The Whole Damn Cheese: Character Interview

THE WHOLE
DAMN CHEESE
MAGGIE SMITH BORDER LEGEND
by
BILL WRIGHT
Genre: Biography / Texana 
Publisher: Texas Christian University Press 
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Publication Date: October 12, 2018
Number of Pages: 160 pages with B&W photos
Anecdotes about Maggie Smith abound, but Bill Wright’s The Whole Damn Cheese is the first book devoted entirely to the woman whose life in Big Bend country has become the stuff of legend. For more than twenty years, Maggie Smith served folks on both sides of the border as doctor, lawyer, midwife, herbalist, banker, self-appointed justice of the peace, and coroner. As she put it, she was “the whole damn cheese” in Hot Springs, Texas. A beloved figure serving the needs of scores of people in Big Bend country, she was also an accomplished smuggler with a touch of romance as well as larceny in her heart. Maggie’s family history is a history of the Texas frontier, and her story outlines the beginnings and early development of Big Bend National Park. Her travels between Boquillas, San Vincente, Alpine, and Hot Springs define Maggie’s career and illustrate her unique relationships with the people of the border. Vividly capturing the rough individualism and warm character of Maggie Smith, author Bill Wright demonstrates why this remarkable frontier woman has become an indelible figure in the history of Texas.
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Character Interview

Inside Maggie Smith’s Mind:

An Imaginary Interview with the Whole Damn Cheese

PART 2 OF 2

Click to read part one featured 10/18/18 with Lone Star Book Blog Tours

Q: Now tell us about one of the weddings you attended and how you conducted that wedding.

A: Well here’s a story that combines a wedding and birth. I was invited to a wedding in Mexico. I was asked to be the “madrina” which is like a best man, except in Mexico, they have a best woman. And well, when we got to the little ranch for the wedding we were told that there was a woman who was real sick. She had rode twelve miles to come to the wedding, and she was expectin’ a child. So I went into this room where they had her and they had her tied up into the ceiling with a goat hide underneath her.

Q: Standing up?!

A: Yes. That’s some belief—I don’t know what—in Mexico. So, I had ‘em cut her down and I delivered a baby boy they named Henry after our 12-year-old Henry who was there that night. Well, the family took the baby home after the party that night. The woman rode the horse twelve miles home with that baby, back to Mexico!

Q: There’s a story about some cattle you saved. Tell us about that.

A: That was at Paisano Pass—a gap in the mountains in Presidio County. I stopped there during a blizzard while moving cattle. It was real bad weather and it took us five months to move the cattle from a ranch below Sierra Blanca, down on the river, to a ranch at Carrizo Springs. I was in my early 20s when I made that trip.

Q: You believe that you have the BEST treatment for a rattlesnake bite because it saved the life of your son-in-law, Madge’s husband, twice. Tell us how that story goes.

A: Well he and my younger daughter, Leila, were getting’ a boat out of the river and he stepped on a cottonmouth water moccasin that bit him twice on the foot—he was barefooted. There was no car—we had taken a part of our cart and sent it to town to have it replaced. So I took powdered alum and kerosene and put it in a five gallon can and packed his foot in that. I kept the mixture ‘til it would turn green, and then emptied it and put more in there. Of course, I had a LARGE sack of powdered alum! It was three days before the pickup came from town and we could git help. He went to the doctor in Alpine and the doctor said that it was perfect—that his foot was all right! He took a blood sample and most of the blood was clear. I guess that saved his life, because they said cottonmouth water moccasins have a deadly bite.

Another time I didn’t have anything like that, and they brought this Mexican in—he had been bitten by a rattlesnake on the back of the leg. They brought him from across the river at Boquillas. That time I took a live chicken and slit it down through the breast—I don’t have a queasy stomach—and wrapped this chicken around his leg. I believe the beating heart pulled the poison out. Anyhow, it worked!

Q: As you said yourself, you were “the whole damn cheese” in Hot Springs, Texas. You were also known to be an accomplished smuggler. What did you smuggle?

A: I prefer not to answer. And by the way, I really don’t like talking about myself. Can’t we talk about the country instead?

For thirty-five years Bill Wright owned and managed a wholesale and retail petroleum marketing company. In 1987 he sold his company to his employees and since then has carved out a remarkable career as an author, fine art photographer, and ethnologist. He has written or contributed to seven books, and his photographs appear in Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
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