Dr. Wm. Dain’s Manuscript


In 1845, Wagonmaster Captain Solomon Tetherow and over a hundred of his buddies, close friends and new acquaintances met in Missouri to prepare for an overland  trip to California.   This trip was just one of several that would be taken on horseback by several hundred explorers and adventurers willing to travel more 1000 miles of terrain made up of deserts, mountains and endless ranges.  Each one of these teams had he same  worries and concern to deal with before their final departure.  Did I bring the right clothes?  Will my horse make it?  Did we bring enough food?  What about water?  What if I become ill?

In preparation for these concerns, Captain Tetherow hired somone who was once an Indian Scout at Fort Vancouver just a few years before.   This scout was more than likely a mountain man or trapper at some point in time who made his way to the Fort on the north side of the Columbia River a couple of years prior to this meeting.  From about 1830 to 1845, there were several forts being set up in Northwest Territory.  About a hundred miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, there was Fort Vancouver.  Another fort was set up at The Dalles located another hundred or so miles inland along the Columbia and then across to Snake River.  

William Dain appears to have spent most of his time along the shoreline between Fort Astoria area and Fort Vancouver.  Still he was fairly well learned in East coast and Midwestern plants.  The East Coast plants make up the bulk of his materia medica.  As part of his service to Captain Tetherow, William Dain gave the Captain some instructions for him to jot down on how to practice medicine.  The recipes that Dain provided Tetherow with dealt with a number of problems his team could face along the way.   These recipes tell us that Dain was part Thomsonian, part Indian Doctor, both popular medical philosophies between 1820 and 1840, with Indian doctoring perhaps dominating during the earlier years.

It is interesting to note that a number of other recipes Dain provided could only pertain to wives and children.   But this team lacked wives and children, so why include these recipes?  Members of Tetherow’s team were heading westward in search of new lands to stake a claim for.  (Any knowledge of ‘gold in dem dare hills’ was still four years away.) 

One entrepreneur heading westward a year after Tetherow was Elijah Bristow.  Bristow provides us with some insight into this kind of journey, which he took some time to complete.  Elijah took nearly a year to reach his goal–find some land to lay claim to in Oregon Territory. This place was well to the north of the California routes often taken during the early to mid 1840s. After he and his team made their stay that first winter at Fort Sumter, California, he and two other headed north into missionary and FortVancouver  territory. This is where William Dain was living.  Later, Elijah’s son, John Kennedy Bristow would also meet up with William Dain, and by 1856, the influences of Tetherow’ s writings and Dain’s philosophy on his own and that of his neighbors would be remarkable. (JK Bristow’s work is lengthy and will be reviewed elsewhere).  Due to this, the importance of William Dain on overland trail and Oregon history have been set in stone.

The last few recipes Dain wrote down tell us that Tetherow and Dain knew that families would soon be travelling westward.  Those travellers without a wife as of yet, could do what Dain did, marry a young Native America associated with the local missions or the memberof a tribe engaged in commerce with Fort Vancouver.  Still others would marry someone closer to family and home, and along the way learn something other than Dain’s philosophy.  Some of these physicians became Thomsonians, others became Physiomedical doctors, Eclectics, Hydropaths, Homeopaths, or Ministers. 

Dain’s recipes  tell us a lot about his upbringings and personality.  Dain was what many Easteners had come to call an “Indian Doctor.”  He practiced a certain amount of medicine according to Indian tradition, and then added some of his own recipes, decoctions and brews, enough to fill in whatever gaps the original recipes might have had.   Years after his service to Tetherow’s team, Dain place advertisments in the Oregon Newspaper for his services as a “Indian Doctor.”  Of all the various medical sects that his practice seemed to resemble, his philosophy best fit that of the life of a trapper turned servant to a new crowd of people occupying the newest Northwest territory. 

The following are the recipes that William Dain told Tetherow to write down.  Identifications and respellings of many of the medicines appear in brackets.  There are also some notes in blue that I added when I first reviewed this unique vade mecum during the mid-1990s.  Lines were added to differentiate between recipes.



Sol Tetherow

Wagonmaster of an Expedition to Oregon




Liver and Ague Pills

Dry Beef gall to thick molase [molasses]

Thicken it with equal parts of May apple Blood Root C. pepper [Cayenne Pepper] Culver root 1/2 part Labelia [Lobelia] seed.  Mix, role into pills with flower [flour] common sire [serve?] doses 2 to 6 a day as the case requires.  Good for costivenis [costiveness]


Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)  Eastern to Midwest.

Blood Root (Sanguinaria canadense). Eastern to Midwest.

Cayenne Pepper  (Capsicum annuum)

Culver Root (Veronicastrum (Leptandra) virginicum). More eastern and central than western.

Lobelia (Lobelia,various spp.)  Eastern to Midwest.


Stimulating injection for Costivnis

Composition Ten 1/2 top 1 tea spoon ful to 1 pint boiling water  1/2 to 1 gil with 2 to 4 tea spoons of tincter labelia at once.  Youse [use] once a day with the above pills till the bowles [bowels] is regular     that will be in a short time      as soon as the stomach is strengthened with the pills.

