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Authors: Ben K. Green

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BOOK: Village Horse Doctor
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All these range mares were wild and had been run at different times before they were corraled to cut their colts away from them to wean, and at the sight of a man on horseback, they would break and run. I would strike a hard run and holler a few times and they wouldn’t go far before a mare’s head would go down and her tail would fly up and she would roll over dead.

The first few times I ran these mares, I went through the normal post-mortem procedure without finding anything new. Early one cold February morning I jumped a bunch of range mares, and they didn’t go far before one fell dead. I stepped off my horse. This time I had brought a small hatchet and I chopped through the ribcage and dissected the heart with several inches of the large arteries. I got about a teacup full of pure crystals out of these arteries and the cavity of the heart.

I had never opened any of the arteries before in this particular research, so I began to split open the larger blood vessels and discovered very fine crystalline substances deposited along the walls of the arteries. This explained the reason for sudden death without fever or any signs of disease. This substance from the juice of the goldenrod was digested, passed into the blood stream in liquid form, and then crystallized. At the increased heart rate from exercise
or excitement, the crystals were jarred loose and accumulated in masses, which resulted in heart block.

It was after dark when I got back to my office. I had driven and worked hard all day, and I was awfully dirty and tired. I had my living quarters in the back of my office and was about to clean up when the phone rang.

The day before a very attractive young lady had brought a half-grown female collie for me to examine. All that was the matter with the dog was a severe infestation of intestinal parasites. The only treatment that could be prescribed at the time was a very harsh medication in liquid capsule form, and the patient had to be held off food for twelve to twenty-four hours before taking the pill. I had given this beautiful young thing some pills to give her dog the next night and that’s who was callin’.

She said, “Doctor, I just cannot give this pill to Cynthia.”

“Does she break them in her mouth and spit them out?” I asked.

She said, “No, I just can’t give them to her.”

Well, I was mad, tired, and short-tempered in those days and in my irritation said, “Why in the hell can’t you? You’re the biggest.”

She said, “Well, I get down to her and almost get her mouth open when I see those big, soft, pleading eyes—and I just can’t.”

I asked, “Have you thought about takin’ a towel and blindfoldin’ the bitch and then givin’ her the pill?” and hung up.

I had about finished cleaning up and was ready to do some lab work when someone knocked on the office door. I came out from the back through the office, and there was a smooth-faced, narrow-eyed, curly haired effeminate little man at the door. As he patted the sweat from his brow with
a spotless handkerchief, he asked in a squeaky voice, “Are you Dr. Green?”

I said, “Yeah, what do you want?”

Straightening himself up and stammering he asked, “Did you call my wife a bitch?”

I thought a second, just as if I said things like that all the time, and said, “I don’t know. Who is your wife?”

When he told me, I said, “No, I didn’t.”

He looked so relieved that he wasn’t going to have to whip me, I said, “But as an afterthought …”

He said, “Never mind, sir, never mind,” as he backed away from the door and left.

After this little interruption, I carefully washed the blood out of the crystals taken from the mare and by common laboratory tests identified barium sulfate and a number of other crystalline substances that wouldn’t normally be classified as toxic. The medical problem here would be to neutralize these substances in the blood stream and cause them to become liquid by the use of therapeutic medicinal agents. By this process, in liquid form, these chemical properties could be eliminated by the kidneys and the victims could be saved.

I put out the word that I thought I could do something for alkalied cattle and horses, and I had a number of anxious stockmen hollerin’ for help.

Harold Udaily at Grand Falls called me late one afternoon and said that he had heard that I had been saving some alkalied cattle and mentioned that he had a bunch of young registered bulls in a field east of Grand Falls and and several of them were down and the rest showed signs of alkali sickness.

It was bitter cold and the ground was frozen, and I told him that these cattle would have to be put in a pen where we could get hold of them. He explained to me that these
registered bulls were all gentle and had been halter-broke when they were calves, and he thought we could treat them in the field. I agreed that would be better than having to move and exercise them.

I got to where the cattle were about dark, and Harold had brought George Bentley with him. The three of us slipped and stumbled around over the frozen ground and treated these bulls by car light. The treatment consisted of a muscular hypodermic injection and medicine by mouth. They were gentle and didn’t exert themselves or cause us too much trouble.

George Bentley was a big, fat, good-natured fellow and his conversation probably offset the blizzard some, and his weight was real helpful as he stumbled around and fell on these cattle to hold them. He said he needed to take lessons ’cause he had some cattle that would sure go to gettin’ sick as soon as they learned there was a new disease in the country.

There were fifteen of these bulls, and I left additional medicine to be given by mouth for the next few days. Harold was a good caretaker and nurse for these bulls and the entire bunch recovered.

The first formula that I compounded and the first hypodermic injections that I prescribed never had to be changed or improved upon since they were based on the actual analysis of the crystals discovered in the horse’s heart. The recovery was governed by the gentleness and temperament of the patient more than anything else.

I spent that winter and several more wearin’ out mud chains on my car in ice and bad weather and treated cattle and horses from as far south as Sheffield and answered calls along the Pecos River clear to Roswell, New Mexico. Before the winter was over, I almost wished I hadn’t learned about the treatment for alkali. As winter turned into spring,
the goldenrod soon played out, and I was mostly concerned with the usual run of general practice for the next two months.

One of the most prominent lawyers of Fort Stockton and a native son came in with a cocker spaniel pup whose tail he had attempted to dock but actually hadn’t much more than cut off the tip of it. There had been enough time for the tail to scab over.

