A NUMBER OF YEARS ago I was assisting a surveying crew in locating the route for the S.A.U. & G. Railroad from Pleasanton to Corpus Christi. Some Mexicans, employed as brush cutters to clear the way for the engineers and surveyors, were also with the crew.
One morning one of the young Mexicans said he was sick and unable to work. He was able, however, to climb a nearby tree, where he gathered some mistletoe and put it in an empty tomato can to which he added a little water. He set the can on the camp fire and after it had brewed a while, he poured the liquor off and let it cool. When the concoction had cooled sufficiently he drank it all, and the next morning he returned to work with the rest of the crew, apparently feeling full of “wim, wigor and witality.”
At another time a group of Mexicans were engaged in loading trucks in a caliche pit. A chaparral cock, or “road runner,” ventured near the edge of the pit. A truck driver threw a rock at it, and bowled it over.
The bird stood around obviously dazed, and I finally picked it up and put it in the shade of some bushes. A few moments later I found the Mexicans throwing rocks at the bird and ordered them to stop.
When quitting time came in the afternoon and the workmen were loading their tools in a truck, I noticed that one of the Mexicans was missing. After the other men had climbed into the truck I was astounded to see the missing Mexican come running out of the brush holding in one hand the headless and skinned carcass of the chaparral cock.
As the bird's carcass was nothing more than an elongated outline of bones, with just enough muscle and ligaments to hold them together, it was puzzling to surmise what the Mexican wanted with it. I asked another Mexican, who said that a broth made from the carcass of the bird was considered very efficacious in the treatment of certain ailments.
At another time when some of the Mexican highway workmen were forced to wade out in mud and water during a severe freeze, I noticed some of them taking off their hats and wetting their heads with the cold water. The workmen told me that they always wet their heads when they get their feet in cold water, to prevent illness from getting their feet chilled.
When I was living at Fowlerton, in La Salle County, the local physician, Dr. C. W. Coutant, returned from a call in the country near Fowlerton one day, and told me of an odd experience on the call.
He found a little Mexican child quite ill upon arrival. The first thing that attracted his attention was a peculiar blue color on the child's lips. He asked the parents if they had given the child any medicine and they said no. He was puzzled by the blue color of the child's mouth, until he happened to see a cup on a nearby table containing blue liquid. He asked the parents if they had given some of it to the sick child, and they acknowledged that they had. The liquid was laundry bluing.
A friend of mine was once in charge of some Mexicans grubbing out the right-of-way for a road. One day when the noon hour arrived some of the men built a fire to brew some coffee, and one of the Mexicans sat down and leaned back against a nearby tree.
A rattlesnake coiled up in a hole in the tree trunk struck out and bit him between the shoulder blades. The frightened Mexican let out a yell and the whole camp was thrown into a furor of excitement.
Some of the man's comrades coolly grabbed him, yanked off his shirt and threw him face down on the ground. Despite his frantic struggles and excited yells they held him firmly while one of the group secured a brand from the fire and pressed it tightly against the sizzling flesh where the man had been bitten by the snake. This treatment was rated a sure cure for snake bites and it worked in his case.
Many Mexicans eat the “tunas” or fruit of the prickly pear, the Spanish name of the plant itself being “nopal.” There are different kinds of the plant growing in Texas, and as the plants look very much alike, the only way of knowing that they are different is by the color of the blossoms, some plants having red blossoms and others having yellow blossoms. However, the fruit of the two species is just enough different in shape so that they can be distinguished one from the other by close examination.
It is claimed that one species of the fruit is harmless when eaten, and that the other species will produce severe chills when eaten to excess.
A Mexican friend of mine once told of how his young brother was stricken with sudden and severe chills and other aggravated symptoms after he had eaten avidly of a number of the “tunas.” An old Mexican doctor whose knowledge of the practice of medicine was limited to his experience in using native remedies was called to treat the sick boy. After a preliminary examination the old doctor asked, “How many tunas you eat?”
After a moment's thought the boy answered, “About ten.”
“All right,” the doctor said, “you eat ten more and you will get well.”
Although nauseated by the very thought of eating the same thing that had made him ill, the boy was forced to stuff down ten more “tunas” and promptly recovered from his illness.
One day an old Mexican woman came to my home and hobbled over to a Spanish Dagger plant growing in one corner of the yard. By pantomime and various signs she indicated that she wanted to get some of the dagger-pointed leaves or shoots growing on the plant. She went through the motions of sticking them in her arms and other parts of her body. Other Mexicans later told me that many Mexicans use the sharp pointed daggers to jab into their muscles as a cure for rheumatism and other muscular afflictions.