Source:  Jean-Bernard Bossu. Travels in the Interior of North America.  1751-1762.  Translated and edited by Seymour Feiler.  (Norman:  University of Oklahoma Press, 1962)

Jean-Bernard Bossu’s insights into Native American life focus on the southern region of the New World, near what is today called the State of Alabama, and regions extending west to Texas and parts of Far Western New Spain.  Bossu notes his encounters with Creoles and numerous Native Americans.  He gives numerous recounts of their life style and customs.  His twentieth letter, dated June 1, 1762, his last of the series written to inform the Marquis about the Louisiana portion of what was once called New France.   Bossu details briefly the region’s local zoology and botany.  For this presentation, primarily medicines are covered, although some references are to economically important plants as well.  The following topics were reviewed in Bossu’s letters:

  • Calabash
  • Cotton
  • Guaiacum
  • Cantharides
  • Maple, Syrup of
  • Cypress Gum
  • Medicine Man
  • Bleeding–Snake Manitou
  • Curing by Secretion
  • Rattlesnake
  • Talking Leaves
  • Vapor Bath
  • Indigo

Bossu’s reliability and credibility match that of Father Louis Hennepin, who produced as essay during the later 17th century on Natives residing in the upper midwest, which was pretty much plagiarized from an earlier presentation.   Bossu’s work is not really stolen from other writers, but one can tell some of the ideas were and this resulted in some fairly obvious fabrications on Bossu’s part.  The story Bossu tells about how he tricked the shaman and others pretty much mimics the same type of writing practice seen for Northwest explorer Townsend.  This story is made up.

A fabrication even more obvious is his discussion of how he applied a particular plant to a chieftain’s skin, reportedly resulting in blistering.  There are several families of plants out there that could cause blistering, the most significant and effective being members of the Cruciferae and Polygalaceae family and perhaps the Dirca palustris and Phytolacca americana.   One could argue that any Araceae plant might do the same, although the resulting inflammation would probably not result in much of any blistering.   Bernard-Bossu unfortunately chose the worst possible plant to tie this story to–Plantago, which he called Plantain.  Now it is possible that he was talking about the banana relative Plantain, but that is very unlikely.  The leaf of plantain is somewhat big (>2′ long) and too big and too tough really to make a poultice with without have to do a significant amount of preparation.  Any of the Plantago species which Bossu may be referring to lack any blistering effect.  In fact, the traditional folktale about Plantain use is the use of it to treat a spider bite on the back of a toad, due to the toad’s choice of course, suggesting its purpose is to calm and soothe the irritated skin.  (Many herbalists have since converted this tale into the use of Plantain as a cancer drug, due to its vesicant activity for some, for other’s due to its ability to erode away tumors, neither of which were true–a very wrong conclusion drawn by a number of inexperienced scholars.)   

Now one might argue my claims due to his mention of cantharides.  The claims would be true, if Bossu had cantharides–the problem is he had a lightning bug.    The assumption Bossu made, like many trappers, is that the Lightning Bug is going to have a similar effect due to its ability to generate light.  This is not the case.  Some west coast trappers told a similiar story in New France writings (see my NW missions work).  Therefore, it is my impression that This part of Bossu’s story is again a fabrication.

Bossu probably already knew much of what he was going to see in the Louisiana area, since it has been settled now by the French for more than a century, and much of its ethnobotany was already well known by French botanists.  Bossu’s work is a great example of a timely piece of American history that is very misleading and untruthful and perhaps very unreliable, unfortunately.  The following are more examples of Bossu’s questionable discoveries or realizations:

  • Balm–Animals wounded by hunters use this . . . suggests a little bit of fibbing going on here regarding Erasmus’s toad-spider story.
  • Rheum–a misidentification; this one I point out because it is way off geographically; Rheum is native to Asia.  This may have even been a Skunk Cabbage that Bossu never really got that close to, or a riverside species of dock, which other writers have made similar mistaken identities for.
  • New France once extended from Canada on down to Louisiana along the Mississippi River.  For this reason a lot of Bossu’s plants are more from the temperate zone with regard to their natural history; they are not typical of Louisiana or any southern portion of New France a century before since these regions are neotropical in nature. 
  • The Snake Manitou story is questionable–this is possibly a blending of some tales found in the Northeastern Native American readings that Bossu must have been engaged with before his travels. 

