Dr. William McPheeters was a surgeon for the Trans-Mississippi arm of the Confederate States of America. I recently read the journal he kept during the war years in a book published by the University of Arkansas Press, “I Acted from Principle.” In it, I learned about many hardships of that cruel war, including that of camping out and travelling by foot and horseback perpetually for long periods of time. I developed a great admiration for man and beast alike, especially on the long trek to Missouri and back through Indian Territory, enemy ambushes and with scant rations for soldiers as well as horses and mules.
Another recent read was Garner’s “Sam Houston: Texas Giant,” which detailed the hard life of soldiers in the struggle against Santa Anna’s forces for Texas. Houston himself rode hardy horses that could swim the Red River in the cold waters of December, shake the freezing water off and carry the heavy rider and packs 40 or 50 miles in a day. Sometimes both McPheeters and Houston were so weary at night that they didn’t bother to pitch a tent but slept out in the open or under trees.
When I was a boy, I loved to ride horses and sleep outside. Maybe that enjoyment came from an appreciation of the past that I only intuited. Or, perhaps it emanated from an unspoken conviction that I had it too easy in my suburban house, with running water and a good warm furnace. Whatever the motivation, I continued to go camping even a long time after marriage. Our whole family would go to the lake so we could rough it in the great out-of-doors, even though most state parks and Corps of Engineers parks we used had bath houses with hot water.
At one point, towards the end of the war, McPheeters wrote that he was blessed to have remained healthy throughout the long ordeal. Only once or twice in the journal did he mention anything about being ill, and those were either a headache or the sniffles of a cold. Houston was never reported to have been ill, except for the life-threatening wound he received at San Jacinto. Even that seemed to be a minor setback and he apparently never thought it would stop him—and it didn’t.
I think we would be a lot healthier with less pampering, less medication, less air conditioning and more ruggedness, more outdoor exercise and more aerobic fitness from traveling that requires breathing. Sometimes I think it is too bad that the horse got replaced by the internal combustion engine.
People would look at me funny if I rode a horse, mule or donkey to work. Some folks even lift an eyebrow when they see me on my bicycle. One female employee at a former place of work said she though commuting by bicycle was stupid. And, Heaven forbid if someone should actually walk a mile or two. Heaven forbid if we have to park a block from where we are going.
Sitting too much is bad. Moving around is very good.