An Outbreak of Carpal Tunnel, or Mrs. Mallet’s Revenge

My great-grandfather, Ray Randall (and yes, the precursor to both of the current veterinary models, one in Montana, one in Texas) was a country doctor up in the Miles City and Powder River areas of Montana. He delivered more than a few babies, did the odd bit of surgery, and diagnosed all manner of ailments. He used to tell the following story about an outbreak of carpal tunnel amongst the Powder River cowboys during the 1930s.

During the Depression, many an out-of-work cowboy kept himself in boots, saddle leather, and whisky by gathering up range horses and selling them in town. True, it took some work, a good dose of nerve, and more than a few miles in the saddle, but that was a small price to pay for living the cowboy dream. Charles and Marjorie Mallett had a ranch in the Powderville area, and Mrs. Mallett enjoyed wide renown as an excellent cook. In their quest for fresh horses, the boys developed something of a circuit, and so whenever they happened to be even remotely near the big house, they made certain to stop in for lunch. (Country hospitality being what it was, when someone stopped in to visit your lunch table, you fed them, regardless of whether or not they were expected.) After a few weeks of we-were-in-the-neighborhood noontime visits, Mrs. Mallett got wise that these visits were happening with a fair bit of regularity. Hospitality is one thing, but feeding large, itinerant bunches of young cowboys with big appetites during hard times was quite another.

She gave this some thought, and then she brewed up a special lunch: ham hocks and beans with stewed prunes for dessert.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

For the next couple of weeks, whenever she saw that noontime dust plume that announced the cowboys’ arrival, she’d just heat up those hamhocks and beans and make certain to have plenty of stewed prunes on hand. Being young and hungry, they cleaned their plates and probably asked for seconds, never suspecting the digestive powder keg they were sitting on.

Dear readers, between Mrs. Mallett’s digestive revenge and alkali water in the Power River area, there was a sudden outbreak of many a cowboy riding a green-broke horse, standing in his stirrups, clutching his saddle’s swells to remain upright. After one of Mrs. Mallett’s “special lunches,” the odds of backfiring in the saddle went from being an occupational hazard to downright certainty.

And it was about then that Doc Randall started to see quite a few cases of carpal tunnel in cowboys. Once he got the full story and choked down more than a few deep belly laughs, he wrote the following perscription:

“Find someplace else to eat lunch.”

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