R. H. (Robert Henderson) McKay.

Little pills; an army story online

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or heard on the way. This was the most isolated and desolate
of all the posts at which I served. It was about twenty miles
from the southern overland stage line, and we had to send a mes-
senger from the post for our mail which we did three times a
week. Magazines and such reading matter as could be brought
by mail helped cheer our lonely lives, so that taken altogether,
it was a good deal better than being in the penitentiary.

At Fort Garland, though only two companies were sta-
tioned there during my service at the post, there were about the
full complement of officers, several of whom were married, and
it proved to be un unusually pleasant place socially. There was
no formality, and so far as I know this was true at all the mili-
tary posts on the frontier, except at Fort Craig where my wife


was not with me, but on the contrary there was a feeling of
mutual interest and sympathy that made it seem like one family.
We would meet at some officer's quarters for dinner or luncheon,
and maybe at some other officer's quarters in the evening to
play a social game of cards, and the officers' wives would make
informal visits with each other and maybe spend an hour or
so, very much as if they were sisters.

Fort Sill was one of the largest military posts in the service
at that time, and there were twenty or more officers there, prob-
ably half of whom were married and had their families with
them. It will be readily seen that this made quite a social center.

There were frequent military dances or "hops" as they were
called in the service. There were also card parties, not always
by invitation, but maybe a half-dozen would be talking together,
and would decide to drop into some officer's quarters for a game
of cards, others were likely to drop in also, so that sometimes
there would be quite a crowd of us together to spend the evening.
I thought the informality of these meetings added very much
to their charm.

There was a good library at this post which was liberally
patronized by the officers and their families, and also by the
enlisted men.

A jockey club was formed among the officers and a race-
course laid out on the flat south of the post', and race meetings
were held on Saturday afternoons, which afforded a great deal
of pleasure and amusement. In one of these races which was
to take place in the course of a month, it was agreed that each
officer should ride his own horse. The difference in the weight
of the riders it was thought, would be an important factor in
determining the results. Major Van de Weyle weighed one hun-
dred and ninety pounds while Mr. Lebo weighed only one hun-
dred and fifteen pounds. They all had good horses and the race
was looked forward to with great interest. The major was jol-
lied a good deal about his weight, but he insisted that he would
be able to train down, and he would show them what his horse,
which was a fine one, could do. The race-course was a mile in
length and it was supposed the heavyweights would stand no


show, but Captain Walsh, who weighed one hundred and sixty-
five pounds, won the race and Major Van de Weyle, who had
increased six pounds in weight, came in fourth, in a bunch of
seven, who started in the race.

In addition to the social life at the post, the fishing and
hunting were good for those of us who cared to indulge in that
kind of sport. Both Medicine Bluff and Cache creeks were fine
fishing streams, and I found congenial company in one or two
of the officers who enjoyed the fishing as much as I did my-
self. Among those most pleasantly remembered, was a Mr.
Pratt, a lieutenant in one of the cavalry companies at the post
He was an expert fisherman and a cordial good fellow and I
have always thought of our fishing trips with pleasure.

After we left Fort Sill he was detached from his command
and put in charge of the educational interests of the Indians.

He became a distinguished officer in this work. When still
a lieutenant he established the Indian school at Carlisle, Pa.,
a well known industrial school, in 1879, and was superintendent
until 1904. In 1916, when my wife and I were on our golden
wedding trip we met him again at Nye Beach, Oregon, and
were pleased to renew our acquaintance after more than forty-
five years.

His distinguished services raised him to the rank of briga-
dier general, and he is now on the retired list of the army.

At Camp Limestone there were three officers and two of-
ficers' wives. We had acquaintances at Fort Scott and Girard,
who either visited us or made the customary calls. These, with
the officers and others who came in the shooting season, made
up the social features of the camp.

In those days drinking was far more prevalent, both in the
army and out of it, than it is today. I) think none but the old
people of today can have the correct "view-point" of the dif-
ference in which the use of alcoholic beverages was considered
fifty years ago and now. At that time it was not considered
harmful, but rather commendable, if not taken to excess, as a
means of promoting social intercourse, and except at Fort Sill
it was to be had at all the post trader's stores at the military


posts on the frontier, and at most of them it was on the side-
board or on the mantle over the fire-place, in the officers' bil-
liard room free to those who cared to use it. Of course, even in
those days, there were those who talked very energetically if
not violently against the use of it and some preachers would
even tell you you would go to hell if you drank it. But people
don't scare easily, and you would maybe think about it and take
another drink, concluding that maybe there is no hell, or if there
is you won't go there, or maybe the preacher didn't know any-
thing about it anyway. Since then the scientific medical man has
come to the front. He does not try to scare you, but he has some
scientific facts which he has fully proven, and tells you about
them, among these are: it promotes hardening of the arteries
(Arterio Sclerosis) ; it produces fatty degeneration and other
diseases of the liver; it impairs digestion; it interferes with the
assimilation of food ; it impairs heart acton, and has many other
injurious effects on the system, such as preparing it for fatal
results in pneumonia and most of the acute inflammatory dis-

He appeals to your reason in place of to your fears, and you
are bound to take notice. The result is a vast difference in pub-
lic opinion regarding its use then and now.

