Among the tall stack of books which I read in the matter of research for writing my adventures set on the Texas frontier was one titled Texas Log Buildings; A Folk Architecture – which has actually proved to be a bit more interesting and informative than it looked at first glance. I am a sucker for knowing how things are constructed or put together- which is good, especially when I needed to write a description of building such a thing as a log house; details like how many days it would take so many men to build one, what size it would generally be, and the layout – these little details add convincing detail. Until I read that book, the only description of the process that I could bring readily to mind was in Little House on the Prairie – and it turns out that Pa Ingalls was not building that cabin to much of a standard. He may not even have been all that skilled as a carpenter, but since he was working on it mostly by himself, and in a place where the swiftness of getting a roof of some sort over his family counted for everything – allowances were made.
A number of summers ago, when I was still stationed in Spain, I packed up my daughter, and a tent and all the necessary gear, and did a long looping camping tour of the southern part of Spain, down through the Extremadura, and to the rock of Gib al Tarik, and a long leisurely drive along the Golden Coast. I had driven from Sevilla, past the sherry-manufacturies around Jerez La Frontera (on a Sunday, so they were closed, although the Harvey’s people should have given me a freebie on general principals, I had sipped enough of their stuff, over the years), made a pit stop at the Rota naval base for laundry and groceries. I had driven into Gibraltar, done a tour of the historic gun galleries, seen the famous Gibraltar apes, and then waited in the long customs line to come back into Spain. We had even stopped at the Most Disgusting Public Loo on the face of the earth, at a gas station outside of San Roque, before following the road signs along the coastal road towards Malaga and Motril, and our turn-off, the road that climbed steadily higher into the mountains, the tall mountains that guarded the fortress city of Granada, and the fragile fairy-tale pavilions of the Alhambra.
The practice of medicine in these United (and for the period 1861-1865, somewhat disunited) States was for most of the 19th century a pretty hit or miss proposition, both in practice and by training. That many sensible people possessed pretty extensive kits of medicines – the modern equivalents of which are administered as prescriptions or under the care of a licensed medical professional – might tend to indicate that the qualifications required to hang out a shingle and practice medicine were so sketchy as to be well within the grasp of any intelligent and well-read amateur, and that many a citizen was of the opinion that they couldn’t possibly do any worse with a D-I-Y approach. Such was the truly dreadful state of affairs generally when it came to medicine in most places and in all but the last quarter of the 19th century – they may have been better off having a go on their own at that.
Most doctors trained as apprentices to a doctor with a current practice. There were some formal schools of medicine in the United States, but their output did not exactly dazzle with brilliance. Successful surgeons of the time possessed two basic skill sets; speed and a couple of strong assistants to hold the patient down, until he was done cutting and stitching. Most of the truly skilled doctors and surgeons had their training somewhere else – like Europe.
But in San Antonio, from 1850 on – there was a doctor-surgeon in practice, who ventured upon such daring medical remedies as to make him a legend. His patients traveled sometimes hundreds of miles to take advantage of his skill …