 As a side note to these criticisms, Bernard-Bossu has an interesting philosophy regarding blood-letting.  He recommends it as a way to adapt to the new climate.

In all, the most informative part of this writing is Bossu’s information on the Medicine Man.

Natural History Notes

Letter XX.  (pp. 185-206, 207-220, 221-230.]  Bossu recounts the natural history of the New World in his letter to Marquis de l-Estrade (pp. 207-220, 221-230.  Nov. 10, 1762), in which he included “a dissertation on the means of conserving one’s health in the New World.”

Bossu mentioned Jesuit Joseph-Francis Lafitau (1681-1746), a Canadian Missionary.  Lafitau wrote an account of his travels entitled Memoire concernant le precieuse plante ging-sang de Tartarie (1718) and Moeurs des sauvages comparees aux moeurs des premiers temps (1723).  These earlier writings gave the missionaries basic knowledge of foreign drug plants which in turn could be used to better understand the native herbs as they saw them being used.  Father Lafitau wrote of the Carribean natives later in his Histoire des decouvertes et des conquetes des Portugais dans le Nouveau-Monde (1733), noting their ethnobotany, in particular the use of Roucou to paint themselves red.  (p. 207-8)

The following plants are mentioned, and briefly discussed at times, by Bossu (pp. 193-206):

  • Fig Tree, “brought over from Providence.” [p. 193]
  • Prickly Pear, “which looks and tastes like a pickled cucumber.”
  • “Persimmon, called ouglousle by the Indians.
  • Papaw, “has the shape and color of a lemon, is odiferous, and tastes like the banana.” [p. 194]
  • Orange, Peach, apple, plum
  • “whole forests of nut trees…black nuts, or hickory nuts, and walnuts.
  • “The pecan trees bear nuts which are long, like almonds, but more delicate in flavor.  The Indians make oil of them which they use in their corn meal mush.”
  • “There are magnolia trees with red flowers and some with white ones. The latter, which bear a white tulip-like flower and have many branches, would be decorative in the royal gardens of Europe.  The Indians call them “peace trees.””
  • grapevines..a single stem yields a whole barrel of wine.
  • blackberry bushes: mention of juice and jelly.
  • “The acacia, a tree with thorns six inches long…” [pp. 194-5]
  • “There are trees in the forests which produce resin and tar, and gum similar to turpentine flows from others.”[p. 195]
  • “The wax myrtle is a shrub which looks like the olive tree and bears a berry like the juniper.  When these berries are melted in water, they for a green, aromatic wax which is used for making candles.  Monsieur Alexandre was the first one to do this.  Because of his useful discovery, the Academy has granted him a pension.  He has also found the way to bleach the product, as we do beeswax in Europe.” [p. 195]
  • sugar cane (with detailed description of processing it), and its by-product Taffa, used to make Brandy in France,
  • “a little bush about three feet high which bears a fruit the size of a lady apple and tastes like a lemon. (p. 196)
  • Chestnuts and hazelnuts

Many plants of medical value (p. 196) (covered in subsequent materia medica section:

  • “gensing”
  • jalap (Phytolacca)
  • rhubarb
  • smilax
  • snakeroot
  • sarsaparilla
  • St. John’s-wort. 
  • sassafras trees
  • “Some trees contain copal…”
  • Bitter Gourds
  • Calabashes
  • maidenhair
  • “Cassina, an excellent diuretic.” [p. 196]

Of the Animals, Bossu notes:

    • buffalo
    • Wild goats and kids
    • Royal Eagle
    • hares and white bears
    • deer
    • opossum, “I have eaten opossum several times while on trips.  An excellent fine ointment for the cure of hemorrhoids is made of its extremely fine, white fat.”
    • woodcat
    • squirrels
    • snakes
    •       rattler
    •       whip snake
    •       hisser (hognose snake)
    • alligators
    • frogs
    • shellfish (conch)
    • carrion crow, “These birds eat human corpses whenever they can find them.  The carrion crow has black feathers.  The down under its wings is used to stop bleeding.” (p. 202)
    • red wing blackbirds
    • parrots, etc.
    • var. song birds, ducks, etc. (pp. 202-205; not listed here)



“The acacia, a tree with thorns six inches long, is so hard that it dulls and sometimes breaks axes.  The Indians use fire to shape this wood into mortars for grinding corn into flour. This tree bears cassia-like pods about one foot long and a gummy. sticky fruit containing seeds that resemble beans.  The natives purge themselves with this excellant laxative.”  [Kentucky Coffee Bean tree?] [pp. 194-5]

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


“Some trees contain copal, a gummy substance which is a balm as good as that made in Peru.  Animals wounded by hunters cure themselves by rubbing against a tree from which this balm flows.”  (p. 196. New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


The Natives generally viewed the Baptisms as “bad medicine.”  See Medicine Man, Choctaws note.

