In the fall, one could expect that our pioneers began to concern themselves more than usual with issues of health. Fortunately doctors proliferated. Some even vaunted their abilities in the Nebraska Advertiser. Dr. J. L. McKee, physician and surgeon dentist, assured the readership that he plugged and filled teeth in the most approved method. And methods were advancing apace in 1857, as dentists discovered how to lessen the pain in tooth extraction. The key was "galvanic influence." We owe it to a Philadelphia dentist to have applied "galvanic influence" to tooth extraction. It was this Philadelphian who developed the galvanic forceps, "a combination of the ordinary forceps with a galvanic arrangement attached, whereby the nerve of the tooth may be so charged with the galvanic influence that [the nerve's] sensibility will be partially suspended."
Other doctors had their helpful innovations as well. Not burdened by germ theory, they discovered unique methods for either curing or avoiding illness that we, in our germ-filled ignorance, have lost the knowledge thereof.
"Do not approach contagious diseases with an empty stomach," the Advertiser warned, "nor sit between the sick and the fire, because the heat attracts the vapor." We must give them credit for this sound advice, because it is true that a person who eats well is rarely ill. And it is equally true that a man who is outside chopping wood, rather than cozying up to the fireplace, it generally fit. The last bit of advice on this subject informs the reader never to "enter a sick room in a state of perspiration." The reason is obvious: because "the moment you become cool your pores absorb." And again, the wisdom here is well-founded, because a person who sweats and chills is often in ill health as well.
Nonetheless, I think I would prefer to be a sick horse rather than a sick man, especially if experiencing a case of the scours, not an uncommon occurrence in a river town of the Antebellum Era. The remedy for the inconvenience was eggnog: made of "loaf sugar and old Bourbon." Of course I wouldn't want to have the heaves as a horse, because the remedy exchanged the Bourbon for sour milk. But then that might bring back the scours, and hence, the Bourbon. Having worms, though, does not seem to have had such a beneficent outcome in the end. I cannot be convinced that downing a pint of linseed oil could result in anything good, other than well-lubricated bowels. The best thing for a bee-sting, of course, was potash, if applied immediately.
With the type of cures administered by the doctors and self-appointed veterinarians of 1857, it's no wonder that our Brownville druggist, J. H. Maun, sold medicines, chemicals, and paints, seeing that the items appear to have been interchangeable.
Newspapers of 1857 carried some very serious stories as well as a column of jokes. Today, it's not always clear which variety amuses us more. In any case, this blog is dedicated to analyzing the pages of the Nebraska Advertiser newspaper of 1857. Chime in if you've run across some interesting stories from the time period.