Herbalist and folk doctor Clarence Frederick ‘‘Catfish’’ Gray (September 9, 1917-March 13, 2002) was known for his vast knowledge of traditional plant lore and for his quaint and engaging personality. Born in Jackson County, Gray worked a variety of jobs as he raised 10 children.
After a work place accident in the early 1950s left him unable to perform physical labor, Gray gathered and sold wildflowers for money, turning to the great knowledge of woodland plants he had acquired from his family. Soon he was gathering herbs as well, and dispensing advice on using them to cure or prevent diseases. Gray gathered dozens of herbs, sorted, combined, and packaged them in a one-room building at his home near Glenwood, and mailed bags of his herbs and blends—usually for less than a dollar—to customers around the world. Gray dispensed his herbal cures along with advice about diet, religion, lifestyle, and the astrological aspects of illness. Gray also sold his herbs at craft fairs and other public gatherings, where his cheerful and sincere manner added to his reputation.
At the height of the folklore revival of the 1970s, Gray was a frequent newspaper and television interview subject. He was featured in the 1974 Appalshop documentary film, Catfish: Man of the Woods, and in a 1977 article in Goldenseal magazine. Catfish Gray died in Huntington.
This Article was written by Danny Williams
Last Revised on October 30, 2012
Green, Ted & Allen Bennett. Catfish: The Work and Ways of an Herb Doctor. Goldenseal, (July-Sept. 1977).