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Old West Cures

Have you ever wondered what they did in the 1800’s without today’s modern medicine? No antibiotics. No running to the grocery store for bandages. No calling the doctor on the phone.

Here, we have listed remedies and cures that the folks in the Old West trusted and believed in.


1. After eating too much fruit, or any food for that matter, old cheese is best to eat.

2. Worms? Honey and milk will rid your tummy of those nasty little critters as will strong salt water or a mixture of powdered sage and molasses taken freely.

3. Best things for a burn? Cotton wool and oil.

4. Have a serious cut or wound and afraid of the lockjaw? Be sure to bathe the hurt area freely with lye or pearl-ash and water. Turpentine is also good to prevent the lockjaw.

5. If you happen to cut yourself while cooking, put on some fine salt or molasses works as good.

6. This little known remedy for arthritis was sent in by Calico Lace
Take one dead cat to a holler stump with spunk. (By the way, what is spunk?) Twirl the cat overhead and toss it to the south. Walk away north and don’t look back. Hmmm....now if we can just find a holler stump with spunk...

7. Always apply diluted laudanum to fresh wounds.

8. Burnt alum held in the mouth is good for the canker.

9. Another one shared by Calico Lace
For labor pains: for an easy birth and normal child, put an alligator’s head in the door.

10. If a wound bleeds very fast, and there is no physician at hand, cover it with the scrapings of sole-leather, scraped like coarse lint. This stops blood very soon. Always have vinegar, camphor, hartshorn or somthing of that kind, in readiness, as the sudden stoppage of blood almost always makes a person faint. And again we thank Calico Lace for sending in these next two...


11. Treatment of Acne - Wash your face with a wet diaper.

12. Treatment of Baldness - Smear your head with fresh cow manure.

13. Always apply diluted laudanum to fresh wounds.

14. Burnt alum held in the mouth is good for the canker.

15. When people have a sore mouth, from taking calomel, or any other cause, tea made of low-blackberry leaves is extremely beneficial.

16. Night sweats have been cured, when more powerful remedies have failed, by fasting morning and drinking cold sage tea constantly and freely.

17. When a blister occasioned by a burn breaks out, it is said to be a good plan to put wheat flour upon the naked flesh.

18. Chalk wet with hartshorn is a remedy for the sting of bees; so is likewise table-salt kept moist by water.

19. This remedy for diabetes was sent in by Doug Harris
Take a daily alkaline-sponge bath applied with vigorous friction. Try creosote, in two-drop doses, or clear opium to restrict the flow of urine. You should not eat any foods that contain sugar. Instead, your diet should consist almost entirely of tender, fresh meats. Also, you will continue to be thirsty, but you must suppress this urge and drink very little. This is very important.

20. Black cherry-tree bark, barberry bark, mustard-seed, petty morrel-root, and horseradish, well steeped in cider, are excellent for the jaundice.


21. A spoonful of ashes stirred in cider is good to prevent sickness in the stomach. Physicians frequently order it in cases of cholera-morbus.

22. Night sweats have been cured, when more powerful remedies have failed, by fasting morning and night, drinking cold sage tea constantly and freely.

23. The common dark-blue violet makes a slimy tea, which is excellent for the canker. Leaves and blossoms are both good. Those who have families should take some pains to dry these flowers.

24. When people have a sore mouth, from taking calomel, or any other cause, tea made of low-blackberry leaves is extremely beneficial.

25. An ointment of lard, sulphur, and cream-of-tartar, simmered together, is good for the piles.

26. The constant use of malt beer, or malt in any way, is said to be a preservative against fevers.

27. A few drops of the oil of Cajput on cotton wool is said to be a great relief to the tooth-ache. It occasions a smart pain for a few seconds, when laid upon the defective tooth. Any apothecary will furnish it, ready dropped on cotton wool, for a few cents.

28. The buds of the elder bush, gathered in early spring and simmered with new butter or sweet lard, make a very healing and cooling ointment.

29. Vinegar curds, made by pouring vinegar into warm milk, put on warm, and changed pretty frequently are, likewise, excellent to subdue inflammation.

30. Chalk, wet with hartshorn, is a rememdy for the sting of bees; likewise, so is table-salt kept moist with water.


31. Boil castor-oil with an equal quantity of milk, sweeten it with a little sugar, stir it well, and when cold, give it to children for drink. They will never suspect it is medicine; and will even love the taste of it.

32. As molasses is often given to children as a gentle physic; it will be useful to know that West India molasses is a gentle cathartic, while sugar-baker's molasses is slightly astringent.

33. If a fellon or run-around appears to be coming on the finger, you can do nothing better than to soak the finger thoroughly in hot lye. It will be painful, but it will cure a disorder much more painful.

