Indian Doctors.  Part I*

Due to the politics of medicine, there are really three periods in history with regard to how American Indian medicine was added to or incorporated with regular medicine. 

Period 1.  The first period consists of observation, note taking and a limited amount of clinical testing of the medicines used, during which time regularly trained physicians had their limits as to how much they would incorporate the new products into their practice.  It was also during this period that the knowledge about American Indian uses for herbs was abundant at a cultural level and limited amongst professionals, except on a local basis. Specific members of a given region or social setting were actively engaged in the practices of local plant use, even to such an extent that these practices were often a continuation of knowledge already passed down from one generation to the next. Throughout this period in American history we learn about the valuable medicines on a case by case basis, and these reviews of the local history are often inquired into briefly and then set aside until a need for such knowledge develops.

Period 2.  The second period of American Indian medical history pertains to the popularization of these practices by “alternative” physicians, usually competing with the medical establishment.  In the beginning of Euro-American history for the Colonies, these professionals may have not been considered much a threat to regular doctors, until their practices and influences on the masses begin to take hold.  This period in medical history really did not begin until the first American Indian herbal medicine writings were published in book form, and made available for the public to read and apply as a substitute for the physicians many were so unsure of.  It is hard to state exactly when this period began, but if we rely upon the publication of a book on this subject (and not a pamphlet or small booklet), then it is probably safe to say that the alternative medical profession referred to as Indian Root doctoring did not begin until some time between 1800 and 1815.  The initiation of this period in time does not relate at all to the origination of Thomsonianism, a form of medicine that although often paralleled with Indian philosophy and medicine by past historian authors, is not at all American Indian based in its philosophy.

Period 3.  The third period in the development of American Indian herbal medicine as part of the status quo medical profession also developed about this time, and perhaps even earlier.  There were several attempts made from the early 1700s on to try to better understand the values of local plants, much like scientists and physicians had already successfully done with the Central and South American plant medicines.  Yet, medical politics and the economy were major factors that helped prevent this transition from taking place, and it wasn’t until the separation of North American Colonial commerce from the highly expensive cost of European import products (including older New World medicine products), that the interest and need for making better use of the local natural products seemed the right thing to do.  Like what was already being seen at the national level in the colonials, there were some physicians who were loyalists and believed in the use of tried and tested imported medicines, in spite of their costs, and there were the separatists in medicine beginning to develop their own philosophy about how to treat and cure a particular disease.  No doubt, it was during this period of testing that certain American Indian plant medicines were found to be as good if not better than the European imports.  One major advantage of the native plant remedies, aside from their lower cost, was the reduced need to be concerned with adulterated or counterfeit products marketing, a major problem with the European import medicines. 

Throughout the first quarter of the early nineteenth century, regular medical practitioners were at odds with certain members of their own profession as well as the rapidly growing numbers of practitioners who did not practice regular medicine.  By 1825, this problem made regular medicine just one of many options now available to the sick.  The advantage of the alternative healing faiths was the lack of bloodletting for the most part, the ability to sensationalize the failure of regular physicians to effect their cures with their new more potent remedies, and the ability for the common people to philosophize and romanticize much of what was being taught by the alternative healers.  The physicians, as scientists and, at times, variations between atheists and natural philosophers, were not always the most favored members of certain local social scenes. 

There were at least three types of healers aside from regular doctors which the common person had the opportunity to learn about.  There were the Thomsonians, the electric cure supporters, the Indian Root Doctors, and a new alternative about to form–Reformed Medicine physicians (5 to 7 years later this was renamed Eclectic medicine).   It would take quite some time for the regular physicians to develop the political structure and legal support needed to overcome this change in American medical practice, and the New York-Hudson valley area was located right in the middle of all of these professional changes.  The first national medical association formed was that of homeopaths (1848), followed by regular doctors (1850 precursor to AMA), followed by eclectics (1852).  So the regular medical professions considered the non-quackery form of medicine was not the most successful group for its time. 

Between 1795 and 1825 we see public distrust in regular doctors growing for philosophical, religious and even scientific purposes.  Many towns and states are bound to have some of the same anti-establishment physicians out there contesting the physicians’ strong reliance upon the lancet or blood-letting instrument.   According to the coverage of new state acts passed by Congress published in the Poughkeepsie Journal, between 1825 and 1850 at least one physician who tried to put a law through banning the practice of blood-letting.  Even some of the physicians could foresee the mistakes in what they were doing. 

