Dr. A.T. Still: Through the Eyes of Ernest E. Tucker, D.O. (Patient, Student and Faculty)

By: Jason Haxton, M.A., D.O. (h.c.)

As a young adult, Ernest E. Tucker first met A.T. Still in 1898 as a patient, due to a medical condition of vision impairment caused by a college football injury.  After a few months and successful treatment, Dr. Still foretold that Ernest Tucker would be returning as a student.  Osteopathy as a career choice was definitely not in Ernest Tucker's life plan.  His grandfather was a minister, his father was a minister and he was in school studying to be a minister too.  However, Ernest Tucker wrote, "That did happen. When anyone comes into contact with a revelation of such vast significance as osteopathy, he must do one of two things: close his mind, remain blind, deny; or else… pour every ounce of his spare energy into it - to give it the full measure of development possible."

Dr. Ernest E. Tucker poured his heart into osteopathy and never regretted it.

As a student of osteopathy – Ernest Tucker graduated in 1903 and later became a professor of osteopathic principles and technics. It was throughout the 19-year mentoring/friendship with Dr. A.T. Still that Tucker wrote down his honest observations and conversations directly quoted from Dr. Still on a variety of topics.  What was it like to meet the famous Dr. A.T. Still? Here’s Tucker’s first impression and his physical description.

Well, I was prepared to be impressed, but not in just the way [that] it turned out.  Was there a bit of hero-worship in it? At the time I would have repudiated the idea. 

The red brick wall of the house, the snow half across the porch, the slant of the morning sun, and the figure standing before me on that early morning in February fifty-seven years ago are as clear to me now as though I were still looking at them. The contrast of that first meeting has not dimmed, but stands out as significant to all who would know and understand this man. 

The house was a fine mansion and imposing edifice, modern in every aspect, and one would naturally expect to find a man to match the dwelling in it.  But he [Dr. A.T. Still] did not match the house. On the contrary, he made it appear foolish.  He dwarfed it.  Unaware of either its beauties or its imperfections – as he would have been of any hovel in which his work [with the poor] might have carried him.  His home -- was not a house.  He always entered and left by the side door at the end of the semicircular porch – not the front door.

An unusual thing about him, often remarked, was his gait; a springy gait, rising on his toes: which I was told was the Indian gait. Upon my first meeting his emergence from a side door had been almost noiseless, his movement along the floor almost Indian smooth – quietness, a bit tip-tilted as though walking on tiptoe.  As though part of this gait, he usually carried a six or seven foot staff for balance, cut from the woodpile and whittled or planed down. For these reasons he seemed to walk leaning forward.

His appearance can best be described as shadowy, and his voice had the same quality in its huskiness; like a voice from somewhere else, far away; or [from] somebody else.  Oh, he could  speak powerfully - he could make the students in  the rear seats [of the classroom] hear as clearly  as those in front – but the huskiness -- it had a sort of intimate quality about it – [kind of like it was] just you and me sort of effect.

Two things about Still's appearance I never did get used to, often as I saw them. One was the bulge of that forehead, like the bud end of a watermelon.  Such a forehead could hardly escape being sunburned, but this too faded to a dusky hue, a matter of age as well as atmosphere no doubt - over which feathery strands of iron gray hair played under the wide brim of his black felt hat. His face upon closer inspection was wrinkled like a piece of old silk. The wrinkles at the outer corners of his eyes were numerous and humorous.

The other was the unbelievable aquilinity of the nose [having the curved or hooked shape of an eagle's beak]. They harmonized with each other of course and were not ordinarily noticeable, until some trick of posture or background threw them into relief.  His mustache helped to - shall I say normalize -- his nose. His pointed beard was leveled out in front of him. And mustache and beard kept nose and forehead in harmony.   Through his grisly beard shone the gleam of a gold collar button, innocent of collar [without] unless it happened to be attached.

He was a giant physically as well as mentally, and his head always thrown back – made the tallest man look up to him; his wide-brimmed army hat, which was thrust far back on that bulging dome of a forehead.

His eyes seemed to blend with the background – horizon grey, flecked as I remember it with brown; under untrimmed eyebrows. His hands were large and flat and no doubt very powerful. The lobes of his ears hung down quite generously.  I suggest that you take note of the ear-lobes of strong leaders of men.      

On his feet were boots – “Missouri mud boots".  [Blue] Jean trousers were tucked into them, with the inevitable bulge at the outer top.  Overcoat, coat and vest he carried open; the two halves of the vest held together by a heavy watch chain (those were the days of pocket clocks). The coat was a blue [military] army coat. 

He wore specs of course; and - well… but one never sees the dirt on one's own glasses, unless one takes them off to look at; and then, one does not see well enough to see the dirt.

And why should anyone bother about that [how he physically looked]? I do not know why; I have not given it much thought; but observe that my fellow human beings do seem to set considerable store by “it” – “it” being [a person’s] physical appearance - generally.

Link: to film of Dr. A.T. Still on you tube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwo4-61WXd8


Museum of Osteopathic Medicine, Kirksville, MO [1997.04.121 and 1997.04.119] Charlie E. Still Collection




Caption:  Ernest Eckford Tucker, D.O. (1877-1958)

Museum of Osteopathic Medicine, Kirksville, MO [1975.75.12]



Caption:  Andrew Taylor Still, D.O. (1828-1917)

Museum of Osteopathic Medicine, Kirksville, MO [1985.1022.07]


Caption:  A.T. Still on the front porch of his mansion ca. 1901

Museum of Osteopathic Medicine, Kirksville, MO [2010.02.1550 ]