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Monday, October 12, 2009

Texas Medicine of the 1800s

Although the nineteenth century has been termed “The Golden Age of Medicine” the doctors of the Texas wilderness still practiced medicine much as it had been practiced since the Middle Ages using the ancient Greek theory of the four “humors.” Blood was thought to come from the heart, phlegm from the brain, yellow bile from the liver, and black bile from the spleen. According to this theory, disease and sickness occurred because of an imbalance in one these humors. If one was in excess, it had to be removed or equalized, hence the use of emetics to induce vomiting and the practice of cupping or draining a certain amount of blood to remove the “harmful humor.”

Wounds and bacterial infections caused the majority of deaths and disabilities. Doctors of this time battled malaria, yellow fever, pneumonia, cholera, dysentery, post partum infection, tuberculosis, measles, and small pox. They could splint fractures, suture wounds, perform amputations and drain infections (and all with unsterile technique.) For medical instruments, many had only stethoscopes. Other tools—saws and knives came from the kitchen. This particular device
was used to remove arrows...

For a treatment to be effective, most thought it had to have a foul smell or taste. Powders were sought over tablets, and colored tablets over white ones. Some medicines in use at the time included quinine, calomel, blue mass pills, belladonna, ipecac, columbo, asafetida, boneset, squill, pokeweed, hog's foot oil, castor oil, digitalis, lobelia (or Indian Tobacco.) There were many home remedies and poultices and plasters were common—some producing enough heat to burn the patient.

Morphine or laudanum was often prescribed for pain relief. Also, paregoric (camphorated tincture of opium) was used to inhibit diarrhea, coughing, and to calm fretful children. The concept of drug dependency was not considered. Anesthesia (with nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas) was not used for surgery until 1844, although one New Orleans doctor used ether several years earlier. Before this, the most sought-after surgeons were the ones who worked fast so that the pain would be less. In 1847, chloroform was first used for pain during a delivery.

My new release, Texas Wedding for their Baby's Sake, takes place just after the battle at the Alamo and the rebels are the Mexicans and Anglos in the Texas Territory who want to secede from Mexico's rule. Researching the battle, I learned that Santa Anna de Lopez, the president of Mexico, brought only one physician on the charge north—for his own personal use. There were no doctors or medics for the common soldier--nearly 10,000 men, not to mention the wives and soldaderas that followed. For the Texians at the Alamo's small hospital, medicine ran out two months before the battle. People had to depend on home remedies, folklore, and borrowed knowledge from the Native Americans, using whatever was on hand for their aches, pains and sores.

Here are a few home remedies used back then. Do not try these! I have no idea as to their efficacy or safety, but I found them interesting to read about. Information was obtained from A Pinch of This and a Handful of That; Historic Recipes of Texas 1830-1900.

Snake and Spider Bites -- Beat onions and salt together, wet tobacco, mix thoroughly. Split wound and apply at once.
Warts -- Take a persimmon stick and put as many notches on it as you have warts. They will go away.
Sores – (1895) Powdered alum is good for a canker sore in the mouth. Never burn the cloth bandage from a sore; you must bury it for the sore to heal.
Knife Cuts – (1853) Clean wound well and apply a piece of fat bacon or fat back. Strap it on for several days.
Puncture Wounds (Nails, Gunshot) Put some old wool rags into an old tin can, pour kerosene over the rags and light. Then smoke the wound. This also works with chicken feathers.
Boils or Infection – (1890) Salve: Take one part hog lard, two parts quinine and mix.
Bleeding from the nose – Bathe the feet in very hot water, while at the same time drinking a pint of cayenne pepper tea or hold both arms over the head.
Other bleeding – Place a spider web across the wound.

We've come a long way haven't we?

18 comments:

Donna Marie Rogers said...

We sure have come a long way...LOL Great post, Kathryn! I've been plotting a historical, so this really fascinates me. :-)

Annette said...

I've always wondered how many of the old wives tale type cures have any science behind them. They sure don't sound fun to create or apply. Great post, Kathryn!

msullivan said...

