Written by Gene Barron
On June 20, 1900, Edward Varner and Emily Caroline Boles Dudley bought 120 acres of land from S. J. Berry Abbett in Sec. 16 just south of Spearsville. Edward was the son of William and Rachel Varner Ewing Dudley.
Edward and Emily had eight children, Susan R., Ida E., Sarah Frances, Varner Edward, William Seaborn, Edna Carolyn, Jessie Anna, and Girtha.
Varner Edward Dudley was born on March 19, 1878. He taught school and did odd jobs to put himself through college in Little Rock, Arkansas. He married Sarah Louise Henderson on June 11, 1905, while she was attending Everett institute in Spearsville. She was the daughter of David Benjamin and Susannah Risinger Henderson.
After their marriage, the couple traveled overland to the Ouachita River, got aboard a riverboat and traveled to New Orleans where they lived until Edward received his medical degree from Tulane University, graduating in 1909.
After graduation, the couple returned to Spearsville where they bought a home from Dr. W. S. Harrell, who had moved to Ruston, and Dr. Dudley began his medical practice.
He built his first office in front of Cull Elliott’s home facing south just off of the Farmerville – El Dorado road. Soon after moving into their new home, Dr. Dudley bought a new stove for the house. While burning the crate that the stove had been shipped in, a spark from the fire ignited the cedar shingled roof and the house burned to the ground.
In 1910 the Dudleys built another house which stands today and is the second oldest in Spearsville. Teanor Salley, a local carpenter, had built a home in Bernice that Dr. Dudley really admired, so he asked Mr. Salley if he would build him one just like it. Mr. Salley agreed to build the home. In the Victorian style, the two-story home was built with plenty of gingerbread trimmings. Dr. Dudley had Mr. Salley add a dormer with a balcony with railings on the second floor to give the home a different look.
Dr. and Mrs. Dudley had ten children, but only seven lived to maturity. They were Ruth (never married), Maude married Roger Kroenke, Patrick Manson (never married), Grace married Joe A. Carroll, Louise married James Edward Lomax, Varner Edward, Jr. married Rachel Robinson and Ruby married Paul Perritt.
Several years later Dr. Dudley moved his office into a small shotgun building with four pane windows located about 75 yards to the south west of the Dudley house.
If his patients were unable to come to his office, Dr. Dudley would go to them. He always owned the best horses he could find and took a tremendous amount of pride in them. On rainy days he used his buggy to make his house calls, if roads were not too bad.
Many times, during his career, Dr. Dudley would come home asleep in the saddle worn out from seeing patients. His trusty horse would find his own way home while his rider slept. Many times after arriving home from a long day treating patients, someone else would be waiting on him with word that someone else was in need of his services, and off he’d go again. Winter was usually his busiest season, since most sickness occurred then. On cold freezing days, or nights, Dr. Dudley had to ride his horse instead of using his buggy because the road conditions were too bad. Many a freezing rainy night he would return home after a long day, asleep on his trusty horse, with his rain gear frozen to the saddle.
Dr. Dudley literally rode himself to death, in those days, treating patients near and far. After one trip to see a patient on the other side of DeLoutre Bayou, he returned home to find someone who had a sick family member just a farm away from where he had just come, so back across DeLoutre he went without hesitation.
Most of his sleep came in the saddle on his way to see a patient or returning home from seeing one. When Henry C. Barron suffered chest pains after going to bed one night, Dr. Dudley was summoned. He had just returned home from a full day on the road treating patients and his horse was still saddled. Without hesitation he mounted his horse and headed toward the Barron farm. He fell asleep and when the horse go to Sandy Branch, where he was to take the road to the right, the horse went straight. Dr. Dudley awakened about a mile down the road and realized he was on the wrong road. He had to retrace his tracks and by the time he got to the Barron farm, Henry C. was dead from a heart attack.
By today’s standards, medical technology during Dr. Dudley’s life was archaic. Dr. Dudley was confronted with diseases and illnesses for which science of that ere had no answers, whereas today they would be treated with little concern. Boone and Edna Breazeal lost their 2 1/2 year old son to a mysterious disease in August 1909. Lavelle, suffered from abdominal pains accompanied by fever. The doctor who examined him was at a loss as to what the problem was. He made the boy as comfortable as possible but could do little to treat him. He told the Breazeal family, after the boy had died, that he thought he must have had locked bowels. Years later, Edna decided that Lavelle had appendicitis and had died when his appendix burst.
In just a few years after Lavelle died, operations were being done to remove the appendix on those suffering from appendicitis. Dr. Dudley, and an associate doctor, preformed an emergency appendectomy on Clyde D. McDougald on his dining room table after being diagnosed with appendicitis. The operation was a complete success.
