Few doctors anywhere have had longer or more uniformly successful careers than James Wilboarn Sylvester Cross. James was born to John and Harriet Cross on March 22, 1867, in the town of Sigourney, Iowa. In 1874 he came to Kansas with his family in a covered wagon near Portis. He went to school in a sod dugout before attending Gould College in Harlan for two years.
Cross taught rural school in Osborne County for seven years. In 1892 he married Charlotte Austin, with whom he had three children: Frank, Charles, and Wayne. The next year Cross entered Northwestern Medical College in Saint Joseph, Missouri. He graduated with a degree in medicine and surgery and obtained a license to practice in Kansas.
“It was much too easy to get a license in those days,” he recalled later. “If a boy could read and write he could gain admission to almost any medical school in the country. Today medicine has become a profession for rich men’s sons. That cuts off the farmer at both ends. He can’t afford to give his own son a medical education; and as for the rich man’s son, well, what rich man’s son would take up practice here in Portis, for example?”
Cross moved back to Portis and served two years as Osborne County Coroner. He went to Plainville in 1896 and practiced medicine there for eight years. Then, in the spring of 1904, he moved to the little Colorado settlement of Norwood, in San Miguel County. He was the only man there who did not carry a six-shooter. By 1908 James and Charlotte had divorced, and James then married Ethel Davenport. They had a son, Loren, and three daughters, Ethel, Beulah, and Ruth.
Six years later the Cross family moved to Telluride, Colorado. Cross was elected mayor of Telluride, and for one term in 1917-18 he was elected as a representative in the Colorado Legislature. During World War I he served in the Army Medical Corps with the rank of captain. The Colorado Medical Society in 1917 named him to their Medical Roll of Honor for his role in the war.
At war’s end Cross moved his family back to Kansas, first to Harlan, then to Portis in 1924. In 1929 he ran once again for the office of Osborne County Coroner and was duly elected to the first of twelve consecutive terms, stepping down from the post in 1952. He moved to Osborne in 1943 and was active in numerous organizations, including the American Legion and the Odd Fellows. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge for sixty-four years and filled several state offices in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
James Cross epitomized the country doctor. In his sixty years in the profession he made house calls in cars, buggies, lumber wagons, on horseback, and even afoot; and on several occasions he pumped a handcar to get to a railway station from which he could reach a patient. He died October 16, 1955, in Osborne and was buried in the Osborne Cemetery.