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Mike Watson: A Tale of The Boney Woman

This 'story' was from the pen of Dr. J.T. Jones of Montpelier, later of near Columbia. An "old time dentist" or "tooth carpenter", as dentists were once known, he was a great story teller and wrote column for the Adair County News for many years at the turn of the last century. One slim volume of his work, Prose and Poems, was produced from his stores. It was both autobiographical and fanciful. - MIKE WATSON
A must read for this Sunday with CM - EW

By Mike Watson

Some may remember Dr. J.T. Jones from the stories often told by his noted granddaughter, Miss Margaret Clayton (1909-2013), whom we lost recently. My first exposure to Dr. Jones' book was through Miss Clayton. A long-retired teacher when I began my career in 1984, she would occasionally call me to come over to her home. She had something to show me. Keen of mind, she was always up on the latest in educational philosophy, I found.

One wisdom she passed along was the history of Dr. Jones and a copy of his book, which I treasure and consider a major part of my Adair County Literary collection.


The story of the Boney Woman was included in the book. It first appeared in the Adair County News in the August 30, 1911 issue, page one. I submit the story below, as written, with a few added punctuation marks to help in the telling, and a few spelling corrections of the typesetters. Following the story, see some comments on people included. - MW:

The Boney Woman

We wish to give a brief but correct account of what we have heard concerning a lady by the name of Coffey, who once lived in Russell County, Ky., and was known as the Boney Woman on account of having had a great many unnatural bones taken from her body. Some 60 years ago her condition was discussed a great deal by the citizens of this community and as well as we remember no one seemed to doubt the truth of what we will relate.

Being first attacked with severe pains in some part of her system, there would appear an enlargement under the skin then a bone would protrude, sometimes they would come through without assistance, if not, the Doctor would make an incision and extract them. In some cases, they would introduce forceps and crush them before extracting the pieces. This I have learned from Mr. Herschel Willis, whose father, Judge Ned Willis, lived about one mile from the home of John Fields, near where Joppa now is.

It seems that the boney woman was removed from Russell County to Adair to be treated by Drs. Samuel and Elijah Fields, who will be remembered by the older citizens of Columbia as skillful physicians. Mr. Willis tells me that he has heard his mother frequently speak of visiting her and on one occasion saw the Doctors extract a bone from under her tongue which resembled the thigh bone of a small chicken, and she examined it before it lost the natural warmth of the body. I have heard my mother speak of hearing Dr. Milton Wolford, who also treated the Coffey lady, give pretty nearly the same account of her as given by Mrs. Willis.

Doctors came from Philadelphia to see this wonderful freak of nature. She recovered and became the mother of one or more children. Since writing the foregoing we have consulted Aunt Lizzie, widow of the late John J. Epperson, a lady of superior intelligence whose mind is remarkably clear for one of 85 years of age. On being asked if she remembered to have ever of what was once known as the boney woman, Yes, yes, she replied, I visited the home of John Fields with my mother to see her, and she was a boney woman. We saw scars all around her neck, on her breast and arms. They told us the bones came out all over her body. I asked if there were many of these bones. O yes, she replied, hands full of them, extending both hands. When asked if they seemed to broken bones, she said all that I saw seemed to be whole bones. There was an enlargement on her neck at that time where a bone seemed to be coming to the surface. Mrs. Epperson does not remember anything more concerning her after this visit, but said that she appeared to be about 30 years of age at that time. Verily truth may appear stranger than fiction. J.T. Jones, Montpelier, Ky.

Some of the players in this scene:

John Field, not Fields, may refer to John F. Field and not his father, John Field. John F. Field was a son of John Field and Martisha Stapp Field, who are best known as the builders and first residents of the "John Field House", more recently known as the Hughes-Cundiff House and later the Rigney residence, in Columbia.

"Old" John Field was a merchant in early Columbia, the first jailer of Adair County and the first post master of Columbia. He over extended and lost almost everything after the financial panic of 1819. Later, after being forced to sell their Columbia home, he and his wife moved to near Glensfork. He died after the time of this story, but we cannot be certain if it was at his house the Boney Woman was taken. "Old" John Field was my ancestor--MW.

Dr. Samuel B. Field and Dr. Elijah Creel Field were both long-time practicing physicians in Adair County, with practices that ranged over several adjoining counties. Brothers, they were the son of "Old" John Field, discussed above.

Dr. Elijah once lived on Burkesville Street, where the First National Bank drive-in is now located, and his home, later remodeled, was the home of the Regional Library before the move to the Municipal Building.

Dr. Samuel Brents Field was a partner with Dr. Nathan Gaither. Dr. Sam was a very business oriented man and has been given credit with bringing the first commercial fertilizer to Adair County.

Dr. Milton Wolford, more accurately Dr. John Milton Wolford, was a long-time practicing physician in Adair and Russell Counties. He was also the father of Dr. J. Rod Wolford and also of Colonel Frank Lane Wolford.

Lizzie Epperson--Elizabeth Epperson, born May 20, 1826, died October 8, 1913, buried Pleasant Hill Christian Church Cemetery, wife of John J. Epperson. She was a daughter of Samuel Morris and Sarah "Sallie" Hurt Morris. Sarah Hurt Morris was a half-sister of "Old John" Field.

Herschel Willis--Herschel Porter Willis, born 1840, died June 1935, aged 95 years, farmer, son of Edmund and Nancy Willis, buried Willis Cemetery. He married Mary Jeffries, daughter of T.P. Jeffries, and both are buried at the Jeffries Cemetery at Ozark.

Judge "Ned" Willis--This was Adair County Judge Edmund "Ned" Willis, elected to the office in 1854 and again in 1858.


This story was posted on 2014-03-02 05:41:57
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