WM. D. NAYLOR's STORY
by William D. Naylor
An introduction to William Naylor,
William had a rich background of experiences with the Medicine
Show and Carnivals during the late 1880's and the 1890's. He was a
well-preserved man of 72 years of age, about five-feet-seven in
height, 145 pounds, Quite gray but not bald. Smooth-shaven. Had a
pleasant thought a bit cynical facial expression. Rather serious,
but an evident sense of humor, and somewhat repressed frown. His
personal appearance, as to dress, he was neat although it is
obvious his suit had done service for a long time. In conversation
he sometimes shows a definite tendency to break away from the
subject and become rather excited over some political or social
thought that came to his mind. While he enjoyed a bottle or two of
beer, do not think he is a serious drinker.
MEDICINE SHOW AND
CARNIVAL WM. D. NAYLOR's STORY
I was born in New York City ... on
the West Side, but when I was just a baby my people moved up to
what is now the Bronx. You can tell by looking at me that was a
good while ago. Still ...seventy-two years ain't so much.
Anyhow, it was long before electric
street cars or automobiles. And naturally I've seen lots of
changes in New York City. Whether they're better or worse, I don't
One thing I do know though is that
we kids had lots of fun back in the old days when the fire-wagons
were drawn by horses that seemed like they were just as anxious to
go to a fire as we kids were when we'd
after them when there was an alarm and those beautiful animals
would come charging along the street...
Our chief diversions on Sundays was
to go to Coney Island. We used to ride our bicycles out there. I
suppose I always had a flare for the kind of entertainment Coney
Island offered. There was a kind of fascination to me, even when I
was a kid in the excitement and glamour of the "Carnival spirit" I
suppose you would call it.
Eventually, when I was about 19
years old, I joined "DOC" PORTER's KICKAPOO INDIAN MEDICINE SHOW.
The show was then "playing" in The Bronx and every night I'd go
over and listen... envying the performers who entertained the
crowd before "Doc". Porter came out to give his lecture and sell
I stayed with Doc Porter for six
years, singing " Poor MOURNER, YOU SHALL BE FREE, KANSAS, and
other songs like that of course with some of the popular songs
like Two Little Girls in blue, Down Went M'Ginty, After The Ball,
All my work was black-face, and I
imagined I was just as good as most vaudeville performers on
stages in theatres.
One thing I'm sure of and that is
that our old Medicine show gave a lot of people who otherwise
didn't have very much entertainment a chance to see and hear
something different and be amused.
We traveled all over the small town
circuits of upper New York, part of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and
as far south as Virginia.
There are so many stream lined
entertainments now-a-days that I don't suppose the old simple
entertainment we offered would interest people these
days...but...sometimes I think maybe an old fashioned medicine
show would draw crowds just like it used to do.
Of course we traveled in covered
hacks or spring wagons and all our shows were given out of doors.
Our lights were gasoline flares on each side of the stage which
was a platform that we'd set up at the back end of the wagon.
In the days of the medicine show
there were not so many laws regulating the practice of medicine or
the sale of drugs and not so many licenses and restrictions as
now. This was especially true in the backwoods
such as we'd usually show in. Towns often without railroads and
where other shows didn't come.
So Doc Porter didn't have anything
to do but drive into a town, pick out a vacant spot somewhere and
set up our pitch there.
Everybody would know as soon as we
got into a town.
But Doc usually hunted up the
newspaper office if there was a paper and gave the editor an ad
telling where our show was located. That got him on the good side
of the editor, and the editor in those backwoods places was an
He would also call on the Marshall
and if there was a mayor he would visit him too.
With his 'dignity,' Prince Albert
coat, silk hat, double-breasted watch chain with a buck-eye set in
gold bands He believed the buck-eye kept him from having
rheumatism! He looked and could act like a combination Bishop,
Senator, Supreme Court Judge, all rolled into one. The natives in
those small backwoods towns never had a chance with him!
Doc Porter's medicines were all
made up by himself and he was jealous of the "ancient Kickapoo
formulas" he used. They were all made...'from roots and barks and
the tender succulent foliage of healing, life-giving herbs the
Great Manitou of Nature planted in the forests, on the hills and
in the valleys so that his children, the noble tribe of Kickapoos
these priceless secrets of Life and Health and Happiness; they
were handed down from father to son and from generation to
generation cherished and guarded with the very lives of their
possessors! Then, then my great-great Grandfather saved the life
of the Chief Medicine Man of the Kickapoo Tribe, 'Clack-Wah-Eelah,'
the 'Bounding Cougar,' that great Chief showed his gratitude by
giving my noble pioneer ancestor these marvelous formulas and he
bade him go forth and give to his White Brethren the blessings the
Great Manitou had bestowed upon his Red Children of the forest...'
"(Mr. Naylor laughed with a little homesick note in his chuckle as
he remembered and recited the bombastic quotation.)"
Doc Porter sure had a great string
of palaver and though I heard it a thousand times I never got
tired of listening to his 'lecture,'
In addition to his Kickapoo
Remedies, Doc Porter also had a 'madstone.' It was a bluish-gray,
porous lump about the size of a pullet's egg. It was supposed to
cure mad dog or snake bites by sucking the venom out. When pressed
against the wound if it stuck there was poison in the injury. It
would stick till it had sucked itself full of venom and then fall
off. It would then be boiled in milk till it was clean again and
then re-applied. That was kept up till the 'madstone' wouldn't
stick anymore. The patient was then supposed to be safe...
