When Uncle Clayte Carnes Performed Major Surgery

Clayton William Carnes

Clayton William Carnes

I’ve written about Clayton “Clayte” Carnes for years, especially in his role as one of the members of the Comanche County posse who captured the ex-slave names Moses who murdered the Nabers boys in the 1870s in Comanche, Texas. Today, my story is every bit as harrowing as was the capture of Moses….just a different kind of harrowing…

People like you and I can’t even conceive of how difficult life was on the frontier of Texas 120 or 130 years ago. But….just as we often do today…the people of those years simply did what they had to do, as unimaginable as some of it is.


“‘What about the operation you performed, Uncle Clayte, the one when you removed a needle from a girl’s windpipe?'” asked young Mollie Moore years later.

“‘Oh, that?'”

“He was silent for a moment, during which a change in expression told that his thoughts had turned backwards.

“‘I didn’t want to perform the operation,” he admitted. “I told the girl’s paw I wa’n’t a doctor. But he knowed I’d read medicine for a couple of years, an’ there wa’n’t a doctor, a real one, anywhere near. That’s why the girl had been brought to me in the first place.

“‘I knowed somethin’ had to be done, an’ so when the man kept insistin’ on my takin’ the needle out, I told him if he was willin’ to take the blame if his daughter died from my operatin’, I’d see what I could do.

“‘I didn’t have anything to deaden the pain with, or any surgical instruments. I jus’ slit a place in the girl’s throat with my pocketknife. Then I run a needle with a strong thread in it through the skin on one side of the slit, brought the thread back of the girl’s neck to the other side, an’ run the needle through the skin there.

“‘When I’d pulled the slit open so I could get to the windpipe, I tied the end of the thread together to hold it that way. Then I bent the ends of a stay—a narrow one—from a woman’s hoopskirt together, an’ usin’ this like a pair of tweezers, I fished in the slit in the girl’s throat till I got hold of the needle, an’ then I pulled it out…

“‘I’d been cuttin’ tobacco with my knife. That prob’ly killed any germs that was there. Anyway, the girl lived over the operation. Unless she’s died in the last few years, she’s still alive, a middle-aged woman, maybe a grandmaw now.”


Once again….I don’t know how they performed a surgery that worked, but we do thank Comanche’s Ruth Adelle Waggoner for allowing us to quote from the memories of Mollie Moore Godbold.

About Fredda Jones

Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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