Horses and Health

The Overland experience was very much envisioned as a healthy experience, one that would improve a persons’s health, and if you were a valetudinarian in search for healthier environments to reside in, the overland journey was just the way to meet that personal want or demand.   A number of people were under the impression that some areas were healthier than others.  For this reason the overland journey served to heal them of their chronic disease states, including consumption, or an overall weakness of their body related to poor circulation and lack of energy.  Some people travelled across the continent knowing this could be their last such journey, for once they arrived at their final destination, their hope was to settle down and in the best of circumstances recover from their long term illnesses, but that was not expected.

A healthy horse meant for a healthy farm, a healthy husband so long as he rose this horse daily through the crisp, clean country air, and a healthier way to take the final expedition westward instead of travelling by sails or some new-fangled steamboat.  To make certain you reached your final destination, you had to make the appropriate plans for going by wagon and oxen or in solo by way of horseback.  For this reason, a series of books were written on life in the west, being it midwest or farwest.  One of these books, by Randolph Marcy, came out fairly late in the history of this exploration of the Western part of the continent, but it served its purpose.  People purchased it and used it for their expedition planning and experience, even if the wagon train method was no longer the popular way to do this, even if they were most likely going to travel west by ways of a coach. 

Marcy’s book was composed to provide these people with important insights, which it does to some extent.  However, Marcy spent a lot of his time in the field in Central America, and had limited knowledge and experience pertaining to anywhere outside the Santa Fe territory setting.  Marcy’s books does provide some important insights, but little of it really reflects what happened mostly in the past in Oregon Trail history.  Marcy’s book provides us with a better udnerstanding of the status of things in science, medicine and explroation at the time of the western migrations, but the details of the book are not always going to relate much to Oregon Trail history.  At best they are perhaps something to consider as a product of important lessons learned over the past decade regarding Oregon Trail migration and medicine.  They are reflective on medicine in general, but not specifically reflective of Oregon Trail medicine.

Putting all the criticisms aside, there are important lessons we can walk away with regarding Marcy’s work.  These topics are the ones I will cover for the most part. 

Equine Gastro-Intestinal Alkalosis; Bovine Ruminant-Gastro-Intestinal Alkalosis

Randolph Marcy provides us with very helpful information about an epidemic disease hitting livestock and animals along the trail.  He noted that alkali water in the south pass area of Humboldt River, and along other southern routes, caused alkali poisoning in the livestock:  

“This disease first makes its appearance by swelling upon the abdomen and between the fore legs, and is attended with a cough, which ultimately destroys the lungs and kills the animal.”

This is one of the more important issues to be reviewed based on Marcy’s writing.

Marcy also provides us with parallel information on overland medicine and foodways.  He didn’t travel the Oregon Trail, but some of the outdoors experiences he had further south do related to some of the trail experiences much further north, and so these are reviewed as well.