The legend was that 'madstones'
were found only in the stomachs of some deer. And that the deer
had picked them up from some salt-lick where they had fallen from
I never saw Doc Porter use his
madstone but once and that was on a girl who had been bitten on
the calf of her leg by a copperhead snake while picking
blackberries. It was in Virginia at a little cross-roads place
called 'smoky Run', I think. The madstone stuck all right. And Doc
applied it three times, boiling it in milk after each application
when it would fall off and wouldn't stick anymore.
The girl didn't die but she was
That was just one of the queer
experiences we had with the old medicine show. Once we hit a place
where a feud was being settled.. That was down in Virginia too..."
It was back in the
hill country of Virginia and the place was called 'Rocky Comfort.'
It really wasn't a town. There was a water-power grist mill, a
store, a blacksmith shop and about a quarter of a mile up the
little valley there was a 'meeting house,' where traveling
preachers would sometimes hold revivals which were called 'camp
Doc. Porter stopped
there to have the horses shod and it happened there was a
camp-meeting going on. It looked like a pretty busy place; the
natives from miles around had come, brought their families, their
hound dogs and their rifles and were camped out in the grove
around the meeting house. It was a big event and they at those
camp meetings they went on a sort of 'emotional picnic.'
Doc got the idea that
our Medicine Show would add to the general entertainment and we
could give shows between religious services. It worked. Doc was
diplomatic and didn't try to compete with the preaching but
of helped it out and never gave a show wile preaching was going
on. Instead we'd all attend the services. That put us in solid
with the 'brethren' and we sold a lot of medicine.
The feud was between
the 'Buxton' -- or 'Bruxton' and another bunch of natives named 'Greenberry,'--I
think that was the name.
Old Uncle Jed Buxton,
a tall, sharp-eyed old fellow with a yellowish-gray, hang-down,
moustache was boss of the "Buxton' bunch and 'Grandpap' Lindsay
Greenberry was head of the 'enemy' tribe.
I never heard what the
feud started over, probably some 'Buxton' stole a 'Greenberry'
pig, or some 'Greenberry' shot a 'Buxton' cow. But whatever it was
that started it there'd been killing on both sides and from what I
heard about it they were always gunning or ganging up on each
other, or cutting each other up with 'Bowie knives.' The cause of
the feud wasn't important, though; it was the way it ended that
seemed funny to me.
And a queer thing was
that both tribes were religious and when they'd go to the
'camp-meetings' they've have a temporary truce while the meeting
was going on.
It was at the
camp-meeting the feud ended. The preacher was a big raw-boned
'Hard-shell Baptist,' and he certainly believed in hell-fire and
damnation; and when he'd get up and start to preach he'd always
pull out a twist of long-green tobacco and pull off a big
chew--then he was ready to go at it. And he went. He was almost as
good as Doc Porter when it came to oratory. He talked hell-fire
and brimstone..'sizzlin' and bilin' and smokin'' until he'd have
the whole audience sweating and groaning. Finally he got under the
hides of the 'Buxtons' and 'Greenberrys' and had them all 'tremblin'
on the brink' as he called it...'jest hangin' over eternal
damnation by a 'brickle' thread!'
The payoff was that
old Uncle Jed Buxton and Grandpappy Greenberry both got more
religion than they'd ever got before and decided to 'make peace'
and stop their tribes from carving and shooting and beating each
The preacher got them
together at the 'mourner's bench' and got them to agree to 'make
friends' and be brethren. But they had to do something to prove
the 'treaty' would last and they could 'trust' each other... And
that's where the funny part of it came in.
Old Uncle Jed Buxton
and Grandpap Greenberry acted for the whole bunch of each of their
tribes. The 'peace ceremony' was performed at the camp-meeting in
the presence of the whole audience, the Hard-shell Baptist
preacher acted as master of ceremonies. You'd never guess how they
'pledged' themselves and proved that they 'trusted' each other.
Those two old mountain codgers who had been 'killin'' enemies
shaved each other! And not with safety razors either!
They did it right on
the preacher's platform while the whole congregation looked on and
muttered a lot of 'Amens' and "Praise the Lords"'
They drew straws for
to see who should shave who first, and Uncle Jed Buxton got 'the
chair' first. Grandpappy
Greenberry lathered Uncle Jed up, took that wicked had long-bladed
razor (the preacher supplied the outfit) and whittled the whiskers
off of Uncle Jed's face and neck...but when he Got down around
Uncle Jed's wind-pips I noticed the 'Buxton clan' got mighty tense
and silent. But Uncle Jed didn't bat an eye while his old enemy
was fooling around his neck with that darned sharp razor!
When Uncle Jed was
well shaved, Grandpappy Greenberry sat down in the chair, which
was a common hickory split-bottom kitchen chair, and Uncle Jed
took the razor and went over him!
That settled the
feuds. Each had trusted his neck to the other when the other had a
sharp razor in his hand...and as far as I know they never 'feuded'
again. But I'll say those two tough old mountain hillbillies had a
lot of nerve.
That was just one of
the funny incidents that happened while I was with Doc Porter's
Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show. But it was one that I'll never
Finally, along in the
early 1890's I quit Doc. Porter, or rather he quit me for his show
busted up and I went into the carnival grift. It was while I was
doing carnival stuff at country fairs that I invented--or maybe
you'd say 'discovered ''dancing Turkeys.' It was down in Arkansas
at a little County fair and I made a lot of money with my waltzin'
turkey's...but that's another story...
Re-printed from the
Library of Congress, American Memory, American Life Histories:
Manuscripts for the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. From an
interview conducted with William D. Naylor on Sept, 19, 1938;
Sept. 27, 1938; Oct. 1 and 3, 1938 by Earl Bowman
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