CURE IT ALL: BARBED WIRE & BAT DROPPINGS by Shayna Matthews
Have you ever wished to be a doctor? Maybe the thought appeals, but years and years of schooling don't. Well, do me a favor. Repeat the following aloud: "I am a doctor." Go ahead, say it, you know you want to. Great! You're done! That's it. You are now a certified physician capable of treating all manners of sickness, ailments, and injuries. There now, wasn't that easy?
You don't believe me, do you? No, of course you don't. Obviously, there is far more to one's medical training than the mere act of stating so aloud. But, throughout the course of history, this was not often the case. We might well complain about our health, and the care received. However, broadening our scope of treatments might reveal a bit of insight into just how far we've come. In the rural communities of the American Frontier, anyone could be a physician, if he wanted to be. No prior medical training? No problem! Who's to know? What's so hard about administering stomach bitters, vegetable anodynes, and rock candy soothers, anyway? What you don't know, you can always observe from a fellow physician, who probably learned his skills from the local animal doctor. (i.e. rancher/farmer).
Cure-alls were popular in the Victorian era, and used for everything between unclogging those stubborn stovepipes to your prized hogs who came down with a vicious case of the runs. This was the claim on one brand of painkillers, which I presume worked for many an ailment. Not because it cured anything, but because the patient, after a few shots--err, I mean doses of the miracle medicine, forgot about their complaints. With 47 percent alcohol in each bottle, (equaling 94 proof), not to mention opium as an added ingredient, who cared a fig about ailments? Stomach bitters, a popular cure all for, well, what's your complaint?--during the Civil War, was shipped by train to the Union troops. Lets face it, no one had more ailment to face than soldiers in camp, on the march, or in battle. With 44.3 percent alcohol content, it probably pickled the livers of most every soldier on the field. A popular recipe for stomach bitters proves my theory: where ground herbs such as gentian root, coriander seed, and cinchona bark are used from between 1/3 to 1/2 of an ounce, a pint of alcohol is added. Prescribed dosage? A swallow, or a wine-glass full before each meal, and before bed. This will ensure proper digestion and guard against malaria, colds and chills. Needless to say, these self-proclaimed doctors of medicine made a mint.
Alcohol played a key role in keeping our Country's fore mothers and fathers alive. (How anyone ever survived is anyone's guess). But, alcohol was not the only ingredient used in common cures of the day. We all know herbs have been used heavily throughout the history of mankind; but here's a few other ingredients found in remedies that just might horrify you.
PILL FORM. Something to consider with pills vs. bottled cure-alls? Pills were often coated with mercury, gold or silver. Chances are, they also contained barbed wire and horseshoe nails. Little pieces of barbed wire and iron nails were cut and ground down, striving for the purest form of iron available. The result was added to pills and tonics for various uses.
CROUP- Combat the cough with skunk grease!
GENERAL PAIN - Opium, paregoric, laudanum.
GUANO - Bat crap. You heard me. Since petrified bat poop's a natural source of potassium nitrate, it was mixed into a paste. The cure? Apply it to your hollow teeth to alleviate the pain of decay.
GUNSHOTS - A bit of that which 'bit' you. Grind grains of gunpowder to dust, scrape off a bit of lint from your clothing and fill it with the powder and apply to the wound.
MALARIA - Quinine, or a bottle of specialized Anti-Malarial Pills. (Remember those stomach bitters?)
SNAKEBITE - This one has a plethora of attempted cures - some of them successful, others, well...not so much. Alcohol administered to the bitten to the point of dizzying intoxication was, of course, a common cure. One method used in 1853 Texas intrigued me: in addition to the alcohol, a poultice of mashed Indigo was used over the punctures. The indigo turned white, was removed, and the process repeated until the plant ceased to change color. The cure in this instance was a success. Raw beef or chicken flesh was also thought to draw out poison.
SORE THROAT - Have a gift for gab, or are otherwise subdued by a sore throat? Pure crystallized sugar, (Rock Candy) has been in use for this treatment since the 1200s. A little lemon juice and a liberal dose of moonshine mixed into your rock candy will fix you right up! Of course, if you don't have the ingredients to make your own rock candy, you can always wrap your throat in kerosene soaked red flannel. A fried onion poultice should also do the trick.
So tell me, what ails you??
The American West is the embodiment of human spirit, the freedom to survive on land as harsh as it is beautiful. Shayna Matthews weaves stories of historical fiction, illuminating epic tales of the era with a flair for characters who represent the fighting spirit of the men and women who have come before us.