For several reasons, evidence for the practice of what came to be known as “Indian Medicine” is not as straight forward as it was for Thomsonism or Reformed/Eclectic Medicine during the first quarter of the 19th century.  This is because of the setting in which Indian Medicine was born, which was a very different scene from where, when and how it became popular a generation or two later.  Excluding the traditional Indian medicine practiced in the traditional Native American cultural setting, which has a beginning that cannot be accurately defined due to the long history of Native American tradition, there is this “Indian Medicine” as the European and Euro-American people came to know as this practice.

The First “Indian Doctors” of Euro-America

There is the preconceived cultural paradigm we have of “Indian Doctors” and the true characters that were “Indian Doctors.”   In one brief description of “Indian doctors” on the web they are referred to also as “botanic physicians.”  There is considerable overlap with some of the clinical skills of each, but philosophy has to always be taken into consideration when trying to label an individual as a particular type of physician.  This approach is taken throughout my reviews of these physicians because culture does very much make a difference in who and what kind of healer some one becomes. 

When an acupuncturist or chinese medical doctor is practicing his/her skills today, or in the past, we don’t refer to the acupuncturist as anything but an acupuncturist, and we don’t refer to the Chinese medical doctor as a simple herbalist, although we do sometimes call him/her a Chinese or Oriental herbalist.  Culture makes a difference in this situation because of the underlying beliefs, philosophies, and traditions underlying the practitioners involved in these practices.

In the past, writers and historians often did little to fully understand these unique differences between the sects.  One Thomsonian history writer ventured to say that Indian philosophy was included in the philosophy, although Thomson’s system appears to be mostly European and even Galenic in nature in many ways, focusing on fever as the chief symptom upon which many cures are based, and imbalances in the body’s make up as a cause for these disturbances. 

This is very much a follow-up on some of the Brunonian theory popular at the time, the notion that atomic behaviors cause disease based on an interplay of the notion of metabolic activity and nervous/cell force, and what was previously considered the vital force concept, as follows: 

vital force <=> Newtonian atomic energy concept <=> motion/heat <=> activity/flow of blood <=> temperament &/or fever <=>     illness, based upon organ(s) involved)

One take on this philosophy is that fever is a consequence of too much energy or heat, and is a sign of illness, but a natural consequence often of illness; too much may need assistance in the elimination of heat (thus the Sweat Bath).  Puke and purge is used to remove the excess fluids and/or heated blood, or to some causes for the illess (the modern take on this theory based on eliminating “toxins” is a much later derivative of this theory).   Blood letting removed the vital force or heated blood, but is bad for the patient, and to some seemingly non-sanative (not a part of “God’s plan”, or God’s “natural route of recovery” designed for the human body.)   The allopaths simply drop a small part of this philosophy to allow their use of the lancet, but at times do realize the lancet when used too much can make the case fatal.  For Thomsonians, too little heat is easy to deal with using the steam bath.  This latter concept does overlap slightly with Native American philosophy, but also has matching European-derived Water cure concepts.

There were in essence the humorists still playing some role in the tradition–humors/energy related to disease–versus the solidits of William Cullen with philosophies arguing against the increasingly popular Browns brunonianism (see An Essay on Autumnal Diseases, by John Esten Cooke, M. D. ca 1829, Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine in Transylvania University. Cooke covers this in a section of his article on topography and fever, as well as his book A Treatise of Pathology and Therapeutics). 

The following time frames exist for these various forms of medicine and specific and generic sectarian medical terms:

  • herbalism (a fairly universal term with no cultural or temporal limitations) 
  • botanical medicine“, “botanic medicine” (also universal terms) 
  • medical botany“, perhaps initiated some time in the 1790s or very early 1800s, as evidence by books bearing these words in their titles. 
  • Indian Root doctoring (ca. 1815-1850, esp. following the publication of a book on the same),
  • Botanic Medicine” (1825-1860), the official trade in medicine referred to by Alva Curtis, Ohio, ca. 1829-1850
  • Reformed Medicine” (1824-1840) practitioner, Wooster Beach, but this term was used in England as well during the late 1820s, and perhaps a little by American MD writers 
  • Eclectic” medicine (ca. 1828/9-1890), Wooster Beach admits ca 1828 in a history of Medicine book in association with a national Thomsonism meeting.  [Alexander Wilder’s History of Medicine, including footnotes, details this part of the history of the use this term for referring to this sect.]
  • Thomsonianism,” or “Thomsonism“(1809-1860, but very popular 1820 on due to book published); with surname misspelled as “Thompson” at times by regulars (i.e. 1840s Boston Medical & Surgical Journal), followers of the anti-Thomsonian movement in lower Hudson Valley, NY–incl. Sylvester Graham (1837-), and even Poughkeepsie Journal and Poughkeepsie Thomsonian typographers at times.
  • Independent Thomsonian” (1830s-1850s according to some of Thomas Lapham’s and Alva Curtis’s writings, the new movement was called “Independent Thomsonianism”, for which a meeting was held in Philadelphia.  Curtis’s version of this became known as “Botanic Medicine” or “Botanico-medicine” and was also a new form of Thomsonianism.  The further from Samuel Thomson (New Hampshire)  the sect formed, the more independent it was and the more likely it would have incorporated some local indigenous remedies.  The further south into the Bible Belt it formed, the more religious its base was and the more like Samuel Thomson’s version the sect became (Memphis bordered on religious tradition, but never stabilized as a school; Georgia and Alabama schools were very traditional and religious-minded according to their writings); the New York following appears to be natural philosophy and religion/natural theology based.  There is also inference of a new sect in western NY provided in a book written by Dr. Elias Smith, ca. 1820-1830, near Buffalo); the most detailed evidence for how and why Thomsonianism was split in the later 1830s is found throughout the Poughkeepsie Thomsonianism, Vol. 1, No. 13, October 27, 1838.  This number begins with the article “Dissolution of the Old and Formation of the new United States Thomsonian Medical Society”, the two major reasons given by Lapham and Le Row for the dissolution of The National Society are the advancements in science being made and Samuel Thomson’s lack of a former education accompanied by his use of a patent  control the marketing of his “discoveries.”  An “Independent United States Thomsonian Botanic Society of the United States” was formed as well, along with numerous local Independent Thomsonianism Societies.  Lapham’s “Address” published noted the following to be 3 million by this time, 19% of the population in 1835 noted to be 14.7 million(
  • Physomedical” practitioner (1845-1852), Alva Curtis’s synonym, but also a term used more commonly by strong religious groups training their students in mostly Thomsonianism, but with a little variation emphasizing more the sanative healing theme (seen in Cleveland, and Cincinnatti suburbia schools, 1837-1850 , migrating west to Indiana/Illinois schools and church settings, 1845-1855 about)
  • Physiomedical” doctor (ca. 1850s), synonymous, seen especially in late Thomsonian (Neo-Thomsonianism) period of the 1890s [this differentiated “Neo-thomsonianism” from  those versions of Thomsonianism and its followers published by a past medical historian, which missed the similar use of this term in  the 1890s and made some errors in differentiating these various sects]
  • New Thomsonianism” or “Neo-thomsonianism“, 1890s brief popularity, formed mostly due to religious pressure on the medical profession and the increasing desire for more alternatives erupting (could this be a result of a combination of features like the end of the century, recent epidemics and the recurring failure of regular medicine physicians once again, a result of the social fear of science and the lack of total belief or acceptance of the bacterial theory for disease?).
  • New Eclectic” (1890-1900, that version of “Eclectics” that arose after the “discovery” of the bacterium; the sect split into those who believed bacteria could cause disease and those who didn’t; the term Eclectic was retained by a California group (operating as a Sierra school of medicine, for which the position regarding the bacterial theory is uncertain); all other schools were pretty against bacterial theory even into the 1930s (and present for some very slow minded “traditionalists”), this groups was essentially replaced by “Naturopathy” beginning 1895/6, but took on the name and ND instead of MD degree perhaps around the mid 1930s, but especially following the 1956 Utah Governor’s Council study of the doctor professions for the state of Utah [reviewed extensively elsewhere]).

