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Authors: Ben K. Green

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BOOK: Village Horse Doctor
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I was in earshot of all this and had seen the little episode, which was very amusing to me. In a few minutes Roger eased up to me and in an unconcerning tone of voice said, “Doc, who was that lady that I was just talking to?”

I said, “Roger, any bootlegger ought to be better acquainted with his customers than that. Who you gonna charge it to?”

Dr. Hoffman was a sincerely religious man and I knew that he had rather not be bothered on Sunday unless it was an emergency, so I waited until Monday morning to go back to Marfa. By this time I had compounded a sufficient quantity of drugs to treat a small flock of sheep. The doctor was busy and didn’t go back to the ranch and more or less turned the case and client over to me.

This was the beginning of the successful treatment of sheep poisoned by
garvencia
. As a professional courtesy, I gave Dr. Hoffman the prescription for his future use. However, he said it would be a breach of professional ethics for him to compound it, and thereafter he purchased the prescription from me that he used in his practice.

About an hour before daylight, I pulled away from my office to answer a call about some sick sheep I got during the night from Old Mexico. The first twenty-five or thirty miles west of Fort Stockton is rolling country covered with greasewood, black brush, mesquite, and now and then some flats full of burro grass and other grasses and weeds that make up the forage of that particular strip of country.

I had been getting calls into Old Mexico, and as I started
into the Davis Mountain region still on a good graded road, I couldn’t help but dread this call. Between the Davis Mountain Range and the Glass Mountains is high, open rolling prairie country. As I went through this high country and drove into Alpine and on to Marfa, I passed through the south edge of the Davis Mountains. When I turned south at Marfa to go to Presidio, I began to drop from the high country into the rimrock and canyons. The closer to the Rio Grande River I came, the less good forage and the more waste country there was, and from Shafter, an old mining town on Cibolo Creek, to Presidio would not be looked on by most livestock as a lush place to graze.

It was a hundred-and-sixty-five-mile trip to the Rio Grande River; I crossed over the American side at Presidio into Ojinaga on the Mexican side, where I was supposed to meet a Mexican rancher who would show me the way—which turned out to be another ninety miles.

I dreaded this trip for several reasons. The first, I suppose, was because I never got a call to Old Mexico where the time element wasn’t involved because of the long wait they made after they needed me and before they called me; then the long distance that I had to drive to get there that always put me in the state of driving under whip hoping that I would not be too late. Another reason was that Old Mexico was far out of my everyday territory and some of the diseases and poisonous-plant troubles were not known to me. Last but not least, when I made such a long call I dreaded the trip back and the calls that would have stacked up while I was gone.

Anyhow, I crossed the river about nine o’clock, not having too much difficulty with the customs officers on either side of the river since they were used to me comin’ and goin’. The Mexican ranchero met me at the Bocca Bar. He was a man in his early sixties, very small and slight of
build, wearing boots with three-inch heels and a high crown sombrero with an eight-inch brim that made him look nearly as tall as me. A quick glance at his tailored jacket and saddle-cut britches and store-bought shirt told me that he was a stockman and landholder.

As we were about to leave the bar, one of the officers from the Mexican Border Patrol met us at the door with a round-faced, bright-eyed, barefooted Mexican boy about seven or eight years old following him. After a few phrases in Spanish with the old ranchero, he turned to me and in very eloquent English asked if his cousin could ride with us to his casa, which was on our way, about twenty-five miles from the border.

This was fine and the little boy got in the back seat and we heard nothing from him until we came near a little road that turned down the canyon; then he punched the old ranchero and told him in Spanish that this was the place where he wanted off. As he got out of the car, a very ancient truck with solid rubber tires and Presto lights came struggling up the road. He smiled and said that was his papa and ran towards the truck.

On the way to the sheep ranch, the old ranchero described the
malo
(sickness) condition of the
borregas
(sheep). It was late summer and this part of Mexico was having a severe drouth. Even though these bands of sheep were being herded on open range, good vegetation was sparse, and I had a pretty good idea that the sheep had been grazing on a combination of poisonous weeds and vines.

