John Purdy Reynolds

Illustration from The Capture of the Alamo: a Historical Tragedy, in Four Acts, with Prologue by Hiram H. McLane. Located in the Clark Collection in Special Collections

Little is known of Dr. John Purdy Reynolds (1806-1836), whose collection of medical books is owned by Southwestern University. Born in 1806, he died in the battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, just eight days before his thirtieth birthday.

His family lived in Lewistown, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, where his father was a merchant and county judge. Reynolds attended medical school in Philadelphia, graduating around 1827. The Handbook of Texas indicates that he then practiced medicine in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, for seven years, but notes in Reynolds’ books hint that his practice was perhaps in Mifflin, Tennessee, instead—several of his signatures in the books indicate that he was reading them in Tennessee. For example, Wistar’s System of Anatomy is inscribed in Reynolds’ hand: “Commenced reading Anatomy Oct. 13th, 1832, Mifflin, Tenn.”

Reynolds apparently left his medical books behind in Tennessee, and this may provide an answer about his point of departure for the Alamo. The Handbook of Texas states that Reynolds traveled from Tennessee to Nacogdoches, arriving in Texas in 1835, where he joined the Volunteer Auxiliary Corps of Texas in January, 1836. He then went to San Antonio de Bexar in the same company as Davy Crockett. Other sources state that Reynolds came to Texas directly from Pennsylvania, but handwritten notes in the books state that they were purchased in an estate sale in Mifflin, Tennessee, in 1842.

If he did in fact abandon his medical books in Tennessee, perhaps he did not expect to serve as a physician at the Alamo. Whether or not he intended to use his medical skills at the Alamo remains questionable. Although some sources refer to Reynolds as a medical officer, records from the Alamo classify him as a private, and there were already at least five other physicians or surgeons. Still, it is likely that most books he carried with him would not have survived the arduous Battle of the Alamo.

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