The Case of Thankful Taylor----The Tennessan Magazine, Sun Dec. 9th, 1973
The Mag. is not often called upon for "reruns", but during year of so score
of readers have written in asking about the strange case of Thankful Taylor,
We have reprinted here, just as it appeared in the Magazine of Feb. 13,
1949, "The Case of Thankful Taylor" by the late Ed Belt, who was a
Tennessean columnist and Murfreesboro correspondent for many years.
By Ed Bell
Old ones will tell you the spring where Miss Thankful Taylor drank
still flow somewhere out in the flat country east of Christiana.
Rising from deep in the earth it makes a pool like a pretty mirror
where frogs pipe the nights away and furred creatures slink for refreshment.
By the day bright birds splash and flutter at their baths while minnows and
other squirmy little things flirt among the blue green shadows below.
One summer afternoon long ago the girl came from her work in the fields
to slake her thirst. She knelt and dran in great life renewing gulps.
Thankful Taylor was a stringy girl then in her teens who lived and toiled
on a Rutherford County farm with her mother, Didama Carroll, and her
stepfather, William Carroll. She wasn't much in the way of looks but she
was hardworking and of sturdy health.
Leaving the Cool Place, she walked back into the bright light of the
fields, picked up her hoe and continued the chopping of cotton through the
long afternoon, Afterwards, when the days of evil fell upon her, she told
the family that she remembered something like a little string passing down
her throat when she drank from the spring but she thought it of no
Many weeks passed without anything unusual to mark one dull day from
another on the Carroll farm and then the girl was taken abed with a strange
ailment. It consisted of a series of convulsions which grew in intensity
until her days and nights merged in a longdrawn horror. The ordeal was to
continue into her womenhood.
Dr. B. N White, a physician practicing in that part of the country,
gave the girl extensive treatments to no avail. Gathering at night in the
dimlit farmhouse, sympathetic neighbors could do little except sit and
watch. Thankful lay in bed with a quilt over her.
We could see the movements of something in her stomach and sometimes it
got so bad we could see it all the way across the room, one neighbor said.
One of them gave her some wine once, hoping that it might bring relief.
What was in her seem to go wild, then sure enough, they said, "The poor
girl suffered so she was part-time out of her mind."
Finally, Dr. J. M Burger, a middleaged practioner at Murfreesboro was
called in on the case. He abandoned all previous theries as to what
afflicted the girl and began new experimentations of treatment. At regular
intervals something would appear in the girls mouth briefly and retreat to
her stomach. It was a dark shape. Once a neighbor touched it and said it
was cold and clammy. On another occasion it was caught but released when
the patient cried out in terror of death.
When the doctor gave her strong dosages aimed at causing its expulsion,
the thing would recede into the lower stomach and lurked there thrashing
around until the effect of the medicine subsided. Dr. Buger had been called
into the case in January, 1874. Surgery was practally in its infancy then
and an adominal operation was too dangerous to consider. He had to wait,
watch, experiment. His decision, after all the treatment failed was that
the thing had to be trapped and extracted whatever the risk to the patient.
He left orders for the family to seize it on its next appearance and
call him immediately, regardless of the hour.
They sent for him on a hazy June night when the moon shed a pale glow
over the flatlands. The doctor pressed his horse over the winding road. In
the buggy beside him rode Miss Jonnie Batton, a friend who had become
interested in the case. When they arrived at the farmhouse the family had
brought the struggling girl out into the yard, supposedly so that she might
breathe fresher air. Mrs. Carroll stood holding her and grasping a dark
loop of something in the girl's mouth. It had come up her throat, turned
and started back when the mother discovered it.
The doctor took hold and pulled a striped and scaled old water snake
from Thankful Taylor's mouth and throat. While he held it up in the
moonlight for the others to see, it writhed and lashed about his wrist
brieftly and then died. It measured 23 inches from its evil head to the tip
of its tail.