34. Whiskey, which has had Spanish-flies in soak, is said to be good for ring-worms. Unless too strong or used in great quantities, it is said, it cannot do any harm.

35. When the toenails have a tendency to turn in, so as to be painful, the nail should always be scraped very thin, and as near the flesh as possible. As soon as the corner of the nail can be raised up out of the flesh, it should be kept from again entering, but putting a tuft of fine lint under it.

36. Best thing to be done for rattlesnake bite: cut the flesh out around the bite instantly; that the poison may not have time to circulate in the blood. If caustic is at hand, put it upon the raw flesh; if not, the next best thing is to fill the wound with salt - renewing it occasionally. Take a dose of sweet oil and spirits of turpentine to defend the stomach. If the whole limb swells, bathe it in salt and vinegar freely. It is well to physic the system thoroughly, before returning to usual diet.

37. Before the 1840’s, people sang hymns, bit bullets, drank whiskey to get drunk or even took opium to take their minds off the agony of surgery. Amputations could be done in as little as forty seconds. Nitrous oxide (’laughing gas’) was first used as entertainment until 1844 when it began being used in dentistry. Though religious people protested, ether was brought into surgery in 1846 and chloroform was being used in 1848.

38. Most of the ’horse and buggy doctors’ in the 1800s carried the following in their black bags: castor oil, calomel which was used in purgative therapy to help relax the inside of the body and to get rid of the disease-causing poisons; jalap which is a cathartic powder; peruvian bark or cinchona (to treat malaria); nux vomica; splints, forceps and stethoscopes (after 1819).

39. Heroin was sold as a cough medicine by the Bayer Company in 1898. Morphine, used in the Civil War, was found in Winslow's Baby Syrup and Kopp's Baby Friend. The syrup put the child to sleep, yet the addictive side effects lasted a lifetime for most.

40. Opium was used as a recreational drug as early as 1840. In 1868, it was thought 100,000 people were addicted to it. Opium was sold ’over the counter’ in a pill or in the form of laudanum. It was laudanum that Jesse James became addicted to when the Provost Marshal and his men ambushed the legendary outlaw.


41. The cure for phthiriasis (lice) - soak the hair in common kerosene oil two or three times a day. Wrap the hair in a cloth for the first 24 hours. This will kill the lice and their nits. At the end of 24 hours, the hair should be thoroughly washed.

42. Acute Tonsillitis (Quinsy) - Remain in bed, applying poultices or flannels wrung out in hot water applied to the throat. The following prescription may be used as well - Quinine, 24 grains; Morphine, 1 grain. Take six powders, one every four hours...

43. To treat cholera - This disease is primarily diarrhea and when that is treated, the disease can be treated. Eight years and older, take full doses of laudanum together with acetate of lead and bismuth. An adult should take 25 to 40 drops of laudanum or one-sixth to one-fourth grain of morphine after every movement of the bowels. Small amounts of red peppers, in addition to the opiates, can also help.

44. Benjamin Rush - a Professor of the Institutes of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Rush is remembered as the man most responsible for more blood loss than any war general in U.S. history. Rush’s ideas about disease and medicine were often time questioned...he said such things as Negroes were black because of a form of leprosy; yellow fever outbreaks were produced by ’noxious miasmas;’ tobacco caused madness and consumption. Rush also had definite views on bloodletting, blistering, puking, purging and sweating treatments to relieve the body of poisons that some of his colleagues did not agree with. However, many did cling to the bloodletting and purging ’cures’ even into the 1870’s.

45. Feel ill? You might try Prof. Low's Liniment and Worm Syrup, Dr. Flint's Quaker Bitters or Dr. Townsend's Sarsaparilla. Maybe Hostetter's Celebrated Stomach Bitters would suit you...it does steady the nerves, you know. Or Dr. Powers’ Essence of Life or Dr. Powers’ Radical Pills. Your cure is a teaspoon or a pill away!!

46. Was there a ’cure’ for premature burial? Sometimes early 19th century doctors (regardless if they had a license or not) pronounced those who were unconscious as dead. There was a group called the Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive that helped make sure the dead were just that...dead! Sometimes shovels and crowbars were placed in the casket to aid the ’dead’ to dig their way out if necessary. A device known as Bateson's Belfry was commonly used. George Bateson came up with an iron bell mounted on the lid of the casket just above the deceased loved one's head. A cord attached to the bell was placed in the loved one's hand. Should the loved one awaken, the bell would go off.

47. Yellow fever was also known as the black vomit. The disease was spread by mosquitoes and it destroyed the liver and kidneys. The skin turning yellow was one of the major symptoms. In 1793 an epidemic of yellow fever almost wiped out Philadelphia. Eight thousand died in New Orleans from yellow fever in 1853. An epidemic created death and panic in Memphis in 1878. The disease was finally eliminated in 1900.

