Kathryn Albright: We’ve Come a Long Way, Cowboy!

Thanks for having me back, Fillies! It is always a treat to be here at Wildflower Junction, whether I’m here as a guest author or as a commenter or even a lurker <g>. I have a medical background so my research on Texas medicine in the 1800s was of particular interest to me. Hope you’ll find it that way too.

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.  

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 second book, The Rebel and the Lady, is being released September 1st. This story takes place during the famous 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 honest to goodness home remedies used back then that will either make you cringe or make you laugh. Do not try these! I have no idea as to their efficacy or safety, but I find them fun 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.

If any of you know of others, I’d love to hear… For anyone who comments, I’ll drop your name in a hat and at the end of the day, draw one name as the winner for a free, autographed copy of my new book! Hope you’ll join in.

Kathryn is busy at work on her next book, a sequel to The Rebel and the Lady. She refuses to try any of these remedies, but does believe some have curative powers. Mostly she believes in the curative power of love…although even that won’t cure snakebite!


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66 thoughts on “Kathryn Albright: We’ve Come a Long Way, Cowboy!”

  1. Hi Kathryn,
    Some of these remedies look scary. I wonder what people will think of our handling of disease a couple hundred years from now.

  2. Hi Minna and Maureen! Thanks for stopping by! I wonder, Minna, if the rowan tree is a cousin of the willow tree here in the States since that is an old-time cure for fever here. (Using the bark to make a tea.)

    Good point, Maureen! Even in the years that I’ve worked in obstetrics things have changed drastically–and women essentially have had babies the same way since the beginning of time! I’m sure some of the remedies from the past did nothing at all, some hurt more than helped, but some did work. I found many references to onions and I’ve seen the curative power of honey.

  3. Hi Kathryn! What a wonderful post! I found your information on Texas medicine in the 1800s to be extremely fascinating. I’m not sure I would want to try any of these remedies, either! I love the remedy for bleeding from the nose! LOL! We certainly have come a long way since then (thank goodness!) Your post reminded me of an old show on TV called “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”. It was about a woman doctor in the Colorado Territory in the 1800s. Miss that show!
    I’ve read your book, The Angel and the Outlaw, and I loved it! It has a treasured spot on my keeper shelf. Your new book sounds fantastic! I will be looking for The Rebel and the Lady in the stores on Sept. 1st. Thank you so much for taking the time to blog here today at P&P!

  4. I live on the Texas Gulf coast, not too far from the Alamo. The flight of the Texians is a dramatic story that sounds like an exciting backdrop for your novel. Looking forward to reading it.
    And I’ll share some of these old “cures” with my 8th grade science students. They’ll likely groan and gag in all the right places!

  5. Hi Kathryn,
    the cover of your new book is so great, I could buy the book only because of it!
    I’m sure some of these remedies are ok, but I’m happy to live in 2008….

  6. These remedies do make me cringe. It’s ironic that the old remedies would often make things worse instead of better. I am glad that I didn’t live back then.

  7. Hi Kathryn
    I like these old remedies I have heard the one for spider bites my grandpa use to get bite by black widows spiders and he use the spider bite one all together he was bitten 8 times through his years and never once did he go to the hospital.
    I love your books.

  8. Hello friend.
    What fun researching that must have been for you. I have actually had wet (not spit) tobacco used on a spider bite or bee sting (courtesy of my dad) sans the onions and salt. I don’t recall it working any better than baking soda – also used on many occasions. What can I say, I got bit a lot. I hope I get to the store early when your book is released because I expect that striking red dress to fly out the door. Hope to see you soon for the autograph!

  9. Hi Debbie, Lori, Eva S and Cheryl c! Thanks for commenting!

    Debbie- The early years of Dr Quinn are favorites of mine. I remember her remedy for anemia–boil rusty nails and drink the water (to take in the iron content.)(Gag!)

    Lori –I’m hoping my new release passes muster with you Texans. I’ve heard tales–“Don’t mess with Texas” etc. (although I’ve heard that was anti-littering campaign ) The story of the Alamo captured my interest from the first time I heard it. When the movie came out a few years ago I was disappointed because even though it kept to the history well, I thought they missed so many chances to enrich it by making it more personal. I hope my story has captured this.

