“House Calls, Hogs, and Heartbreak” – Life and Times of a Country Doctor (Episode 3)

The following entries from the  Alanson Wood Moore Diary  and Dr. Cicero Guice’s ledger contain facts and figures of my great-grandfather’s life as a doctor in the rural north Louisiana community of Winnsboro at the turn of the century.  As you will see, a country doctor’s life was physically and emotionally demanding, and often his work underpaid.  Many aspects of practicing medicine were quite different than today and yet, some things like the reality of life and death, and the necessity of receiving and paying for basic care stay the same.

In the following ledger entries of Dr. Guice, listing the “services rendered” and “payments received,” the disparity between the two can be seen:

— Mrs. Branson who already had a balance of $34 from the “old book,” added to her account twelve visits by Dr.Guice between January of 1904 to July 14, 1906 totaling $46 at $3 or $4 per visit.  Her total debt would be valued at ~ $1800 today.  Her only payment in 1904 was of 10 bu. of corn valued at $7.  In January of 1906, she paid the good doctor with 1 hog, valued at $10.  Her total payment back to the doctor in today’s terms was ~$400.

— Mike Jennings and his family required the services of Dr. Guice over ten times between 1904 and 1911– several visits being valued at $10 — for a total of  $78 ($1800 today).  Over the course of that time he paid the doctor:

1 hog – $ 7

30 lbs lard – $3

Stove wood, 3 loads – $5

Wood, 1 load -$1

Potatoes, 1 bu. – $1

Wood, 1 load – $1

Cash – $10

Cash – $10

Turkey – $2

(unreadable) – $5

Total – $45 ($1041 today)


In these AWM diary entries the precariousness of life is evident:

9th May, 1898, Monday

To E.M. King’s: John Brownell and I drove up some cattle. I banded one black and white heifer and banded and castrated one red yearling.

Came home by Bob’s, his wife, Rachel, [who was pregnant] was sick.

10th May 1898, Tuesday

Plowed out my corn patch, four furrows to the row, throwing the dirt to the middle and hoed ten rows. I bought a new plow of Tom Lowery, price $2.50. Tom Turner carried it home for me.

Rachel confined last night: the child was removed by force. The doctors C. Guice and Thompson, said it was jammed and could not be delivered. By forcing it, killed it. Lucy went down there this eve. The child was buried.

Cloudy all day. No sunshine.


6th November, 1898, Sunday

At 2 o’clock P.M., Alonzo and myself started to T.J. Matthews, getting there between sunset and dark: found Drs. L.M. Griffin and C.L. Guice there: he had been sick abed about three weeks, was first attacked with erysipelas in feet
and now to his body. Has constant fever and now has symptoms of swamp fever. Remained there all night.

7th November, 1898, Monday

He is nearly clear of fever this morning and say he feels better, feels like he could eat a little beef.

We left about 9 o’clock A.M., went down to the “John Buie place”, up by W.B. Grayson’s store, there saw G.B. Frazier and J.C. Humble and on home by train time 4:15. Dr. Griffin went home this A.M. to return tomorrow eve.

The cotton fields are white to the harvest. Roads are very dry and dusty.

I learned for the first time today, that Miss Mary Buie had cancer on the breast and it would perhaps prove fatal before long. In Matthew’s case, the doctors are fearful that either blood poison or swamp fever will develop itself and in either case, they dread the consequences.


16th March, 1901, Saturday

Nothing out of the ordinary transpired today. Some people about and in town from the country.

Mr. Thompson of Collinston, whose dwelling, with its contents, recently burned there. And he and his family came down here, and today moved into one of Mr. R.M. Steches(?) houses-formerly owned and occupied by Isaac Fife, but more familiarly known as “Bud Fife”.

Nolan had a light chill and fever today.

Dr. Cicero Guice came by and called in and reported that Mr. Joe Bryan [Cicero’s uncle-in-law] was at his house-quite sick. He is about 67 or 68 years of age, born in Harrisonburg, but spent the greater part of his life in Franklin Parish.

