Biographical Sketch of Dr. William Joplin Sheddan
November 1, 1893 – July 24, 1958
Quotes within this Biographical Sketch are from an Interview by Carolyn Wallace published in The Osceola Times in 1953 and re-printed in 1996. The full interview follows the Sketch.
William J. Sheddan was born in Osceola, Arkansas on November 1, 1893 to John Hayes and Ann Eliza Sheddan. The couple had eight children, with William the sixth. He was called Billy as a child and became known as “Dr. Billy” in his professional years.
Before he finished high school he began working with Dr H. C. Dunavant, a beloved old doctor who was well respected in the area. Young Billy watched operations on kitchen tables or outside on front yards. Dr Dunavant taught Billy to give chloroform and to hand him instruments when he operated.
In his late teen-aged years Billy took a course in medicine at Kentucky Military Institute in Lyndon, Kentucky and completed an internship at St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis. He then went to the University of Tennessee and graduated on June 4, 1915, as a medical doctor, again returning to intern at St. Joseph Hospital. At age 22 he went back to his boyhood home in Osceola proudly posting a plaque that read “William J. Sheddan, M. D.” to begin his life-long professional practice.
WWI was imminent. As many his age he joined the army. His first assignment was surgeon on a troupe ship to France. Because Britain had lost many doctors in the war he volunteered as a replacement, thus was “loaned” to the British, becoming a first Lieutenant, a high ranking at that time.
After his discharge Dr. Sheddan returned to Osceola and again established his practice. At age 27 he married Louise Semme. The couple had one daughter, Billy Fain.
Roads were primitive in Mississippi County especially in rainy condition. “Every trip I made, there were three roads to cover, the bottom, the in between and the one on top.
“I never left town on a country call that I didn’t hitch my saddle horse to the back of my buggy. The calls country doctors made then had to be made by piggy-back to Lyee Line steamboats depending on whether you had to go north, east, south, or west.
My backyard use to look about like a transportation center. In the early winter, I bought out every contraption imaginable that could take the roads. I always carried along a bale of hay in the back because when I went on a call to Keiser, Victoria or around Luxora, it would be a 12-hour trip and a poor horse couldn’t pull through gumbo or snow and slush on an empty stomach. I used a gug-out or sled when it snowed.
I had patients around Nodena and Turnage. Those calls required a steam boat. I would leave Osceola at nine in the morning and the roustabouts would bring my horse aboard for me so I could ride back home if I were unfortunate enough to miss the boat the next morning. The captain on the boat would never take a penny from me when I made the trip by boat.”
Trains were unreliable. Tracks buckled in inclement weather. Dr. Sheddan made many calls by hand car to answer a sick call, walking long distances after leaving his hand car parked for a late return trip.
As time passed, Dr. Sheddan kept up with the fast advances in medicine. A story he told confirms his all night vigil with a child who had diphtheria, and how later it would be prevented by vaccine.
“When I first began my practice,” continued Dr. Billy, “This country was alive with malaria and typhoid. When a doctor took a case, he knew it was a job he had to be on from eight to 10 week. But now with chloromycetin drugs, a patient is well and on the job in two to three weeks. Lots of nights, I have sat at the bedside of some child with diphtheria and wanted to do something for them that was beyond me to do but now with babies taking shots from the time they are six months old, you rarely ever hear of a case. This is one dreaded child disease that will be eventually wiped out.”
When asked in an interview about his experience as a country doctor he replied “When asked if he had it to do over again would he practice in a small town, Dr. Billy’s reply was: “Country doctors are country doctors, because they want to be. There are precious few who haven’t had the chance to go to the big cities to practice but a country doctor is born, not made.”
Dr. Sheddan throughout his practice years was active in the civic affairs in Osceola. He served on the City Council and at the time of his death was Chief of Staff at Osceola Memorial Hospital. At age 62 a highway accident suddenly ended his life.
He had practiced medicine 44 years, about 40 of those in Mississippi County. Faithfully he had ministered to the people whom he loved and who, in turn, loved their Dr. “Billy” Sheddan.
Betty Battenfield November, 2019