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Famous from Bluffton - Dr. Robert Drake Murray

Yellow fever expert was a Bluffton native

A yellow fever specialist and expert. Dr. Robert Drake Murray, of international renown, was a son of Bluffton.

This is the second feature in a series "Famous from Bluffton." The previous feature's focus is Samuel S. Yoder, a United States Congressman from Bluffton. Click here to read that story.

During his career, he was looked upon as a leader in combating yellow fever and was sent by the U.S. government to take charge of places where yellow fever became epidemic.

Born in Ohlton, Ohio, in 1845, his parents Joseph A. and Nancy Drake Murray moved to Bluffton in 1855 when it was still called Shannon.

His father, Joseph, served in the Mexican War (sometime during 1846 -1848).

Nancy died in 1857. Joseph then married Elizabeth Deppler in 1858. From the marriage were born five boys and four girls.

On Jan. 22, 1868, Elizabeth gave birth to quadruplets. These quads were boys. Three lived. They were Maurice “Dode” Monroe Murray, Willis Medlow “Med” Murray, Horace “Hod” Greeley Murray. Their brother, who died at birth, was not named.

She gave birth to five boys within a period of 18 months.

Robert Drake Murray

Robert Drake Murray was education in Bluffton and was licensed to teach at age 15 and again at age 18.

On April 19, 1861, he enlisted as a private in the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army in the Civil War. He served until Nov. 29, 1862, when he was discharged because of a serious wound.

On Sept. 9, 1863, he re-enlisted as a private in the 12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. He served until July 10, 1865. During that time he was promoted to sergeant and brevet lieutenant.

He was wounded four times. The final wound was so serious that it was first thought to be fatal. He was also a prisoner of war for 4 ½ months. At the end of that period he was paroled and subsequently recovered.

In 1865, he began studying medicine at the Tripler United States Army Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Later he became a pupil of J. Augustus Seitz in Bluffton and John E. Barby in Cleveland. And, during this period, he served as Bluffton’s postmaster, from 1865-66.

He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1871 having served as resident physician to the Philadelphia Hospital for 18 months.

Murray was appointed acting assistant surgeon of the U.S. Navy from 1871-72, and performed active work in the U.S. Marine Hospital Service, now known as the U.S. Public Health Service. He served there from April 1872 to November 1903.

During his tour of duty with the Public Health Service he was in command of the Marine Hospital Service in Key West Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; Norfolk, Virginia; Vicksburg, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; Pensacola, Florida; Bulf Quarantine, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama.

Encountered yellow fever in more than 11 states

He encountered yellow fever during 25 of these 35 years in over 50 towns and in 11 states, besides on board ship.

Murray served in the epidemics of the disease at Key West in 1875, at Fernandina, in 1877, at New Orleans in 1878, and was secretary of the Thompson yellow-fever commission in 1878.

He commanded the first armed cordon sanitaire (quarantine) in the U.S.

This was in response to a virulent outbreak of yellow fever in Brownsville, Texas, and northern Mexico, the cordon sanitaire was established 180 miles north of the city, terminating at the Rio Grande to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the east.

People traveling north had to remain quarantined at the cordon for 10 days before they were certified disease-free and could proceed.

There he conducted the first detention camps for the security of people outside the infected region. The camp was so successful that there was not a case of fever outside the cordon.

He was the first quarantine officer to conduct a winter quarantine, served through the epidemic at Manatee, Florida, in 1888, and had control of the cordon and relief measures at Brunswick and Jessup, Georgia, in 1893.

He had command of the district of South Mississippi during the epidemic of 1897 and was Inspector to decide on the character of cases of fever during much of 1898 and 1899.

From 1899 to 1903 he was in command of the Marine Hospital, Key West.

He deserves the credit of writing the first letter in 1873, which led to the organization of the Florida State Medical Society.

His wife died during a quarantine

In 1875 he married Lillie Fulwood, in Key West. She died at Ship Island Quarantine in 1887, leaving five children.

An excerpt from an 1887 article about Ship Island, Mississippi, (the quarantine station) by his cousin, Moses Folsom, published in The Marion Weekly Star (Marion, Ohio): "Dr. R.D. Murray, the surgeon in charge of this station, known as the Gulf Quarantine, has had 16 years of experience in this service.

He was an Ohio soldier during the war [Civil War], and bears upon his face an ugly scar where a bullet, crushing through his right cheek bone and putting out his eye, left for twelve years a running sore.

Half blind, and never for a conscious moment free from pain, he studied medicine these years of ordeal giving him diplomas from two leading colleges, a surgeon’s commission in his present service in a competitive examination over 44 other applicants and a reputation for efficiency, faithfulness and usefulness of which any well man might be proud.

There is no field of through and investigation in which he is not a student. His career is a signal [sic] example of the triumph of mind over matter. His family, a wife and five bright children, live with him on the island."

Murray died when he was only 58, on Nov. 22, 1903, in Laredo, Texas. He was riding a carriage when the team of horses pulling it became frightened and ran away.

The carriage collided with a huge boulder. Murray sustained several broken bones and internal injuries. After he had been in the hospital, he died of pneumonia. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Bluffton.

His brother Marion Wayne Murray - also a physician

F. Marion (Wayne) Murray, physician and druggist in Bluffton attended school in Bluffton and commenced work in a drug store when he was 13.

He then went to Key West, Florida, and was appointed steward and apothecary of the United States Marine Hospital. He held the position for four years while studying medicine and pharmacy.

He entered the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, graduating in 1876, at the same time attending lectures at the Jefferson Medical College, graduating in 1877. In 1878, he graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Immediately after graduating in medicine he began practicing in Lenni, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where he continued in practice until he returned to Bluffton in 1883.

In Bluffton he continued as a physician until the latter part of 1884 when he became a partner of Andrew Hauenstein in the drug business.

He married Amanda Kirby in 1880. The Murrays were members of Bluffton Presbyterian Church, where he was a trustee. He had a longer medical training and had secured more diplomas than any other physician in Allen County.

He died on April 25, 1935, age 80, and is buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery, in Delaware, Ohio.

Portions of this story were originally published in the Dec. 22, 1983, Bluffton News, where it was provided by Aaron B. Murray, whose father, Hod, was one of the Murray quadruplets. The information was gathered from county atlases and from family scrapbooks.


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