Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens


WILLIAM H. COWDEN, M. D. Amidst the splendors of twentieth century achievements and the numerous factors that go to make up the component parts of our boasted advanced civilization one factor looms among the most conspicuous—the art of healing. This fact may not be readily accepted by the rank and file of the peoples of the world, who no doubt believe the palm should be given to mechanical science, because the conspicuous progress in this field is more a part of our every-day life and is therefore kept more constantly before us and is more quickly observed and appreciated. The student of the early history of the human race finds that ignorance and superstition surrounded the anatomy of the human organism, which resulted in the belief that disease was of supernatural and mysterious origin. For ages it was believed that the sick and afflicted were possessed of devils and weird chants, incantations and so-called religious rites were common resorted to rather than the application of drugs or other means of modern healing. In fact, it was not until the thinking Greeks proved that the medical cure was the practical way of overcoming the multiform ills of the flesh which were not due to the presence of evil spirits or to the anger of the gods, and thus was placed upon a scientific basis the study of the human organism with its various ailments. There is generally a wide diversity of opinion among the people outside the medical profession in their estimate of the skill and ability of a particular physician. A family is likely to pin its faith to one practitioner and distrust all the rest. If there is a member of the profession in Greene county who has successfully fought down this prejudice, and now stands secure in the confidence of the general public, that man is Dr. William H. Cowden, of Springfield, a man whose research in the fields of science has produced such pronounced results as to leave no question of his knowledge of his profession.

Dr. Cowden was born in Polk county, Missouri, on February 9, 1850. He is a son of Robert Blackburn Cowden and Martha J. (Headlee) Cowden, who were born in Maury county, Tennessee, the father in 1825 and the mother in 1831. There they spent their early childhood, but were young when they accompanied their parents to this section of the Ozarks, the Cowden family emigrating to Polk county in about 1839, and the Headlee family coming to Greene county in 1836. The parents of our subject received such educational advantages as the early day schools afforded, and here they were married, and immediately thereafter settled on a farm in Polk county, where they became successful in general agricultural pursuits, and there the death of the father occurred in July, 1892, and the death of the mother occurred on October 10, 1899. Robert B. Cowden was a stanch Democrat and was active in party affairs, however, during the Civil war he was in sympathy with the Union, but took no part in the war. After the close of the war he was registering officer for a number of years. He was one of the successful and influential men of his locality and of unquestioned integrity. He was a member of the Masonic Order, Ozark Lodge, No. 297, at Fair Grove, and was prominent in the affairs of this order. He and his wife were Presbyterians in their religious affiliations. They were the parents of the following children: Dr. William H., of this sketch; Christopher C., who remained on the old home farm in Polk county, becoming a successful general farmer and stock raiser, and previous to his death moved to Colorado, near Lamar, his death occurring on June 29, 1913; Mary Caroline, who died unmarried, and Albert S., who studied law and became one of the leaders of the Springfield bar.

Robert Cowden, paternal grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was born in Alabama about the year 1793, where his father, also, Robert Cowden, who was a captain in the American army during the Revolutionary war, had settled after the close of the war for independence. He removed to Tennessee with his father, where he soon after married and began farming. About the year 1838 or soon thereafter he emigrated by wagon to Polk county, Missouri, located on the Upshaw Prairie, where he developed a good farm and established a comfortable home, and there spent the remainder of his days, dying about 1863. He was of Irish descent. Politically he was a Democrat, and was a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. His family consisted of the following children: James, who was a farmer in Greene county, died prior to the Civil war; John A. engaged in farming and mercantile pursuits at, Pleasant Hope, Polk county; William was a farmer and died at Pleasant Hope, leaving a family; Robert Blackburn, father of the immediate subject of this sketch; Newton, who remained on the old homestead near Pleasant Hope; Marshall became a farmer and miller at Pleasant Hope; Samuel, who was a soldier in the Confederate army, operated a part of the old home farm; Hannah, long since deceased, was the wife of Newton Fawcett; Elizabeth married Lundy Crocker, who died in early life; Jane became the wife of J. P. Fullerton and they established their home in Polk county, and Melissa married Rev. J. B. Landreth, a Polk county minister of the Methodist Episcopal church, South; he died a few years ago at Morrisville, Polk county, and his widow is still living there.

