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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Roscoe in Years Gone By: Medicine Shows

An early-day medicine show. (Photo from Internet)
[Editor’s Note: Recently, Carl Childers donated some items to the Roscoe Historical Museum passed down to him by his mother, “Lady” Jane Young, who was born and raised in Roscoe.  Among them was a booklet containing several memoirs of Roscoe in the 1920s by John Beryl Witherspoon, who grew up here back then.  This is one of the shorter ones.  Since there were no televisions or computers in the twenties, entertainment was naturally quite different, and medicine shows traveling from town to town —remember the Wizard of Oz?—entertained the locals and sold them their “snake oil” cures.]

by John Beryl Witherspoon

Other shows came to our town, but the ones that were the most popular were the “Medicine Shows” because they were free.  We were dirt poor but didn’t know it because we had no standard to compare ourselves with.  Most everybody borrowed money from the bank to live on until the next crop was out.  Everybody was reluctant to spend the “Bank’s Money” on entertainment, so everybody came to the medicine shows because they didn’t cost anything.  When the fall of the year came, there was a deluge of them.  The crops were out and all the merchants who had extended credit to all of us during the year were paid, and we had money jangling in our pockets.  But they avoided us like the plague in the spring when we were “strapped.”  But, when fall came, it was payday for everybody.

Many medicine shows came our way, but the most prominent one was “Doctor Tate’s Medicine Show,” which came out of Corpus Christi every year.  He always made our town once a year.

Medicine shows were unique because it took only one truck and two men to run them.  The truck was designed so that one side would “let down,” thus making a stage.  Then, there was a side door into the truck, and it could be used to store the “medicine” and for sleeping quarters.

The man in charge of medicine shows was always a Doctor!  His credentials were questionable, but who cared as long as we were being entertained? 

His assistant was usually a young man of some accomplishments who could play an instrument and sing and dance, and he was the stooge who went through the onlookers and delivered the medicine.  I say onlookers because there were no seats; we all stood on our feet.

If the “Doctor” addressed his assistant, he always called him Mr Moe.  They were very formal in their conversations, which went on throughout the show.  When the show opened, the “Doctor” might come on the stage and bring a bottle of his medicine.  He would hold it up so everybody could see it and describe all the ailments that it would “positively” cure.  He would go on to explain that it was a very rare and private formula which had been given to him by Chief Tonna-wa-hoo, whose life he had saved in a raging prairie fire in Oklahoma.  And, that the Chief swore that he had not given it to a living soul before then.

Anyway, it was intriguing.

Mr. Moe would come out on the stage and entertain us with some songs and dances.  He always had make-up on.  Sometimes he would be a country bumpkin and at others he would be a black-face.

He would come out among the onlookers with his arms loaded with medicine and “Snake Oil” that was guaranteed to cure the pains of all aching joints and muscles.

The Doctor carried on continuing conversation while he was out there.  He might say, “Mr. Moe, do you know how to make ice water?”

“I don’t think I do know how to make ice water.  How do you make ice water?”

“Peel an onion.  That’ll make your eyes water!”

Then, Mr. Moe would scream, “Sold out!  Give me some more medicine, Doctor!”

Everybody would have a big hearty laugh and wait to see what happened next and buy more medicine.

Then maybe Doctor Tate would say, “Mr. Moe, which hand do you stir your coffee with?”

Mr. Moe would say, “Let’s see, I think I stir it with my left hand.”

Then, Doctor Tate would say, “That’s funny.  I use a spoon.”

Everybody would laugh again and buy more medicine.

Later, I asked my grandfather why everybody was so anxious to buy Doctor Tate’s medicines and elixirs, and he said, “It’s laced with alcohol and two tablespoons full of it will make anybody feel better!”

I suppose that was so as evidenced by all the empty medicine bottles piled up behind the billboards after the show left town.

That was our town and we loved it.  Others have their memories, maybe at a different time, but just the same, it was “Our Home Town.”



The following are the top ten show sales for Roscoe students at last week’s Nolan County Stock Show:

Exhibitor                         Place                       Division                  Amount

Max Nemir          Breed Champion              Swine                        $400
John Ruben Herrera       1                              Swine                         $200
Ty Fullwood                       2                              Lamb                         $175
Dillon Freeman                  2                             Swine                         $175
Emma Pulattie                   2                             Goat                           $150
Derek Creed                        3                             Swine                         $150
Ezekiel Murphy                 3                             Swine                         $150
Kamren Fisher                   4                             Steer                          $300
Kristen Johns                     4                             Steer                          $300
Kaylee Palacios                 4                             Swine                         $125   



In a game played at home on Friday evening, the Plowboys defeated Loraine 56-30 for their second district victory.  Roscoe jumped out to a 15-2 lead in the first quarter and led at halftime 27-14. 

High scorer for the Plowboys was Jesus Leanos with 13, followed by Javier Leanos, Shelton Toliver, and Cutter Davila, all with 12.  Luis Villa made 6 and Kevin Lavalais with 1.

The Plowboys are now 2-1 in district play.  Their game with Hermleigh last night was postponed until tonight because of a death in the Hermleigh coach’s family.  It will be played in Hermleigh. They will then play Westbrook here in Roscoe on Friday followed by Ira in Ira next Tuesday.



Loraine forfeited Friday’s scheduled game with the Plowgirls along with the rest of their season.  They no longer have enough varsity girls to compete, and their JV girls are not yet ready to play on the varsity level. 

Instead, the Plowgirls played the Odessa New Way Christian Academy and lost, 67-47.  The Eagles jumped out to a 23-12 first quarter lead and had extended it by halftime to 32-18.  The score at the end of three was 51-33.

Selena Perez led the Plowgirls in scoring with 20 points, followed by Sunshine Saddler with 13 and Sam Ortega with 8.  Danielle Dean, Mia Herrera, and Whitney Williams all had 2.

Then last night the Plowgirls beat Hermleigh, 48-29. The first quarter ended at 7-6 Roscoe, but by halftime the Plowgirls had pulled away to a 22-10 lead.  At the end of three, the score was 30-16.  

High scorer for the Plowgirls was Eva Aguayo with 15 points.  Williams had 9, Saddler 8, Brown 5, Ortega 5, Perez 5, and Dean 2.

The Plowgirls are now firmly in second place, their only district loss coming from Highland.  On Friday, they play Westbrook in Roscoe, and next Tuesday it will be Ira in Ira.



Allen Richburg got this great shot of a moonset on Thursday morning.
The weather was typical for this time of year.  Skies were clear practically the entire week, and highs were generally in the sixties with lows in the mid to upper thirties.  The high temperature for the week was on Monday afternoon, when it got up to 71°F, and the low was yesterday morning at 33°.  There were some breezes but no high winds, and there was no precipitation.

The forecast is for much colder weather for the next couple of days.  This afternoon should see a high in the upper fifties, but temperatures will drop considerably with a low of about 30° tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow’s high will be in the lower thirties and the low tomorrow night will drop down to the mid teens with a 20% chance of snow.  Friday will also be cold with a high in the upper thirties and a low in the lower thirties.  The weekend will be warmer, however, with highs back in the sixties and lows in the mid thirties.



  1. I really enjoyed this weeks. The snake oil is still around, it is mostly for weight loss,the salesman is on the internet, and people are not so reluctant to spend "the bank's money". I do love "Our Home Town".

  2. Wow, what a great story about the medicine shows! I've never heard about that.

  3. Moon set, I thought it was all about the old grain drill in the center of the photo.


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