Connie Whalen is the Curator at Wells Fargo’s Phoenix History Museum. She joined up with Casey in Texas for the second part of his journey, following the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. About a week into the trip, Connie injured herself on a hike. (She’s fine.) Here, she reflects on her own historical significance. (CR)
“Living in Arizona all my life, I’ve looked forward to visiting the Apache Pass Butterfield Stage stop for many years. It’s one of the few places in stagecoach history where ruins still remain. I was really looking forward to visiting Apache Pass with Casey. After about a mile hike in for photos and to examine the ruins, we were on our way out. Just 50 yards from the RV, I caught my hiking boot on a rock and fell forward. Protecting all of the camera equipment must have been my main objective, because it was the only thing I didn’t hurt!
I ended up banging up my knees and cutting the palm of my hand. After getting a closer look, and removing a few small boulders from the wound, I realized I needed some stitches. This made me wonder what would they have done on that first run of Butterfield, 150 years ago, if someone got hurt? People were often asked to get off the coach and walk in rough areas, and up steep hills. What if someone then fell and was injured? Out in “the middle of nowhere”?
In that era people were just becoming aware of what are today considered common medical practices. The idea of closing a wound with stitches was known. Sewing needles were often used to perform the task, along with small pieces of thread. Each stitch would be set in a criss-cross and tied off. They would be left for a few weeks and removed by clipping the knots off the ends of each stitch.
Additionally, pain remedies were very limited: Chloroform was used to render people unconscious, but opium and quinine were standard pain reliving drugs of the day. (I believe the former has a much stronger effect then the latter.)
The ideas of keeping wounds clean and dry was known, but the concept then of “clean” was very different from ours today. Infections would often set in. Antiseptics were not discovered until 1865 by Joseph Lister , along with proof of germ theory. Antibiotics were not yet known. In 1858 the best cure for an infected limb was amputation. This may seem extremely severe but during the Civil War the most common surgery performed was amputation.
Knowing all this, I can honestly say that I’m pretty happy I fell while retracing the trail, as opposed to being on the first run 150 years ago. If this had happened in 1858, I might be learning how to write with my left hand.