He was very apologetic and so remorseful about having cut the little pup’s tail and having botched up the case instead of bringing me the pup in the first place. Well, I wasn’t soliciting any small-animal practice and couldn’t see that the pup looked any worse with a long tail than he would have with a short one. I was extremely busy and very much absorbed in some laboratory work I was doing, so in all seriousness, I explained to him that he had done exactly the right thing and that every two weeks he could repeat the operation until he got the tail as short as he wanted it, since taking it off a little at the time would keep it from hurting so much.

He thanked me graciously and offered to pay me, but I said I wouldn’t think of charging him. I don’t know how many days it took before it dawned on this legal mind just how stupid he was for believing my statement.

The desert makes few promises and holds many surprises and the summer flash floods brought on more weed problems, which made me realize that I would never be able to foretell the next rising poisonous plant. There had been some little flash floods up and down the draws but no real good grass-growing rains, and flocks were showing up with a good number of stiff sheep.

The Moss brothers, who were ranching west of Fort Stockton and northeast of Hovey, were in a rolling country not far from the foothills of the Davis Mountains and had
gotten the earliest flash rains up and down the draws. John Moss was the first to come into the office talking about stiff sheep.

I went out to the ranch with him and looked at several hundred sheep in some stage of stiffness. John had moved them into a smaller pasture close to the headquarters. From his own observation he had determined that there were no new cases since he had moved them and he began to wonder what there was in the other pasture that had made them stiff.

I didn’t offer to treat these first stiff sheep because I had already learned that there were a number of conditions that would cause sheep to stiffen, and in many instances, there would be no similarity between cases. Treatment for sheep that had stiffened in one locality would not necessarily be indicative for stiff sheep somewhere else.

I promised John that I would do some research in an effort to determine what caused the stiffness, and as soon as I knew something I would be back.

I saddled a horse the next morning and jumped him in the trailer behind my car and drove around over the country to the different locations where the first flash rains had fallen. I took my horse and rode out the draws that had flooded and looked for fresh growth, weeds, and brush.

It’s rare to find a poison grass, so I gave special attention to any fresh tender weeds or new leaf growth or browse brush, hunting for vegetation that might be the source of the toxic substances that were causing sheep in open pastures to stiffen. The only weed I found in sufficient quantity for sheep to be getting a full diet of was a creeping red-stemmed, green-leafed milkweed that grows close to the ground and puts out with just a little moisture about this time of year. (There are other types of milkweed, but this is the one common to the Far Southwest desert regions.)

I drove back to town and unloaded my horse. I had a portable analytical laboratory kit built into a mahogany cabinet that fit in the back of my car, and late in the afternoon, I drove out into an overflowing draw thickly covered with this little creeper milkweed I had located earlier.

My instinct told me that if there was a toxic substance in milkweed, it would be most available after the chilling hours of the night, which would stop its growth temporarily, and the extract of its juices would be much simpler. Since it was early spring, after sundown the night would get uncomfortably cold. My practice was a good deal better than I needed it to be so far as getting any rest was concerned, and I curled up in the front seat of my car, pulled a Navaho blanket over me, and went to sleep.

When I waked up, the moon was high, the night was clear, and it had gotten cold enough to cause chemical reactions in the plantlife. I pulled some milkweed and began to run it through a portable squeezer that looked about like a clothes wringer. As I used a reagent on the sap from this weed, I extracted three different acids, each of which, to say the least, was mildly harmful, if at all. I went back to town and ran still more of this weed through my better laboratory equipment without any change or result.

The next night I went on the same trip hoping to gather fresh weed under range conditions, thinking maybe I had missed something in my observations the night before. As I worked another batch of this weed, about midnight I saw some sheep come in to water at a windmill, and there were a number of stiff sheep in the bunch.

I hadn’t made any arrangements with the owner of this pasture or this flock of sheep, which was unnecessary since I was, for the most part, considered welcome in any of the ranch country. Even though many times I’m sure they
thought I was off the beam, nearly everybody was tolerant of my mistakes, and I never bothered to ask permission to do anything I wanted to.

I took my .22 target and shot a stiff sheep in the moonlight, pulled him around in front of my car lights, cut him open, and quickly extracted some gastric juices that were secreted by the hair glands of the sheep’s digestive system. I poured these gastric juices into a test tube and began adding the extract that I had made from the fresh milkweed and a few drops of a chemical reagent; suddenly I discovered that the toxic substances were being formed in the sheep’s stomach from the combination of the milkweed juice and the secretion of the natural digestive acids of the sheep. By daylight I compounded in my laboratory a full treatment for sheep that were stiff from grazing creeper milkweed.

The next morning I took some of my new milkweed medicine to John Moss’s ranch, and he and I treated about a hundred stiff mutton lambs. The sheep’s recovery was quick and the treatment satisfactory, easy to administer by mouth and economical enough to use as often as needed. As soon as the rains came in other directions from town, there was a new crop of milkweed and I was ready with my milkweed prescription.

I came back to the office about noon and Seeino, who claimed to be half Gypsy and half Navajo Indian, was waitin’ for me to look at a sick horse. Seeino was a drifter and an odd sort of a lone-wolf character who had moved into an old abandoned adobe house west of town near the railroad stock pens.

As we drove out to his place, Seeino told me, waving both hands Gypsy fashion, that this horse had a bad cut on his left shoulder. With the gestures of a Gypsy and the expression of an Indian, he said, “I use strong Indian-Gypsy
medicine on my horse and it no work too good. I think maybe this horse raised by white man why medicine no work.”

I followed his conversation as closely as I could as he went on to tell me, “I think maybe you have medicine to cure white man part of horse.”

As we drove up to the corral, I saw what he meant by “
” medicine: it was a fresh killed dog’s head tied around the horse’s neck with a wire.

He saw me looking at the dog’s head instead of the sore shoulder and said, “I kill dog so dog’s spirit take evil spirits out of horse’s shoulder.”

BOOK: Village Horse Doctor
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