Bossu referred to the Animal names the Natives had as the result of this lack of baptism:

Since these people are neither baptised nor circumcized, they generally take animal’s names, such as Bear, Wildcat (Tiger), Wolf, Fox, etc.” (p. 150.  Alabama Territory, May 2, 1759)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Bitter Gourds–see Calabashes.


Bitter Gourds. Calabashes, with which they make a syrup for chest ailment (p. 196. New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


Cantharides-Plantain Blistering Plaster.  “The tattoo of a tomahawk had to be removed from one of the Natives.  Bossu offered the tribe his “French Medicine,” claiming he could “remove the skin and the tattoo without hurting the patient, and that the operation would turn his blood into water.”   The Natives at first disbelieved him, but allowed him to continue:

“The Indians, not knowing my secret, thought that I was making fun of them.  Imitating their medicine men, I gave the false hero a calabash bowl full of maple syrup, into which I had put some opium.  While the man was asleep, I applied plantain leaves, which formed blisters or tumors.  The skin and the tatoo came off and a serous fluid was secreted.   This type of operation amazed the medicine men, who knew nothing of the properties of cantharides, although they are very common in North America.  They give off a light by night which you can read even the smallest letters if you hold them close and follow the line of print.”  (pp. 96-97. July 21, 1756)

NOTE:  This nature of the lightning bug must have created quite a stir amongst explorers, who had some known of philosophical electricity, as defined by the French and pre-Mesmerists.    The notion that the Lightning Bug could evoke such an energy, enough to make it useful for reading, and one which would persist even after the bug was killed, possibly suggested to the French emigrants that they had acquired a form of electricity, borne by nature and now to be shared with them.  The lightning bug also was considered to be a substitute for Cochineal, used as a powerful blistering agent.  The Cochineal of North America came from Middle America and was in possession of Spain; the lightning bug at times was promoted as a substitute for Cochineal by the British.  

Still, the more interesting part of this story is how contrived it is.  The formation of blisters with plantain leaves alone is pretty much impossible.  The lightning bug has its own amazing attributes, but the phosphorous-based chemistry of the chemical that causes the light formation produced little to no heat or irritation if the bug is captured and then squeezed between the fingers (this release of the chemical followed by explosure to the air and oxygen causes it to fluoresce).   So these two ingredients–plantain and lightning bugs–will not produce a plaster that mimics the effects of cantharides or cochineal.  This is a good example of how folktales are passed from one person to the next–the knowledge of cochineal is very much Mexican in nature and origin (like the jumping bean), the knowledge of the firefly an east coast North American phenomenon, but with parts of the tale shared by other natural sources of electricity like the electric eel of the southern hemisphere (Humboldt’s claim to fame).  The Plantain-spider-toad tale as told by Erasmus was also a common myth perpetuated through the ethnobotanical writings and teachings.  So in a way, this story, although very much a falsehood, had a high degvree of credibility for its time.  Since Bossu had numerous reasons for his priviledge of engaging in this venture through New France, few of his readers from France would dare contest his claims.

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


“Cassina, an excellent diuretic.  A strong dose causes the patient to shiver for a short time.  The Alabama Indians call it the “drink of valor.”  The Americans value their medicinal herbs more than they do all the gold of Mexico and Peru.” [p. 196]

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Conjuror–see Medicine Man

Copal–see Balm


A detailed description of growing Cotton was given. (p. 206. New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Crow (Vulture)

Of the Carrion crow. “The carrion crow, the size and shape of a turkey, is the most voracious of the carnivorous birds.  It follows hunters and detachments on their way from one post to another.  Thy wait impatiently, like flocks of crows, for men to break camp.  They avidly eat everything that is left behind and then fly off towards the next encampment.  These birds eat human corpses whenever they can find them.  The carrion crow has black feathers.  The down under its wings is used to stop bleeding.” (p. 202.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Fire Fly/Lightning Bug–see Cantharides.


