The Vagabond – A quack doctor in 1880s Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

In May of 1888, a local newspaper reported that Dr. M.R. Ferguson, who was one of the most colorful figures of Etowah County for many years, advertised that he was curing “all ills of the human body by the mysterious power given me by Divine power. Call to see me and be convinced that this is no humbug.”

The good doctor’s claim to divine healing power was the cause of much opposition on the part of Dr. Ferguson’s fellow physicians and many citizens, but as a matter of fact, he specialized in sarcology, or the manipulation if the soft parts of the body, much the same as the osteopaths manipulate all parts of the body with the hands.

Dr. Ferguson’s advertisement led to a fight with the Etowah County Medical Society, which charged that he practiced medicine without a license.

Dr. Ferguson counted with the claim that he did not practice medicine, that in fact he was a sarcologist who practiced a science that had been handed down from ancient times.

Dr. Ferguson carried his case to the state legislature, attempting to put through a bill legalizing his profession in Alabama. He argued that he made a lot of money and had many satisfied patients.

A gala event during that time was being held when, “notwithstanding the storm that raged without, the boys and girls of Gadsden’s smart set gathered at the Printup, and in the elegant and spacious dining rooms of that popular hotel, enjoyed the most delightful dance of the season.

“The dance was an impromptu affair, yet there were over 16 couples of the jolliest young people to be found anywhere. At half past 10 o’clock, a German band, led by M.D. Sibert and Miss Virginia Foster, began and dancing lasted until one o’clock.”

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