The differences between these sects is fairly detailed, and so a “botanic physician” being equated with an “Indian doctor” in a number of past and recent medical history writings or teaching materials is a parallel drawn between two sects due to the naivite and lack of sufficient readings on behalf of the writer.  An “Indian Doctor” is not a “botanic physician” or a “Botanic” or “Botanico-medical” practitioner.   The philosophies of any of these two sects are not the same, as demonstrated by the diversity of the few examples described in a fairly detailed and well-localized series of studies on medicine in the colonies/United States by Maurice Bear Gordon, entitled Aesculapius comes to the Colonies.  Since philosophy is what defined medicine during this time, we cannot state with certainty that a particular use for a given plant by a believer in metaphysical traditions is identical with the belief of the agnostic-atheist using a chemical- or phlogiston-based theory for his her practice of the same.  One theory may be sanative based, the other sanitative based, and therefore demonstrate two opposing lines reasons.

It ends up experience is often what dictated the accepted medicines around 1790 and 1810, a period sometimes referred to as the “Heroic Period of medicine” — all doctors are heroes for making their discoveries — an older more traditional term for this is “Empiricist medicine.”  Experience not Experiments provide the key to the proof that a herb works, a belief system mocked and put down for centuries by the more scientifically minded, experimentalist  that most doctors had to become between 1800 and a little before 200o.  [Now they are back to something like the “Empiricist” approach, with a strong emphasis on the clue of the clinical experiment and testing methods, but call this reform “Evidence-based Medicine”.]   

The first “Indian Doctors” practiced a form of medicine based primarily upon theory and philosophy (religion and metaphysical/physical world beliefs), and the empirical approach.  Sometimes just the method was Indian-bred and born, like the specific use of the herb, in which the original theory gets transformed to something new, something that makes more sense to the non-Indian believer.  Other times the philosophy remains intact, for example as practiced by some trappers and individuals born into Indian clans and families.

Relating this to some early ‘American Indian medicine’-like cases, in  Maurice Bear Gordon’s Aesculapius comes to the Colonies, we find the following two detailed stories of American medicine ‘herbalism’ and ‘Indian doctoring’  (neither of which were his labels for these) history as an example of early American life provided:  

  • Rhode Island (p. 251):  Dr. Dutee Jerauld (1715-1804).  Child of a family of French Huguenot refugees, Dutee was born in America and was taught medicine by his father.  Dr. Jerauld initially resided in Medfield, Massachusetts, but later removed to Warwick, Rhode Island.  He was the only person who practiced medicine within this small six mile squared township, and locally became famous for his fever and chronic disease treatments.  Jerauld favored the use of indigenous medicines, one of which Prickly Ash, he applied to rheumatic patients.  According to the author: “Rumor has it that the herb was exterminated in this area because of his numerous prescriptions for it.”   Like many rural doctors, he was paid by barter in the form of farm goods.
  • Connecticut (p. 211-3). Norman Morrison (1706-1761), a native of Scotland, was both a doctor and clergyman.  He typically wore a wig and a cocked hat while at work.  Graduated from Edinburgh in 1735, he then removed to the Colonies in 1736.   He felt there was a local need for an independent apothecary in his profession, but while inquiring around the area whee he lived on Main Street, near the Suffield Court House , he learned of local “Indian doctor” Dr. Andrews.  According to Gordon, Andrews acquired his skill in Indian doctoring from the natives residing at the Farmington-Berlin border.  Morrison’s opinion was that Andrews was not at all of a similar training as himself, and so  to prove his claimed about the unlearned Dr. Andrews he sent Andrews a letter in Latin.  Unable to read the letter, Andrews had it translated by the local Reverend.  He then sent back his reply to Morrison in Native American dialect, which Morrison also could not read or decipher.

Gordon also provides a few insights into the herbalism of early American colonies/states in general, providing an example of how the Mayapple or Podophyllum peltatum came to be recognized as a medicine.

Equally important to understanding the earliest phases of United States medicine are the tales told by James Thacher in his American Medical Biography or Memoirs of Eminent Physicians who have flourished in America.  To which is prefixed a succinct history of medical science in the United States from the first settlement of the country (Boston, 1828.  Reprinted by Milford House, New York, 1967).  Thacher however does not provide enough detail about the earliest physicians mentioned to define them as followers of a specific sect or group of healers with its own unique philosophy.  Most important to Thacher’s work are the citations he makes for docotors who wrote treatises on the local plants, some of which are in manuscript or even republished form and can be accessed in the right library setting.