“Many plant of medicinal value grow in Louisiana… gensing, whose root makes an excellent cough syrup” (p. 196. New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


The Island of Santa Domingo is considered the place of origin for the Disease of Naple or Syphilis.  When Nicolas de Obando, the Governor of Santo Domingo during the late fifteenth century, sent Spaniards to this region to carry out the repartimiento, or separation of the natives into small groups which were under his control.  During this time, the Spaniards caught the Syphilis from the natives.  Bossu’s recount of this of course lacked the knowledge of the vermin-bred nature of syphilis and so he gives a different account of how the Syphilis was caught and spread:

“The gold-hungry Spaniards forced the wretched Indians to work in the mines and to spend eight to nine months almost buried in the bowels of the earth.  This hard work, the sulphurous fumes of the mines, and the famine caused by the inability of the Indians to work their lands caused their blood to become so bad that their faces turned saffron yellow.  Unbearably painful boils broke out on the parts of their bodies.  Soon they passed on this catagious disease to their wives, and, consequently to their enemies.  Since there was no cure, both the Indians and the Spaniards died of that disease.

“The despairing Spaniards through that this disease would not follow them to Europe where they went for a change in climate.  They were wrong; when they returned, they gave the Europenas the disease they had received from the Americans. God, however, pitied these wretched islanders; some time later, the Indian wife of a Castilian discovered a certain wood called guaiacum which can cure the disease.” (pp. 13-14, Cap Francois, Feb. 15, 1751)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


A detailed description of growing and preparing Indigo was given. (p. 205-206. New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


Typically Jalap, from Xalap, Mexico.  May also be the North American grown Phytolacca sp. (which see in other notes.)  He writes, “Many plant of medicinal value grow in Louisiana”  and then lists them, including jalap. (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Lightning Bug/Fire Fly–see Cantharides.


For effect of Liquor on Natives, see p. 112. (Illinois Territory, Nov. 10, 1756 entry.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


maidenhair, a remedy for the same type of illness [chest ailment]  (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


Osage Manitou.  “Their Manitou was an enormous dried snake, which according to these Indians, had swallowed an entire wildcat and had done a great deal of damage in their territory.”  This Manitou is tracked and killed by a skilled native, who then is tatooed with its reprentation in his arm, using gunpowder placed into a skin pricked by a needle.  Great Spirit is termed “the Author of Nature,” and a description of an Osage manitou ceremony practiced by “a witch doctor and a magician” is given.  Bossu attempted to impress the Natives by using Cantharides to remove this tattoo by blistering the skin (which see). (p. 94-97, “Among the Illinois, July 21, 1756”)

For Animal descriptions of Manitou, see pp. 108-9. (Nov. 10, 1756 entry.)

Alabama Indians, harvest time in July, Manitou and religious dance ceremony.  (p. 147. Alabama Territory, May 2, 1759.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Maple Syrup

Descriptions of extracting this are given in brief, with repeated mention of the “maple sap.”  The French considered it equal, if not greater, in value with Calabrian manna due to the reddish [brownish] nature of the final product.  He writes, “The apothecaries rightly prefer it to cane sugar.  The French who have settled among the Illinois have learned to prepare this syrup as a cure for colds and tuberculosis.” (p. 108. Illinois Territory, Nov. 10, 1756) 

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Medicine Man

Choctaws.  “The Indians generally revere their medicine men or seers, true charlatans who take advantage of the stupid people and live comfortably at their expense.  These medicine men, who have a great deal of authority, are asked for advice and are consulted on every occasion, like oracles.  When a Choctaw is sick, he gives all that he owns to be cured.  If, however, the patient dies, his relatives blame it on the medicine and not on the sick man’s condition.  They can kill the medicine man if they want to, but this rarely happens since he usually has a good excuse ready.  The medicine men are familiar with several plants, which are excellent for curing the common diseases of this country.  They have a sure cure for the bite of the rattlesnake and of other venomous animals.”

