Botanical practitioners, as they were formally called, were predominate in early Appalachian settlements. They were said to have received their recipes for their medicines from the Native Americans or they were brought over from Europe generations before. They relied on roots, seeds, leaves, bark and other natural resources that could be mixed and used to heal problems from sore throat to gastrointestinal ailments. Side effects, however, could be deadly if not mixed properly. Some of these practitioners also used faith-based techniques and local folklore combined with the herbs and roots to heal the sick. Even today, there are still botanical practitioners prescribing their home remedies in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky.
Bath County had its own botanical, or herb, doctors that were from the same family, and relatives of mine. They were William Mayhall Wells and his sons, Zachary Taylor and Benjamin Franklin Wells. The Wells family story starts when the early descendants immigrated from England in the 1600's and settled in Baltimore, Maryland. William Wells, born in 1710 to Richard and Catherine Wells in Baltimore, moved to Lee County, Virginia with his family, where in 1780 he was reportedly killed by Indians. William's son, Zachariah, served in the Revolutionary War with the Virginia Continental Army's cavalry, participating in battles at Germantown, Brandywide, Bordentown (or Bonhamtown). He was captured on December 12, 1777 near Fox Chase, Pennsylvania and held in a British camp as a prisoner of war for five months. After Zachariah's release, he resettled in Lee County, Virginia and led a quiet life until his death in 1826. One of Zachariah's sons, also named Zachariah, is the first to have been known as an herb doctor. It is a fair assumption that he learned the practices of botanical medicine as it was passed down the generations. Zachariah Wells, II moved to Wise County, Virginia where he died in 1870 at the age of 92 years; an almost unheard of age during that era.
|Mayhall Wells, my third-great grandfather|
Lavina Wells died in 1888 on the family's farm and was buried in Knox Hill Cemetery off Adams Road in Bath County. Soon after her death, Mayhall moved to Breathitt County, Kentucky where his daughter Rebekah resided. It was there in 1889 that Mayhall received his certificate for a botanical system and became known for his famous 'blood poisoning cure'. This medicine seemingly cured blood infections that would otherwise constitute the loss of a limb or death. The remedy made Mayhall a much sought after celebrity of sorts. He remarried a woman named Mary Fugate and treated patients well up until his older years, passing away in Breathitt County on March 3, 1902.
Mayhall's sons Zachariah and Benjamin, or Frank as he was called, stayed in Bath County and continued to practice the unconventional medicinal ways as they were passed to them. Zachariah
settled in the Preston area and Frank in the Forge Hill community. They stayed busy treating patients and curing otherwise incurable ailments with their botanical system. Frank married Effie Hunt and their daughter, Wynona, was my great-grandmother.
|Doctors Zachariah and Frank Wells|
The Wells family doctors were a unique breed who had an art for healing using what we now call unconventional methods. It makes one wonder if their art had been further honed within an institution of higher learning, would they had found cures to ailments much sooner than modern times? For those who were treated by the Wells family, they attested to the abilities of the men and their home remedies as being the best in the medical field.