Marion DeKalb Steele was born on June 8, 1824 in Bedford County, Tennessee to Price Caldwell and Elizabeth Bogart Cooper Steele of Irish and Dutch ancestry, respectively.  Price Steele was a farmer and Justice of the Peace.  Young Marion worked on the farm until he began to study medicine at the age of 19 at Louisville Medical College.  In 1847 at the age of twenty-three he began his medical practice in the small town of Strawberry in Lawrence County of northeast Arkansas.  He married Frances S. Poor in 1849.  Later the couple moved to Powhatan where Marion started a dairy.  It was there that they had three children (John Price, Elizabeth Rebecca, William Volney).

By 1855 Frances (Fanny) had developed health problems and Marion expressed in writing his deep religious faith and committed his life to God if Frances could be spared.  The following year the family moved to Benton County, Arkansas, possibly for Frances’ health, or so Marion could begin his ministry.  In 1856 the family moved to Elm Springs in Washington County.  In that same year at the session of the Arkansas Methodist Episcopal (South) Conference Dr. Steele was admitted as a preacher (first on a trial basis).  He preached at church services and revivals as a circuit rider and was received enthusiastically.  Though he was not known as a good speaker, indeed, known to speak in a monotone with closed eyes, he brought many people into the church.  He retired from active ministry in 1865.  Throughout these nine years he continued to practice medicine.

Frances died on August 7, 1860 (one source stated August 1861).  On November 12, 1861, Dr. Steele married Mary Elizabeth Johnson Deaver, who had one son from a previous marriage.  This union brought five boys and four girls: Thomas D., James C., Joseph A., Mary I., Sarah Frances, Hattie S., Ada, Marion F. and David A.  Mary Deaver Steele died March 20, 1922, age eighty eight and is buried in the Elm Springs Cemetery.

Dr. Steele had built a large house in Elm Springs in 1851 that was pressed into service as a headquarters for both the Confederate and Union Armies during the Civil War.  Drawers from the house were used by the Union as feed throughs for animals, and food from the family larder was stolen; a Union soldier spared Dr. Steele’s life only when he found the doctor was a Mason (a thirty-second degree Mason).  Dr. Steele worked as a physician for the Confederate Army though he was exempt from being drafted because of his minister status.  The old Steele house stood for ninety-six years until 1946 when it was demolished and replaced by a modern structure.

After the war Dr. Steele continued his medical practice until 1874.  He then began a merchandising business with the usual country store items.  In addition, he compounded medicines which he knew to be helpful and sold them over a wide area in Benton and Washington Counties.  His brother Dr. John Steele in Tennessee sent him other recipes which he added to his distributed “cures”.

In statue Dr. Steele was a robust man, about five feet, eight inches, tall.  All his adult life he had a long beard.

Dr. Steele died March 24, 1898 at the age of seventy-three in Elm Springs, Arkansas.  He is buried in the Elm Springs Cemetery between his two wives.  He had actively practiced medicine for twenty-four years and then assumed a peripheral role as a druggist for about twenty additional years.


Betty Battenfield

April 2013