What a great post, Kathryn! So, so interesting. The mortality rate after an injury must have been sky high in those days.
Mary

ashleyludwig said...

I love this. I have a scene in All or Nothing (set at a Cavalry fort in 1876), where my heroine (a seamstress) has to suture a wound as there's no one else to do the job.

I especially love your snakebite cure reference. Might work that into my next MS!

Thanks for sharing this excellent, fun information. Agree with Donna. We've come a LONG way!

~Ashley

Terry Blain said...

Actually the spider web (or a cobweb - does anyone see these anymore?) are pretty good as they are sterile and help the blood clot.

Weird, huh?

Susan Macatee said...

I'm always amazed at the drugs people of that era took for granted. So many people ended up as addicts. And some of those medicinal cures sound downright nasty! LOL.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hey thanks for stopping by Donna! Yep, this kind of research always fascinates me too.

Hi Annette! I don't know about science, but I do know through trial and error they came upon things that really did work. Raw honey, for instance, is really good for healing wounds and has been used for centuries. (Even today!)

Thanks for commenting Mary. Yes--I cannot imagine being injured then. We really are blessed now, with the advent of antiobiotics.

Kathryn Albright said...

Thanks for posting Ashley. What are you using for suture? I think back in 1836 when my stories take place they used a strand of hair from a horse tail. Later (in the early 1900's) I think they used cat gut. I suppose in 1876 they might use regular thread for sewing.

Thanks for your comment Terry! There are still plenty of cobwebs in the old barns around my neck of the woods. They would be horribly dusty. I can see how a new spiderweb would be sterile--but not one that has been around for several days. I guess back then if someone you cared about was bleeding, you took what you had on hand and used it--along with lots of prayer.

Hi Susan,
I'm thinking some of the cures came about by the power of positive thinking!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I love information like this, Kathryn. I have numerous books on Herbal remedies (since I write medievals, that's all they had!) and have, in fact, tried a few of the ones with fabulous results.

I can highly recommend pleurisy root for lung congestion. Since we started using it, my dh, who got pneumonia twice a year for most of our marriage, hasn't had pneumonia once. First sign of bronchitis and out comes the pleurisy root. (He says it tastes like filthy socks, so I put the drops in honey for him, but it really works!)

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hey, Terry, obviously, you've not stopped by my house lately....lol. Lot's of cobwebs here.

Great post. I've found this time period's medicine to be an interesting subject to research. We are, however, finding that not all of their remedies were bad. Some of them, we're turning back to, like using leeches and maggots. Gross, but they work.

Kathryn Albright said...

Thanks for posting Gwenlyn. Where in the world would you find pluerisy root? Would it be at a health foods store or GNC? I'm glad that there are books and people who know about herbal remedies. I find them fascinating.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Anna Katherine--very true. I'm just glad that doctors don't "bleed" patients anymore. Thanks for stopping by!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

There's a holistic meds store in Lahaska, PA, Kathryn (close to where we used to live, 2+ hours from here, but thus far, no luck finding one closer. Thank heaven they'll mail stuff & eldest daughter is still down that way in a pinch.) Although I'm not of fan of New Age stuff, sometimes they carry the holistics too. You should have seen my dh's doc's face when I told him what I was using. No Mastercard. Still Priceless. ;-)

Sandy said...

Some home remedies aren't too bad, but most of these didn't sound too helpful. lol

librarypat said...

Interesting post. Have heard of several of these remedies. The spider web one was commonly used and if I remember, worked to some degree. If you think of it, the web sticks to the injury and provided a framework for the blood to clot to and form a scab. Have used the alum cure myself. Our wart remedy was to rub a dried bean on the wart, take a ride and throw the bean out when the person wasn't looking. As the bean decayed, the wart would shrink and disappear. I had no faith in that one, except it worked for my sister.

martin said...

If you are looking for tour&travels related information, you can scan the resource page of herbsncures.com and get travel related links on the resource section of the website.

Obe said...

Makes you wonder how we ever got this far. Awesome information.

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after watch and analyze that medical instruments, I conclude that in those times must been very dificult resive some kind of surgery.