In the army it was used almost exclusively in a social way.
There were occasional excesses, but these were not of frequent
occurrence and there was one restraining influence; the fear of

It will be readily understood that there were so-called "black
sheep" in the army as well as in the churches, and in the fra-
ternal orders. In the army, however, there was no hesitancy
in getting rid of them, a thing I have seldom known to be done
either in the churches or in the fraternal orders, and this was
by means of court-martial. No matter what the specific charges
may have been, there is generally, if not always added this one :
"Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." This it will
be readily seen covers a wide range, and permits thorough in-
vestigation of character and the very terms of this charge in-


dicates not only the high character that is expected, but that is
demanded of an officer in the service.

I had been in the army nearly seven years with no chance
for promotion, and while feeling some doubt as to my success
in private life we felt it to be the best thing to leave the service.
We decided to live at Girard, Kansas, and came to this place
in November of that year.

Two things have particularly impressed me, in looking
back over the nearly half century since I entered the service
one is the amazing development of the west, and the other is the
wonderful evolution in the practice of medicine and surgery. As
an example of the first, take Kansas not because it is Kansas,
but because it is typical of the great west. Population in 1870,
364,399; in 1914, 1,677,106. Wheat crop in 1871, 4,614,924 bush-
els; in 1914, 180,925,885 bushels. And other crops in proportion.
The western half of the state was then practically uninhabited.
Today it is the great wheat belt of the country.

When I entered the service people died wholesale from dipth-
theria, typhoid fever and inflammation of the bowels. Bacter-
iology, the great searchlight of medicine, as we have it today,
was then practically unknown. Today we innoculate against ty-
phoid fever and are immune. Today we operate for appendi-
citis and inflammation of the bowels practically disappears from
our list of diseases. Today we give antitoxin and the child's
life is saved. We used to expect pus after a surgical operation
and were disappointed if we did not get a so-called "healthy
pus." Today the surgeon would be ashamed of it.

Both before leaving the army and since, I have had people
refer to our army officers and their families, with some degree
of aspersion, saying they were too proud and would not speak
to common folk ; that they were aristocrats, and much other non-
sense. Possibly their isolated condition when I was in the serv-
ice, gave some color to such accusations, but as far as I can
estimate them, if they are an aristocracy, it is an aristocracy of
merit ; of intellect ; of honor ; of integrity ; of loyalty ; of a strong
sense of duty and many other worthy qualities that mark them
as distinguished from any other kind of aristocracy we have in


this country, and I think particularly from our so-called aris-
tocracy of wealth, so often associated with snobbery, and whose
daughters so often present the nauseating spectacle, of trading
themselves off to some degenerate and profligate descendant of
inherited title and giving a million to boot.

Just now, 1918, we hear a great deal about the army and
the necessity of increasing its numbers, and much about its of-
ficers, but do we ever hear anything about the officers* wives?
They may not be of great importance now, but how was it forty
or fifty years ago? At that time the great western half of our
country was practically unsettled. There were few railroads, and
no transcontinental line until 1869. Denver and Santa Fe were
considered mere trading posts. There were only two overland
stage lines and no settlements of consequence. The military posts
were scattered over this vast region, separated from each other
by many miles of distance and the ever present danger of attack
from Indians. How about the wives of the army officers of that
day, who shared with their husbands the dangers and hardships
of frontier life ? I wish here to pay my tribute to one who shared
with me all of the sorrows, and most of the hardships herein re-
lated, and many others not considered of sufficient importance
to mention. One who seldom complained; whose courage never
faltered; whose abiding faith often prompted her to say, "It
will all come out for the best in the end."

Thus, we have traveled along life's pathway, with its joys
and sorrows, until now we realize that we have crossed the di-
vide, and are going down the western slope. The shadows are
growing longer, the valley is not far distant, night is coming
on, it will soon be taps and the lights will go out.

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Online LibraryR. H. (Robert Henderson) McKayLittle pills; an army story → online text (page 11 of 11)