“When an Indian is wounded with a bullet of an arrow, the medicine man first sucks the wound and then spits out the blood.  In France this is called “curing through secretion.”  In their dressings they do not use lint of compresses.  Instead to make the wound suppurate, they blow into it a powder made of a root.  Another root powder is used to dry & heal the wound, and still other roots are used in a solution with which the wound is bathed to prevent gangrene.

“When the Indians return tired and worn out from battle or from hunting, they take sweat baths in steam cabinets in which are boiled all sorts of medicinal & sweet smelling herbs.  The vapor filled with the essence and salts of these herbs enters the patient’s body through his pores and his nose and restores his strength.  This remedy also eases pain and causes it to disappear.  Gout, kidney stones, and other diseases to which we are subject in Europe are unknown among the Indians.  This may in part be due to frequent exercise.  There are no paunches, as in Holland, or goiters, as in Piedmont.

“The Choctaws believe in the existence of sorcerers and witches.  When they think that they have discovered one, they bash in his head without any kind of trial.

“I knew a member of this tribe who had been baptized a short time before.  Because he and his comrades had had a poor hunting season, he thought he was bewitched.  This new Christian went immediately to see Father Lefevre, the Jesuit who had converted him, and told him that his medicine was worthless,  Since he had received it, he had not caught any deer or roebucks.  He asked the priest of he would be kind enough to remove his medicine.  In order to avoid the Indian’s resentment, the Jesuit pretended to “debaptize” him.  Some time afterward the “debaptized” Indian, though skill or luck, killed a roebuck and was happily convinced that he was no longer bewitched.”

               (pp. 167-169.  Tombigbee, Sept. 30, 1759.)

Alabama Indians.  Gven Brandy by Bossu.  After a brief encounter, that medicine man voiced a threat to Bossu, who wrote:  “I replied that I was not afraid of him since I was a medicine man myself.  This information surprised my adversary.” He continues: 

“This would-be sorcerer asked me to show him what my medicine could do.  I answered that it was up to him to begin, but his reply was that I was to go first since I was a stranger.  After a long argument, I began to make ridiculous gestures and movements while looking into a book which was absolutely incomprehensible to the medicine man.  He obeyed me when I told him to go off and leave me alone, because this is customary among medicine men who do not want the other Indians to learn their tricks.  I had the skin of a striped wildcat, whose flesh and bones had been removed through an incision below the neck.  I gave the skin to the medicine man, telling him to restore its sight and to make it walk.  When he told me that he could not, I answered that he was still a beginner in the art of magic and that I would do it.”

“I should tell you, sir, that I had brought back from France with me on my last trip some enamel eyes which look remarkably like real ones.  This is something that these people had never seen,  I stuck enamel eyes in the eyeholes with pine gum; then I put a live squirrel into the cat skin with its head protruding through the hole in the neck.  A soldier whom I had instructed stood ready with a club.  I then opened the door to the ship’s cabin.  The Indians, with the medicine man in the lead, drew close.  I held the cat skin in my arms as the squirrel jumped around inside it.  The amazed sorcerer cried out that I was a true medicine man since I could restore life, sight, and movement to dead cats.  When other Indians had taken a good look at what I held in my arms, I stuck the squirrel with a pin and let him go.  He ran, cat skin and all, towards the spectators who thought he was going to devour them.  They drew back, and the women, as is natural to their sex, fled in terror from my boat and swore that I was a sorcerer.  I then pretended to leap angrily upon the wildcat.  I skillfully removed the squirrel and the enamel eyes.  Then, pressing the teeth of the cat’s head against my stomach, I cried out as though the animal had bitten me.  I threw it on the ground as though he were killing the resuscitated animal for having revolted against its master and having tried to attack our redskin allies and friends.

“After this comical scene, I gave the medicine man the skin and told him to bring the animal back to life as I had done.  He told me that one medicine man was powerless against another and that I was a master in this art while he was just an ignorant man…These poor people think that the French have supernatural powers….”

“Because of the pretended resurrection of the cat, I gained a great reputation among the medicne men of this area and even among those of Spanish Florida, who came to see me out of that curiosity which is so natural to Indians.” (pp. 147-150.  Alabama Territory. May 2, 1759.)

