at birth with an extraordinarily long name, James Britton Buchanan Boone Cranfill
went on to write a thick autobiography just about as wordy.
heft, some lengthy books have about as much content as a scraped-out gourd. But
“Dr. J.B. Cranfill’s Chronicle: A Story of Life in Texas” is an interesting read
despite its verbosity and occasional excesses. As the author of this 496-page
opus not so modestly proclaimed, his 1916 volume was “Written by Himself about
The book is interesting because Cranfill was interesting. Born
in Parker County in 1858 when hostile Indians still terrorized that part of Texas,
as a young man he rode as a cowboy, worked as a newspaper correspondent, taught
school, and became a medical doctor as well as a Baptist preacher. He became best
known as the long-time editor of the Baptist Standard.
Given his religious
persuasion, Cranfill stood particularly opposed to John Barleycorn and used his
dual bully pulpit in church and in print to espouse prohibition. In 1892, prohibition
was such a strong movement that advocates had formed a third party and nominated
Cranfill for vice-president. He and his presidential running mate, Gen. John Bidwell,
garnered more than a quarter-million votes.
thing notable about Cranfill is that for a Texan born before the Civil War, he
had a surprisingly 21st century view of what constituted healthy habits. He set
forth his opinions in a chapter called, “Some Suggestions for Nervous People.”
The first thing a nervous person needs to know, Cranfill wrote, is that
drinking coffee is not a good idea. In addition, tobacco, tea and other stimulants
should be avoided by a man “as he would the grip of the devil.”
eschewing cigarettes, pipes or cigars, the doctor-preacher wrote, a person subject
to nervousness (Cranfill used the old term of “neurasthenic”) needed to pay particular
attention to his diet. To Cranfill’s view, the way something edible reached the
stomach was as important as what it was.
“Most of us eat twice what we should eat,” he declared, “and do not chew one-fourth
as much as we should chew. If the average man were to divide his food by two and
multiply his mastication by four, he would find his nerves stronger and his general
Cranfill offered this advice decades before any empirical
data had been collected to show the link between obesity and heart disease as
well as other ailments from diabetes to knee and back trouble. He was clearly
ahead of his time.
Even more avant garde for someone writing on the eve
of America’s entry into World War One,
Cranfill practiced vegetarianism. Yes, he was one Texan who did not eat beef.
The wonder is that the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association didn’t
try to buy up and burn all of his books.
“I am a thorough convert to vegetarianism,”
he wrote. “I am thoroughly convinced that meat foods of all kinds should be tabooed.”
Cranfill recommended was a diet heavy on fruits, grains, nuts and vegetables and
light on proteins.
On top of that, Cranfill had another notion that sounded
more Buddhist than Baptist: He didn’t abide the killing of animals for food.
“I do not believe,” he wrote, “that we should kill our friends, the lower animals,
in order to eat them….We can procure all of the food elements by securing the
right kinds of fruits and vegetables, and we do not need meet in order to fill
out a perfect bill of fare.”
That coming from a man who in the mid-1870s
had participated in a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail.
Not that Cranfill
didn’t balance his ahead-of-its-time thinking with some goofy ideas. As a young
man, he had been interested in phrenology, the bogus science of reading a person’s
personality by the contour of his skull.
He also wrote that the best cure
for a case of the nerves was not a hot bath, but what he called a “neutral bath,”
one in which the water was kept about body temperature. The patient should remain
in this bath from 20 minutes up to two hours, “depending upon the gravity of the
trouble and the symptoms of his particular case.”
Taking long, tepid baths
and following a healthy lifestyle decades before it became common certainly worked
for Cranfill, who lived to be 84. He died in Dallas
on Dec. 28, 1942.
His quirky autobiography, which is hard to find in its
original printing, lived on to become a Texas classic.
© Mike Cox
- August 7, 2013 column
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