Making Do With What’s At Hand


Back on the frontier, settlers learned to make do with what was at hand, especially if they were ill, since there was little or no medical access. Times were hard and death came often. A person had to have a pretty vast knowledge to survive. Here’s a look at some of their resources. You’re gonna laugh at a few of these.

WillowFor Fever — Willow Bark or Sassafras Tea

Gunshots — First removing the bullet, then pulverizing gunpowder placed inside lint scraped from a garment and applied to the area OR some people collected spiderwebs and bound them on the wound

Snakebite — Mix vinegar with gunpowder and apply to the bite OR cauterize the bite with nitrate of silver then give the patient a concoction made from ammonia and whiskey — Native Americans would scrape the wound then apply rattlesnake weed — then another solution was binding thick mud on the wound to draw the poison out

rattlesnakeWounds of any kind — Women used knitting needles to probe a wound, sometimes lancing it with a razor if they thought it needed it, and used embroidery scissors to remove torn skin or even fingers nearly severed in an accident

Preventing contagious diseases and colds — Asafetida (gum resin) or cloves of garlic was hung around the neck

Yellow Fever and Typhoid — Doses of quinine and calomel

Sore Throat — Wrap with red flannel OR a kerosene-soaked rag OR placed a poultice of fried onions around the neck

Stomach Worms — Treated with boiled pumpkin seed tea

Croup — Treated with skunk grease

Bleeding Cuts — Place flour on it to staunch the bleeding

Burns — Apply a p0ultice made of slippery elm and Indian meal OR make a salve of turpentine, sweet oil, and beeswax OR a salve made from chamomile, sweet clover and the inner bark of sweet elder trees mixed with mutton tallow and beeswax OR a mixture made from the white of an egg and lard

As you can see from some of these it’s a thousand wonders anyone survived at all. I’m just glad I live in the modern world where PROVEN medical treatment that works is close by. How about you? Would you be quick these days to put a poultice of fried onions around your neck or drink a big glass of ammonia and whiskey for snakebite? Good heavens!!!!


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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

14 thoughts on “Making Do With What’s At Hand”

  1. I have heard about a bunch of the above things… just so odd to think that they came up with some of the items and techniques they used…

  2. Hi Colleen! So great to see you. Yes, I truly don’t know what people were thinking about some of these very peculiar remedies. Maybe someone tried one and it didn’t kill him so he spread it to his friends. Or maybe he told his enemies?? Could be he never tried it to begin with but wanted to easily dispatch with someone he had a beef with. LOL

    Take care and have a wonderful day!!

  3. Hi Melanie! Thank you so much for coming by to read my post. It was fun to do. Glad you enjoyed it because to entertain was my goal.

    I hope you have a blessed day full of fun and laughter.

  4. Linda, what a great post! Another one my mom told me about was how her little sister would get bad earaches, and my granddad would blow cigarette smoke into her ear–I suppose the nicotine must have deadened the pain, or maybe the warmth of the smoke helped.

    I am so glad to live in the modern times we do now. This post is so interesting!


  5. Hi Cheryl! Glad you enjoyed my post. I haven’t heard about blowing smoke in someone’s ear for earache. But I had an uncle who used to gargle with turpentine to cure his sore throat. I would think something like that would kill a person. I’m surprised it didn’t. I sure never did anything like that. Nor did I drink cod liver oil in the spring to ward off colds. Yuck!

  6. Hi Britney! You and me both. Some of that was horrible. My mother used to smear Vicks Vapo-rub on my chest and throat and wrap hot cloths around it to ease a cough and congestion. That was the worst thing I ever let her do. No wonder the people smelled bad back then. They reeked of onions and garlic.

  7. Hi Linda, thanks for the wonderful info. I wonder if any of these natural remedies are still in use holistically. I think willow bark did work. The creepiest remedy I ever heard about was mustard plaster. Love this post. Xo

  8. Hi Tanya! I actually used mustard plaster in the book I just finished. I learned that you had to be very careful or the mustard combined with the heated cloth would cause blisters. The source I used cautioned not to leave it on for longer than fifteen minutes at a time. I guess people used whatever they had on hand that they thought might work. Also, some cures seemed to have ties with superstitions which abounded back then.

  9. I had heard of a few of these plus a few others I would never want to try. Many of these make leaches sound good, which they are for treating some things. Thanks for the interesting information.

  10. These treatments sound horrendous.

    My MIL used chamomille tea to soothe sore throats and relax you. She also used Vicks Vapo Rub. Finally she used aloe lotion for burns

    Other treatments I’ve heard of:

    purple coneflowers (Euchinacea)- Native American treatment for infections recently thought of as a way to build up our immune system.

    Honey contraceptive

    Cranberry juice for kidney issues

    garlic for heart issues

    I am thankful for modern treatment methods. My paternal grandfather died from a diabetes complication, gangrene. His first wife and child died in childbirth. His second son died at the age of 29 from a rare spinal cancer. My dad, his third son, was in a car accident when he was 17. He was sideswiped. He had his elbow out the window. His arm from the elbow down was left hanging. It was almost amputated. After several surgeries they did manage to save his arm. He had minimal use of it and it was disfigured. He survived without antibiotics. Pretty amazing!

  11. I have heard of some of these. The willow bark for fever did work and it is from that that we get aspirin today. I have heard of blowing cigarette smoke in ears for ear ache and putting chewing tobacco on a wasp sting to draw out the stinger. Actually that worked on me once. I hated it when my dad chewed but it worked when I was stung. I’ve also heard of the garlic around the neck but I had never heard of the fried onions. Great post and very informative.

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