ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan
A Story of Conjure
By F. Roy Johnson
Moves on Highway
A COUNTRY STORE operated unsuccessfully as a partnership gave Doctor Jordan his first footing on the highway as a motor car travel began to rise to importance.
The right-of-way was straightened when the blacktop road replaced the winding country way and left Aunt Daisy Gatlings general store hanging over the western side of the highway a mile south of Como.
The doctor, his brother Paul, Elbert Boone and Clinton Myrick formed a partnership, obtained the old store, tore it down, and used its timbers in constructing a two story frame store building east of the new highway in 1925.
Three of the men took turns at looking after the business. Jim was too busy with his conjure practice at his Vaughans Quarters home to share his time, but he employed a clerk. The business was bankrupt two years later, and in 1927 bought out his partners.
He immediately built an annex for his office and made his living quarters on the second floor.
The site came to be known as Jordans Store and headquarters for several business enterprises that were to develop.
The third phase of his conjure practice began as he replaced palm reading art taught him by Aunt Jo Minton with his later framed crystal ball. He began buying roots, patent medicines and ready-made conjure bags from mail order houses. He went into the woodlands less frequently, only for a rare root or herb.
A salesman from a Baltimore house started calling on him regularly, and Jerry Gibbons says that man kept calling as long as the doctor lived.
The doctor, nonetheless, stocked good medicines. Henderson Vaughan of Murfreesboro tells this story:
Spring of 1940 a traveling man passed through the country selling patent medicines.
I bought $12.00 worth with the understanding I would pay after I had harvested my crop.
A bottle containing a wine colored medicine hope me a whole lot. It was rejuvenating, for it got rid of my dull feeling.
I paid the salesman that fall and asked for more, but he said,
Im sorry, but Ive sold out. Jim Jordan bought all I had.
Charles Chitty of Murfreesboro quotes a patent medicine salesman as saying about 1950 Jim Jordan was buying more merchandise from him than the local drug store.
WITH MONEY COMING IN Doctor Jordan began buying farms in 1929, entered the logging business in 1935, but it was after 1937 when his conjure practice began bringing in the big money.
He had been doing a good business more than ten years, but Doctor Futrell observed he was drinking too regularly and advised:
Jim, youve got a good business, but you cant look after it half drunk all the time. Lay off and you ought to become a millionaire.
Doctor Jordan turned to sobriety until a few years before his death. He began to make money from all his enterprises and about two million dollars passed through his hands during the quarter of a century that followed.
The doctors son Isaac estimates that he took in over a hundred thousand dollars a year for fifteen of those years, which alone would cap a million and a half.
Attorney Thomas Jones of Murfreesboro estimates the doctors conjure business frequently netted him $1,000.00 to $3,000.00 a week. Jones sometimes would go to the cities to collect large sums. Isaac estimates $3,000.00 a month would be a low average for his fathers conjure business the twenty years from 1940 to 1960.
More money orders came to Doctor Jordan than to all other Como Post Office patrons. The mail box was removed at Jordans Store. Mail had become voluminous and valuable. Rural Mailman Hill would blow his car horn for someone to come and receive the pack.
Paul Jenkins once obtained an idea of the size of some of the doctors fees:
An automobile bearing New York license plates stopped at my store. A white man got out and asked how to get to Doctor Jordans.
A few days later I asked the doctor, How much did you get of that New York white man?
Five hundred dollars; how did you know about him?
I explained, then asked what was his trouble.
Somebody had crossed him.
Charles Chitty offers another sample:
Two Pennsylvania men came to my store after arriving in Murfreesboro by bus. They asked the way to Doctor Jordans. I replied, Ill carry you, for I had a bill against the doctor.
The doctor thanked me for bringing the men but asked that I return three days later for my money.
The men were still at Jordanville when I returned. The doctor asked me to return them to Murfreesboro to catch the express bus.
Did the doctor do you any good? I asked on the way.
Yes, sir, one spoke; I was almost a dead man when I come down here; now I feel fine but it cost a lot of money.
How much did the doctor say? I asked.
A thousand dollars.
Did you pay him that much?
Almost; he let me have enough to get back home on.
The doctor had guaranteed this work; said if the treatment didnt work, come back and it wouldnt cost another dime.
He told me though Ive gotta have faith in his medicine. Ive got faith; I already feel like a new man.
A few weeks later Doctor Jordan came in my store and laid a $100.00 bill on the counter.
Jim, you dont owe me any money, I told him.
Now you brought that man over to see me; I feel like I owe you a hundred.
James D. Flythe of Murfreesboro:
About 1940 Jim bought a Corbett tractor-trailer. He gave the salesman a $16 thousand check. The man called the bank to make certain it was good.
Jim Jordan is good for several like it, the bank cashier was quoted as replying.
Flythe recalls that about fifteen years earlier Jim couldnt pay cash for merchandise he bought for his little store. The beef salesman collected after Jim made his sales. And Brodge Watson says that in 1901 he couldnt get credit for a twelve pound bag of flour.