17th March, 1901, Sunday

Pleasant day-very spring like.

Rev. J.A. Snyder filled his regular monthly appointment here. I did not attend.

Called to see Bro. Riggs who is at Mrs. Buie’s who is suffering from a boil on his right knee cap.

In the afternoon, went to Dr. Cicero Guice’s to see Mr. Joe Bryan whom I found very feeble and apparently suffering a great deal. The immediate trouble with him is “indigestion”. For ten days or two weeks has been “malted milk” and “beef tea”. He vomits occasionally and emits a black something which has a very unpleasant stench. He has no fever but constant pain in stomach and bowels and gradually wasting away.


24th March, 1901, Sunday

Rev. J.M. Henry, P.E., on this Monroe circuit M.E. church South preached here today and administered the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Reasonably good sized congregation was in attendance.

In the afternoon, Lonzo and I went to Dr. C.L. Guice‘s to see Joe Bryan who is quite low and is not expected to recover. He is getting old and the chances to recover are against him. He can eat nothing or very little and what he eats does not digest and after some days is vomited up in the same state it was taken into his stomach. Dr. W.W. Lee of Gilbert came up this morning to see him.

Dr. C.L. Guice and myself, or rather I accompanied him to Mr. Nolan’s-on Billy Robinson’s place-to his daughter Addie who was suffering with sore throat. The Dr. lanced her tonsils which bled freely and seemed to give her some relief.

Mr. Christmas of Rosedale, Miss. came in this eve to see me in reference to some land owned by Mrs. M.A. Flower known as the Dorsey place.

10th April, 1901, Wednesday

Still cold. Hitched Jewel to the buggy to take the children to school but she acted so badly and broke one of the shafts and the children had to walk to school.

Miss Bessie Banner came to my house this eve to go before the school examiners tomorrow.

Joseph Bryan, a citizen of this Parish for the past 50 years or more, died this morning about 10 o’clock at Dr. C.L. Guice’s where he had been confined to his bed for a month or more. He was born in Harrisonburg, La. in 1833 and had spent his life there and here, except about three years in Ark. and four in the army 1861-1865. Was a prisoner of war
18 months.

Dr. Guice asked me to go with the cortege to the grave at the Matthews place in Boeuf prairie tomorrow, which I promised him to do so far as I now know. Circumstances are such that I cannot go to the grave and so informed him early this morning.

The day is cloudy and raining and cold. Fire in my office. The corpse and cortege started to the grave about 8:30 o’clock a distance of 20 miles.

The community of examiners for the examination of “white” applicants for certificates to teach the public schools, or to get the public school funds, are in session today. Quite a number of applicants are and will be before the committee; it will be in session tomorrow also.

16th September, 1901, Monday

J.H. Knight started two wagons loaded with his household plunder to Florence where he will make his home in the future.

Heavy rain fell about 3 o’clock P.M. E.M. King and three of his children and two of Mr. Steele’s children at my house during the rain.

The high school opened this morning.

For a week or more, I’ve had an itching on both feet. They had turned very red, but were not sore. This eve, I consulted Dr. Guice about it, after he examined my foot, gave a prescription, which I had filled at the drugstore and applied as he directed.

Mamie Brashear’s youngest child is quite sick of fever.

Dr. Guice’s baby has the erysipelas on the left side of its face, covering the eye.


L to R – Dr. Cicero Louis Guice, C.L. Guice, and Clara Bryan Guice

My great-grandfather, Dr. Cicero Guice, continued to serve the Winnsboro, Louisiana community until his death at age 57 in December of 1919.

Alanson Wood Moore, the author of the previous diary entries, was an attorney, a member of the Louisiana State Legislature for many years and was instrumental in rewriting the  State Constitution of 1898.  He was also a Methodist Preacher on the Winnsboro Circuit and was helpful in defeating the Louisiana Lottery. His diaries contain his concerns and reactions to events in his home area and only rarely record events of national importance.


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