Doctor Stephen Edwin Haycraft

We are indebted to historian Ella Lilly Horak as the primary source for this profile. She had known the doctor and his family from the time they arrived here in 1911. I’ve been intrigued by Doctor Haycraft’s image taken later in his life. His dress and appearance in a photo taken in Willow Springs looked to belong to a man of distinction, perhaps a Southern gentleman. Ella in her 1969 Willow Springs Centennial book describes the early Haycraft family history before coming here:
“Doctor Stephen Edwin Haycraft was born in 1848 at Staffenville, Missouri, in a twenty-two-room brick home on a tobacco plantation. His ancestors were Englishmen and were early emigrants to Kentucky. Doctor Haycraft spent his boyhood days on the tobacco plantation in North Missouri. He attended grade schools available in that day. In later years he attended Kirksville Normal, now Northeast State College.”
His (second) wife, Miss Lillie Blanch Rampey was Scotch-Irish. Her ancestors settled in Old Virginia when they came to America. Her father came to Quincy, Illinois around the mid-1800s. It is believed she was born there. Just when and how Doctor Haycraft met Lillie is a mystery.”
A brief history written by daughter Helen Blood also states that he received additional training in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and specialized in eye, ear, nose, and throat diseases, and first practiced medicine there.
Ella’s profile continues, “All of the doctor’s relics, treasures, important paper dates, medical certificates or diplomas were stored in a trunk. Some thief took his trunk and all its contents and made his getaway, and the doctor never got anything back.”
According to Ella, the doctor always wanted to live on a farm and told her, “The city is no place for pigs.” He liked pigs. In Staffenville, Haycraft had owned and operated a drug store, in addition to his practice as an Osteopathic doctor and surgeon. Stephen’s first wife, the former Alice Brohover, died in 1884 and is buried in Lewis County, Missouri. He remarried in 1889.
“In late 1900 Doctor Haycraft had the urge to go west. So with his family, he loaded a covered wagon with what possessions he could take and started out for new adventures and experiences. He went into what was then Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, where he worked among the Indians in and around Pauhaska, and this is where Thelma and her sister Helen were born. The Indians at that time were troubled with an infectious disease known as malaria tuberculosis. The doctor became infected himself. He knew he must make a change; go to a higher climate. With the aid of an older son and Mrs. Haycraft, they prepared two covered wagons, loaded with supplies and three small children, the family started for Montana in 1906. It was a long hard journey. By the time the travelers reached the Black Hills of South Dakota, the doctor had gained strength and was on his feet again.”
“The trail through the Black Hills was not an easy trail to follow in 1906. The emigrants lost their way, for was not any easy trail to follow. For several days they didn’t know where they were or which way to go. They ran out of water and there was no supply in sight. Thelma says her father was a man of great faith in divine power and leadership. He said to his dear loved ones, ‘Don’t fear. God will not let me and my family perish in these hills.' Thelma remembers there was a dark cloud overcast in the sky that day and hail fell from the clouds, some as large as hen’s eggs. They melted the hail and had water.”
“By this same faith, the travelers moved on across the plains of Montana. When they came to the Big Horn River the ferry had gone. Friendly Indians standing nearby offered their assistance in helping the travelers across the river. The Indians knew where the sandbar was, and led the teams and wagons across the Big Horn on the sandbar where the water was not deep. Thelma relates in the story that just the day before a wagon teamster endeavoring to go across fell into the deep water and was drowned because they would not trust the Indian guides to lead them across the Big Horn.”
“Doctor Haycraft journeyed on westward to the big wheat lands of Montana where he took up a claim of a whole section of land. He was the first man to turn the sod of this region with a plow. Other settlers tried to stop him, for they considered it was wrong to plow the land. The doctor went to the proper authorities for permission to continue his work. He was assured it was his right to till his own land. He plowed the acreage he desired and raised a big wheat crop which put him on a safe financial road for his beef cattle ranch. He was successful on his cattle ranch and by 1911 he had become a wealthy man.”
“Aside from his professional practice the doctor always had an enjoyable hobby. While in Montana he went on hunting tours with friends of like interest. They made yearly tours to Vancouver Island where he brought home his prize elk. The prize elk horns stored in the trunk which was stolen was a great disappointment to him in his later years.”
In 1910 Haycraft sold his ranch and moved to Willow Springs, arriving on January 18. Ella Horak’s account says, “Traveling by Frisco passenger train they landed in our own Willow Springs. Doctor Haycraft located on a farm a short distance beyond the Reservoir where he lived and continued his practice. While he lived on this farm he raised Kentucky thoroughbred horses to his delight and a rest from his professional duties.”
