The Very Big List Of Old West Maladies
The ailments of the early American West seemed like a good reason to want to be born a century later.
In the days of Melodrama in the Old West, physicians were scarce and poorly educated. Treatments was often based on the now-discredited theory of the four bodily humors that had to be kept in balance. These might include such treatments as bleeding (sometimes using live leeches), cold baths, blistering agents, and other remedies that were worse than the ailments that they were meant to treat! Phrenology was considered a science where the reading of bumps on a head could be used as evidence as to what might "ail" you. Deadly epidemics such as cholera, malaria, scurvy, and typhoid swept across the old West, compounded by potentially fatal illnesses like diphtheria, fevers, influenza, smallpox, and tuberculosis. Some old-fashioned names for diseases even sounded worse than modern desctiptions. Today routine childhood immunizations have nearly erased many of the diseases on this list below - like diphtheria which once was a tragic illness and now there are less than five cases here a year in the US.
Many people placed their faith in patent medicines, pitched by traveling "snake oil" salesmen who never failed to entertain the crowds before offering their cure-alls. Your could hear the salesman say ... Step right up ladies and gentlemen "Our unrivaled elixir can cure all the ills of man or beast including ..."
A localized collection of pus buried in tissues, organs, or confined spaces of the body, often accompanied by swelling and inflammation and frequently caused by bacteria.
A disease characterized by severe weakness, low blood pressure, and a bronzed coloration of the skin, due to decreased secretion of cortisol from the adrenal gland. Also known as bronzed skin disease. Not to be confused with Brown Dropsy which is an inability to process metals in food.
Used to define the recurring fever & chills of malarial infection.
Generalized massive edema (swelling)
Paralysis due to stroke
Cyanotic and lack of oxygen
Wasting away (generally from lack of use, i.e. muscles)
Typhoid, malaria, hepatitis
Jaundice or other symptoms associated with liver disease; may also have been any upset leading to vomiting bile or just vomiting.
Acute infection with high temperature and dark red skin lesions and high mortality rate
Wiel's Disease; Black Water fever (deadly form of malaria)
BLACK PLAGUE OR DEATH
Dark urine associated with high temperature (deadly form of malaria)
BLADDER IN THROAT
Diphtheria (not certain but a best guess)
Bacterial infection; septicemia
Chronic inflammatory disease of kidneys
Humans become infected by coming in contact with animals or animal products that are contaminated with these bacteria. In humans’ brucellosis can cause a range of symptoms that are similar to the flu and may include fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness. - MILK FEVER
Boil, tumor or swelling.
Subject to falling sickness or epilepsy.
Typhus; aka Camp diarrhea
Ulceration of mouth or lips or herpes simplex
Seizures / trances
Nose and throat discharge from cold or allergy
Inflammation of cerebrum or lead poisoning
Swelling of extremities caused by exposure to cold.
Iron deficiency anemia; leukemia
Inflammation of the gall bladder
Acute severe contagious diarrhea with intestinal lining sloughing
Characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, elevated temperature, etc. Could have been a misdiagnosis of a case of appendicitis.
Disease characterized by convulsions, contortions and dancing
Ague which is characterized by chills
An abdominal pain and cramping
Any collection of fluid in an organ, like the lungs
Tuberculosis; Wasting sickness
Laryngitis, diphtheria, or strep throat
Dark skin color from lack of oxygen in blood
Diseases of throat
Inflammation of the bladder
Fever lasting one day; sweating sickness
Lack of movement or staying in bed
Feebleness due to old age
Hallucinations due to alcoholism
Infectious fever endemic to East Africa
Cutting of teeth
Tumor of the eyelids which causes hair loss
A fever that lasts one day
Contagious disease of the throat
Usually animal disease with malaise, discharge from nose and throat, anorexia
Edema (swelling), often caused by kidney or heart disease
DROPSY OF THE BRAIN
An abnormal body condition (usually with the blood)
Inflammation of colon with frequent passage of mucous and blood
Indigestion and a gnawing or burning stomach pain with Bloating and Heartburn connected also with Heart attack symptoms
Difficulty in urination
Nephrosis; swelling of tissues
EDEMA OF LUNGS
Congestive heart failure, a form of dropsy
A form of leprosy
Swelling of brain; aka sleeping sickness
Inflations of the bowels
Inflammation of the intestines
Simply it is a nose bleed
Contagious skin disease, due to Streptococci with vesicular and bulbous lesions it is caused by group A B-hemolytic streptococcus bacteria..
