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Doctors John and Elias Futrell

1899 – 1979 an era of Dr. John and Elias Futrell doctors in Trigg County

Doctors John and Elias Futrell practiced medicine in Trigg County, Kentucky, for over 4 decades. They left a legacy that few could comprehend.  They were Identical twins born on their father’s farms near Linton in Johnson Hollow on January 25, 1899, to John B. and Omega Nunn Futrell.

Where John and Elias Futrell were born

Their father Bud Futrell, called his four sons, and talked earnestly to them about what they wanted to become. Their father offered his children the choice between a farm for each of them or education ….even a doctor’s education!  The other two brothers accepted farms, but the two twins thought of those long, hot days in the tobacco and corn fields and quickly told their father that they wanted an education. Their father told them to go as far as they could in the world of medicine. He told them to study hard and work hard to be the best they could be. Some of the neighbors of the Futrells around the Linton area were amazed that the twins turned down the gift of a farm for “schooling.” But he told them something else: “When you get to be doctors and settle down to practice, there is something you must never do. You must never turn anyone down who cannot pay you, and you must never turn you back on anyone who needs you”.      

Where John and Elias Futrell grew up                              

 Probably the most talked-of  mixup was by John himself when he was only three years old. Someone had brought little John to town and for some reason left Elias at home. John wound up in a furniture store and found himself looking into a full-length mirror for the first time in his life. Little John gasped, and then he said "Why, Lias, who brung you?"

Their education started in the Dry Creek School in the southern portion of the county and they attended Cadiz High School. During WWI while they were in high school, the twins turned 18, and the American forces began amassing for battles in Europe. They left high school and joined the army only to find that the war was coming to an end. They were only in the army for three months, all the time they were in attending officer’s training school at Ogden College in Bowling Green.  After the war, they finished high school and started on the long road to becoming doctors. Many times in college they were confused as each other, one day an anatomy teacher named Konhauser was giving John's class an examination. He went out in the hall and met Elias. Angered, he ordered Elias into the room to "tend to his business". Many times one would work and let the other take classes to have enough money. One time Elias drove a cab, but was fired because he would get lost in Louisville.


John finishing pre-med at Bowling Green in 1921 and went to University of Louisville Medical School in 1922. Elias stayed at Western until the fall of 1923 when he joined John at University of Louisville. This was the first time the twins were ever separated. John graduated medical school in 1926 and came back to Cadiz and rented a small, bleak office over a Main Street feed store in Cadiz. Dr. J. L. Hopson, a popular old time doctor, died a short time later and John stepped into his booming practice.

 John said “I didn’t intern”. “He couldn’t afford to” said Elias quickly. “He married Mary DeBaun of Springfield and he had to go to work!” Elias graduated in 1928 and interned at Paducah’s Illinois Central Hospital for a year and then joined John in the practice at Cadiz.

They resided in Cadiz in houses on Main Street that were side by side. Through the lean years and the good years, through whatever that came along, they have remembered clearly the admonition of their father.

Dr. Hopson’s practice kept them busy, but they struggled financially. “People got sick at the same rate, but the dollars were few and far between,” said Dr. John. Occasionally, they would get paid in cash or produce, but they scraped by. Many times they went out in the country and came back with a pig squealing or a goat in the back of the buggy or car. Sometimes pay was a head of cabbage, a sack of turnips or a basket of turnip greens.  Once when Dr. John was paid with the largest basket of turnip greens he had ever seen, He stopped at the next patient and they offered to pay him with a chicken. He thought and said, “I’d rather have a piece of fatback to go with my turnip greens.”

The twins were hard to excite and harder to scare. One time they were called to the home of some people who had been in a fight and cut up one man. As Dr. Elias stood over the man's bed, trying to sew up the man's cuts, when the fight broke out again. Knives flashed and pistols and clubs appeared. "I got the man up and we went out in the yard as the fight went on. There,behind a tree, I sewed him up and treated his wounds by the lights from my car."  From scrapbook of A. P. Wilson

            They were men who seemingly worked wonders, unselfish men who put those in need far above other things. Driving over Trigg County and getting stuck in the muddy ruts, working in their crowded clinic and in the hospital that they fought so hard for; they showed their commitment to their father’s wishes. Many days were 16 hour days but through it all, Dr. John and Elias made a living. They also traded out the benches that Dr. Hopson had in the waiting room for chairs because they felt that everyone, black or white, rich or poor, would feel more comfortable that way.