    Eva – Thanks for the kind words on the cover. I was thrilled with it too. The Harlequin Marketing department takes care of all that and I was so pleased with their visual interpretation of my story. (The Alamo in the background might have been nice–but…they know what they’re doing!)Plus I love that red dress!

    Cheryl — Couldn’t agree with you more. I do think it is a good thing we have access to other modalities now–eastern medicine has been around a lot longer than western medicine. I think it is good to be open to what works.

  10. Hi Penny and Barbara! Thanks for stopping by!

    Penney–your grandpa must have been quite an interesting man. I imagine his spider encounters were not his only stories! Thanks for confirming the authenticity of the remedy.

    Barbara- So you actually had the tobacco remedy used on you! Wow.

    I’m a little more prepared this time for THE REBEL AND THE LADY to show up on the shelves. It was such a surprise with THE ANGEL AND THE OUTLAW to have you call and tell me you’d seen it when I didn’t even know it was out (about a week early-if I recall.) I’m learning as I go here in this business!

  11. Hi Kathryn,
    Very interesting all the facts on early western medicine in the US. I’m reading a book about Scotland in the 1700s now, and they keep leaches in containers for “bleeding purposes”. Also wondered what Laudemon was as it’s mentioned often…now I know! Don’t know when the following was introduced, but while living in Ohio in farming area, my 10 yr old daughter fell on cement and immediately got a HUGE lump on her forehead. The farmer’s wife we were visiting ran in and got a “knife from her place settings” and held the spreading edge on the bump. This surprised me, but I let her continue. (My daughter still got a horrendous black eye out of it!!) My mom is a big follower of “vinegar” usage for things, and she just turned 100!!

  12. Wow, great post, Kathryn!!!! Thanks so much for visitig us today and for the fab home remedies 🙂 One from my childhood was bacon over splinters. We tended to run barefoot outside in the country *g* and when we came in with deep splinters, instead of tweezers my mom would strap a piece of bacon on our foot, put on a sock and by morning the splinter would be in the bacon. I admit, I’ve never done this for my children–they got tweezers *LOL*

    Can’t wait for my copy of The Rebel and The Lady!!!

  13. Hi Kathryn, The only home remedies I can think of right now is. Put baking soda on bee stings to draw the stinger out. Whiskey and rock candy for caugh, and whiskey and honey for caugh.

    I do love the cover of your book, very romantic.

  14. Hi Kathryn,
    I really enjoyed your post! For those of us who write westerns it’s full of fun and colorful information. I agree about your cover being spectacular!! Look forward to reading your book.
    Stacy–loved the bacon and splinter story..((:^>

  15. Hi Kathryn – It’s great to see you again at P and P! I love your cover and all the great medical info you blogged about this time around.
    Wishing you great success on Rebel and the Lady!

  16. Hi,

    Thank you for your wonderful post. I have studied in the past the history of medicine and have always found it fascinating… but we never talked of the West that is for sure!

    Congrats on your new book 🙂
    I found this cover prettier than the one that was gracing your 1st book!

  17. Hi,

    This post was full of great information! I remember reading about the humours of Hippocrate and it did make me laugh! What a progress medicine has made from back then!

    Good Luck with The Rebel and The Lady.

  18. I, too, found the cures for ailments very interesting. The one I heard about is taking duck lard and rubbing on the baby’s ribs/tummy for gas problems.
    Love the cover on your book; very colorful.

  19. Hi Judy! I’m so glad you visited! About the leeches–I don’t think they’ve made a comeback but I have recently heard that maggots are being used to clean out infection in wounds. Just makes me shudder. Interesting take on the knife incident. I wonder if the metal was supposed to stop internal bleeding? (bruising?) Vinegar does have a lot of health benefits (as well as cleaning uses ) Your mother must be quite an amazing woman! 100! I bet she could tell me more a few things about home remedies!

    Hi Stacey! I can’t figure how the bacon thing works (or fatback or lard) but I’ve read of it over and over in my research. How do people figure these cures out??? And this one actually worked on you! Amazing!

    Thanks for posting Michelle Ann! Glad you find the subject interesting. I know I did while researching. (That’s a hazard for me–I get knee deep in research and put off writing.)

