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100 Years Ago:
The deaf heard, the dumb spake and the lame walked

Prologue: Oldtime herbalist Dr. "I don't know about you but I could use a hellbuck poultice and a dose of tonigan this morning. Hope you enjoy this one about Dr. William Voils, the best known herbalist of Adair and Russell Counties, KY, who lived to be nearly 106 years old.

By "Jim"

Melvin L. White, a native of the Auld Sod of Adair, left the most sacred hills and hollows on earth in the early 1880s and settled himself some 350 miles away in south-central North Carolina. Although he was far removed from Adair County in distance, his thoughts were always near, and his long, rambling, and generally humorous letters sporadically graced the pages of the Adair County News for several decades.

The following sketch comes from a letter penned by Mr. White on May 9, 1907 in Lattimore, North Carolina. It appeared in the May 29, 1907 News and concerned Russell and Adair County's best-known "yerbalist," Dr. William Voils (sometimes spelled Voyles).

The sketch begins somewhat in media res, as the opening paragraphs of Mr. White's letter mentioned a number of folks he had known before departing for the Tarheel State about 25 years earlier. Among those named was Dr. Voils' son, yclept Philip, described by Mr. White as
" own familiar friend, who came as a walking delegate from Fentress county, Tennessee. Later he was legally adopted in the Coterie of Tabor school boys, and hence was a Kentuckian."
(Your humble contributor made no effort to "clean up" or explain the terms and expressions used herein, as born-and-bred Adair Countians and a smattering of Adair Assimilation Academy graduates will immediately understand and savor each and every aspirate, elision, diphthong, and sibilant found in Mr. White's words.)

Wrote the erstwhile Mr. White:
My memory also reverts to [Philip's] doughty sire, Dr. Voils, of "bocanical" fame. He could fire a charge of "tonigan" into ailing humanity, and the deaf heard, the dumb spake, and the lame walked. If a man or son of a man were blind from birth, or a link were missing from his back bone, when dealt an "astrimgam," the blind man could see to read his title clear to mansions in the skies; while the vertebrate became strong as a circus center post.

If death had held dominion but thirty-six hours, Dr. Voils stained the vitals of the patient with a dose of "hellbuck." Then the dead was raised.

Mr. White also stated that while visiting in Kentucky the previous winter, he'd been told that Dr. Voils "had carded up a record of 92 [should read 97] mile posts on the journey of life," and expressed regret that he (White) had failed to see the old root doctor.
Mr. White again made mention of Dr. Voils in another letter that year in the November 6 edition:
Does Dr. Voils still caper about and gather the yerbs to compound his sovereign remedies? At last accounts he was a joyous young thing of 98, but feared he would feel old before his time from getting wet so much, digging strinnigans, tonigans and hellbucks.
A few weeks later, Rev. Thomas Hadley, the faithful correspondent for the Rowes X-Roads community in Russell County, included this in his weekly missive:
To Melvin White:...The Dr. is now 99 and has quit digging roots, and making hell buck. The old man is strong for his age, and can walk five miles in a day. He lives with his children, is very religious, and loves to talk as well as he ever did.
In March 1908, Rev. Rowe penned that:
  • Old Dr. Voils is visiting here this week. His Bible record shows him to be one hundred years old Jan. 4, 1909 [should be Jan. 3,1908]. He says he is going to make a lot of medicine and go to Indiana in the Spring to practice. He says he has been a member of the Freewill Baptists for 72 years.
  • A July, 1909, article stated that Dr. Voils was in splendid health, that he could read sans benefit of glasses, that he still practiced his profession of herbalist, and that "apparently none of his faculties are impaired." The article also stated that "Recently he worked a day in his tobacco patch." Almost two years later, in May, 1910, a grandson told the news that "the old gentleman worked some every day and that he read, weekly, The Adair County News, without glasses."

    Dr. Voils made the final passage in December, 1913, just a month short of his 106th birthday. A photo of the old herbalist appears on the cover of the Summer, 1990 (Volume 4, Issue 2) Adair County Review.

    The Adair County Review is a quarterly publication of the Adair County Genealogical Society, it is received by all members of the Society. It is published in the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Membership is open to anyone interested in the preservation of history of Adair County and the surrounding counties of Casey, Cumberland, Green, Metcalfe, Russell and Taylor. Annual dues are $15.00. Membership can be mailed to Adair County Genealogical Society , P.O. Box 613, Columbia, Ky. 42728. Membership renewal is due in January of each year. Meetings are held at the Adair County Public Library, 307 Greensburg St. Columbia, KY., and are held on the first Monday night of each month. Meetings begin at 6pmCT.For more information about the Genealogical Society you can call the Adair County Public Library at (270) 384-2472 or contact Lila Ford at

    This story was posted on 2010-08-22 05:45:55
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