Judge Elisha Headlee, the maternal grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was one of the pioneer settlers of Greene county, where he was well known among the early residents, was prominent in public affairs and was a successful general farmer. His death occurred on his farm here about 1876. His grandfather, John Headlee, was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and his father, E. Headlee, was born in the state of New Jersey in May, 1760, and was married there to Mary Fairchild, and soon thereafter, in 1790, removed to North Carolina. Judge Elisha Headlee was the seventh of eleven children, and was born in Burke county, North Carolina, in October, 1802, where he received a limited education. He removed to Maury county, Tennessee, with his parents in 1823, and there, in 1825, he married Rachael Steele, who was also a native of North Carolina, born in 1803, and removed from the old Tar state to Tennessee with her parents in 1810. Mr. Headlee farmed in Tennessee after his marriage until 1836, then migrated overland with his family to Greene county, being thus among the pioneer settlers here, and eventually one of its most prominent and useful citizens. He was a justice of the peace for several years, and in 1846 was elected a member of the County Court for four years, after which he received his appointment from the governor of the state and served two terms more with credit to himself and to the satisfaction of all concerned. In 1858 he was appointed public administrator and served in that capacity until 1872. He was a stanch Democrat all his life, and voted for Gen. Andrew Jackson in 1824, and for every Democratic President until his death. However, during the Civil war he was in sympathy with the Union. In 1813 he became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and after the war followed the Southern branch of that denomination. He and his wife enjoyed a happy wedded life of over half a century and became the parents of the following children: Dr. Samuel H., who established himself as a physician at St. James, Missouri, once represented Phelps county in the state Legislature; Mary Caroline, who died in childhood; Caleb C., who died in Louisiana in 1891 after a life devoted to farming; Martha J., mother of the subject of this sketch; Hannah A. married J. D. W. Kerr, who died many years ago; David A. died shortly after the Civil war; he was a soldier in the Federal army; Emma A., who became the wife of Robert Armor; Margaret M., who was a twin of Evaline (deceased); Rachael E. and Harriet I. all remained unmarried and still live at the old homestead in this county.

Dr. William H. Cowden grew to manhood on the home farm where he worked when a boy, and he received his early education in the public schools at Ebeneezer and at McGhee College in Macon county, Missouri. During this period he spent a portion of his time in teaching. He finished his literary education in Drury College, Springfield, and in 1876 began the study of medicine with his uncle, Dr. Samuel H. Headlee, of St. James, Missouri, and in 1878 entered the Missouri Medical College at St. Louis, from which institution he was graduated in 1880. He returned to his home in Polk county and, staying but a short time, when he went to Fair Grove, and there he practiced his profession until 1882, when he went back to Polk county, staying until 1887, then returned to Fair Grove and remained until 1911, when, seeking a larger field for the exercise of his talents, he located on the public square, Springfield, where he maintained his office until the disastrous fire of the spring of 1914, when he located at 200 East Commercial street, where he has remained. He had built up quite an extensive practice in the northern part of this county and in the southeastern part of Polk county, his name being a household word in that locality for years, and upon locating in Springfield he found that his reputation had preceded him, and he has enjoyed a good practice since coming to this city. He has been very successful as a general practitioner and has kept well abreast of the times in all that pertains to his profession. Soon after locating in Fair Grove he purchased a drug store, with which he was connected until he removed to Springfield. He owns a comfortable home at 1376 North Jefferson street.

Dr. Cowden was married in 1890 to Mcie Butts, a daughter of J. M. and Fannie (McLaughlin) Butts, natives of Kentucky and Barry county, Missouri, respectively, and are now residents of Fair Grove, where Mr. Butts has long been engaged in the drug business. Mrs. Cowden was born in Barry county, this state, but ever since early childhood has been a resident of Fair Grove until removing to Springfield four years ago, and was reared and educated in the former place.

To our subject and wife one child has been born, William B. Cowden, whose birth occurred on June 5, 1894, in Fair Grove, Missouri. There he grew to manhood and received his education in the public schools and in Drury College. He was making a splendid record for scholarship when he was compelled to give up his studies on account of trouble with his eyes. He is living at home.

Politically Dr. Cowden is a Democrat. He is prominent in Masonic circles, being a member of Ozark Lodge, No. 297, at Fair Grove; also of Vincil Chapter, No. 110, and St. John's Commandery, No. 20, both of Springfield. He is a member of the Greene County Medical Society and the Southwest Missouri Medical Society.

Dr. Cowden's generous treatment of his patients has won for him not the respect alone, but the earnest regard of the large clientele which he has gathered around him, and like many other family physicians, he has become in many cases the family adviser in matters of business and affairs other than of a professional nature.

[1409-1413]


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