Neither Gordon’s not Thacher’s reviews of herbalism and medical botany suffice as examples of “Indian Doctors.”  These are for the most part stories of people either acting as individual performing their practice, or as members of the regular medical profession making those “late discoveries” typical of their delayed acceptance of the value of these medicines, their “loyalty” to the European doctrines of medicine first, and the failure to accept the possibility that better or more efficient American versions of these remedies existed as well.  (Even William Buchan in his 1820s to 1840s editions of the highly popular, but strongly anglocentric Domestic Medicine considered the trappers’ medicines counterfeits, poor man’s equivalents and even false substitutes).  [These two scenarios represent periods 1 and 3 noted at the beginning of this page.  For more extensive reviews of American Indian Philosophy and its inclusion in European/Euro-American medical practices, see my extensive coverage of regular and other medicine during the trapper period.]

Indian Root Doctoring as a Legitimate and Popular Profession

Whereas the earliest years of Indian doctoring by non-Indians was very much pragmatic and utilitarian in nature, often practiced due to lack of choice more than lack of tradition, by 1800 the notion of practicing Indian medicine became a popular philosophy for some life styles.  During the decade or two that followed, the romanticization of Indian life, countered by the numerous popular press accounts of Indian attacks as well, led to a sensitization of the public to the fate of the Indian and the failing missionary movement to convert Indians to Christians.    This social issue would remain a hot topic for years to come.  During that time, some people became more sensitized to the Native American tradition and some even became converts in some superficial, symbolic sense, mostly for purposes of display and to earn a living.   There are several examples of these individuals who turned to the popular press to sell their unique philosophy and identities.  One of the first to accomplish this with a high degree of success was Peter Smith, who wrote a detailed book about the cures he learned of an Indian nature entitled The Indian Doctor’s Dispensatory being Father Smith’s Advice Respecting Diseases and their Cure, with earliest edition published around 1809-1812.

A book on a similar topic was much later produced by Jonas Rishel, published around 1828.   This was followed several years later by yet another book on Indian Medicine entitled The vegetable physician, containing a description of the roots and herbs common to this country, with their medicinal properties and uses; also, directions for the treatment of diseases incident to human nature, by vegetables alone; embracing many valuable Indian recipes by Samuel B. Emmons.

Peter Smith’s book is perhaps the first book on American Indian remedies with a substantial amount of information provided.  It includes not only reviews of the herbs along with notes made on observations regarding their use, but also a considerable amount of insight into the philosophy of disease and treatment, topics normally not covered so extensively by the writings of regular physicians.  The following notes detail the contents and philosophy of this book.

Peter Smith, Indian Doctor

Unlike many self-proclaimed healers during the early nineteenth century, Peter Smith was an educated man.  He attended classes at Princeton, and read the works of historically important healers, herbalists, and doctors.  He acquainted himself with seventeenth century apothecarian-herbalist Nicolas Culpeper’s herbal, the eighteenth century medical texts by William Buchan, Robert Sharp’s  textbook on surgery, Drs. Benjamin Rush and Tissot’s writings, William Cullen’s materia medica and general medicine guides.   Earlier, Smith was exposed to the practices of several physicians in the Atlantic states where he learned of the changing philosophies of health care then underway.  These new ways of thinking extended from Ohio, to New Jersey, to the Virginias, and to Georgia. 

Like Samuel Thomson of New Hampshire, the founder of Thomsonianism, Peter Smith came to favor Native Americans’ techniques of healing.  The term “Indian Doctor” is commonly use when referring to these self-proclaimed experts, due to  outsider’s impressions of their work.  Of this terminology, Smith writes:

I call myself an Indian Doctor, because I have incidentally obtained knowledge of many of the simples used by Indians; but chiefly because I have obtained my knowledge generally in the like manner that Indians do.

Smith relies primarily upon Indian remedies to incite cures.  He thereby favored the use of local botanicals over imported herbs and mineral drugs, but interestingly, he was hesitant about completely dropping blood-letting.  This he makes evident in his treatise when in the introduction he notes for the treatment of Plethora and Irritation:

“You may then bleed liberally, especially if the pulse is hard and high…”

Smith based much of his remedy selections on the impression that just two kinds of diseases or disorders struck the human body: 

1. Plethora and Irritation; and

2. …Debility, Weakness and Languor.  

For the treatment of the first, Smith suggested the administration of herbal remedies following by a blood-letting of the patient.  The protocol for each patient in turn he felt depended upon the manifestation and continuation of the disease or disorder following his remedy.   