Bossu tells of how Liquid Mercury was used by Chief Surgeon Monsieur Godeau for trickery with the Natives.   He spilled it on the ground and asked them to pick it up.  Unable to do so because it kept breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, he next swept it up onto a card and placed it back in the vial himself.  He then furthered their amazement by reacting it with Nitric Acid, which made it dissolve and appear to disappear.  This activity led the Native to consider Godeau a medicine man. (p. 150-151.  Alabama Territory, May 2, 1759.)  He likened this Mercury to being a spirit, that could be divided into smaller and smaller parts.

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Medicine–food, natural cures, heat and climate

Bossu’s description of what constitutes “good health” is defined in his letter dated November 10, 1762, from Corunna, dispatched to the Marquis de l-Estrade (pp. 207-220, 221-230. Corunna, Nov. 10, 1762.  See pp 218-220.).  For “perfect health” he recognizes the need for “exercize and sobriety.”  He comments on the effect of alcohol on the natives, the purpose of a healthy diet, and the importance of accustoming oneself to the climate.  To accomodate to the New World, Bossu felt one should be blood-letted, “with a great deal of blood…drawn from time to time to prevent apoplexy.”  The regular use of gentle laxatives is a help.  Too much wine needs to be neutralized by consuming the acidic foods such as lemons; “This will clear your head and keeping the vapours from getting you drunk after meals.”  Overheating the body is not good, and since spirits can “burn the blood” they should be avoided in the burning heat of the sun.  Strong liquor he considered “good for fortifying the stomach and aiding digestion.”  Alcohol has been known to give one “fantastic dreams” which he claimed could torment them. 

For dealing with overeating, bloating and exhaustion, and for improving health and longevity Bossu recommends the use of the following Native American treatments.  These would later become part of the basic treatments methods borne by Thomsonianism beginning about 1812:

“I believe you would do well to imitate the Indians, who find sweating an infallible cure.  Increasing the heat of the body is a certain cure, if done at the first signs of discomfort.  Europeans who use the perspiration cure lie between two blankets and cover themselves completely, except for their faces.  They do not get up until they have perspired for a full hour.  When this treatment is continued for several days, the patient’s recovery is so remarkable that he regains his strength and his appetite.  He is surprised to find himself agile and al;ert once again.  Perspiring purifies the internal organs painlessly and naturally.  Ordinary medicines cannot do this.  In order to remain healthy, one should undergo this treatment three times a year: in spring, summer, and winter. My conclusion, sir, is that diet and sweating are general cures.”

“I would say that nature ought to be our guide in everything and should teach us the true means of remaining in good health.  Otherwise, we are condemned to great suffering and even to death.  I have already mentioned that the North Ameriacn Indians’ great physical activity, such as dancing, ball-playing, hunting, fishing, and fighting, overheats them so that they perspire and thus eliminate body waste.  Why do persons live so long and remain healthy without the aid of doctors?  It is because of their work and exercize that they do not have the gout, kidney stones, and other infirmities to which wealthy Europeans are prone because they eat rich food and walk as rarely as fo sick old men.  I have known some of them who have turned their stomachs into a drug store.

“It has been observed that young people who migrate from Europe to the warm regions of American die more quickly than the old.  This is because the young eat all kinds of fruit which cause diarrhea.  Very little fruit should be eaten until the body becomes accustomed to the climate of the country.  After one year there is no further inconvenience of this sort.

“If these precautions are taken, I am sure that one could live longer in the New World than in the Old.  There are at present a number of people in Louisiana who have been there since the founding of the colony. I have met a settler named Graveline who is 118 years old.  He came here with Monsieur d-Iberville in 1698 and served as a soldier in Canada for about thirty years during the reign of Louis XIV. ” (pp. 207-220.  ca. Nov. 10, 1762. See esp. pp. 218-220.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Mercury (Quicksilver)

Liquid Mercury was used by Chief Surgeon Monsieur Godeau for his trickery with the Natives.   He spilled it on the ground and asked them to pick it up.  Unable to do so because it kept breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, he next swept it up onto a card and placed it back in the vial.  He then furthered their amaxement by reacting it with Nitric Acid, which made it dissolve and appear to disappear.  This activity led the Native to consider Godeau a medicine man. (p. 150-151.  Alabama Territory, May 2, 1759.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


See Cantharides


Of the opossum: “I have eaten opossum several times while on trips.  An excellent fine ointment for the cure of hemorrhoids is made of its extremely fine, white fat.”  (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