The road got progressively worse for the full ninety miles. We turned several times off of well-traveled roads onto lesser-traveled ones, but none of this was any shock to me since I was used to the road conditions of the country. I was driving a high-wheeled car and had two extra spare tires and an extra tank of gas under the back seat.

We pulled around a high bluff and down in the valley below I saw a typical Mexican sheep camp. There were about twenty acres, I guess, under the south foot of the bluff that had been fenced by hand by laying native stone without any form of cement. This rock fence was tall enough for sheep but would not have held cattle or horses. There was a camp at the foot of the bluff from under which a fair-size spring ran out. A stone wall had been laid around it to protect the spring from the sheep, and the water that ran away from the spring and under the wall down into the draw was left unfenced for the sheep to water. This little camp around the spring was almost a luxury spot to a sheepherder. It had shade from the summer heat, protection from the winter winds, a fair supply of snarly oak trees along the ridge for wood, and an abundance of good cold water.

There were five bands of sheep with fifteen to seventeen hundred in each band. They were taken into the mountains to graze and were not always brought back at night, depending on the distance and the availability of natural water over the rest of the range, which I gathered from conversation was about three hundred thousand acres in American figures.

Since there were so many
malos
(sick sheep), they were all being herded in the nearby hills so that they could be brought to this headquarters corral. Each herder had two dogs, a pack burro, and a riding burro; however, most of their herding was done afoot and the burros were used mostly when they moved camp around over the range. There were about eight thousand sheep in all; more than one third of them showed varying degrees of sickness, and some symptoms were visible on the rest of the sheep.

This was typical of a call to a sheep ranch in Mexico. It had to be of a serious nature and border on what was generally
termed a die-out before the Mexican ranchers felt they could stand the expense of a veterinary doctor, since there were very few in that region. I was well acquainted with what to expect and always carried a large supply of any drugs and vaccines that might be needed since it would be such a great distance back to where drugs would be available.

These sheep had a combination of
garvencia
poisoning generally called rattle weed, and a large percentage of those sick showed some signs of having been on lechuguilla.

We ate a noon meal of mutton, frijoles, and tortillas, and the herders washed it down with coffee strong enough to kill while I went to the spring for water two or three times to put out the pepper fire in my belly that helped burn up the grease and frijoles. One reason a white man ought to learn to eat hot pepper is that’s what makes those Mexicans able to digest a batch of that stuff that give Gringos indigestion.

There were several hundred sick sheep and a good many dead ones that they were pulling the wool off of near the spring, and to satisfy myself as to my diagnosis, I cut open a few of the sheep that had just died. While we were doing this, the bands of sheep were being brought in from the hills by the herders and their dogs into the rock trap or corral. All the herders were anxious to help doctor the sheep, and they brought them in in small bands into a corner of the fence with the help of the dogs. The dogs would hold the sheep in the corner while the herders would pull the sick ones out by the hind leg. Then they would hold them by the hind leg for me to give hypodermic injections, and I would drench them by the mouth at the same time. Most of these sheep would be saved and this day’s work wasn’t unusual.

I was hoping I could treat them all at one time and leave
enough medicine so that the herders could continue to treat them after I was gone. It took a great deal of time and patience to show the herders how to drench these sheep and where in the hindquarter to “shoot” them that would get the best results with the least effort, and I was hoping that I might get away from there by late afternoon, in time to cross the river early in the night, which meant that I might get back to my office around midnight.

We had treated all but two hundred head when seven horsemen appeared on the high bluff to the south and west of us about a mile away. The herders noticed them before I did and began to carry on a rather strained conversation in low tones among themselves and they couldn’t help but show that there was some anxiety among them.

I didn’t speak much Mexican, but I savvied a lot more than I could speak and picked the word
banditos
out of their conversation. The old ranchero who had brought me out and who owned the sheep had paid very little attention to the conversation or to the riders. When we were finished, I said to him, “What do those damn bandits want? Mutton to eat?”