    “Quilt Lady” – glad you stopped by. I think whiskey was used a lot for all kinds of things in the West. Baking soda has been around forever–and has many great uses even in present-day medicine. I’m not up on medicine from “across the pond” such as what was used in Europe centuries ago, but I wonder if it wasn’t even used then? By your name here, I bet you could teach us all a few things about quilts…

    Thanks for posting Caroline! It’s the research that gives me so many story ideas and plot twists. In THE REBEL AND THE LADY I had to be careful because there was such a huge change in what was available on the frontier before and after the Civil War and I wanted to stay as historically accurate as possible. It’s always a challenge! (Which makes it fun for me–and frustrating sometimes.)

  20. Kathryn,

    Welcome back to P&P! We so enjoy having you come visit us. I remember quite vividly how my mom used to smear our chests with Vicks salve then wrap hot rags around us when we had a cold. Sure helped us breathe better. But, Lord, I hated the smell!

    Love the cover of your new book! The colors are eye-catching and such a tender scene. Very romantic! I’ll look for it.

  21. Thanks for having me back, Charlene! I popped in yesterday and read some of your blog on horses–need to get back to it. Very interesting! (I’ve always had a soft spot for horses…When other girls were playing with dolls, I was playing with my Brea horse figures.)

    Hi Nathalie. Glad you are enjoying the blog. I think this book is a tad more passionate than my first–and so the cover reflects it well. THE ANGEL AND THE OUTLAW was a redemption story with the hero and heroine struggling with inner demons. In THE REBEL AND THE LADY, the hero and heroine have a war going on around them and issues of loyalty and betrayal to deal with. It makes for a larger-than-life, more daring story. (Hopefully!)

    Lilly — Good to hear from you! Yes, we’ve come a long way, that’s for sure!

    Robyn — thanks for your input. I’ll have to remember that remedy for a book. I wonder if just the action of rubbing it on helped soothe the baby? One of my boys was collicky–I remember it as a very trying time.

    Karen B — I KNOW I wouldn’t have survived without modern antibiotics! I had a severe case of pneumonia when I was 2yr old. I think in the Old West it really was a case of survival of the fittest, which accounts for some of the colorful, strong, characters we hear tales about. (And the shysters and rough ones too.)

  22. Interesting… I guess one does learn something new everyday!!! I have heard about some of those old remedies, but I can not imagine actually trying them… eek… Thanks for the medical lesson!!! 😀

  23. Ya know, best I can figure is that bacon is SALTY and draws moisture from the skin, which draws out the splinters…I guess *LOL*

    I too LOVE your new cover!!! Oh so romantic…the painted sky, that dress and her hair–GORGEOUS!!! Cheers for much success 🙂

  24. Kathryn,
    What an amazing post!!! I love it when authors get gritty into their historical research. I am SO excited to get my hands on this book and BTW, your cover…OMG. Gorgeous!
    Congrats on the release of your second book!

  25. Hello Kathryn! I was happy to see your newsletter waiting for me in my inbox when we got home from a trip yesterday. And congrats on the beautiful cover and amazing story.

    This post was great and sure to be one I look back on for information. When he was a kid, my hubby’s grampa told him to cut a potato in half, rub it on his wart, and bury the rest in the backyard. Well, that worked LOL.

    As for me, I love reading and writing about the Old West…but give me 21st century medicine any day!

  26. I can understand the use of some of these items but when it comes to doing things like having to bury vs. burn the bandages, I really have to wonder lol. I think we still hardly know much when it comes to medicine. Luckily, methods will keep changing and hopefully for the better.

  27. This is a very interesting blog! Thanks for sharing the information.

    I don’t know of an old remedy but to get rid of a wart, cover it with duct tape. Make sure that no air can get to the wart, and in a week or so, it will fall off. This really works.

  28. Hi Kathryn! I’m glad to see you here! I am a GINORMOUS fan of your first book, “Angel and the Outlaw.” Being a San Diegan, the setting of the old Point Loma lighthouse was a huge draw, but the story itself was everything. And yes — I already own “The Rebel and the Lady”, having ordered it straight from Harlequin a month early! I’m starting it today. Doesn’t it have the loveliest cover? Beautiful…

    Take care, and all the best!


  29. Hey Kathryn!
    I think I’d rather tough it out than try some of those old remedies! LOL!! I imagine 100 years from now some of our medical cures will seem just as outrageous to them.

  30. Hi Linda B- Yep that old Vicks routine has been around awhile. I’ve used it-not with rags-but I put the ointment on my son’s upper lip when he was congested to help him breathe easier at night.

