Last time I wrote about the all important saddlebags the Frontier nurse midwives carried, but the horses they slung those saddlebags over were as necessary as air to the nurses as they rode up into the mountains to deliver babies and treat the mountain people.
When Mary Breckinridge or her representatives went out to recruit people, they looked for women who were already nurses and for women who knew how to sit a horse. Most of the nurses did, but sometimes a new woman would come in who had little or no experience with horses. Then the couriers, the volunteers who helped the nurse midwives, would give riding lessons.
Even when the new recruits thought they knew how to ride, they may not have expected the riding conditions they found in the mountains where they had to ford rivers and streams and sometimes hang on while the horse swam during times of floods. They didn’t expect steep mountain trails often slippery with snow or ice. One new nurse midwife told of following another midwife up a dark mountain trail to assist with a birth and the only way she knew where to guide her horse was the occasional sparks the other horse’s shoes made against the rocks.
One of the nurses in 1926 was called out in the early morning for a case on Coon Creek six miles from Wendover. The nurse rode off into the gray dawn with the man who came to fetch her. Eight hours later her horse, Nellie Gray, came back with saddlebags dangling and riderless. But the nurse was okay in spite of being dragged off the road and surprisingly calm for a woman who said she died “a thousand deaths” in her early horse riding days in the mountains.
Another nurse, Hannah O’Driskell (Nancy) from Ireland was a rough and tumble girl who took everything in stride. She loved riding the more spirited horses and everything was an adventure for her. When she had appendicitis, she delayed getting treatment for her pain until the appendix had ruptured. Since there were no antibiotics at that time, the attack was fatal. Nancy was taken to Lexington for burial, but first they carried her body on a stretcher down the winding path from the hospital through the town of Hyden past hundreds of mountaineers solemnly standing along the route to bid her farewell. Her horse, Raven followed behind the stretcher, stirrups crossed over the empty saddle.
Can’t you just see that? These kind of true stories about the nurse midwives and their horses helped me bring my fictional people to life in my story.
Do you know how to ride a horse?
As always, thanks for reading. Come next Sunday, I might just start another mystery photo game. I think it’s about time I gave away some books, don’t you?