48. Are you a Grahamite? If you are, then you follow a man named Sylvester Graham (of Graham cracker fame.) Graham believed in vegetarianism and the consumption of whole wheat foods; bathing often (at least three to five times a week); exercise and avoiding the popularly prescribed drugs of the day, especially calomel. 49. Tuberculosis, commonly known as consumption, was one of the most frequent causes of death in the 1800's. Benjamin Rush thought consumption was caused by tobacco-smoking and could be cured by vigorous horseback riding, opium or a meat diet along with his bleeding and purging techniques. In 1882 Robert Koch discovered the tubercle bacillus and the true cause was then known.

50. Surgery in the 1800’s was not sanitary. Many physicians had not adopted the idea of cleanliness. Carbolic spray (an antiseptic) was invented by a man named Lister. he claimed it would rid the surgery rooms of germs. In 1876 Samuel Gross, Professor of Surgery in Philadelphia, said, ’Little if any faith is placed by any enlightened surgeon on this side of the Atlantic in the so-called carbolic acid treatment of Prof. Lister.’


51. And do you bathe once a year... whether you need it or not? Because indoor plumbing was not available in very many homes in the 1800s, water for a bath had to be heated over a fireplace, many Americans did not bathe with any kind of regularity. There was also a belief baths in the winter caused colds. In 1836, Philadelphia boasted it had more than 1500 bathtubs when plumbing improved. Many thought the Grahamites were wicked for bathing three times a week.

52. Beef tea was given as a cure sometimes. Broil a tender steak nicely, season it with salt and pepper then cut it up. Put it in a cup then add hot water, not quite boiling. Add a little water at a time and let it stand to soak the goodness out.

53. Sage is used as a medicine for the headache (when made into a tea.) Hyssop tea is also good for sudden colds and disorders of the lungs. Tea made of colt’s-foot and flax-seed, sweetened with honey, is a cure for inveterate coughs.

54. Keep all herbs from the air. Herb tea, for it to work right, should be made very strong. Herbs should be gathered while in blossom. The strength goes to the seed if left to seed.

55. Sage is very helpful as a medicine for the headache when made into a tea. It should be kept tight from the air. Sweet balm tea is also cooling when one is in a feverish state.

56. Summer-savory is excellent to season soup, broth and sausages. As a medicine, it relieves colic. Penny-royal and tansy are good for the same medicinal purpose.

57. Green wormwood bruised is excellent for a fresh wound of any kind. In winter, when wormwood is dry, it is necessary to soften it in wine vinegar, or spirit, before it is bruised and applied to the wound.

58. Hyssop tea is good for sudden colds and disorders on the lungs. It is necessary to be very careful about exposure after taking it. It is peculiarly opening to the pores.

59. Motherwort tea is very quieting to the nerves. Students and people troubled with wakefulness find it useful. Thoroughwart is excellent for dyspepsy and indigestion.

60. Catnip, particularly the blossoms, made into tea is good to prevent a threatened fever. It gives off a fine perspiration while the patient keeps warm. Give catnip in bed.


61. When the digestive powers are out of order, try elder-blow tea. It cools and soothes and works very well on babies or grown people. English-mallows steeped in milk are good for the dysentery.

62. Lungwort, maiden-hair, hyssop, elecampane and hoarhound steeped together is an almost certain cure for a cough. A wine glass full is to be taken before going to bed.

63. Horseradish is powerful for the ague. Place it on the affected part. Warm the horseradish in vinegar first then clapped. Burdocks warmed in vinegar also is very soothing.

64. Succory is a very valuable herb. The tea, sweetened with molasses, is good for the piles. It is gentle and healthy physic, a preventive of dyspepsy, tumors, and inflammation, and all the evils resulting from a restricted state of the system.

65. Tea made of colt’s-foot and flax-seed sweetened with honey is a cure for coughs. Consumptions have been prevented by it. Drink at bedtime.

66. Honey mixed with pure pulverized charcoal is said to be excellent to clean the teeth and make them white. Offensive breath can be taken care of by limewater with a little Peruvian bark.

67. For the heartburn, eat magnesia. Magnesia can also draw out grease from clothing when rubbed on the spot, covered with clean paper and a warm iron placed on it.

68. A wart can be wet and rubbed two or three times a day with a piece of unslaked lime, it cures the wart soon and leaves no scar.


These remedies and cures are listed solely for entertainment purposes and the editors of these pages take absolutely no responsibility for anyone trying them!

If you have a remedy or a cure handed down from past generations in your family, please share it with us by e-mail and we’ll feature it along with your name.

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