Copyright© 2020 by UtIdArWa
The first leg of our journey was east to Grouse Creek, just over the border into Utah. Then south to Lucin, across to Montello. Then further west to Wells. From there, we were to turn north and head for Tuscarora, then Charleston, and finally back to Wilkins. We planned on stopping at each farm, ranch, and town, offering our services.
When I was planning this operation, I knew that we wouldn’t be welcomed into every camp. Something is unnerving about a bunch of armed riders coming up to your front door. We had decided that we would take the time to scout out the farms and ranches before showing our hand entirely during the planning stage. The towns would be different. It was agreed that if any place were willing to allow a patent medicine drummer to operate, then we would be, maybe not welcomed, but at least tolerated.
For the first two months, things pretty much went as I expected. Most days, we slowly moved through the sparsely populated countryside. The people who lived within the Hacienda’s traveling distance knew that they could get help from the Regiment. That the assistance given there would be free. These were times when our services weren’t really needed, and the trail was incredibly dull. We still stopped and checked in with the people we knew. Mainly to check on them and to renew friendships.
Occasionally riders could be seen in the distance. Most times, they kept their distance. But sometimes, they would ride up, usually making very sure that we knew of their approach. Generally, if we were in camp, we would offer food and drink, which were accepted. If we were on the move, providing water for a thirsty rider and mount was the norm. Mostly these men were ranch hands and cowpunchers, moving from one job to the next. Some didn’t offer an explanation and were gently, and in one case, not so gently, given the option to move on. A dozen well-armed troopers were more than enough to convince the rudest of rider.
When we approached a ranch or farm, we would send in a rider or two, Usually Lieutenant Ellenwood. He would explain what we were doing and offer our services. Almost universally, we were asked to come on in. The ranches could take up two or three days of our time. Six or more cowboys and just as many, if not more, family members could take time. The farms would be a little more reluctant to have us approach. With few defenders, they were afraid of a possible attack. Usually, seeing the big red cross on the ambulance would calm their nerves.
Even if they didn’t need a doctor, wandering prospectors and range riders were starving for news of the outside world. We could very easily spend half a day, just passing gossip. Sometimes these lonely men would change direction and follow along, just for the human contact.
This could last for a day or two, or for as little as an hour. Eventually, the crowding they would feel from such a large group would wear on them, and they would return to their original trail. Sometimes without a word spoken.
Then there were the times when our medical services were needed. I probably learned as much, if not more, during this time than during my years spent as an intern in Boston. I even became a halfway competent dentist, pulling teeth when needed. Broken bones, pregnancies, even gunshot wounds were treated. As well as diseases and other illnesses.
I also learned what has to be the most challenging part of being a physician. It can be heart-rending to tell a family that there is nothing that can be done. That their Husband, Father, Wife, or Mother had passed or would pass soon. Especially heartbreaking was telling new parents that their child was dead.
These tragedies could be offset by handing a healthy son or daughter to the new mother. To tell a Husband that not only was his wife well, but he could now call himself “Daddy.”
At other times, we could ride upon the evidence of catastrophes. Burned outbuildings. Unburied bodies were rotting in the sun. We did what little we could. We also found that violence wasn’t the only way a town, ranch, or farm could be destroyed. Disease was just as devastating as an Indian massacre or outlaw raid. The real tragedy in these cases was that they could have been averted or even avoided most of the time. Just relocating cesspools, outhouses, and trash dumps could do much to prevent dysentery.