Frontier Reporter Dirt asks...

Question by Frontier Reporter, May 1876:

Whoa,, lying in bed on the horse! It looks like you've found a mighty easy way to travel, although you look a mite pale. What brings you here to Fort Griffin?Freighter on a stretcher on a horse

Wounded freighter (on stretcher) answers:

I'm here to see the post surgeon. It's my leg. See? It's broken. The bloody bone's poking clear through the skin.

My name's Big Ollie. That fellow walking behind me is my partner, Josť. We're freighters. For two weeks, we've been camped west of here, way up California Creek, just south of Double Mountain. In case you haven't heard, there's a mighty big buffalo kill going on over there. photo of a man in a stretcher on a horseI bet there are a good 1,000—no, make that 2,000—hunting outfits camped on that prairie right now.

Being freighters means that José and I don't kill or skin the buffs. We leave that to the shooters and skinners. After the hides are stretched and dried, we pile 'em into our wagon and haul 'em to the hide yard in The Flat [the town outside Ft. Griffin] to sell. At the hide yard, a buyer inspects and weighs the hides and pays us. Then we head back to camp for another load.

painting of Comanche indiansThat's the way our trips are supposed to turn out, except, this time, we got to The Flat with no hides to sell. The Indians saw to that.

Here's what happened: Josť and I were hauling a load of hides—about 350, I reckon—to sell at the Flat. They were clean hides, too, with hardly any cuts. We were expecting to be paid top dollar—our best haul, so far. Anyway, back to the story. Yesterday morning, we left California Creek, traveled all day, and made camp for the night on this side of the Clear Fork. We slept well and were ready to roll this morning at first light. Josť was driving the mule wagon and I was riding my horse. We were thinking about how much money we might get for those hides.

photo of a wagon piled high with hidesWe were within two miles of town when 35 Indians came descending upon us on horseback. They shot and killed our mules. That overturned the wagon, pitching Josť onto his backside. At the sound of rifle fire, my horse spooked and reared up, its hoof coming down on a loose slab of rock. The rock gave way. My horse stumbled. Threw me to the ground and I broke my leg.

photo of leechesJosť and I scrambled for cover behind the wagon. We fought for our lives. We fought until all our cartridges were gone. Then we were like sitting ducks, an easy target for the Indians. The warriors came down upon us like demons, taking everything we had out of our wagons, and placing it in a heap. They stacked all our beautiful hides on the ground and cut them to pieces. Then they began their wild war dance all around. We sat there, quiet, waiting for the worst.

painting of soldiers on horsebackJust when we thought the end was near we heard the tramp of horses on a charge. We looked into the distance to see about twenty of the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, Captain Lee's company, thundering to our aid. A scout patrol had discovered us. The soldiers fired upon the Indians, rounding them up, before coming to where we of recreated hospital I wept like a baby at my deliverance.

These two men carrying the stretcher were detailed to see us safely to the post. We have arrived safely—although we've lost everything we had.

I sure hope the post surgeon can help me. They have a small hospital here, not as big as the one over at Fort Richardson. But I hear they both have some mighty fine medicine that will keep me from getting gangrene and maybe losing my leg!

photo of instruments and medical booksFrontier Medicine

The fort doctor, or post surgeon, played an important role on the frontier, for soldiers and civilians alike. Often, there were no other medical facilities available. Each morning, sick call was sounded by the post bugler, signaling all soldiers who felt poorly to report to the doctor's offices. Wounded or sick settlers, cowboys, hunters, and freighters also made their way to the fort to try the Army's brand of medicine. Although the Army's cure rate was not high, anesthesia was generally available to help make surgery and amputations less painful. The doctors also learned to treat some of the more common illnesses—such as scurvy—by adding fruits or vegetables to the soldiers' diets. Sometimes, this meant a pickle was added to the standard meal of beef, beans, and bread.


Credits: Character dialogue by Lisa Waller Rogers; top illustration by Charles Shaw; photo of wounded man courtesy of Fort McKavett SHS, TPWD; buffalo hide freighter, courtesy Texas State Library and Archives; paintings of Comanche and Kiowa raiders and soldiers from Fort Griffin and Richardson by Nola Davis, from murals at Fort Richardson SHS, courtesy TPWD; photos of hospital interior and medical instruments, courtesy of Fort Richardson SHS, TPWD.

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