The girl said:"Doctor, I feel like a great load he been taken from my
Five years have passed since she was first stricken
Dr. Burger Took the snake with him when he drove back to town that
night. He placed it in a square glass jar, poured in some alcohol and
sealed it tightly with wax. Afterwards he sat down and wrote a careful
record of the case. It was well that he did. As it was, the good doctor
was called every kind of liar in the book.
Newspapers spread the story far and wide, some doubting and some
defending the doctor. County and state medical groups sent investigating
committees to gather evidence at the scene. Kin of Miss Taylor, county
magistrates, neighbors, ministers, made affidavits in support of Dr. Burger.
In a little bungalow at 701 East Street, Murfreesboro, Mrs Lena Burger
Woodley Rogers, formerly of Mcminnville has the old water snake for all to
see in the same jar in which her grandfather preserved it.
It coils there in its small fluid tomb: a blind, arrow-like head with a
body about the thickness of a man's thumb, patterned dark brown and yellow,
tapering off to a thin tail.
Mrs. Rogers is the wife of Rece Rogers, a Church of Christ minister and
a teacher in the Rutherford county high school. She never knew Thankful
Taylor but she heard her grandfather and grandmother tell the story many
times and, besides the snake, she has pictures of Thankful (inscribed: "The
women, grandpa got the snake out of"), also pictures of the doctor and some
newspapers of the day recounting the furor that was touched off by the case.
Along with these things she has affidavits of numerous people, who testified
as witnesses to one phase or another of it.
Mrs. Lena Cobb, a little lady who lives over in the Fairfield community
near Wartrace and is 87 years old, also knew Dr. Burger and says:
"I'll vouch for the truth of anything he ever said." She, too, remembers
the doctor's personal accout of his strange case.
Here is the Doctor's own record, minus certain passages, devoted to
"By request, I hereby submit the following report of the symptoms and
treament of Thankful Taylor, while under my charge, and also the previous
conditions of the case, as near as could be ascertained before she was
placed in my care, to wit."
On Friday evening, the 23rd of January 1874, I was sent to see Thankful
Taylor. On my arrival I could see she was very strangely affected, laboring
under an inexplicable kind of convulsions,..there protruded from her mouth a
foreign living substance of a dark appearance, which remained in her mouth
for several minutes, but she would not permit me, at the time, to extract
it, for reason that she was afaid it would kill her.
It then receded from her mouth down into the oesophagus. I remained
for some time with my patient, noting every manifestation, and after its
disappearance, she seemed to be much relieved, and there was a cessation of
I was called again the following evening and found the patient laboring
under the same convulsions as the evening previous.
On the third day I met in consultation with Dr. B. N. White, Doctor
White having formerly had charge of the case of Thankful Taylor. He gave it
as his opinion that she was laboring under tapeworm, and has so treated the
case for about 12 months without affording relief.
I was of the opinion that the patient was afflicted with a species of
reptile, the symptoms not all corresponding with the ordinary tapeworm
symptoms. The girl continuted robust to a remarkable degree, instead of
being emaciated, and the appetite instead of being ravenous, was fickle, at
times taking scarcely any food.
A very remarkable feature of the case was the motion or movement in the
stomach that was, clearly perceptible to any person across an ordinary room,
and this train of symptoms attended the patient from the time I took charge
of the case until the extract it.
The antheimintic remedies, having a more appreciable effect than the
other modes of treatment when first administered, would cause the reptile to
contract violently and writhe and twist in her stomach, and after a
continuance of the medicine, would cause it to pass from the stomach to the
intestines,, where it would remain until a discontinuance of the remedy.
Then it would return to the stomach, its seeming habitation...
On the evening of the 26th of June 1874, the ease reached its final
termination by the extraction of the snake, twenty-three inches in length
and three-fourths of an inch in diameter of light and dark brown stripes on
sides, with white abdomen, being covered with a slimy, mucous coating, and
presenting a cold clammy sensation to the touch. It lived for several
minutes after its extraction.