Two years later the doctor got into a bit of trouble when he was accused of writing too many prescriptions for whiskey. Howell County was on a bit of a witch hunt for violators of the local option law barring alcohol. He was given a slap on the wrist by the State Board of Health for being too generous in his treatment, and I suspect the publicity gained him more patients than he lost.
Continuing, “His daughter Thelma (who was living in 1969 when Ella wrote her article) says he came here a wealthy man, but he gave it all away. In North Missouri, he made his calls to administer to the sick on horseback, but after he came to Willow Springs he always traveled by horse and buggy. He didn’t like to drive a car. Mrs. William B. Brown tells us he often went out in an open truck. He gave his services to the poor and needy everywhere and often took food to a needy family. He didn’t have any of the modern conveniences that doctors have today, but he went wherever called. One time he delivered a baby down on his knees on the floor.”
Of all the places he had lived or roamed I wonder why he chose the Ozarks and Howell County to land. He practiced in north Howell County for twenty-eight years, more than half of his half-century in the medical profession.
He was remembered in his former Lewis County, Missouri, and when he was eighty-nine he was featured in the La Belle Star, dated October 29, 1937, where they claimed, “This man Haycraft is in full possession of all his faculties, both mental and physical. Only last Sunday he sewed the hand of an Ozark Hillbilly who had received a severe wound during a drunken fight.” The paper went on to tell of his close boyhood friendship with Mark Twain, and how during the Civil War he was personally acquainted with some of the victims of the “Palmyra Massacre,” which occurred when Stephen was sixteen.
Ella continues, “He was a man of high standards, with a keen mind although a very humble person. Thelma says there was a time when he had the biggest library in Willow Springs. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations looking and planning for advancement.”
“He was a lifelong Baptist and reared his children in the love and admonition of the Lord. They were a close family. They worked together, played together, and ate their meals together. Every member of the family was seated around the table when the blessing was given. The doctor liked sports and was an athlete for many years. He exercised to keep his body trim, straight, and with good posture. He was a great swimmer and a sport. He never gave up until he was eighty-five years old. He lived to be ninety-one years old, and when he was ninety years of age he delivered twin baby girls to Mr. and Mrs. Howard Green. In his later years, he gave up the farm. He could no longer care for the pigs. He moved to town and lived with his wife across in the valley. Mrs. Brown tells us she used to visit him in the home to cheer and aid the old couple in any way she could. The doctor used to call Mrs. Brown his ‘pin-up girl.’”
“He administered to the sick just as long as he was able to do anything. Thelma says he died in his office while writing a prescription for a sick patient. Just days before he died he said to Thelma, ‘Honey, I’m not going to be here much longer. I’m going to leave this old world. I’m sorry I don’t have any money to leave you. No flowers on my grave. Take the money and go buy a needy child a pair of shoes.’ Thelma assured her father that he was leaving her the greatest gift in the world-a wonderful father and mother.”
Daughter Helen Blood said, “He gave his services to the poor and needy and often took groceries and food with him to distribute to his indigent patients, explaining, “You can’t heal anyone who is hungry.”
“Doctor Haycraft was twice married. To the first marriage were born six girls and one boy. His first wife died young and in ten years he was married to Lillie Blanch Rampey at Staffenville, Missouri. To this union were born one son, Phillip, and two daughters, Thelma and Helen. (By Ella’s count ten children –some accounts state more) Phillip was killed in an auto accident in 1966 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was a businessman for many years. Thelma has operated a beauty shop, the ‘Kut-N-Kurl’ in Willow Springs for forty years (1969). She drives her car and enjoys taking old people out on a drive who do not have any way to go and see the beauties of nature. Her sister lives in Florida.”
I remember Thelma and her “beauty shop.” She died at the age of eighty-nine in 1988 and is buried in the Willow Springs City Cemetery.
A short time before his death when Mrs. Brown was visiting him, he made arrangements with her to conduct the services for his wife’s funeral when the time came. Doctor Stephen E. Haycraft died in 1940. Funeral services were held in the First Baptist Church by Reverend Fred McPhail under the direction of Burns Funeral Home. Burial was in the Willow Springs Cemetery. His wife Lilly Blanche Haycraft died in 1941 and is buried beside him.
Many families in Willow Springs claim Doctor Haycraft as their ancestor. I’ll miss someone if I try to list them, but I do know the Stewart brothers, Mike, Buddy, Chuck, and Pat are direct descendants. Many other families are perhaps here because of the doctor’s medical skills.
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Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
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