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Vicksburg History

Doc Smith remembered for his original wit

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Veterinarian examining cow (photo courtesy Library of Congress)

Most everyone called him Doc, but he was George Ferdinand Smith and was the 22nd veterinarian in the state of Mississippi. His stories were legend, and so was his sense of humor.

He told of his efforts one night of trying to heal a sick mule. He gave the animal a dose of Epsom salt, ginger and water and then settled down in the barn to await the desired results.

It was a cold night, and Doc shivered by a small fire while waiting for the medicine to do its job and relieve the bloated animal. Finally in despair, he decided to head back into town, so he cranked his old Model-T Ford. It backfired loudly – and so did the mule!

“If only I could train that car when to backfire…” he commented, pleased that his Model-T had done the job which his medicine had failed to accomplish.

Wit and wisdom were his trademarks. His funny stories often had a punch line that contained a lesson.

Doc was born in Vicksburg on Nov. 18, 1887. He graduated from St. Aloysius High School. As a boy, he was a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, and it was with the old fire horses that he probably developed his love and care of animals.

Doc received his doctorate in 1911 from the Chicago Veterinary College and practiced in New York and Wisconsin and Macon, Miss. before returning home to Vicksburg. His office was at the corner of China and Walnut streets.

He was a small man with a gravelly voice. He usually had a cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth.

His comments were very original, and they were choice enough to make him the Will Rogers of Vicksburg. Here are some of his remarks and observations:

  • He was a devoted member of the Catholic church and would support the church in everything but giving for foreign missions, stating that “there is more ignorance between here and Rolling Fork than in the rest of the world.”
  • During the depression he was often paid with farm produce rather than cash, causing him to say that he had eaten so many snap beans that he was going to tie coal oil strings around his legs to keep cut worms from eating him up.
  • He said he knew a pig could talk, because when he castrated one it ran away saying “Ruint, ruint.”
  • Upon seeing an unusually large woman he commented that the only things she could buy to fit her was a handkerchief and an umbrella.
  • He said that Vicksburg was built on a bluff and run the same way.
  • “Too bad we didn’t have the chamber of commerce in 1863,” he said. “They’d never have let Grant into town.”
  • When the time came to leave this earth, he said he wanted to die like Christ: “Between two thieves — my doctor and my lawyer.”
  • “It was so cold I had to get up and whip the children to keep them warm,” he stated.
  • When someone said that marriage was made in heaven, his reply was “So was thunder and lightning.”
  • It was time to buy new shoes, he said if he stepped on a dime he could tell if it was head or tails.
  • Human nature being what it was, he said, if he was a preacher he wouldn’t let anybody take up the collection but a one-armed man.

Doc was noted for his wit, but he was a trusted veterinarian, and he could sometimes cure his friends. He invented a cure for poison oak and also a liniment that wouldn’t blister, would soothe “anything from an ingrown toenail to a rowdy family.”

Doc concentrated on large animals until the years caught up with him, then he spent most of his time doctoring small ones, such as cats and dogs. He provided free surgery on any tomcat in his community, giving the prowling tomcat good reason to howl. He also took on the task of custodian for his alma mater, St Aloysius.

Doc died in August 1966 at the age of 79. In the Old Court House Museum is a display of some of the instruments he used in his medical practice, but no artifact or photograph could capture the wit of Doc Smith.

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