in the early 1900s, some doctors realized that smoking was bad for
a person's health.
Trained at Hospital College of Medicine in Louisville, KY, Canadian-
born Dr. Donald Taylor Atkinson came to Texas in 1902 after graduation.
The 28-year-old physician spent some time in Hopkins
County in the piney woods of East
Texas, a brief interlude in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma)
and by 1905 had a medical practice on the border at Del
One of his patients there was Sam Bean, son of the famous Judge
Roy Bean of Langtry.
In "Texas Surgeon," his autobiography, Atkinson told the story:
The old judge, "beard lying thick upon his chest, at either hip
a Colt .45," showed up at the doctor's office with his son, Sam.
The younger Bean had been in Louisiana for a year. Now he was having
daily chills, fever and sweats. He also had a cough, and the judge
thought his boy might have "consumption," or tuberculosis.
While the doctor continued to examine the patient, the younger Bean
asked if he could take a break to roll and smoke a cigarette. Atkinson
asked him if he smoked a lot.
"That boy of mine," the judge answered for his son, "smokes them
coffin nails like a chimney. Only time he ain't smoking's when his
face is filled with food."
The doctor reached a diagnosis: In addition to a blustery father,
Sam Bean suffered from chronic malaria, not TB. He gave the judge's
son a prescription for the standard malaria treatment of the day,
a mixture of arsenic and quinine, and a little medical advice-lay
off the cigarettes.
The judge, known for his impatience with cattle thieves and even
misdemeanor offenders, proceeded to lay down the law to his son.
"Sam, y'hear? If I catch you with one [a cigarette] in your mouth,
I'll beat your brains out."
Not that the judge's son was too easily cowed. In 1898 he had gunned
down a man named George Upshaw following an argument over a saddle
blanket. A jury in Del
Rio went on to acquit Sam of murder.
Atkinson did not write how Sam Bean had reacted to his father's
warning about smoking. But the next time the doctor saw the judge's
son, he clearly had improved.
The young Bean saw the doctor several more times after that first
visit with his father, and on each occasion, he seemed to be doing
a little better. But several months later, Sam took a sudden turn
for the worse that had nothing to do with malaria or smoking cigarettes.
Someone took a knife to him in a Del
Rio saloon and he bled to death.
Despite Judge Bean's tough love approach with his son, the death
of Sam must have hit the old man hard. But the loss of his boy did
not dull his fealty to justice.
riding with two Val
Verde county sheriff's deputies in pursuit of cattle thieves,
a severe norther blue in. None of the men had thought to bring coats.
The deputies urged the judge to return to Langtry
for warm clothes, but he would not hear of it.
When sleet began to fall, the three men settled in for an uncomfortable
night, warmed only by their sweaty saddle blankets.
The next morning, the judge was sick. His temperature shot up and
he became delirious, babbling about his boyhood in Kentucky. The
two deputies slung the judge across a saddle and took him into town.
Back in Langtry,
they wired Del Rio
for a doctor. The doctor they requested was busy with another patient,
so Atkinson was notified. He grabbed his bag and took the westbound
Southern Pacific for Langtry.
When Atkinson got to the Jersey
Lilly Saloon, he found the judge sitting at his desk. As Atkinson
later recalled, "his hard old face was stained with a mulberry flush
from fever. When he hawked and spat into his battered spittoon,
I saw the saliva was rust-colored. The judge had pneumonia."
Atkinson did all he could for him, which was to give him a shot
of codeine and some digitalis for his obviously weak heart. When
Atkinson walked out of the room, the judge had his head down on
his desk. A few days later, on March 16, 1903, the legendary Law
West of the Pecos was as dead as his late son. They are buried next
to each other in Del
Their doctor later moved to San
Antonio, where he continued practicing medicine until his retirement.
He died there at 84 in 1959.
"Texas Tales" June
22, 2017 column