    Thanks for joining us Colleen. Sometimes talking about things like this can be a bit hard on one’s sensibilities . Coming from a medical background, I tend to be a little “toughened” that way.

    Stacey–I bet you are right about the salt. That’s an old cure too–although it stings!

    Hi Delilah! Thanks for joining us today. What is it about historical writers that they just love uncovering new (old) details from the past. You have quite the blog on history too! I enjoy it immensely.

  31. Hello Tanya! I think I’ve heard of that potato cure for warts! I wonder sometime, if it wasn’t the power of positive thinking that actually did the trick? But then–there might be something in potatoes we don’t understand?? Glad to see you here again!

    Hi Jeanne–thanks for posting! With the burning or burying thing–I think there was an awareness of something being contagious, just not the germ theory yet or how the sickness actually spread. But sometimes there was no rhyme or reason, too.

    Vicki – I’ve heard about smoothering a wart but never the duct tape idea. Wonder if that is in the book–100 Things to Do With Duck Tape. It should be!

    Hi Wanda Sue! Thanks for joining in! You’ll have to let me know how you like this next story. Would love to hear from you after you’ve read it. I hope to get back to San Diego as a setting soon–it still calls to me to write about it and I have a few ideas that won’t leave me alone!

    Robin- thanks for posting. You know–I’ve seen the cobweb cure for bleeding in other books and my grandmother once mentioned it. I wonder what it is in cobwebs that stops the bleeding? Must be something in the sticky substance. And I like to think that cures in the future will consist of the Star Trek idea of scanning a bar over one’s body to diagnose everything and then fix everything. Wouldn’t that be great??

    Hellooooo Missy! Thanks for joining in! Maybe you’ll get lucky today and win the free copy of my new book! I don’t think there’s a disclaimer for relatives LOL! I wonder if your French exchange student would have some interesting home remedies. So glad you stopped by!

  32. Hi Kathryn. Good to see you here. Those remedies sound scary. I am glad medicine has vastly improved. Your new book sounds wonderful. Love the beautiful cover.

  33. Hi Kathryn, I love reading about home remedies too. I have actually tried a few but only those my grandmother told me to try and they worked. But some of those sound pretty scary. LOL
    I can’t wait to read your new book and I love the cover.

  34. Eat a spider sandwich for strength. This means one spider between two slices of bread. Hold the mayo! Hee.

  35. I grew up on a ranch in Colorado and my grandmother put coal oil on everthihg. Also when my sister and I used to get scratches and bites my gandfather would have his dog lick these for us. Of course, we thought it was great fun. Anyone remember Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing-well that’s what they put on bee stings and ant bites.
    My grandparents used the Farmer’s Almanac recommended remedies for everything. And I never used toothpaste until I was in 8th grade because we brushed our teeth using baking soda. As old as I am, I still have beautiful white teeth and all of them.

  36. Thanks for posting Crystal, Kimmy, Estella, Mel, and Joye! So glad you enjoyed the post. Joye- you’ve probably heard the argument about people having more germs in their mouths than dogs do–and the healing saliva of dogs. I can’t stand it when my golden retriever licks me so I know I wouldn’t let her near a scratch. Eiuuu. Coal oil–now that sounds interesting. Hadn’t heard of that one.

    Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, for making clothes whiter is still around today and is used for a lot of other things than just clothes. That is an entire subject in itself!

    Thanks for posting!

  37. My grandmother was a great one for home remedies!
    One used most often was taking an egg and rubbing
    it over the sick person, as prayers were recited.
    The egg was then cracked open, placed in a bowl which was then set under the person’s bed. After so many hours it was removed, taking with it the cause for the illness. (the humors?) Strangely enough, the person did sometimes get better after the “treatment.” Then there was her famous “hot toddy” for colds (which everyone loved!) and the steak treatment for black eyes and bruises.

    Pat Cochran

  38. Very interesting. I never knew all of that. You learn something new everyday. I can’t believe what some people believed in for cures, but I guess in some ways it still goes on today.

  39. Hi Pat and Rebekah! Thanks for visiting here today. Loved the remedy about the egg! That does sound like something about the balance of humors. Interesting. I always assumed the steak for black eyes and bruises was because of the coldness of the steak (when ice was hard to come by) but then how did the steak stay cold? So there may be another reason, like the bacon talked about earlier.

