Spraberry, who came to Jones County in the fall of 1879, knew what it was like
to be thirsty.
Years after the fact, a ride he made from near present
day Anson to Fort
Phantom Hill to fetch a doctor for a sick woman still stood out in his mind.
He didn’t say what time of the year he made the ride, but it must have been summer.
"I became very thirsty and really suffered,” he recalled.
a time in the saddle, he rode into a hollow and saw a profusion of cow trails.“
‘Must be water near,’ I said to myself. The trails got bigger and bigger, and
finally I found water. I knelt down at the pool and drank, and stayed half an
hour, taking two more swigs of water.” The water enabled him to continue his mercy
"A day or two later I met a man who asked me how many dead cows
there were at that pool. 'I saw none and tasted none,' said I. Said the man, 'There
are nine dead cows in that pool, and it was not over 20 steps long.'
next drink came from the Clear Fork of the Brazos.
"I got to the river,”
he said. “Drank more water. When you get right thirsty for water, I'll tell you,
any water is good. I know; for, as you see, I have tried it."
river Spraberry still had another four-mile ride to Fort
Phantom Hill. And when he got there he discovered that the doctor had ridden
to Albany on another emergency.
helpful soul suggested that lacking a doctor, Spraberry should bring the sick
woman mustard (for plasters), spirits of nitrate and Tutt's pills.
the frontier medicine into his saddlebag, he left at sundown on his return journey
"and I rode a good horse down on the trip."
thirst and hard riding proved to have been all for naught.
"I got back
at break of day," he recalled. "They had just laid Mrs. Riley out."
got one good night's sleep before he had to make another trip to Phantom
Hill. This time he rode in a wagon with his brother-in-law to buy a coffin
for their aunt, who had died from an attack of colic.
their way, they met the preacher on his way back from Phantom
Hill with a coffin for Mrs. Riley.
The woman Spraberry had tried to get a doctor for had the distinction of being
the first person buried in Anson
's Mount Hope Cemetery. Spraberry's aunt, Mollie Carr, was the second.
had not been able to save Mrs. Riley, but in a way, he had been lucky. Along the
Texas frontier, bad water posed just about as much of a problem as no or little
common perception is that Indians posed the greatest threat to settlers and U.S.
soldiers stationed along Texas’ western frontier. But that’s wrong.
enemies of another sort lurked around all the Army’s forts, ready to kill the
unwary. They could not be seen, which made them hard to fight.
Concho, established along the Concho River in 1867, guarded that part of the
frontier for more than 20 years. Comanche and Kiowa Indians posed a definite threat
to the soldiers stationed there, especially during the post’s earlier years. But
the soldiers faced a deadlier foe – bad water.
In October 1870, the post
surgeon reported 35 cases of typhoid fever, 69 cases of acute diarrhea and dysentery
and 21 cases identified as “continued and remittent fever.” Six soldiers died
that month from one or another of those ailments.
The doctor may or may not have had a microscope at his disposal, but he knew the
culprit: Tainted water. A year before, he had reported that the North Concho River
at that time consisted of only shallow, stagnant pools. The main arm of the river,
he said, had been contaminated with putrefying animal matter, including buffalo
carcasses. River water smelled bad and tasted worse.
Indeed, when the
river was low it teemed with harmful microbes, the invisible life forms that could
kill a man as surely as a red-painted Comanche arrow or a spiraling .50 caliber
slug from a Spencer carbine.
Living on the frontier wasn’t easy, but it
wasn’t too hard to die.
"Texas Tales" December
30, 2009 column