Photo Friday

Photo Friday: The Infamous Dr. Smith(s)


Dr. W. H. H. Smith, right, operated this pharmacy in Alta Vista, Kansas when this 1909 real photo postcard was created.

-by Greg Hoots-

Here’s a great historic photo from the Bat Nelson collection. It’s a real photo postcard, postmarked 1909 showing the interior of Dr. W.H.H. Smith’s pharmacy in Alta Vista, Kansas.  Dr. Smith, seen standing at the right, was a registered pharmacist, as well as a licensed physician and surgeon. It was not uncommon in the early 20th century that an individual would be both a doctor and a pharmacist. Another example of this was Dr. A.A. Meyer of Alma, who was a physician and also operated a drug store.

There are a couple curiosities about Dr. Smith that aren’t commonly noted with this photograph.  Dr. Smith had a brother, Dr. C.E. Smith, who was also a physician and surgeon of considerable expertise and experience. Both brothers had saved many Wabaunsee County residents’ lives, delivered many residents in birth, and were business and social leaders of the day. However, both brothers, while working as physicians in Alta Vista, were charged and tried in District Court in Alma in separate incidents for attempted murder and other acts of mayhem. The circumstances around the brothers’ cases were salacious. In 1900, while practicing in Alta Vista, Dr. W.H.H. Smith was arrested for assault with the intent to kill H.C. Phelps. Phelps had accused Dr. Smith of being overly friendly with Phelps’ wife.  Smith fled the county while awaiting trial, selling his business and fleeing to Iowa where he purchased a new pharmacy. He was apprehended in Chillicothe, Missouri while visiting relatives and returned to Alma for trial where he pleaded guilty and was fined $100 and court costs to a reduced charge of misdemeanor assault. Two years later, he returned to Alta Vista, joining his brother, Dr. C.E. Smith in a practice there, while re-opening his drug store.

Then, in 1905, Dr. C.E. Smith was traveling on a train to Alta Vista when he became engaged in an argument with Carl Norlin of Alta Vista over an unpaid $1.00 bill which the good doctor believed he was owed by Norlin. When the men departed the train at the Alta Vista depot, a fistfight between the two men ensued with Dr. Smith getting the worst of it, hitting Norlin’s fist numerous times with the doctor’s face, leaving the physician sprawled on the depot platform. A few minutes later, Dr. W.H.H. Smith arrived at the scene, and he immediately went to Wolgast’s hardware store and purchased a shotgun and shells, returning to the street where his brother was attempting to recover his senses. Dr. C.E. Smith took the shotgun from his brother, and the two Dr. Smiths pursued Norlin, and Dr. C.E. Smith shot the unarmed Norlin on the public street. Norlin was treated for his wounds but did not die, and the two Dr. Smiths were put on trial.  When the matter came to trial in District Court in Alma, the court had great difficulty in empanelling a jury, as such a great number of prospective jurors had been treated by or their children delivered by one of the Dr. Smiths. In the end, the Smiths’ attorney, C.E. Carroll, suggested that a plea of guilty to misdemeanor assault could be arranged, and it was.  The Smith brothers each paid a $300 fine and a total of $312 in court costs, pleading guilty to common assault. The $912 was a huge addition to the Wabaunsee County financial coffers, and the newspapers of the day reported that justice had been served.


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