Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story.

When I drove out to Fred Bursey’s ranch, my intention was to interview him about being a pistol-shooting champion. There was plenty to make a story there, all right, for he has over 600 medals, including one as champion of the Southwestern United States.

But I discovered that the 85-year-old rancher is an old-time cowboy — like his friend David Murdoch told me — sort of like a cross between Will Rogers and John Wayne. Combine those colorful attributes with a scientist’s mind and exciting things happen.

For one thing, Bursey is a master hypnotherapist. He’s a regular contributor to equine publications — he was practicing the Horse Whisperer’s philosophy decades before the book was written or the movie was made.

Fred Bursey was born in 1921 in Fort Worth. He completed four years of pre-medical schooling in 1944 along with psychology and then studied an additional year of psychology composed mostly of animal behavior, earning a bachelor’s degree in animal science at Texas Tech.  

“I had my first job when I was 8 years old, working in a commercial pony ring,” he recalled. “By the time I was nine, until my college years I worked on a large ranch near San Angelo on the South Concho River for my entire school vacations.

“They’d have to round me up and drag me back to school. During grade school and high school I worked in the stables located in Fort Worth’s Trinity Park. I was so lucky to get to study under a world-famous trainer, showman and show-ring judge, Dock Beasley.”

During all of his college and high school years Bursey broke and trained horses. Before he completed high school he had bought and paid for 176 acres of land.

He added with a boyish grin, “I also bought 20 sorry old cows that no one else wanted.”

Because of that beginning he has had constant and continuous association with horses and cattle and has been a ranch owner and manager since 1938.

But all this was not what his nationally famous father, Dr. E.H. Bursey, co-founder of Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, (now Harris Methodist Hospital) had in mind for his son.

“My father had come from a poor farming family and had worked his way through medical school,” Bursey explained. “He was famous all over the world. A team of surgeons from Mayo Clinic was sent to him so that they could observe his gastric surgery techniques — after my father told Mayo administrators he was too busy to come to them.  Patients were sent to him from all over the United States and Europe. I was totally in awe of him. “His dream was for me to take over where he left off. When I was a pre-med student at TCU, I observed him in surgery. I saw first hand his marvelous skills. He was the first surgeon to perform a spleenectomy, even though the American Medical Association told him it couldn’t be done. He practiced on stray dogs that he kept in kennels on top of the hospital until he perfected his technique.

“The man was phenomenal. The problem was, I wanted to be a rancher. I was advised by one of my TCU [Texas Christian University] professors to study animal science. When I told my father, he was devastated.”

Bursey said he still has guilty feelings over disappointing his father — one of the heroes of his life.

Later, he completed three years of postgraduate studies to become a master hypnotherapist.

Bursey’s interest in medicine was not in removing diseased organs from the body, but in removing “garbage” from the subconscious mind, replacing it with common horse sense.

He was fascinated with the therapeutic use of hypnosis when he was a pre-med student.  He read all the books he could find on the subject, but found very few sources.

“Hypnosis was considered to be evil back then. I knew it wasn’t — that it was a valuable scientific tool,” he said.

Bursey asked the dean of the TCU Psychology Department to let him give a demonstration of hypnosis in her class. She replied, “This is a Christian school and the administration would frown upon it. However, I will be out sick tomorrow and you can take over the class. Whatever you do is up to you.”

Bursey explained, “I started making my plans. I checked with my organic chemistry teacher to see if eating chalk could hurt you. He said it wouldn’t if it was fresh out of the box — that it is mostly calcium. I knew what I wanted to do.”

When Bursey got to class, he chose a classmate and asked him to come to the front of the room.  He explained that he was going to prove that hypnosis was real.

“I told him, ‘You will remember everything that happens and it will be a nice, pleasant experience.’ Then I had a stick of peppermint candy and a piece of chalk that I showed the class. I had him to eat the chalk and told him it was peppermint. He said it tasted very good.

“I had asked him earlier who his roommate was and found that it was his best friend. I told him that when I had him under hypnosis he would not be able to remember his name. He couldn’t. I then ran a sterilized safety pin through the loose skin of his hand — and he felt no pain.”

Bursey didn’t get in trouble and he convinced his class that hypnotism worked. He encouraged them as psychology students to find a therapeutic way to use it.

For years he has had his clients come to his ranch for hypnotic sessions. From failing high school students to professional baseball players who couldn’t perform — to many with psychosomatic illnesses — were helped to find their way out of their confusion. He often armed them with the knowledge of self-hypnosis to maintain their correction.

Then, in one of those sessions, something so astounding happened that he asked God to please tell his father about it in heaven.

Fred Bursey’s story will be concluded next Sunday.This story was suggested by Ed Woolley

Larue Barnes may be reached at laruebarnes@yahoo.com

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