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“I knew it when I was 21,” he said. “Up to that time, I had only treated horses or some suffering animal. One day, I happened to visit a man who as very ill with erysipelas. His head was twice as large as it should have been, and the doctors told him they couldn’t help. That man received my first treatment. The next day, he was up and all right.”
Born on Sept. 10, 1866, the son of Ferdinand and Katherine Settler Smith, both New York natives, William F. and his twin brother, Henry, were born near the Bethlehem Church south of Altamont in Effingham County.
Dr. Billy said that he came to healing naturally, as his father had been able to cure animals through faith healing methods. Billy’s first "patient" was a calf. In a short time, he was called upon to cure headaches of his neighbors.
Billy was 25 years old when he and Louise Dunbar were married, with his twin brother, Henry, marrying her sister. Louise died 14 years later, leaving two children, Maude and Henry. In 1907, Billy married Mary Rankin Washburn, and they had a daughter, Mabel.
It was about the time of his marriage to Mary that visits to their farm by people seeking his help interfered with the running of it. Billy made the decision to quit farming and move to St. Elmo. There, he hung up his shingle and began treating people on a daily basis. To many people, Dr. Billy was a last resort.
His practice would span many years. Dr. Billy became internationally known and, at the height of his career in 1912, more than 6,000 people were registered in advance for appointments.
Debbie Schroh of Decatur, Dr. Billy’s great-granddaughter, has gathered several stories about people he treated. One of those involved a man who had suffered from migraine headaches for years. An appointment was made with Dr. Billy, and the man told his family that Dr. Billy put his hands on his head. The pain left and never returned. The charge – $2.
Another family brought their 2-year-old daughter to Dr. Billy. The child had never walked. Dr. Billy treated the child, and told the worried parents to wait two weeks and the child would walk. The parents returned with the child before the two weeks was up, and he again told them to be patient, their daughter would walk. At the end of the two-week period, the child began walking – just like Dr. Billy said.
A Brownstown father suffered from erysipelas, an inflammation of the skin or mucous membranes caused by streptococcus. It is an extremely painful ailment, and generally accompanied by fever.
His brother came to visit and wanted the man to go with him to Kentucky to visit relatives. The father was in such pain that there was no way he could make such a trip. His brother told him that if he would see Dr. Billy, he would pay the fee.
To make a long story short, another healing took place and the brothers happily began their Kentucky visit the following day.
“It’s me who must have faith,” Dr. Billy once said. He worked 17-hour days. For 20 years of his practice, he kept offices in the Hotel Elmo as well in his home on Third and Olive streets.
Dr. Billy retired from his practice a few years before his death on May 21, 1951. He had treated patients from 48 states and two foreign countries. A truly remarkable man, Dr. Billy.