Another cause for disease Smith described elsewhere in his introduction is “Obstructed Perspiration.”  Smith used this reason as the cause for nearly half of the maladies he encountered in patients.  To treat it, he recommended several traditional herbal recipes, some of which have been around since the Colonial Period.  As an example, for treatment of obstructed perspiration Smith suggests sipping Sage or mint tea, or dogwood buds tea.        

Little mention is made by Smith as to the premises for his formulas and regimens, so we can at times have a difficult time deducing his logic for his recommendations.   What we do know is that he disfavors the seemingly more aggressive modalities of regular doctoring, the exact definitions of which remain unclear throughout his writings.  

In sum, Smith’s medical guide illustrates one of the transitions which commenced about the turn of the century.  Traditional colonial medicine, which consisted heavily of mineral doctoring, and late eighteenth/early nineteenth century alternative or domestic medicine, which relied upon common household ingredients and botanicals, had initiated a debate about the value of traditional thinking and the impact that empirical thinking was having in medicine.  Due to changes in medical philosophy, the ever popular lead-based plaster was being replaced by a Pine-tar plaster.  The Ipecac remedy used by regular doctors as an emetic was replaced by a more natural emetic–Lobelia.  Quinine, the most efficacious Malaria cure, then recently recognized and accepted, was replaced by more locally available bitter barks such as of Dogwood, Ninebark, and Southern Magnolia.  Mineral laxatives were replaced by Rhubarb (Rheum sp.) and Rhamnus spp. (Russian Frangula and Cascara Sagrada).  The concern about opium led to the search for an adequate substitute, which another latex-producer, Wild Lettuce (Lactuca sp.), became an accepted substitute for, along with the red-latex producing relative of Opium, Blood Root Sanguinaria canadensis). 

Other neurotonics which developed and/or increased in popularity about this time included Scullcap (Scutellaria) and the local favorite Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium spp.).

Indian doctor Peter Smith also relied upon a number of pre-Revolutionary War (early allopathic) remedies which have since replaced by stronger-acting mineral remedies by allopaths.  Smith also recommends to the reader a number of formulas told to him by other doctors–an example of the “Heroic” approach referred to by some physicians. 

In his text, Smith identifies each of his botanicals, recipes and instructions with an Arabic numeral.  Like Samuel Thomson’s intention to do the same, this was perhaps intended for review by lay-persons as an approach comparable to yet also strongly contrasting with the Latinized versions of writings regular doctors were displaying to their clients in the form of latinized prescriptions.   These remedies people could not read and therefore could be misunderstood or became offensive. 

The eighty-five protocols Smith gives us include twenty-three botanicals with their preparations and uses, four specific mineral recipes, a method for performing artificial respiration, a method for re-setting a dislocated shoulder, several treatments for fractures, six proprietary formulas named after their inventors, a cold-water pre-hydrotherapy formula, “Directions for venesection, or letting blood,” and numerous recipes for ointments, salves, liniments, pills, syrups, eye water, etc.   Smith’s methodology includes techniques that make use of sweating, sympathy pain, vomiting, laxatives, enemas, and even “bleeding liberally.”  

The names Smith employed for his botanicals are often unusual and nearly forgotten.  They either came from popular local names for the time or are his own self-conceived notions.  Thus in some cases, they are hard to relate to botanicals today.  More than once it has been noticed that the generic nature of a common plant name made it applicable to more than one botanical, making the identifications difficult.  Thus, even following a careful review of the regional flora, some of Smith’s flora medica can only be narrowed down to certain plants based upon Smith’s history and the distributions for these botanicals.  

 When Peter Smith wrote his Dispensatory, his intent was to provide his followers with alternatives to the regular doctoring experienced from New Jersey to Georgia, and westward into Ohio.  He practiced his medicine in the Ohio Valley near the Cincinnati area beginning 1794.  His book was most likely a favorite for locals and probably suffered from this extremely limited distribution.  (The editor of the transcript researched for this writing, John Uri Lloyd, noted his own familiarity with the text only due to his discovery of it by accident when he visited a friend whose family stored it away for safe keeping.) 

















