Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hortensious Lowry Isherwood (1850-1924)

                                   Dr. Hortensious L. Isherwood, ca. 1914, in the possession of John Durbin.

  If you've followed the regular postings here on the site for any length of time you may have noticed that the state of Missouri has been very well represented here over the past three years, with nearly twenty oddly named Missouri political figures receiving write-ups on their respective lives and careers.  Today marks a return to the "Show Me State" to shine a spotlight on Hortensious Lowry Isherwood, a man who in all likelihood is the oddest named person ever to be elected to serve in the Missouri House of Representatives. The following article on this outstandingly named Missouri resident has been over a year in the making, and the succeeding passages on this Jasper County, Missouri resident aim to highlight the life of a man who in his day was one of the preeminent public figures in that county, being a physician, banker and one-term state representative. 
  I first located the name of Hortensious L. Isherwood in early 2013 while perusing an online copy of the Official Manual of the State of Missouri, 1893-94. Contained therein was a small four line biography of Isherwood, detailing his service as his physician in both Iowa and Missouri. Immediately intrigued by the man's highly unusual name, I quickly set about tracking down more information on Isherwood, and after a few hours of searching was rewarded with several more pieces of biographical information, as well as a Joplin Globe notice for him that related the particulars of his death in a March 1924 car/train accident in Jasper County.
  Despite having located copious amounts of information on Isherwood, I was at a loss when it came to finding a picture of him. For over a year he remained a "faceless" political figure, and this lack of a portrait eventually led me to begin a furtive search for a historical society in the Jasper County area that could help me locate one. After reaching multiple dead ends (including finding that Jasper County has no "historical society" to speak of), I decided on an alternate route, and after stumbling across the City of Carl Junction website (which, coincidentally, mentions Mr. Isherwood) began work on a lengthy e-mail explaining my project and interest in Mr. Isherwood's life.
    A few days afterward I received a reply from Carl Junction city clerk Meribeth Matney, who related that she would forward my message to Carl Junction historian John Durbin. This was the beginning of a very fruitful correspondence between myself, Maribeth and John, one which resulted in a number of Isherwood-related documents being copied and sent to me, including the two portraits of him that adorn the beginning and end of his profile here. I'd like to extend my thanks to both Maribeth and John for their extensive help in sending me a veritable treasure trove of documents centering on Isherwood's time in Carl Junction, and I can state that this profile would not have been possible without Maribeth Matney and John Durbin's help and input! Many, many thanks for all your help!!
   With that introduction, we begin with the birth of Hortensious Lowry Isherwood, which occurred in the town of Franklin, Linn County, Iowa on October 17, 1850, being the eldest of four children born to Thomas Green (1816-1890) and Herpalice Lowry Isherwood (1816-1904). A native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Thomas G. Isherwood spent the first three decades of his life in that state and married in 1849 to the aforementioned Herpalice Lowry, a native of Westmoreland County. The origins of our subject's intriguing name can be traced directly back to the maternal side of his family, as Herpalice Lowry's brother possessed the name......Hortensius! Hortensius Lowry (1818-1895) was for many years a prosperous farmer in Rostraver, Pennsylvania, owning a near 400-acre farm in that town. Described as a man "called to fill many of the town offices", both Hortensius Lowry and his oddly named nephew shared the same political affiliation, being lifelong Democrats.  While he may have been named in honor of his maternal uncle, Isherwood's first name is recorded by more than one source as "Hortensious" (you'll notice the spelling variation there) and it is this spelling that is engraved on his gravestone at the Carl Junction Cemetery.
    Isherwood began his education in the public schools of Linn County and would go on to take "literary and engineering courses" at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. He would later enroll at the Bryant and Stratton College in Illinois and around 1876 entered the Rush Medical College in Chicago, graduating with his medical degree in 1878. After receiving his degree Isherwood returned to Iowa and established a medical office in Clarksville, located in Butler County. He later reestablished his practice in the village of Shell and during his residency here was a charter member and treasurer of the Butler County Medical Association. In 1882 Isherwood relocated to Jasper County, Missouri, where he would reside for the remainder of his life.
   Shortly after his removal to Jasper County, Dr. Isherwood settled first in the town of Avilla, where he recommenced with the practice of medicine. His stay in Avilla was short-lived, as he would resettle in Carl Junction around 1883 and after establishing another medical practice married there on June 17, 1888, to Susie May Coons (1865-1936). The couple would later have three children: Niena Isherwood Henley (1890-1957), Hortensious Lowry Jr. (1895-1916) and Eber Dudley (1895-1950). Of these children Eber Isherwood followed in his father's footsteps, operating a drug store in Carl Junction, while Hortensius Jr. met an early death as the result of an accident sustained in a baseball game in 1916. Isherwood and his family resided on a 240-acre farm in Jasper County, where he is also mentioned as having interests in mining.
   Dr. Isherwood's medical practice in Carl Junction is recorded by the Biographical Record of Jasper County as having won "the confidence of a continually increasing list of grateful patients". In addition to his practice, Isherwood was the proprietor of a pharmacy and was engaged as a surgeon for the railway that passed through Carl Junction.  Through the years Isherwood's status as a "horse and buggy doctor" made his name known not only in Carl Junction but throughout neighboring towns in Jasper County. "Old Doc", as Isherwood was sometimes referred to, was fondly remembered in the years after his death in the February 26, 1950 edition of the Joplin Globe, which featured an article authored by V.D. Marshall, a former pharmacy assistant to Isherwood. Marshall fondly recalled Isherwood's character and status as one of Carl Junction's foremost citizens, noting that:
"He seemed unapproachable except on matters of extreme importance, and it was not until I became closely associated with him that behind his assumption of aloofness and austerity he concealed an acute sense of humor and a tolerant understanding of human frailties." 
   Marshall also relates that after many years of visiting patients via horse and buggy, Isherwood made the transition to an automobile to make his rounds. It took some time for "Old Doc" to adjust to his new mode of transportation, and after some trial and error in piloting his newly purchased "five-passenger model" Ford, "Old Doc" was said to have "furnished the loiterers along Main Street many a good-natured chuckle." This same article further denotes that Isherwood dabbled in real estate and "acquired a number of houses about town", which he then rented out to "miners, widows, and others not in the higher income brackets." The charitable doctor is recorded as having "never pressed" any of his tenants if they failed to pay rent, and exhibited similar charity when it came to his medical practice, refusing to send statements of account to patients who had failed to provide payment. As V.D. Marshall relates:
"Patients either paid what was due to him voluntarily or not at all."
   In addition to practicing medicine, Isherwood maintained an interest in Jasper County civic and political affairs, being a member of the county Democratic Committee for over a decade. He entered state politics in 1892 when he became a candidate for a seat in the Missouri State House of Representatives and was one of four candidates in that year's contest. On election day 1892 he eked out a very narrow win over his Republican opponent Albert E.L. Gardner, 3,287 votes to 3,269. With Isherwood's eighteen vote victory he became one of two Jasper county representatives in the state legislature, and during his term served on the house committees on Enrolled Bills, Mines and Mining and Miscellaneous and Unfinished Business.

