by Bob Phillips

Abilene Reporter News – January 23, 1959

Hands which helped bring thousands of babies into the world, and made hundreds of incisions to remove swollen appendixes, find idleness worse than work.

Such are the hands of Dr. T.H. Dabney, retired Granbury physician now visiting his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Hollis Manly Sr., 842 Meander St.  During the past few days Dr. Dabney’s hands have been busy picking out pecans for his daughter to use in making pralines.

This might not seem remarkable unless you are aware that Dr. Dabney was born in 1860, the year that Lincoln was elected president, that the first Pony Express run was made between Sacramento, Calif., and St. Joseph, Mo., the year South Carolina seceded from the Union.  That was 98 birthday’s ago for Dr. Dabney.

In 1886, the same year Geronimo surrendered, Dr. Dabney graduated from medical school in Louisville, Ky., and went to Granbury in Hood County, Texas, to practice medicine.  He continued his practice until he was up in his 80’s.

Confederate Army

Dr. Dabney’s parents had moved from Kentucky to Austin County, Texas, by horse and wagon with a number of slaves.  When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Dabney’s father went into the Confederate Army, while his wife, children and the slaves kept the farm going.

“The earliest memory I have is of my father coming back from the Army, riding an old gray horse,” said the doctor, emphasizing his point by thumping the arm of his chair with his right hand.  “I can remember the effect on the children when we heard he was coming down the road.  We all ran out to meet him.”

A doctor living near the Dabney home started Dabney toward his career as a physician.

“I had a fine little Kentucky mare, and Dr. L.B. Creath offered to buy the horse from me when I told him I didn’t have money to go to school.

“He gave me $135 for the horse, and with that I paid for room, board, tuition, books and laundry for two years at Add-Ran College at Thorp Spring.”

When Dabney went on to medical school, Dr. Creath continued helping him until he graduated.

No ‘First Drink’

“My father didn’t want me to be a doctor, because so many of them dissipated, and he was afraid I might wind up a drunkard,” Dr. Dabney recalls.  “I told him that if I never took the first drink, I couldn’t possibly become a drunkard.  I never took a drink and never lost anything from not having done it.”

In Granbury, Dr. Dabney had all the trials of the pioneer physicians, who often had to use ingenuity in treating patients far from hospitals.

“It used to be my pride to find a patient that was just about dead, and still save him,” the doctor said, with a slightly far-away look in his eyes.

Once, when he found a patient apparently choked to death from diphtheria, he quickly made an incision in the man’s windpipe with the blade of a pocket knife and opened it with a hemostat (an instrument normally used to control bleeding) and the man started to breathe.  To keep the hole open, Dr. Dabney boiled a piece of rubber tubing from a fountain syringe and put it into the opening.  A big safety pin crossways through the tubing kept it from slipping into the windpipe.

Man Lived

It was the next day before a proper surgical tool for the opening could be obtained from Fort Worth, but the patient lived.

During later diphtheria epidemics, Dr. Dabney made similar incisions on childrens’ throats many times, he recalls.

Working at a time when doctors still went to the patient more than the other way round as today, Dr. Dabney traveled by horse and buggy with an occasional trip across the Brazos River by boat when the water was too deep for his horses.

Dr. Dabney’s first car was an early Ford with high, open front doors.  Mrs. Manly recalls that it scared all the horses in that part of the country.

In 1910, Dr. Dabney bought the property of Add-Ran College (which had been transferred to Fort Worth to become TCU) and started Thorp Spring Christian College.

Great Admirer Now

A young student named Don Morris had the measles, and very nearly contracted pneumonia.  Dr. Dabney pulled him through, and the young man is now president of Abilene Christian College – and a great admirer of Dr. Dabney.

Dr. Dabney says that he has been a great believer in making friends rather than money, and what money he has had has mostly gone out to colleges and universities as it came in.  His friends, though, are numerous.  “Besides, about four-fifths of the people I meet in my part of the country are people I brought into the world,” he says with quiet pride.

A grandson, who is also a doctor, has asked Dr. Dabney what he would do if he had his life to live over again.

“I told him I would be just what I have been, only I would try to be a better surgeon,” Dr. Dabney said.  And gave the arm of his chair one more solid thump.

Dr. Thomas Henry Dabney died the following year, in 1960,and was buried in Granbury Cemetery in Hood County, Texas