    Thanks so much for joining in!

  40. Just wanted to thank everyone again for participating and adding to my research stock of home remedies. Stay alert! You may end up seeing the one you mentioned in a book! I will let you know tomorrow whose name was chosen for the autographed copy of THE REBEL AND THE LADY. Please check back to find out if you are the winner!

  41. Oh my gosh! Some of those home remedies are just nuts!!!! LOL thank you for sharing that info! I dont know of anything to share as far as home remedies go, but I sure enjoyed reading about them!

  42. Popping in late to say hi, Kathryn! I enjoyed your first book awhile ago and its characters have lingered in my mind for a long while after I finished. Count me among those who are glad that we don’t use some of those old remedies any more–yikes on the spider webs! And is a persimmon stick just a piece of a persimmon tree? Who knew? 😉 Thanks so much for visiting, and congrats on your latest! Looking forward to reading it and its sequel!

  43. great post, Kathryn! Being from Texas (did you know that?), this brought back some very interesting memories from 7th grade, when every Texas child must take State history. Also, there’s a great museum in Frederick MD on Civil War medicine. (I just had the strange feeling we’ve talked about this before…) Apparently shocking and somewhat graphic, but fascinating. Beautiful cover, and I’m certain a great book. Can’t wait to read it. Hurray for you!

  44. When I was a child I was bitten by a spider in the mountains of California and an elderly doctor reccomended finding someone that chewed tobacco to spit on my arm. It worked! The painful swelling and the itching sooned stopped but I have never cared for anyone who had that nasty habit other than the kindly Swede who helped us out.

  45. My grandpa told me carrying a potato in my pocket would cure rumitism. I had an ache in my leg which bothered me walking to school and so carried a small potato in my overall pocket for a week or so.

  46. Your Gr. Grandmother used an onion plaster on your Grandmother (Mama Dot) when she was 9 years old, because the Dr’s gave up on her when she had the 1918 flu that was so powerful. Now they (Dr.s) want her blood to make a vaccine to ward off the effects of the flu for the future. Onions are good to eat too.

  47. I believe that the Eyptians used honey as a contraceptive. Vinegar sponges were also popular in the old days. Heat, a hot knife was used to cauterize wounds. Matches were used to draw out ticks. Vinegar was placed on tick bites.
    Barbers just yanked out your tooth if you had a toothache. Ipecac is still used to induce vomiting.

  48. Hi Kathryn! Welcome to P&P! I didn’t know you had a background in obstetrics. Your blog is fascinating with its home remedies, as scary as some of them sound. Good luck with your latest release–the cover is beautiful!

  49. Welcome back Kathyrn!

    Wow those are some interesting remedies! It has always amazed me on how these remedies were created…who had to be the “guinea pig!?”

    For a poison ivy rash, I have read that you find the woodland wildflower Jewelweed (aka Touch-Me Not.

  50. After reading the remedies, it’s a wonder anyone survived.

    I heard that to get rid of a wart, rub it with half a potato and bury the potato.

    Enjoyed your blog.
    Thank you.

  51. Sure enjoyed the later posts! Thanks Melissa D, Fedorah, Bobbi, Connie, Robert, Gloria, Laurie G, Kathleen, Kate, and Mary for all you comments. It really is amazing the things people would do to try and ward off illness. Some of the remedies really worked but I’m glad I live now when there are more choices. I’ll add all your names to the drawing!

  52. Kathryn glad to hear about your other book I just got the Rebel and the lady. Very interesting about all the medical info.
    Glad there are more medical choices now and ones that have been tested.

  53. Kathryn,
    I loved the blog. I enjoyed reading the old folk remedies. It’s a wonder anyone recovered from anything. It’s a good thing the human body is so resiliant.

  54. I’m late as usual ! I never hear about these things until they are over with. Anyway, congratulations on your new book. Looking forward to seeing you here in Southern California. Maybe, I’ll get a signed copy of your new book at one of the book signings !

  55. Kathryn, this came in our Mailbox for you from Simone Butler:

    “Just wanted to say congrats on the new release to my old pal Kathryn! Those home remedies sound pretty scary–I’ll bet the Native American ones were more effective! And probably less invasive than the bloodletting, etc. that MDs were offering!”

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