, was a sister to Joseph’s wife, Eliza Duff) After a brief period in Williamson County, the two families took up property fronting the west side of the Colorado River. Mr. Shults’ medical knowledge was passed down from his grandfather, Dr. Martin Shultz/s (family changed the “z” to “s” after moving to early Tennessee), who was the only surgeon at the Battle of King’s Mountain in the American Revolution. Joseph seems to have learned basic medical skills and knowledge of herbs from his father, Valentine, who had learned them from his father, Martin. According to a letter written by former Llano County Judge Moore Johanson to Shults family descendants, old timers in Llano County claimed Mr. Shults rode in a buggy when he called upon the sick in the community at all hours of the day and night. Joseph R. Shults lived to be a fairly old man for his time, dying in 1880. He was originally buried in a family cemetery on his own land, but when efforts began to build a dam across the Colorado River in 1931, his grave was relocated in the New Bluffton Cemetery to escape being inundated by rising waters.
The Bedford family permanently settled in Llano County by 1853, according to the date provided by Thomas J. Bedford for the composite Portrait of Llano County Pioneers. The family settled in the Packsaddle-Honey Creek area of the county and continued to live in the same part of the county throughout their lives. Thomas’ brother, George W. P. Bedford, is shown as a physician living in the town of Llano on the Census in 1860. He is a single male, but his widowed mother is living with him. Dr. Bedford did not tarry long in Llano County. Apparently he spent a little time in Fannin County around Honey Grove before ending up permanently in Lamar County, Texas. After he left Llano County, he had children by at least two different wives.
The only other physician listed on the 1860 Census for Llano County lived in the northwestern part of the county, near the Hoy, Choat, and Rainbolt families, which puts him in the vicinity of present day Field Creek. Little is known about him, other than his name was D.B. Anderson, age 44, born in North Carolina. He is shown with his wife, Susan, and six children, ranging in ages from fifteen to infancy. The older children were born in Tennessee, but the last four were born in Texas. He appears to have come to Texas around 1847. The 1860 Slave Schedule for Llano County shows Dr. Anderson was the owner of one male slave, age five. A 64-year old widow named Elizabeth Anderson, who may have been his mother, was also living in the San Fernando area. She was Llano County’s largest slave owner, owning a total of seven slaves. Only a few others in the county owned as many as five. Dr. Anderson also did not remain in the county very long, and his whereabouts after 1860 are not known.
An early doctor along the Colorado River boundary of Llano County was a resident at various times of both Llano and Burnet Counties, as were many people who settled along the river. Most of the time his family was associated with the Hoover Valley area of Burnet County, which was on one of the main routes of travel from the town of Burnet to the town of Llano via the Fort Mason Crossing on the Colorado. Since he was a licensed physician, Dr. Wills no doubt treated a good many patients who lived on the Llano side of the Colorado. Josiah Wills had been in Texas from the age of three, coming with his father as part of Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred, the very first Anglo settlers in Texas.
Although the first permanent settlers in Llano County were of German extraction, it has not come forward whether any of those who settled along the western side of Llano County on the Llano River as early as 1847 were medical doctors. If no one living in that area had skills in that direction, chances are when medical help was needed, the German settlers sought aid from physicians in Gillespie County at first, then later on, in either Fredericksburg or the town of Mason. Their loyalty to their native customs, language, traditions, etc. held true in most areas of their lives, so there is no reason to suspect that their medical reaches were any different.
SOURCES: GEM OF THE HILL COUNTRY (Oatman, pp. 7, 10, 106-108); Llano Co. Tax Records; 1860 Census Llano County; 1850 Census Buckingham Co. VA; ancestry.com family records for McCraw and Bedford; Wills, Maxwell, and Shults family history; letter written by Former Judge Moore Johanson to Shults family after 1978.