DRT Travelin' Trunk on “Early Frontier Medicine” at SC Historical Society Meeting

March 8, 2018 - The Shelby County Historical Society hosted the first monthly meeting of 2018 on February 20th at the museum.

The meeting was opened with prayer and pledges to the flags by Teddy Hopkins. He then called upon Ann Bowen for her to introduce this month’s program presenters. Maggie Casto, William Carroll Crawford Chapter of the Daughter of the Republic of Texas, then welcomed everyone to the meeting and explained the program would be on “Early Frontier Medicine”. The chapter has what is called the Traveling Trunk which has a wide variety of items pioneers would have used daily during the time of the Republic (1836 - Feb 19, 1846). The Chapter shares this information with schools, civic groups or any place that will let them come in and explain early daily life in Texas history.

Barbara McClellan took it upon herself to develop information on frontier medicine to show how pioneers managed to stay alive by using trees, plants, herbs, and items around them to treat various illnesses.

The Indians had a lot of information to share on early medicine. For hundreds of years Indians practice home remedy medicine from herbs, plants, trees; you name it and they used it in treating illnesses. When the settlers came, some of the friendly Indians helped the pioneers. The most important thing was some of the settlers came prepare. These are the ones who survived.

Barbara started her information on frontier medicine with plants. An example of some of the plants used was dandelion roots were used to make a tea. Many of the parts of the plants were used to make a tea and there were different cures from different types of plants. The dandelion roots were used for an antibacterial, for anemia and the root could also be chewed for a bladder infection.

Wood ash was always available, and it would be added to some water, mixed and then drank for diarrhea. Diarrhea in those days was very dangerous especially to the young children. Another item often used was flour. You can even do this today. If you are using a knife and cut yourself, grab your flour placing a hand full on the cut and it will instantly stop the blood flow. Sugar can be also used to stop bleeding. Plain old tea was used by making a paste out of it and place it on stings and insect bites. One thing unique about the paste is if you keep it on the bee sting, it will draw the stinger out. 

The onion was a mighty thing; it could be used for many things. Onion cough syrup was one of the main items used. Recipe is peel a white or red onion, cut into large slices, layer the slices in a sealable jar. Add brown sugar or honey on top and let sit for about 6 hours (may take longer for sugar to dissolve). Take a spoon full as needed. It is also an antihistamine. If someone is allergic to an insect sting, you can place a slice of onion on the sting and leave it on a while. It will help remove the sting and protect the person from having an allergic reaction to the sting. Onion of course is an eye irritant. What happens when you start peeling an onion? You start crying so if you get something in your eye start cutting an onion and your tears will wash the item out right away. Onion is also good for small burns; take a slice of onion placing on the burn and it will draw the fire out of the burn. 

Mustard, plain old brown mustard can be used as a poison antidote. Put mustard into a small glass of warm water and have the person drink it. This should make the person throw up. 

One of the ways the early pioneers used plants were what was called a detoxin. The leaves, roots or bark was boiled until half of the water remain. The mixture would then be placed in a jar and used as needed. Another was a tincture. It was a solution of alcohol; plant bark or root and it would be soaked completely in the alcohol for six weeks and then used. A wash was an item that was boiled for 5 minutes then they would let it sit for a few hours before using. 

If you feel the flu is coming on, mix corn starch, dry mustard and baking soda together. Then get you bath water as hot as you can stand it and put the mixture in the water and soak, all the way up to your neck, for 15-20 minutes. The next morning you should feel much better. 

Whiskey was another important item in every house. Of course, the men had it for one reason and the women for another. Whiskey was used as an anesthetic, antiseptic, antitoxin, and for colds. Hot toddies are whiskey, lemon juice, hot water and honey mixed together and used for colds.

Barbara then shared the important part trees had in early medicine. Some of the tree barks used were oak bark (treatment of sore throats, bleeding gums or canker sores in the mouth). Willow bark was good for constipation; as a detoxin (removed dead or diseased skin - almost as thick as a salve, placing it on the area to be treated). Walnut halves could be used as a tea for treatment of tapeworms and nervousness. Sassafras was good for so many things. The root chewed for arthritis, upset stomach and nervousness. Peel the root and chop it into small pieces and chew it. The leaves of the sassafras could be use as a tonic to thin the blood, diuretic, arthritis, high blood pressure, bronchitis, and an antibacterial. 

These are just some of the different types of plants, trees and leaves Barbara shared which were used for frontier medicine. Everyone is encouraged to attend one of the fascinating programs presented by the DRT and the Travelin’ Trunk.

The next part of the program was presented by Gail Sholar. She passed out various sheets of paper with remedies on them. These early pioneer methods of treating illness were gotten from a series of books call “Firefox” which is an illustrated guide to the herbs and roots used in traditional Appalachian healing. Some of the remedies ranged from the practical (burdock tea will help aching feet) to the magical (carrying a buckeye in your pocket will help lessen arthritis). 

  • Chigger bites: To relieve itching and infection, rub chewed snuff or tobacco over the bites. Make a mixture of butter and salt to stop itching.
  • Spider Bites: If bitten by a black widow spider, drink liquor heavily from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. You won't get drunk, you'll be healed. 
  • Athlete's Foot: Wrap a wool string around the toe, or step in cow dung that is fresh.
  • Warts: Rub the wart with the skin of a chicken gizzard, then hide the skin under a rock. The wart will disappear.
  • Worms: Eat tobacco seeds. Eat a head of garlic every day until they are gone. Put three or four drops of turpentine in a teaspoon of sugar and eat it.
  • Bleeding: Place a spider web across the wound.
  • Diarrhea: Take a tea of red oak bark. Drink some blackberry juice.