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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Rubbing Doctors

by Clay Coppedge

The Milling brothers, Roscoe and George, billed themselves as rubbing doctors and utilized elements of massage therapy, magnetic healing and hypnosis in their respective practices. In towns where the water had a high mineral content they added mineral water to their treatments.

Both brothers were profoundly influenced by the techniques taught at Sidney Weltmer's Magnetic Institution in Missouri, which drew heavily on the practices of Franz Mesmer. Mesmer believed that we have an invisible magnetic fluid-animal magnetism-that causes sickness when it's blocked. He used magnets, touch and eventually hypnotism (which gives us the word mesmerized) to unblock a patient's animal magnetism and make them well.

Roscoe and George wore their hair long to accentuate their Cherokee heritage, billing themselves as the "Indian Adept" or the "Long-Haired Doctor." They operated (not literally) in out-of-the-way places like Glen Rose and Putnam, running what today we'd identify as a spa or clinic. They couldn't legally call their businesses hospitals without proving they were doctors, which required a medical license, and it's true that some of their patients turned into plaintiffs. The Millings argued in court that guests paid only for room and board-the rubbing and the magnets and mineral water were all gratis.

The late and lamented Texas writer Larry L. King grew up in Putnam and recalled that "for three dollars a day you could bathe in Putnam's mineral waters, have meals in your rooms, and take treatments from the well-known rubbing doctor Roscoe Milling." Historian John Berry wrote of Roscoe in 1963: "Dr. Milling was a picturesque character and willing to put forth effort and time to add to the picturesqueness and to remain a character."

Roscoe, who claimed to have healed his mother of phlebitis when he but a mere lad, ran away from home to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Traveling Show as a teenager. He opened his first sanitarium in Stephenville in 1890. In Glen Rose, he saw a Hindu hypnotist in action, and before you could say "snap out of it" he was mesmerizing his own patients.

Younger brother George was a good deal more rambunctious than Roscoe, prone to breaking up religious gatherings, brandishing pistols and threatening people. Glen Rose cops once pulled him over for driving his Hupmobile through town at the ungodly speed of eighteen miles per hour. They slapped him with another citation for "unlawfully shooting a gun across a public road." A couple of years after George set up shop in Glen Rose, he was murdered, some say by a jealous husband who believed George was rubbing his wife the wrong way.

Skeptics doubted the rubbing doctors did anybody any good. Their harshest critics accused them of being dangerous and/or immoral. But they had a loyal clientele. When Roscoe went to trial in Abilene for practicing medicine without a license, a prominent Abilene woman testified that Roscoe had restored the use of her withered arm. But the organized opposition to his unconventional treatments compelled him to look for other means of survival. He tried farming, but the ailing masses camped out on his farm, pleading for treatment. His own beliefs in the treatments never wavered.

Roscoe Milling died in 1962 after unsuccessful surgery to cure a kidney ailment. His son, H.H. Milling, operated a sanitarium in Mineral Wells for many years. The Millings brothers' descendants and others who married into the family practiced various forms of medicine in more than a dozen Texas towns over the next several decades, including a third-generation descendant who served as dean at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" January 18 , 2019 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18
  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18
  • Tasty Texas Ingenuity 12-2-18
  • An Annoyance of Grackles 11-16-18
  • The Original Texas Songster 11-2-18

    See more »
  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18
  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18
  • Tasty Texas Ingenuity 12-2-18
  • An Annoyance of Grackles 11-16-18
  • The Original Texas Songster 11-2-18

    See more »


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