“Doc-tor, they plan, I think, to rob you if you leave here tonight.”

“What if I don’t leave? You and your herders don’t have any guns.”

“That is sad, but true, but they would be afraid to enter my camp because General Grearea is my kinsman, and this is known to the Capitán Bandito, but after you leave here, it will be hard for me to guarantee you any protection. For this I am sorry.”

I asked in a suspicious tone of voice, “How did they know I was here?”

The old ranchero studied a few minutes and then said, “The officer at the border is a cousin to the Capitán Bandito,
and the little boy that rode with us is a cousin to both of them. I am afraid there may be some connection.”

I told him I believed I would spend the night and that I knew how we could protect my car and its contents. He didn’t know it, but I intended to be some of the contents.

He asked, “How is this, Doc-tor?”

I explained to him that these sick sheep were listless and tired, and it would not be possible to excite them into running by gunfire or riding into them horseback and that we would drive my car out from the spring a piece, and for the herders to bring the sickest of the sheep and bed them down around the car. Then bring the rest of the sheep and bed them down beyond the sick ones. He knew as well as I that neither a horse nor a bandito afoot could wade through that mass of woolly creatures with enough speed to slip up on any of us. The old ranchero seemed to think that this would be all right, and gave instructions in Mexican, and the herders and dogs began to bring the sheep up after I had moved my car.

We ate supper about sundown and were sittin’ around the spring a little while before we went to bed. One of the old herders had a very chronic old running sore on his leg just above his knee, and he pulled his britches leg up and showed me the sore by the firelight and wanted some
medicina
to put on it. I told the old ranchero to explain to him that I really needed to scrape out some of those old dead tissues and cause blood to come into the sore in order that the medicino would enter the blood and the tissues to make it get well. Whether the old herder understood this or not, I don’t know but he nodded his consent.

I used cocaine to deaden the pain and cleaned out the old wound, which was probably caused by a mesquite thorn or bruise and had been there several years without healing.
I packed it with sulfanilamide powder and put a bandage around his leg and told him to wear it a few days until the sore quit running and scabbed over.

The herders watched very intently and made much comment that I used strong medicine because they could tell from the old herder’s expression that there was no pain. One of the young herders spoke up and wanted to show me a tooth, and the old ranchero explained for him that he had been eating on one side of his mouth because this tooth was very sore. When I examined it, I saw the only thing that would help would be to pull it. He asked if he could have some strong medicine before I pulled it. I shot it down with cocaine and got a pair of small horse forceps and the other herders pulled back on his shoulders while I pulled up on the tooth. When it came out, he said in Mexican that it felt much better already. This would be the most medical attention that these Mexican sheepherders ever got and made them to think of me as their friend.

The riders had been gone from sight long enough that we decided we had better make our plans for the night, and I very slowly picked my way through about three hundred yards of sick sheep to my car. Just at dark I heard some commotion back up at the spring among the herders. It developed that one of the banditos had been sent in to tell the ranchero that they wanted my spare tires from the car and all the American dollars I brought with me and that I could go tonight or tomorrow without any fear.

The old ranchero waded through the sheep with this messenger, who was maybe nineteen years old, slick-faced, wearing two big
pistolas
, big spoke rowel spurs, a ragged white cotton shirt and ragged, what were once white, cotton britches. He was not a big Mexican and didn’t have a tough face or voice.

The rancher spoke English and told me what the proposition from the banditos amounted to, and I asked, “What makes them think I’ve got any fear now?”

Since the bandito was only the messenger and neither spoke nor understood English, I was at a great advantage. I told the ranchero, while I searched around for my money and got my keys to unlock the turtle of my car to get the spare tires for him, to call two herders to come help carry the spare tires through the sheep. He hollered at his herders in Mexican and explained why I wanted them, and even in the dark you could see this young bandito was well pleased and had begun to get real brave.

BOOK: Village Horse Doctor
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