Blanco County News
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The Witch Doctor
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 • Posted January 17, 2013 4:37 PM

Over the years I have been surprised many times by people who have had special experiences or who seemed to possess certain unusual skills or gifts. One such person was E. LeRoy Hatch, M.D.

“Doc” Hatch was a country doctor who practiced his medical trade in and around the little Mormon settlement of Colonia Juarez in northern Mexico. I got to know him well while I was attending high school there and even dated his daughter for a time. Not only was he a competent and respected physician, he also witched wells. He witched a well for my father that irrigated 14,000 apple trees.

In the same area of Mexico were several Mennonite colonies. Local Mexicans often confused the Mormons and Mennonites, I suppose because the original settlers of both groups were mostly blonde and blue-eyed. However, their lifestyles were very different. The Mennonites rode around behind horses in buggies; the men dressed in overalls and straw hats while the women wore modest long dresses with aprons. They had no electricity in their homes and lived very simple lives.

The Mormons, on the other hand, had their own power plants, drove nice cars and pickup trucks, and it was not unusual to see swimming pools and tennis courts next to their American-style well-landscaped houses. The good doctor provided medical services for both groups.

In his own words: “For a number of years when the ranches and farms were getting started in our area of northwestern Chihuahua, I was called upon to witch wells and, as happened when I performed my first tonsillectomy or pulled an aching tooth, my fame spread.

“One afternoon, my wife Jeanne and I visited a little Mennonite girl in the colony of Buenos Aires who had a severe case of measles. The dad, apologizing for his dirty clothes, remarked that he was drilling a well but had brought up only thick mud. ‘You’re not drilling in the right place, then,” I said. ‘Did someone tell you where to drill?’

“’More or less.’ He shrugged his shoulders and scraped at the mud on the back of his hand. ‘Would you like me to witch the well for you?’ I asked. The farmer looked at me for a moment and almost scoffed. ‘You, doctor?’

“’You are new to the area,’ I said. ‘Many are the wells I have witched in this camp alone. You should ask any of the old-timers here. But, since I am here, if you want me to witch your well, I will.’ ‘What is your fee?’ ‘You smoke your own ham?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘How about a ham if you bring in a good well where I tell you to drill?’

“He laughed heartily as we walked into the neat fenced yard in front of the house and I chose a good forked limb from a young peach tree. He cut it off, I stripped off the green leaves and shoots, and we drove to his field in my pickup. All around the drilling rig there was a deep sea of mud. My wife remained in the pickup, the farmer leaned against the tailgate, and I began walking the furrows of his vast field, the forked stick in my hands. Suddenly, as it is wont to do when water has been located, the stick pointed down.

“The farmer’s laugh sounded almost like a scoff to me. I walked toward him and pointed out that I had not marked the spot where the stick bent to the earth. ‘Come with me,’ I said. ‘Put your arm around my waist; I’ll put my arm around yours; you take one end of the fork of the stick; I’ll take hold of the other.’ We set off across the furrows of the field. Suddenly, I felt the stick bending toward the earth. At the same time, I was aware that the farmer’s arm around my waist had tensed and that he had actually tightened up all over in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the stick from dipping down.

“‘There,’ I said, reaching for several rocks nearby and piling them together for a marker, ‘that’s where you should drill.’

“Shaking his head, perplexed and no longer laughing, the farmer slowly pried open his fingers still curled around the peach branch. When he did so, the branch came away stripped of all its green bark, which remained in his curved fingers and the palm of his hand. ‘I didn’t believe it possible,’ he said, looking at the bark shreds. ‘You didn’t make it point to the earth.’

“It was my turn to laugh. ‘No, sir, I did not. But you certainly tried to prevent it from pointing downward.’ My wife told me later that as she watched us and the stick began dipping down, the farmer’s neck and arm muscles had bulged in his futile effort to keep it horizontal.

“Several months later, my nurse-receptionist handed me a huge brown-paper-wrapped ham. ‘El Menonita said you would know what it’s for.’”

(“Medico, My Life as a Country Doctor in Mexico” by E. LeRoy Hatch, M.D., pp. 190-191)


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