Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Kerosene Stops Severe Blood Loss

N. Ray Maxie


As I sat there, half dazed in the old cane bottom straight-back oak chair, I heard my mother say, “If we don’t get this bleeding stopped we’ll have to rush him into town to the doctor.” I could detect serious concern in her voice and see very stressful expressions of an emergency situation on her face.

During the summer of 1947, my entire family and I, an eight-year-old barefoot country kid, had gone to the family farm for the weekend. We usually made the ninety-mile road trip about once a month to visit Uncle Mayo Clark. He was an “old” bachelor and lived there to work and manage the little farm for my parents. Uncle Mayo was my mother’s uncle and one of the closest relatives that I ever knew on her side of the family.

The farm was located in northwest Bowie County, about ten miles north of DeKalb, Texas. It was in extreme northeast Texas, near the famous Red River and the Oklahoma stateline. Soil there was sort of grayish-red gumbo clay, the kind commonly found along river bottomlands. It was a nice fertile soil, good for growing bountiful crops. I remember when old-timers often remarked about the soil, “If you will stick with it while it’s dry, it will stick TO you when it’s wet.” And stick it did. We would sometimes get that wet sticky gumbo on our shoes and could hardly ever get it cleaned off. We learned to cautiously avoid it when it was wet. I can still hear my mom shouting today, “Just stay out of that gumbo and quit tracking it in this house.”

The farm next-door and just down the road a short piece was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Reed. Many times while my family was in the area, we would stop by to visit the Reeds. They were a fine old couple and very hard working people with appealing southern country charm. They had no children or grandchildren of their own and were always glad to see my family stop by. Oftentimes Mrs. Reed would bring from her kitchen some nice sweet rolls or homemade apple pie, a welcome and refreshing snack for everyone, plus hot coffee for the adults. Everyone would sit outside on the front porch and enjoy visiting while we kids would soon begin to play.

Back in those days, kerosene was much more than a fuel. All rural folks used it for many purposes around the farm. Most importantly were the coal oil lamps. Each household had maybe two or three lamps and during darkness, the lamps were taken about the house from room to room for lighting. There were coal oil lanterns used for lighting purposes around/about the barn. They were also used as walking lights or for area illumination outdoors. Coal oil was often used to start a nice fire in the fireplace or to burn trash and rubble collected about the homestead. It had many uses as a good solvent, cleaning solution, too. Some folks even used coal oil for insect control, but one very important use of it was for limited medicinal purposes.

On this particular visit to the Reeds, my two sisters had tied the end of a long rope to the old chinaberry tree out in the front yard. They wanted me to take the other end of the rope and throw a jump rope for them. I held the rope end and was throwing it up and down, up and down, round and round, just right for them to get into the act of serious rope jumping. They would jump either single or double. For a while, I would throw them what was called “hickory tea,” a real fast jumping action. And all the time I was hopping around with the end of the rope, throwing it real fast, trying to make them miss a step. They loved it.

Shortly prior to our arrival at the Reed’s home, Mr. Reed had sat on the edge of his front porch and freshly sharpened his mighty woodchopper, a double bit axe. I mean it was sharp, too. He then propped it up by the porch, with the blade on the ground and the handle leaning against the edge of the porch. And that is where that sharp axe was as I hopped about flinging the jump rope round and round for the girls. Never once noticing the axe there, as I hopped and jumped around, I carelessly flung my foot into the freshly sharpened edge. As Murphy’s Law says, “Anything that can happen, will happen.” The top of my left foot was cut very badly above the ball of the foot near the big toe. Country folk might sometimes say, “I bled like a stuck hog.”

Everyone gathered around me and watched me bleed, wondering what to do. Mother tried frantically to stop the bleeding and wasn’t having much success. She cried, “Somebody do something.” Suddenly Mr. Reed thought, “Coal oil! That’ll stop the bleeding!” He ran out back to the woodshed and got a large galvanized can of coal oil and grabbed a white porcelain wash pan from the back porch. He came to my foot and poured about a gallon of the oil into the pan. With my foot in the oil, they continued efforts to stop the bleeding. The pan was all red with blood that settled in the bottom and someone said, “The oil and blood doesn’t mix.” Mother was applying direct pressure to the wound, but it kept bleeding. She said, “If we don’t get this bleeding stopped we’ll have to rush him into town to the doctor.” That doctor was some twenty-five miles away, and back then we seldom saw a doctor or rushed to the hospital as we do today.

Since oil and blood don’t mix like water and blood do, eventually the coal oil effectively coagulated the blood, thickening it enough to gradually stop the bleeding. But not until I had lost a lot of blood. Mother soon felt certain it was all okay. She cleaned and bandaged the wound and made me lie around the front porch for a long while, comforting me with a pillow and pallet. Mrs. Reed quickly brought me a glass of tomato juice, which wasn’t my favorite drink. I would much rather have had a good ice-cold Grapette sodawater or big cold glass of sweet milk.

Having lost a great amount of blood, I was noticeably weaker for several days. Over time, mother worked at nursing me back to health. This childhood accident caused an everlasting effect that I still have to deal with to this day. I never received any medical attention, nor had any stitches applied. The gaping laceration on top of my foot severed the top ligament that controls the lifting of the big toe. I cannot lift that big toe upward. I can only pull it downward since the bottom of the toe wasn’t affected. It wasn’t until many months later I noticed the permanent effect on that toe. Constantly going barefoot, I was forever stubbing it on things like rocks, tree roots, sidewalks, or even scraping it on the ground or the road underneath the left bicycle pedal.

As a barefoot country kid that day long ago at the Reed’s house, I may have lost a pint or more of blood and received a permanent injury, but I am mighty grateful that kerosene stopped the uncontrolled bleeding. It was just one more of those old time remedies that really worked.

Today I freely donate my blood regularly and am happy to be able to do so. I am an eighteen-gallon donor of whole blood and can donate up to six times a year. I have been donating since 1962 when I first gave blood to help a fellow Texas highway patrolman who had been involved in a serious car crash in north Texas. Nowadays, I donate for blood drives at the local VFW post. There, all the blood collected goes to foreign battlefields for the benefit of our military combat troops. I have given over 140 pints during the past forty-three years, and I sincerely hope that my contributions have helped many people recover from serious accidents or illnesses.

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N. RAY MAXIE, former Texas Highway Patrolman and Special Texas Ranger, native Texan, now retired, enjoys writing short stories from experiences as a youth in the Ark-La-Tex area, as well as career experiences on Texas highways.

© N. Ray Maxie

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012