Frontier Medicine

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-10-06
  • Publisher: Vintage
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Packed with fascinating facts about our medical past,Frontier Medicineis an engaging and illuminating history of how our modern medical system came into being. In this intriguing narrative, David Dary charts how American medicine has evolved since New World settlers first began combining European remedies with the traditional practices of the native populations. This is a story replete with colorful characters, from quacks and con artists to heroic healers and ingenious medicine men. With an engaging style and an eye for the telling detail. Dary charts the evolution of American medicine from these trial-and-error roots to its contemporary high-tech, high-cost pharmaceutical and medical industry.

Author Biography

David Dary is the author of more than a dozen previous books including The Buffalo Book, Cowboy Culture, Entrepreneurs of the Old West, Seeking Pleasure in the Old West, Red Blood and Black Ink, The Santa Fe Trail, The Oregon Trail, and True Tales of the Prairies and Plains. He is the recipient of two Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, two Western Writers of America Spur Awards, the WWA’s Wister Owen Award for lifetime achievement, the Westerners International Best Nonfiction Book Award, and the Oklahoma Center for the Book 2008 Arrell Gibson Award for lifetime achievement. Frontier Medicine won the Alvarez Award from the American Medical Writers Association. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Table of Contents

Preface vii
Indian Medicinep. 3
Early American Medicinep. 28
Over the Appalachiansp. 51
Beyond the Mississippip. 78
Fur Traders and Trappersp. 95
On the Oregon Trailp. 116
Among the Soldiersp. 136
On Homestead and Ranchp. 163
In Western Townsp. 187
Going West for Your Healthp. 211
Midwives and Women Doctorsp. 226
Patent Medicinesp. 244
Quacksp. 273
Into the Twentieth Centuryp. 303
Glossaryp. 323
Appendix: Epidemics in North America, 1616-1950p. 333
Notesp. 335
Bibliographyp. 349
Acknowledgementsp. 363
Indexp. 365
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.



Wisdom begins in wonder.

May is a delightful time to visit the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma. The little bluestem, the big bluestem, switch, Indian, and grama grasses are green after their winter sleep, and the wildflowers display a variety of colors. Groves of post oak, blackjack, and eastern red cedar dot the landscape. Countless birds, including rare black-?capped vireos, search for nourishment. Everywhere there is a promise of nurture and it warms the soul, as do the warm and gentle breezes from the south. The Wichita Mountains are about 300 million years old, and among the oldest mountain ranges on earth. They consist of two rugged ranges of red granite reaching nearly 2,500 feet at the highest point. They run several miles east and west and enclose a natural prairie where buffalo, elk, prairie dogs, and other wildlife still roam in what is today the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While the Wichitas may lack the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, they are impressive islands projecting upward from a sea of rolling prairie.

The Wichitas are rich in lore which includes legends of Indian battles and Spanish treasure. The Spanish penetrated the area in the 1600s, and French traders first traversed the region during the 1770s. Long before the first Europeans arrived, Indians found protection from their enemies in the Wichitas. They also found solace at what is called Medicine Bluff, located near the eastern edge of the mountains. The bluff rises three hundred feet above a creek whose waters were thought by Indians to have special qualities. Indians—Wichitas, Comanches, and Kiowas—most likely named the bluff in their native languages, designing it as a place of mystery with great spiritual powers. The first white men in the area named it Medicine Bluff after learning of this Indian belief. The wordmedicineprobably derived frommédecin, the French word for physician, which early French fur traders would have introduced into North America. The term was widely applied by whites. In time, Indians used the word to identify their own healing methods and spiritual mysteries.

Medicine Bluff is just one of countless natural places with distinctive features that Indians believed had special spiritual power because they could not rationally explain why they existed. Such natural places conveyed to them the essence of a religious experience but were not actually worshipped. Not all things with spiritual power, to be sure, were natural. Indians created smoking pipes, bundles, and other objects that became sacred and powerful once the makers performed special rituals to imbue them with qualities of sacredness or good medicine. For the American Indian, almost anything could attain such a therapeutic or mystical quality, emphasizing how great a role spiritual power plays in Indian medicine.

In “Letter Six” of hisLetters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians(1844), the artist George Catlin noted that “Indian country is full of doctors, and as they are all magicians, and skilled, or profess to be skilled in many mysteries, the word ‘medicine’ has become habitually applied to every thing mysterious or unaccountable and the English and Americans...have easily and familiarly adopted the same word, with a slight alteration, conveying the same meaning; and to be a little more explicit, they have denominated these personages ‘medicine-men,’ which means something more than merely a doctor or physician.”

Catlin related that every Plains Indian male has a medicine bag. When a boy is fourteen or fifteen, he leaves his father’s lodge, locates a secluded spot, cries out to the Great Spirit, and fasts. At night, he sleeps on the ground. He may stay there from two to five days, or until he drea

Excerpted from Frontier Medicine: From the ATlantic to the Pacific, 1492-1941 by David Dary
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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