Cirrhosis of liver
Sudden attack or seizure of muscle activity
An excessive flow or discharge of fluid like hemorrhage or diarrhea
FLUX OF HUMOUR
A collection of pus
An inflammation usually of an extremity
GREEN FEVER / SICKNESS
Influenza like symptoms
Skin disease caused by mites in sugar or flour
Condition caused by loss of salt from body
Body temperature elevates because of surrounding environment temperature and body does not perspire to reduce heat. Coma and death could result.
Paralysis of one side of body
Osteomyelitis, a staph infection
Enlarged head, water on the brain
Dropsy in chest
Enlargement of organ, like the heart
Contagious skin disease characterized by pustules
Physical condition resulting from lack of food
Abdominal pain due to improper diet
Condition caused by blockage of intestines
Scrofula, a tubercular infection of the throat lymph glands (also syphilis)
Flu or influenza
Tetanus or infectious disease affecting the muscles of the neck and jaw. Untreated, it can be fatal in as few as 8 days
MALIGNANT SORE THROAT
Progressive wasting away of body, like malnutrition
Inflations of brain or spinal cord
Inflammation of uterus or purulent vaginal discharge
Poisonous vapors thought to infect the air
Disease from drinking contaminated milk, like undulant fever or brucellosis
Phlebitis; a painful swelling of the leg soon after childbirth, due to thrombosis of the large veins; Painful swelling of the leg beginning at the ankle and ascending or at the groin and extending down the thigh... its usual cause is infection after labor; Postpartum thrombophlebitis
Disease from milk of cattle which had eaten poisonous weeds
Scurvy blisters on the body
Gangrene of necrotic tissue; Infection
Inflammation of the spine
Inflammation of heart muscles
Mortification of bones or tissue
Inflammation of kidneys
Extreme exhaustion from inability to control physical and mental activities
Described as discomfort, such as "Headache" was neuralgia in in your head
Paralysis or uncontrolled movement of controlled muscles.
Skin disease of watery blisters
Inflammation of heart
Inflammation of lungs
Inflammation of abdominal area
Fever characterized by skin spotting
PHLEGMASIA ALBA DOLENS
Milk Leg - Painful thrombosis of the femoral vein in the leg following childbirth
Chronic wasting away or a name for tuberculosis
An acute febrile highly infectious disease with a high fatality rate
Any pain in the chest area with each breath
Tuberculosis of spine
Gomerulonephritis; a once relatively common childhood kidney disease that causes the kidney to leak protein. This is a secondary (allergic) reaction to certain kinds of strep infections. Now very uncommon ... go figure.
Any disorder associated with pain in joints
Disease of skeletal system
Hay fever or nasal symptoms of an allergy
A disease characterized by red rash
An old west alternative for Roseola
Rheumatism in the hips
Dizziness, nausea and dimness of sight
Tuberculosis of neck lymph glands. Progresses slowly with abscesses and pustules develop. Young person's disease
Skin disease, impetigo
Lack of vitamin C. Symptoms of weakness, spongy gums and hemorrhages under skin
Chills or ague
Viral disease with skin blisters resulting from the Chicken Pox virus
Inflammation of the brain due to sun exposure
Contagious disease with fever and blisters
SORE THROAT DISTEMPER
Diphtheria or quinsy
Sudden involuntary contraction of muscle or group of muscles, like a convulsion
Deformity of spine
Either typhus or meningitis
Tropical disease characterized by intestinal disorders and sore throat
ST. ANTHONY'S FIRE
Also, erysipelas, but named so because of affected skin areas are bright red in appearance
ST. VITAS DANCE
Ceaseless occurrence of involuntary rapid complex jerking movements.
