Ephraim Graeme McCormick was born of Scottish descent in Augusta County, Virginia February 10, 1855. He was the oldest of seven children of Thomas and Elizabeth Campbell McCormick. In 1875 Thomas and his second wife, Mary, moved the family to Prairie Grove in northwest Arkansas.
Young Ephraim began at age 20 to travel and teach school in Washington County, Arkansas and Iowa. In his spare time, between 1878-79, he studied medicine and then in 1880-81 attended the Missouri Medical College in St. Louis. After graduation in 1881 he returned to Lee’s Creek, Arkansas and married Mamie Gilliam. The couple had three children. Dr. McCormick practiced for three years in Lee’s Creek, then moved to Prairie Grove, a small but growing town of about 200. Prairie Grove had no formally educated doctors, three of four self-educated doctors and no medical facilities. He was the only “schooled” doctor in Prairie Grove for several years.
In his early practice Dr. McCormick rode horseback on “ole Dick”, making rounds to see his patients, sometimes staying overnight in their homes and going as far as 20 or 30 miles into Indian Territory. Later he used a car and thus could see more patients in a day. He readily adapted Dr. Joseph Lister’s (of England) aseptic surgery technique and was quick to use typhoid fever vaccination and diphtheria antitoxin, the new medical innovations of his era. His surgeries were performed on kitchen tables or front porches until a hospital was built. As was the custom, when a more difficult surgery was to be performed other surgeons were called to help. He was often the one called by the less experienced doctors. When the Elizabeth Hospital in Prairie Grove opened (1937) the nursery was named, “McCormick Nursery” in his honor as he had delivered many babies over the years. Dr. McCormick was also well known at City Hospital in Fayetteville 20 miles away, and was friends with several of the prominent doctors there. He was a member of the Washington County Medical Society and the American Medical Association.
Beyond his medical practice Dr. McCormick was interested in the welfare of Prairie Grove. He drew up the city’s petition of incorporation. In cooperation with his brother and M.M. Collier, he opened the first drug store in town. In the 1880s he established and was president of the Prairie Grove Canning and Evaporation Company. He made many purposeful trips to St. Louis and eventually procured a branch of the Frisco rail line to service Prairie Grove. In 1885 he established the first newspaper with Joseph Garrison, calling it The Prairie Grove News. In 1888 he founded the first telephone system in Prairie Grove, initially from his office to the drug store, then from Prairie Grove to Fayetteville, one of the longest in the state at that time. The Telephone Company remains vital today.
Financial investments were not Dr. McCormick’s only interests. He was one of the founders of the Prairie Grove Southern Presbyterian Church in 1888 and remained a church Elder until his death. He helped found the first high school and served as President of its Board of Trustees for many years. The Chamber of Commerce presented him with a two foot Loving Cup for Outstanding Service “as a token of love, respect and appreciation for community service, 1928” He was a charter member of the Occidental Lodge No. 436, A.F. and A.M., was the first Senor Warden and Worshipful Master in 1889.
Dr. McCormick practiced medicine for more than 50 years. After about two years of declining health he died on December 12, 1938 and is buried in Prairie Grove in the cemetery next to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
A quote from an editorial published December 14th in the Prairie Grove Enterpriseseems a summation of Dr. McCormick’s life. “He never discouraged the march of progress save when it tended away from those things traditional to the Old South: Honesty, industry, leadership, ethics and courtesy – he was a promoter of all good things for his community and versatile to an astonishing degree for a man of medicine and science.–Lives of such men should be a constant inspiration to those who come after.”
B. Battenfield March 2014