Carol Parker of Severn:
About 1940 I stopped by Jim Jordans place to collect a bill for Luther Holloman, Mapleton sawmill man. While there a Cadillac bearing New York license plates pulled up. One of two white women got out, walked right in Doctor Jordans office as if she had been there before. A few minutes later I overheard, the doctor say Dat will be $25.00 en if dat dont work, when you come back by from Florida, I have one more thing but dat will be $150.00.
The women drove off. I presented my bill; asked on the side, Doctor, what kind of medicine do you have that is worth $25.00?
One of my concoctions but it works for it is all in the mind.
During Jims rise to prosperity he at times ran short on cash and borrowed from Dr. Futrell, who says I lent him $3,000.00 to $5,000.00 at a time. Jim was ever prompt in repaying.
By 1950 Doctor Jordan had over $100 thousand cash in two banks strengthened by a large and steady income.
W. W. (Billy) Hill of Murfreesboro says he was lending money freely. He was paying off delinquent notes on automobiles for people of his neighborhood so frequently that the GMAC representative would go to him before bringing repossession action.
Bruce Cooke, former North Carolina State Highway Patrolman, arrested one of Doctor Jordans patients for speeding, and an investment story developed:
A new model Oldsmobile zoomed at 87 miles an hour by my speed clock a half-mile south of the doctors place on Highway 258. I gave chase and arrested the driver after he drew up in front of the doctors office.
The man was from Philadelphia; at Murfreesboro Justice of Peace Jarvis Parker set bond at $200.00. The patient didnt have enough cash with him to stand his own bond.
I called Jim and asked, Do you want to see this man?
Yessir, Mr. Cooke; run him over here.
The man was following me into Doctor Jordans office. Forest Dixon, employed by Jim in a Murfrees-general store, stopped him. Wait a minute nigguh; if Mr. Cooke wants you, hell call you.
I told Dixon it was okay for the man to follow.
Jim looked the man all over. His eyes penetrated him like an X-ray.
Got your switch keys?
Let me have em. Stuck the keys in his pocket.
Now, Mr. Cooke, wheres that there paper you want me to sing?
Before arriving at the doctors office I had learned this was the mans third visit for a stomach disorder. The doctors office was full when he arrived, and one of Jims sons suggested they ride to Murfreesboro to kill the time. The son visited around town and killed too much time, and the patient was impatient on their return to the office.
Cooke offers the opinion the doctors son was pumping the patient for information. The many folks often seen about his office were used at times as informers.
PATIENTS OF ALL CLASSES, both white and colored, arrived at Doctor Jordans office by all modes of travel.
For a long time after 1890 it was not uncommon to see one plodding the winding way with a foot-tied chicken tucked beneath his arms or a piece of middling meat slung over his shoulder. Then the patients came by ox, horse and mule drawn carts, wagons, road carts and buggies. Later ramshacled cars kicked up clouds of dust. Then a wide assortment of motor vehicles from the farmers stable manure hauling pick-up to the mirrowing black city Cadillacs appeared. The airlines eventually joined the conveyance parade. Some patients flew from distant cities to nearby airports and continued to the doctors humble place by taxi or bus.
Willie Bryant, general store operator and the doctors near neighbor after 1937, says some the patients inquiring their way seemed high class. Some looked sick, others perfectly well. The number of men and women were about evenly divided.
Cecil M. Forehand, Jr., employees at Underwoods Esso Station, the Murfreesboro bus stop, got so I could always spot a Doctor Jordan patient; there seemed something unusual about them. Several of them arrived by express bus nearly every day and continued the five miles to the doctors office by other conveyance. (Some got off at Franklin, Virginia, and traveled the seventeen miles by other means.) Forehand observes:
I got so I could tell the high paying patients making repeat visits. Theyd get on the telephone, call the doctors office, and one of his Cadillacs would come over for them. Others would either wait for a local bus or use a taxi.
Most of the doctors patients coming by bus were women and the white women, Yankees. Most appeared in the average income group while a few seemed in the high and low.
During World War II the traffic to the doctors place by bus was heavier than at any other time. Carson Revelle of Murfreesboro recalls a story:
One afternoon during the war I was coming home from Norfolk on a local bus. The driver took no note of the village of Como as we passed, but a mile further he cried, Doctor Jordans Store.
I was amazed. A crowd of folks got off the bus and another crowd got on.
AT THE END OF THE WAR Doctor Jordan was widely known in several of the northern states.
Henry Ricks, truck driver for Riverside Manufacturing Company in Murfreesboro for 14 years, made frequent trips to Washington, D. C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. He observes, People everywhere seemed to know of Doctor Jordan of near Murfreesboro. They would see my license plates and ask if I knew him. Sometimes they would ask if he could do anything. I usually replied, All that I can tell you is that he keeps plenty of business from everywhere.
Ricks says people knew the name Murfreesboro so well at times on Friday night A car would fall in behind me and trail me several hundred miles. Then when Id stop for a pop or something down near Richmond theyd stop too and ask directions to Doctor Jim Jordans place. Rick would tell them to keep on following him and hed let them know where to stop.
Source: F. Roy Johnson The Fabled Doctor Jim Jordan © Copyright 1963 Johnson Publishing Co. Murfreesboro, N. C.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 14 may 2006 / update 23 June 2008
Related File: Conjuring & Doctoring