Other Pre-Thomsonian Forms of Alternative Medicine

The Hudson valley itself gave birth to a number of healing faiths and remedies in the years and decades ahead due to its unique natural features.  But Indian Doctoring was never one of these popular choices.  There was something to the urbanization and anglicization of the coastal states that kept Indian Root doctoring off the list of common medical philosophies to learn about.  There was a much greater following for this form of medicine in the most rural of settings.  For New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, it was possible that people residing up in the hills and valleys of these large forest lands still remaining may have been devoted to Indian medicine much like Drs. Jerauld and Morrison already described above.  Of course it is also very likely that any families consisted of a spouse who was Indian to also possibly be engaged in some of these traditional Native American practices.  In Dutchess County, Indian herbal medicines are advertised as part of some drug lists, but only the few of these herbs then considered very reliable and popular, and there were Indian formulas sold in the form of Patente Medicines.  This particular brand of Indian Medicines was perhaps to mnost popular form of “Indian medicine” marketed in the Hudson Valley between 1790 and 1850, its primary distributor and promoted Everett Trivett. 

The need for other forms of medicine were very much available to the local valley.  People settled the counties of New York situated along the Hudson river due to the ease of transportation to this area and the healthy natural springs, weather, climate, outdoor recreation settings and  locally farmed foods.  One of the healthiest sports of the time was considered riding horseback, which the valley farms provided ample opportunities for.    There was a healthy climate, and the supplies you needed to stay healthy when the climate wasn’t so healthy, like firewood and wool clothing made using merino wool.  And there were enough other forms of medicines out there to satisfy the need for something new.  Various forms of electric cure could be offered, Mrs. Smith was available at times to provide you with her best skill as a religious healer, including the laying on of hands, and in that same part of the town of Poughkeepsie there was the visiting doctor with his own forms of preaching and medicines in the form of pills, lotions and tonics.    Even if there was an Indian Root doctor in the county during this time, you barely had the opportunity to see him or her amongst all the other proselytizing  healers.  And you knew that somewhere close by there still had to be the regular doctor, or the licensed doctor and pharmacist like the Van Kleeks.  The problem is you just never saw much of them outside their stores.

When outsiders came to the Valley and to Poughkeepsie, they had still more offerings to bring in for the community and the neighboring region.  Over the next 25 to 35 years, vacationing in the valley became increasingly popular and ultimately led to a transformation of this region.  One of the most important transformations to take place along the valley just north of New York city pertained to the practice of medicine.   Between 1790 and 1825, the numerous non-traditional or non-allopathic forms of medicine came to this region, only to bne followed by Thomsonainism, a form of medicine that was officially supported at times by members of the state government, if not the actual government itself along with its judicial body.   Due to the failure of regular medicine when it came to completely satisfying the needs of the local people, some of these alternative practices began to flourish in certain areas.  The combination of cultures, urban-suburban-rural population settings, and various forms and methods of healing available to the sick made the valley the place to find your cure.  Throughout the early 1800s, it was the epidemics that made the valley one of the the most popular places to remove to whenever a new set of incoming ship passengers brought with them their home-grown epidemic diseases.  Very quickly, it was these new  tests of both the regular and alternative healing professions that made people more knowledgable in the various alterantives there was to medicine.  The new healing faiths that were born during this time demonstrate just how important Dutchess County was to the developing fields of non-allopathic medicine.


*For PART II, on a local New York Mahican Medicine Man, turned “Indian Doctor” (the first in this profession?), see the biography of Prince Quack Mannessah

*PART III is on Indian Doctors of the Midwest



Maurice Bear Gordon.  Aesculapius Comes to the Colonies.  The Story of the Early Days of Medicine in the Thirteen Colonies.  Ventnor, N.J.: Ventnor Publishers, Inc., 1949.

Peter Smith.  The Indian Doctor’s Dispensatory being Father Smith’s Advice Respecting Diseases and their Cure.  (Cincinnati: Browne and Looker,  1812 (1813?)).   With Biography by John Uri Lloyd.  Bulletin of the Lloyd Library of Botany, Pharmacy and Materia Medica. Reproduction Series, No. 2.  J.U. & C.G. Lloyd. 1901.

Jonas Rishel.  The Indian Physician, containing as new system of practice founded on medical plants, together with a description of their properties, localities and methods of using , and preparing them . . .  (New Berlin, PA, 1828)

Samuel B. Emmons.  The vegetable physician, containing a description of the roots and herbs common to this country, with their medicinal properties and uses; also, directions for the treatment of diseases incident to human nature, by vegetables alone; embracing many valuable Indian recipes.  (Boston, 1836).