“Persimmon, called ouglousle by the Indians, is similar to and no bigger than the European medlar. This fruit, yellow, red and red like the apricot, is an excelleant astringent and a superb remedy for dysentery and the bloody flux.”   Used also to make a bread. (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Plantain–see Cantharides


Describes the following types of snakes: rattler, whip snake and hisser (hognose snake). (p. 199)

The “cunning of the snakes” and their ability to charm and hypnotize prey is mentioned.  (Similar mention is made in Mead’s late Colonial Materia Medica.)  A description of the rattle (“three or four little, round bones under his scales at the end of his tail”) is given by Bossu (p. 199-200).  This rattle is used as a medicine by pregnant women:

“Pregnant Indian women pulverize this rattle and swallow the powder in the belief that this will help them through childbirth without pain.  Rattlesnake grease makes an excellent ointment for rheumatic pains.  It penetrates the joints up to the bones.  It is beleived that this snake’s age can be told by the number of its rattles.  I have seen some of these snakes so large that they could swallow a small doe by sucking it in a little at a time.”  (pp. 207-220.  Corunna, Nov. 10, 1762) 

NOTE:  This sucking behavior, does it relate to the reason for the sucking behavior of the Medicine Man? 

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762, p. 199-200]

Resins/Tree Resins–see Turpentine


Probably not Rheum, since it is not native to North America.  The most likely candidates for the name “Rheum” include, according to appearance, Rumex spp., and, according to their action as a laxative, var. laxatives, but esp. the cucurbits. (p. 196. Nov. 10, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Smilax (Sarsaparilla)

Noted by Bossu, along with numerous other medicines. (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762, p. 196]

Snakeroot (var. sp., usually Aristolochia serpentaria in the deep south.)

Noted by Bossu, along with numerous other medicines. (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762, p. 196]

Sarsaparilla  (Aralia sp.)

Noted by Bossu, along with numerous other medicines. (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762, p. 196]


sassafras trees, used for medicine and dyes.  (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762, p. 196]

St. John’s-wort

St. John’s-wort, from which an excellent oil for healing wounds is made.  They put the flowers of this plant in an earthenware jar and pour bear grease over them.  The jar is then stopped up and exposed to the early sun.  This sweet-smelling oil, turned red by the heated jar, cleanses and cures all kinds of wounds.  There are even plants that act as antidotes to poisons.  But recognizing them and knowing how to use them are rare and precious gifts which the Creator has not granted to everyone.  The Indians know a thousand medicinal plants good for purifying the blood.” (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]

Snakebite Cures–see Rattlesnakes, and Medicine Man

Sorcerer–see Medicine Man

Sugar Cane

sugar cane (with detailed description of processing it), and its by-product Taffa, used to make Brandy in France, “for the curing of wounds. It is also used to make rum, which is the essence of the liquor called Barbadoes Water.” (p. 196.  New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762, p. 196]

Talking Leaves/Talking Bark

During a calumet (peacepipe) ceremony, Bossu mentioned his “talking paper” to the Chief,  on which specific messages were sent. (pp. 136-137.  Alabama Territory, April 28, 1759) 

“Because of the seriousness which I affected to give me more stature among these Indian doctors, they asked me if I was going to put their names on “talking paper” and send them to their father.  I said that I intended to do so.  I sometimes used their names to mystify them.  I would close myself up in a hut after informing a soldier of the number of letters in each name.  He would put his hand on the shoulder of one of the medicine men and would tap with a stick as many times as there were letters in the man’s name.  I would then guess which person the a soldier was touching.  They could not understand how I was able to do this and admitted that it was completely beyond them.” (p. 150. Alabama Territory, May 2, 1759.)

“Talking bark” used to speak on behalf of the French. (p. 190. New Orleans, June 1, 1762.)

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]


Of the Cypress Swamps in Mobile, Alabama.  The red and white cedars are mentioned, which have an odor that kept the insects away.  “In the forests there are several kinds of trees which are unknownm in Europe and others which contain a gum similar to turpentine.  There are cypress trees of such large dimensions that out of a single trunk the Indians can make a canoe holding sixty men.”  (p. 127. Mobile, January 6, 1759)

“There are trees in the forests which produce resin and tar, and gum similar to turpentine flows from others.” [1762. p. 195]

[J.-B. Bossu, 1751-1762]