Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/261

This page has been validated.




WHEN, in 1884, Pasteur discovered the true nature and cure of hydrophobia, he dispelled the accumulated superstition of centuries regarding this mysterious and dreaded disease. But in some countries where hydrophobia exists his cure is not yet known, and the old superstitions remain. While collecting mammals near San José del Cabo, in the cape region of Lower California, two summers ago, I found the country people very fearful of wild animals, especially of skunks and coyotes. My Mexican boy, whom I had sent on an errand, remained perched half the afternoon in a thorny mesquite tree because he had seen a coyote and was afraid it was rabioso. But they fear the skunks most of all because of their habit of approaching men in the night while they sleep, and biting them on the toe or ear, or any exposed part. In defense, unusual precautions are taken to exclude them. The windows of the houses are barred with iron, and the doors are made in halves, horizontally, so that the lower part may be closed to keep out animals and snakes without interfering with free ventilation. The common people, who live in brush houses, blockade their doorways at night, and rely on their cur dogs to attack any animal which may come near.

Notwithstanding all this evidence, and innumerable ghastly stories, I remained a month in the country, at the rancho of Francis Pazik, a very intelligent and well-educated Bohemian, without seeing any rabid animals. Then, one evening just at sundown, a crowd of men came up the path, leading one of Pazik's mules and dragging the carcass of a skunk. They said that it had come out into the open field where the mule was picketed and bitten it on the hind foot. All of them insisted that it was rabid, and cited its extreme emaciation as a proof. The young man who dragged it showed me his great toe, half burned off with blue vitriol, and told me that a skunk had bitten him there two months before, and the doctors had burned it. These native "doctors" are uneducated men who live on the superstition of the people. In the case of hydrophobia their methods are characteristic. There are in the cane fields little insect eating animals called shrews which, in that country, give off a scent so like that of a skunk that Pazik has hunted them out with his dogs in the night by mistake. The "doctors" pay as much as two dollars apiece for shrews on urgent occasions, and, mixing their bodies with herbs and roots, form a concoction which they claim will ward off hydrophobia. Besides this, they also bleed the patient and cauterize the wound.