Inflammation of the mouth
Uncontrolled elevation of body temperature due to environment heat. Lack of sodium in the body is a predisposing cause
Could be malaria, typhoid
Blood clot inside blood vessel
Childhood disease characterized by spots on mouth, lips and throat
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Infectious fever characterized high fever, headache, and dizziness
St. Vitus Dance
Convulsions associated with teething, worms, elevated temperature or diarrhea
Another old west term for Yellow Fever.
Here is one link to learn more about the most
common ailments of the old west:
Here is one link to learn more about the most common ailments of the old west: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/illnesses-ailments-diseases-history-nameshttps://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/illnesses-ailments-diseases-history-names
OLD-WEST 'ELIXIRS' AND MEDICINE SHOWS
Most of these medicines were at best harmless (unless you might be using heavy machinery). Many actually contained generous quantities of alcohol, opium, or cocaine, ensuring a quick feeling of well-being for first-time customers, followed by the possibility of habitual use. These medicines were widely advertised in magazines, newspapers, mail order catalogs, storefronts, on fence posts, and even barn roofs. These nostrums were pitched far and wide, but no promotion could beat the hoopla of a traveling medicine show. These shows featured music, comedy, juggling, and overblown rhetoric mixed with testimonials and stunts to demonstrate cures. Admission was free, with the performers making a living from the sale of cure-alls and a few assorted other items. The masters of ceremonies would usually add the title of "Doctor" or "Professor" to their names to give themselves a recognizable sense of liquidity.
There was Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root, Dr. Hercules Sanche's Oxydonor Balm of Gilead, Mullen's Liniment, Rite Wate Fat Reducer compound that promised a safe way to a slender healthy figure, Trilene tablets for all fat people, Hamlin's Wizard Oil Pain Remedy, Simmon's Liver Regulator, Pink Pills for Pale People, and of course Dr. J. Millers vegetable expectorant ... invaluable for all lung troubles. Few of these "cures" actually healed and many didn’t contain promised ingredients, for example:
VITAL SPARKS -
Which promised to revitalize masculine virility, It was nothing more than a concoction made by rolling rock candy in powdered aloe.
TIGER FAT -
A cure-all balm reportedly made from Royal Bengal tiger backbone, was in reality concocted of Vaseline, camphor, menthol and other aromatic oils.
A purported nerve sedative, had alcohol as its main ingredient (and lots of it). It advertised a cure for nervousness, indigestion, irritability, seasickness and sleeplessness.
A medicine purportedly made from Indian herbs by the Modoc and Nez Perce Indian tribes. In reality, it was made in Pennsylvania, and simply contained a modicum of alcohol, sugar, aloes and baking soda.
PROFESSOR MACK'S MIRACLE ELIXIR OF LIFE -
A Medicine that could purportedly cure just about anything that might afflict you. In reality a concentrated black tea extract with herbs and tree bark extract. Since the bark was from the white willow variety the concoction contained naturally occurring salicylic acid which modern day aspirin owes it heritage. And the tannins in the black tea had several calming benefits for the stomach and even if applied topically. So, in comparison to the rest of the elixirs ... Professor Mack almost got it right. It also contained 12% distilled alcohol which explained its popularity and why people kept buying the elixir even though their maladies persisted. Produced until the Professor's disappearance in 1910.
By the early 1900s, suspicion was rising about the value of these nostrums and so called "Elixirs". And so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was established in the 1920s to regulate the nation’s drug industry and Medicine Show became a thing of the past.
The golden age of Medicine Shows took advantage of a receptive, unsophisticated public who may have been awed by legitimate scientific discoveries of the time. People such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Bell and Madame Curie had stirred the public’s dreams for inventions that would make daily life easier. If you looked at the "medical journals" of the time you would be barraged with recommended cures for maladies that have all but vanished in this 20th century.