Remembering Dr. Gardner

By Stephen D. Bowling

For more than 50 years, he served one of the most crucial needs of our community. In an era when trained medical doctors were in short supply, he chose Breathitt County as his base of operation and completed a long career as one of Jackson’s few doctors. Today he rests, alone and forgotten, on the top of the hill overlooking Jackson. Few people have heard of, and none remember “our kind, old Doctor Gardner.”

Doctor R. B. Gardner would spend his final years on Broadway and in the Frog Pond section of Jackson.

Rudolphus Bryan “R. B.” Gardner was born on May 3, 1836, near Gilford Courthouse in Guilford County, North Carolina. His parents, Bryan D. and Perlina (Perkins) Gardner, taught Rudolphus to read early and insisted that he attend school rather than work on the farm. He completed “schooling” and moved to Kentucky.

He settled in Morgan County and worked briefly on a farm near Index. Interested in medicine, he found a doctor and apprenticed himself. In 1860, R. B., then 24, lived with and worked in the doctor’s office of Dr. William A. Tutt at West Liberty in Morgan County, Kentucky. His medical training had just started when the first shots of the Civil War stirred the country, and Dr. Gardner answered the nation’s call.

Dr. Gardner listed his occupation as “tanner” on his enlistment papers when he joined the 45th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry in July 1863.

He enlisted as a private in Company G, 45th Kentucky Mounted Infantry on July 28, 1863, at Mount Sterling, Kentucky. The new recruits traveled to Boyd County and were mustered into service and received their equipment at Ashland on November 30, 1963.

R. B. Gardner served as a private from November 30, 1863, until May 20, 1864, when he was promoted to the rank of Corporal to replace Riley Clark, who had died.

The 45th Kentucky Mounted Infantry was organized in northeastern Kentucky and was charged with patrolling the mountains from the Cumberland Gap to Louisa. Gardner and his unit participated in engagements at Salyersville, Troublesome Creek (April 27, 1864), Morganfield, Pound Gap, Mount Sterling, Cynthiana, Saltville, and many other expeditions in Kentucky and Virginia.

Hospital records do not indicate when, but Corporal Gardner was injured after a horse threw him while out on patrol. He reported in 1890 that his right arm was broken in the fall. He was mustered out of the army and discharged on February 14, 1865, after 1 year, 6 months, and 17 days.

Garnder does not appear on the 1870 census. The census taker visited in 1880, and he was listed as a physician boarding with David B. James and his wife Catherine at Hazel Green in Wolfe County, Kentucky. He was a frequent advertiser in The Hazel Green Herald, offering his medical service to the “people of Wolfe and adjoining counties.”

Dr. R. B. Gardner’s advertisement from the July 8, 1885 edition of The Hazel Green Herald.

In July 1886, Gardner served as the Wolfe County Board of Health chairman and was appointed as “assistant physician to the poor.” How long he stayed in Hazel Green is not documented. By 1900, he had moved to Breathitt County, Kentucky, boarding with G. B. Harrison and his wife, Lawna, in the Frog Pond section of Jackson. He went into semi-retirement about 1902 and reduced his patient load.

Doctor Gardner continued his practice in Jackson but limited the number of patients he saw and did not venture far out into the county. In 1904, he suffered a severe medical emergency, which may have been a blood clot in the lungs. He did not see patients for most of the year in 1905, and The Breathitt County News reported in November that his health had improved.

Dr. Garner was awarded a pension for his military service in 1907. He collected a small pension until he died in 1917.

His health did improve to the point that he resumed his limited medical practice. The census taker reported on April 16, 1910, that Gardner was living in Jackson at the home of John M. and Lydia Snowden on Broadway.

Little is known of Dr. Gardner’s last years in Jackson. He did make the trip to Wolfe County to “take the waters” to improve his health. He spent some time at the Day House Hotel. He was a regular attendee at local political events.

When death came on September 21, 1917, his friends and neighbors were not surprised. The Jackson Times announced his death on page 3 of their September 28, 1917 edition with the following article:

A Land Mark Gone

On last Friday evening at 8:45 there passed from life unto death one of the land marks of the town and county and this section. One of the few remaining men who bind the past to the present in the person of Dr. R. B. Gardner, one of the oldest and most respected residents of the town. His death was not unexpected to his friends and those who had been in a position to notice how fast his physical powers had failed in the last year or two and particularly had the ravages of time been noticeable within the last sixty days.

The grave of Dr. R. B. Gardner now sits among the briars and brambles of the Marcum Heights Cemetery.

Deceased was born at or near Guilford Court House, North Carolina nigh on 82 years ago. While yet a young man he left the county and state of his birth and came to Kentucky and to near Hazel Green and in this vicinity and about Maytown he spent much of his life, going into the war between the states on the side of the union serving through it and shortly after the struggle came to Jackson and entered on the practice of medicine and riding the hills and valleys of Breathitt and adjoining counties, he passed the days of the last 50 years of his life, hardly so much of it in this way either, for the last 15 he has not been engaged in active practice.

He had never married and the relatives he leaves behind are few and far between though, he did leave some and they are fine people. Dr. Gardner while a man of strong likes and dislikes was yet always fair and generally inclined to take charitable views of actions that would ordinarily bring criticisms from most people. He was as honest as the day is long, honest and truthful in his speaking and honest in all business and money matters. Jackson loses a good man in the death of the kind old doctor.

A tombstone was placed on the grave of Doctor Rudophus Bryan Gardner in the Marcum Heights Cemetery. The life-long bachelor left no heirs, and his family in North Carolina had no living heirs who claimed his property in Kentucky.

He passed from this world and is little remembered today except for the generations of Breathitt Countians that were named for the “good doctor.” Gardner Turner, Garnder Vancleve, Gardner Brewer, Gardner Puckett, Gardner Herald, and many others still carry the name unaware of the years of service rendered by their namesake.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Civil War, Jackson, Military and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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