            They went everywhere they were asked in any type of weather. One winter’s day, Dr. John went 10 miles to Lamasco to see a man ill with pneumonia. Dr. John was in a Model T touring car and the trip took all day. Every few miles the car would sink to its axles and farmers would pull him out. Dr. John got stuck four or five times each way and it was getting dark when he finally hit the good gravel close to Cadiz. Sometimes they would go as far as possible in a car, then a buggy or wagon would carry them the rest of the way.

            One of the hardest trips Dr. John ever took was in the flood of 1937. A family in the Lock E area on the high-water of the Cumberland River had to have medical help. A man took him in an open outboard boat six or eight miles upstream to the sick family. One time Elias had to cross a swollen river on a horse. He told the farmer “that horse seemed to have a hard time finding the bottom when we crossed.” The farmer, said “your horse wasn’t walking; he was swimming!”

            The twins parted again during World War II. Both volunteered but only John was accepted. He spent 3 ½ years in uniform following combat through North Africa and Italy. He rose to the rank of Captain. Elias was first rejected for physical reasons and then declared essential at home. He was one of the few doctors left in the area. This was the longest time the twins were separated during their lives.

            Except for being “go anywhere anytime” the doctors were not the least bit old-fashioned. They keep the best equipment and use the latest recommended practices of diagnosis and treatment. One newspaper man remembered when the two doctors came to him so excited; they had just treated the first patient with sulfa drugs and he was improving!  When there was a medical meeting, one would go and the other one stayed to take care of Trigg County. When the one who was trained came back, he would tell the other one all the new information.

Dr. Elias and Anna Duncan McBride Futrell and Dr. John and Mary Frances Debaun Futrell

Dr. John and Mary Futrell had three (3) daughters and one became a doctor. They had eleven (11) grandchildren and two became doctors.

Dr. Elias and Anna Futrell had two (2) children and four (4)  grandchildren, one granddaughter became a doctor.

            ‘The Hospital is one of their proudest advancements in the medical world.’  Dr. John said ‘It is better that we have hospitals and that people come to them in great numbers instead of being treated at home.’ Dr. Elias said ‘We can see and help more people this way.’

            Both doctors found time to belong to several civic and service organizations and was a prominent part in their churches. Dr. Elias was a Methodist because his wife’s family was Methodist. Dr. John was a member of the Baptist Church, where both were raised.

They were fishermen and built this cabin near Lake Barkley

When asked about retirement one of the brothers said, "We'll quit when people stop calling us."
Several times thru the years a “Dr. Futrell’s Day  was planned, but each time they quietly turned down honors.  Finally in 1973 in a special tribute to Dr. John and Elias Futrell, Edison Thomas, President of the Thomas-Bridges Association said, “ As for which one was first (speaking of their births) both of them  are first in the hearts of Trigg county residents.” The two doctors birthed over 6000 babies during their careers.

Dr.John Futrell                  

Dr. Elias Futrell

Few people affected Trigg County as Dr. John and Elias Futrell did during their careers. They also affected their children and grandchildren with several becoming doctors or professionals. 

Blood Pressure device donated to the Kentucky Historical Society by a member of the Futrell family.  Used in the office of five (5) doctors between 1894-1975. Donor said that Dr. Homer Blane (1873-1918) set up the office with his father Henry. Dr. J. Lacy Hopson (1883-1926) took over the office from Dr. Blane. Dr. John (1899-1974) and Elias Futrell (1899-1979) practiced in that office from 1927-1974.

Information for this article came from Trigg County & Family Histories 1985, Notes from A.P. Wilson, and family members.