Editor’s Note: This is the 380th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON — The late Clarence Fredrick Gray — better known as “Catfish, Man of the Woods” — was a well-known local herbalist and folk doctor who gained national attention. Featured in several documentary films, he even appeared on David Letterman’s and Johnny Carson’s late-night television shows.
Born in Liverpool, W.Va., on the Jackson-Roane County line, Gray believed God had a plan for his life — to cure the incurable and reclaim those whom doctors had declared terminal. When he wasn’t digging roots or harvesting herbs for his cure-all bitters, he spent his time greeting the hundreds of visitors who trekked to his rural Glenwood, W.Va., home in search of herbal wisdom.
In his early years, Gray worked a variety of jobs as he raised his 10 children. In the 1950s, he was working as a night watchman at Huntington’s old city market when a workplace accident left him unable to do physical labor.
“I had a wife and children so I had to do something,” he recalled in a 1975 interview distributed by the Associated Press to newspapers and TV stations around the world.
“So I went out and cut wildflowers, took them down to the market and sold them. The fellows there all laughed at me and said I couldn’t sell weeds, but I sold $18.50 worth that first day. I made $3,000 that summer and have been selling herbs ever since.”
He was a walking encyclopedia of plant life, knowledge that had been handed down to him by his family. He believed that nature offered healing for any disease in the herbs found in the fields and woods. The walls of his ramshackle home were plastered with cards and letters from people who had heard about him and had written wanting to buy his bitters.
Gray, 84, died March 13, 2002, shortly after suffering a heart attack.