The daily grind, of over 30 years of service to the community finally took its toil on the doctor as arthritis set in. Over time it got so bad he could hardly go and he started drinking liquor to dull the pain so that he could continue caring for his patients. This caused him to be called up before the brothers and sisters at Spearsville Baptist church to answer charges of intoxication. He listened to the charges and slowly stood and faced the committee to reply to them. In a slow soft voice began, “Well, I guess I’m guilty of the charges, but if you intend to dismiss me, I feel the need to tell the members which of you deacons fathered the light-skinned baby that I recently delivered in the quarters.” Needless to say, that ended the inquisition.
As the pain for arthritis worsened, Dr. Dudley started taking paregoric to relieve the pain. The drug contained opium, a highly addictive drug. With regular does of the medicine, he was able to function as his old self. As doses became more frequent, Charlie Carroll, who was the druggist in Spearsville, couldn’t, or wouldn’t, furnish him the medicine. Dr. Dudley began getting the medicine from the drug store in Bernice. Melvin Stone frequently drove the good doctor to Bernice to the drug store. He recalled that when Dr. Dudley needed a fix he became sullen and quiet. He recalled Dr. Dudley walking to his car, Melvin’s car, and getting in one without saying a word. When Melvin saw him get into the car, he knew what he wanted and proceeded to drive him to Bernice. Neither said a word on the trip. When Dr. Dudley came out of the store he seemed to be his old lively self again.
Clyde Barron, as a teenage boy, was asleep in a room upstairs in the Hugh Barron store one night when he heard a banging that sounded like something striking a metal pipe at regular intervals. After so long a time, he decided to investigate. He went down stairs and out the back door of the store and listened. The banging was coming from behind the Elton Rockett store to the south. He slowly made his way toward the sound and stopped at the back corner of the Rockett store and peered through the moonlit night around the corner to see what was going on. There he saw Dr. Dudley leaning against an iron post holding an object with which he periodically struck the pole. Clyde could tell that the good doctor was in torment and ask him what was wrong. Dr. Dudley’s reply was, “Son,” as he turned to face him, “Don’t ever start on this stuff.” He was referring to the paregoric that had taken control of him.
In 1918 Dr. Dudley purchased his first car to be used for house calls. When necessary he would transport his patients to the hospital in Shreveport. This was an extremely long trip in those days over dirt roads that were rough in dry weather and boggy in wet. His second car was a generic ford and his third was a 1933 Ford V-8 in which, he inadvertently drove to Ruston and back in second gear. He later hired Leatha Morris to drive for him.
On one cool fall morning, he and Leatha went to the pasture to kill a large Poland China hog. The family needed meat for the winter and the hog was fat for the kill. Dr. Dudley carried his .38 cal. Pistol with which to shoot the hog. When they got near enough, Dr. Dudley raised, aimed his pistol and fired. He missed his mark and only grazed the hog’s head. Off through the pasture ran the hog squealing as he went. “L-E-E-E-THA, catch him!” Dr. Dudley exclaimed as he pointed at the hog. Leatha took in after and soon ran the hog down and held him until Dr. Dudley could get there and perform the coup-de-grace with a butcher knife to the throat of the hog. Leatha had little trouble in running that hog down and, if he were alive today, could be making millions playing football – she could really run!
Dr. Dudley was the best loved person and most respected doctor in the country. Doctors as far away as Highland Hospital in Shreveport and The Charity Hospital in New Orleans leaned to appreciate his ability as a doctor. Once he sent Mrs. Edna Lambert to Highland to have her appendix removed. he sent a note for her to give to the surgeon. It informed the doctor that her appendix was on her left side and not on her right as is usually the case. The doctor read the note but ignored it and opened and found no appendix. He had to perform a second operation to remove the appendix, which, sure enough was on the left side just as Dr. Dudley had said.
Dr. Dudley stood head and shoulders above other doctors and even preachers in the area because of his dedication to this profession. Simply stated, Dr. Dudley was an idol in the community and if he had wanted to commit murder, many a farm wife would have handed him an ax. George Harmon Smith said of the beloved doctor, “Dr. Dudley was one of the most decent men I have ever known. I never heard him utter a curse word and he positively forbid the telling of off-color jokes in his presence.”
Worth mentioning here is the occasion when Dr. Dudley acted as cupid. His sister, Ida married Thomas H. Lockwood. In 1922, Mr. Lockwood died and Ida came to live with Dr. Dudley’s family. After a year or so Dr. Dudley tired of this arrangement and sought for her a mate. When Elijah Willingham Breazeal lost his wife, Martha Jane Summers Breazeal, in 1924, Dr. Dudley began promoting his sister to Elijah. Soon his efforts paid off and Elijah and Ida were wed.
After serving his community for almost 40 years, Dr. Dudley died on March 4, 1948 at the age of 70. Mrs. Dudley lived on, in the house and home they had built, with her daughter, Ruth, until her death on February 22, 1983 at the age of 97. Dr. and Mrs. Dudley are buried at Mount Union Cemetery.
Gene Barron is a native of Spearsville, Union Parish, Louisiana. He has a genealogy database of 182,000 names, who are all connected to his family.
Gene has also written three historical books on Union Parish. I highly recommend both.