There are two causes in my opinion that might have produced its death,
first being exposed to the atmosphere, an element to which it had hitherto
been unaccustomed, at least for several years: and secondly, from the
violence of the patient in with her teeth on its appearance in her mouth,
and from the grasp of her mother in holding it for my arrival, as I had
previously instructed them to hold it until they could get me there.
It appeared from the position in which I foud it upon my arrival, that
it came up headforemost into the mouth of the patient, and was trying to
return to the stomach with its head downward, and in that position
formed a loop by which the patient's mother held it, and I immediately took
hold of it and with but little effort drew it out, and in my opinion, so far
as I was able to judge, it must have been not more than six or eight inches
down the oesophagus, if it did not reach the stomach, and I am inclined to
the latter opinion.
The Rev. Whit Ransom, a near neighbor, being sent for to see the
patient several times, stated to me that he had seen a black living
substance come up the throat into the mouth of the young lady, and did
extend even beyond her teeth sufficiently far that he was able to take hold
of it with his hand as often as five or six times.
The remainder of Doctor Burger's report concerned the description of
the snake as given by the minister who said that although he had been unable
to extract it from the girl's mouth, he had been able to inspect it closely
and considered that it definitely was a snake.
The reverberation from Dr. Burger's report echoed across the years. A
committee from the county medical association, headed by Dr. J. B. Murfree,
investigated but submitted only Dr. Burger's report, the snake and the
testimony of the girl. The members did not commit themselves with any
opinions. The state medical association named one committe which turned in
a skeptical report, declaring among other things that the gastric juices
would have destroyed the snake, that it couldn't have lived in the stomach
that long for lack of air and that Miss Thankful Taylor had "less than half
This started a new uproar. Among the defenders of Dr. Burger was a
contributor to the McMinnville, New Era who signed himself "Obscurus" and
directed a series of scathing criticisms at the committee. The state
association named another committee to reopen the case.
This committee's report, as published in the Nashville Daily American
on April 5 1877, follows:
Gentlemen, at the last meeting of this society, the undersigned having
been constituted a committee to reconsider the case of a snake said to have
been extracted from the throat of a woman in Rutherford County and reported
on by Dr. J. M. Burger, M. D., a member of this society, beg leave
respectfully to state at this meeting that their endeavors to collect
additional facts relating to this particular case have been unsuccessful,
while at the same time they found no one willing to impeach the veracity of
the reporter, and they therfore submit the following considerations for the
adoption of the society.
1. That according to the rules of sound philosophy it is not admissible to
lay down the line of the possible in natural phenomenon by a priori
2. That we know of no valid reason why a living reptile of many of the
lower forms of animal life could not exist a certain time in the human
3. That many instances are on record, apparently veracious, where such
living animals have been the occupants of the stomach of man for days and
4. That we are bound to accept the statements of Dr. Burger regarding what
he saw and believed until positive testimony to the contrary is adduced.
5. That the reception of the report of this report of this case by the
society does not commit it to any new or erroneous theories in medicine, and
that the whole subject belongs rather to the domain of the natural sciences
than to the department of medicine proper.
Herewith is presented to the society the statement of Dr. Burger himself,
and also several instances of living substances found in the stomach and
bowels. All of which is pespectfully Submitted.
The report bears the signatures of Drs. J. R. Buist, W. K. Bowling, J. B.
Lindsley and R. D. Winsett.
Sometime after the climax of his famous case Dr. Burger moved to Warren
County, where he enjoyed a long and distinguished practice.
Little is known about the life of the patient after her deliverance. In
September of 1874 Mrs. Cassie Newman a nearby neighbor of the Carrols, wrote
that the young woman had visited in her home often since that night in June
and seem to be perfectly releaved.
The story of Thankful Taylor fades out at the point... No other records are
available, and the old folks do not remember how long she lived, where and
with whom she dwelt, the quality of her health, or what dreams haunted her
to her grave.
Submitted by Sharon Perry
Jane Colmenares - County Coordinator
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The Case of Thankful Taylor