Dr. Isenberg Articles Evoke Memories of Dr. Leab

My two articles concerning Dr. Artie Isenberg, an early horse-riding physician in East Tennessee, prompted a letter from Dr. Samuel Taylor Bickley, a former resident of the area. He grew up on a farm not far from the Isenberg home.

Dr. Bickley recalled: “My maternal grandmother, Mrs. Sam Gray, better known as “Mide,” had a large farm on Gray Station Road. Artie would occasionally drop by for dinner if he were in the area. I remember him very well. He was a rather large man and had clacking false teeth that could be quite frightening to small children. His horse had saddlebags full of little containers of pills, instruments and other assorted items necessary to his trade. I remember how his stethoscope had to be assembled by screwing the earpiece to the sounding chamber before it was applied to the chest.”

Bickley recalled when Dr. Isenberg came to their home after he and his sister, Carolyn, had eaten too many mulberries: “He dosed us both with calomel and told our grandmother to make us drink lots of buttermilk. I have not liked buttermilk since.”

Samuel said that the principles of aseptic technique are much different today than they were in those days. He offered an example: “Once my father, Jonathan Bickley, cut his leg with a knife during haying season. He bled a lot and Artie was sent for. Carolyn had just learned to drive and I remember her flying down the driveway and around the corner on two wheels in our 1934 Chevrolet coupe. Artie found my father lying on the granite walk. He just squatted down, pulled a kit from his pocket, took a needle and string from it and sewed up my father’s wound. “Fortunately, John Bickley did not get tetanus or infection. However, he was abed for several days due to blood loss.”

Bickley deemed Dr. Isenberg a versatile physician, saying that he could “prise” a tooth one minute, set a patient’s bone the next and then promptly perform a hernia operation on someone’s pig. Bickley further recalled: “Dr. Isenberg mentioned the difficulties of travel in the early years of the 1900s. Doctors went on horseback, as there were no cars or paved road, often having to ford creeks and rivers on horseback.”

Samuel questioned one statement made in Artie’s diary that Dr. Leab drowned fording a river on horseback: “My grandmother, all her sisters and her cousin Lulu Leab Barnes were all descendants of Dr. Leab and I never heard that story discussed. Dr. Leab may have been the first trained physician in what is now the state of Tennessee, having come from Wurtzburg, Germany and settled in East Tennessee before the Revolutionary War. The doctor lived in a community called Clara, which is near the old Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church burying ground (off Hales Chapel Road). The Leab store at Clara was probably the second post office in Tennessee, the first being at Spurgeon, at the mouth of Cedar Creek on the Holston River. Many of Dr. Leab’s descendents are well-known and useful citizens of the area, including Miss Grace Leab, who taught English at Teacher’s College in Johnson City. She taught me and Carolyn both.”

Samuel commented that Ellen Gresham did a remarkable job of detailing the history of the Leab family in her history of Hale’s Chapel Christian Church. The former resident concluded his letter by saying: “I hope this smattering of local history may be of some interest to your readers.” Let me assure you, Dr. Bickley, that it is.