  Isherwood's term in the legislature concluded in January 1895 and after leaving state government returned to his medical duties in Carl Junction. He continued to be involved in local civic affairs, being a founder and president of the Citizen's Bank of Carl Junction in the early 1900s. A member of the Jasper County Medical Society, Isherwood was also affiliated with numerous fraternal organizations, being a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Knights of Pythias and the local Masonic chapter. Isherwood would reenter politics in the 1900s when he was elected as the Mayor of Carl Junction, his dates of service being unknown at this time.
   Dr. Isherwood maintained an active schedule as he grew older, continuing to make medical calls throughout Carl Junction and neighboring areas. Isherwood's devotion to his practice eventually resulted in a tragic accident near Waco, Missouri on March 17, 1924. On that date, the 73-year-old Isherwood was returning from a "professional call" in his automobile when his car was struck at a railroad crossing by an oncoming Kansas City Southern passenger train. According to multiple newspaper reports following the accident, the view of the tracks was partially obscured by an embankment, and that Dr. Isherwood had been traveling alone.
   Following this accident, Isherwood's body (described as being mutilated almost beyond recognition) was transferred by the train crew to the nearby town of Asbury, and then on to Joplin, and finally to Carl Junction, where funeral arrangements were completed. Isherwood was survived by his wife Susie and two children and was interred in the Isherwood family plot at the Carl Junction Cemetery. Susie, Eber and Niena Isherwood were also interred here following their deaths.

                                                                         Hortensious L. Isherwood, 1850-1924.

A death notice for Isherwood from the Joplin Globe, March 19, 1924.

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