Composition Ten was one of several Thomsonian formulas Dain would use.   This tells us he had a link to the outside more recently than we might expect with someone working at Fort Vancouver, a fur trade and military post with more than 20 years of history by this time.  Thomsonian medicine wasn’t distributed much beyond New Hampshire,Vermont, Massachusetts,  and New York until the 1820s, and did not reach the midwest until about 1832 to 1834.  It is possible that Dain resided back East during the 1830s (however, no such name has been found to confirm this), and then took to the trails sometime during the 1840s, possibly as part of the new missionary activities in Oregon.  This gave him ample opportunity to learn the details of  Thomson’s philosophy and theory about disease.   One common alternative to Thomsonianism in the Midwest during the late 1830s was Indian Root Doctoring, another Botanic Medicine. 


Rheumatic Liniment

take 1/2 pint of the Seads jimpsan weed [seeds Jimson Weed] pulv. [pulverized] 1 pt. [pint] Brandy or alcohol. 1/2 oz. spirits turpentine.  Bathe 1 to 3 times heat in


Jimpsan weed (Datura stramonium).  This plant was very popular to Botanic physicians, Eclectic doctors and Indian Doctors.   It became popular due to its neurotoxic effects, which some physicians may have likened to opium if taken internally.   However, the “inebriating” aspect of this plant was a side effect of a series of chemicals that did not behave at all like opium–the belladonna alkaloids.   Dain recommends the use of this plant externally.   The toxicity was less, but still possible if overused, or if there were cuts and scratches on the skin.  The Datura “high” or nerve tonic effect is more related to numerous side  effects that were tough for many people to tolerate.  Brandy and Turpentine made for much easier dissolution of the alkaloids in Datura.


Cough Surrup

Boil the lickrish root [Licorice root] to thick molases.  Take 1 fluid oz. 1/2 oz. Balm gilard [Balm Gilead] buds.  1 gil vinigar [1 gill Vinegar] 1 gil [1 gill] strong sirrip of skunk cabbage root.  1/2 fluid oz. tincter labelia [tincture lobelia].  Take a tea spoon full or so as often as the case requires to keep the phlegm loos to rais easy.


Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Balm Gilead (Populus balsaminifera, allies and subspecies).  Doctrine of Signatures: Populus buds have a resinous coating, and were considered useful for coating and soothing the throat.  (Someiketo mntionte salicylic acid glycoside,populin, but if were this stronglyconcentrated, it would have been useful more as a caustic acid on the throat; when concentrated this acid would have been us to temove warts. 

Skunk Cabbage (Eastern: Symplocarpus foetidus).

Lobelia (as above)


Cure the Fal of the Utris or Womb

Use the mother relief as directions adding the dogwood blossoms best of bark if you cannot get the blossoms.  For child burth then make a strong tea of the bark of the root of the prary grieb [Prairie Grub]. Read root [Red root] 2 or 3 times a day at bead [bed] time lay the pelvis the hyer [higher] than the stomach so that the womb fals to its plase then give injection and retain all knite [night] siring [syringe/syringing] once a day with casteel sope suds  [castile soap suds] if there is a bad smel from the discharges afterwords.  With clean water little warm, then the astringent.  Yous this till cured and after be shure to have the sistom [system] strong.

      Get a glas female siring [syringe] — in old cases give injections of labelia and composition ten to emty the bowels then injection to vagina of slippy elm [slippery elm] tea and labelia tincter lying in bead [lying in bed] as above til the utris falls to place then the astringent injections 3 or 5 times a day.  Keep in bed as much as possible.


  • womb falls … then give injection
  • siring [syringe, v.]once a day with casteel sope suds [Castile Soap suds]
  • clean water
  • astringent [red root??]
  • glas female siring [syringe, n.]
  • injection of labelia [lobelia]
  • injection to vagina of slippy elm tea [slippery elm tea]
  • labelia tincter [Lobelia tincture]
  • utris fals to its place [NB: leftover from the wandering uterus theory]
  • astringent injections

Dogwood Blossoms (probably Cornus florida or similarly appearing species)

Prairie Grub (Ptelea trifoliata (see Albert Brown Lyons, Plant names: scientific and popular, entry 1681 a.)

Red Root (Lyons has Gyrotheca (Lachnanthus) capitata, 1006a, this identification for Dain’s plant is uncertain)

Lobelia injection (douche)

Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva or similar pecies)


Read root [Red Root?]

Dain provided a hand-drawn illustration of this plant for Tetherow to use in the field for recognition. 


Retention of the Mensis [menses] or Painful

Wild ginger  Unicorn blue [Cohosh] which [Witchhazel], or ginger alone and composition 3 or 4 times or 5 times a day.  Soke the feat yous it till all rite.  Soak the feat keepe them war.  Strengthen the sistom with mothers relief. 


  • [“Unicorn root  Blue Cohosh”?; see “Cough Powder” later]
  • ginger
  • composition
  • Soke the feat
  • “Strengthen the sistom with mothers relief”

Wild Ginger (Asarum sp.; A. canadense back east, A. caudatum in California; also noted by then, A. virginicum (central atlantic), and  A.arifolium (Haldberd-leaved, southern midstates by Texas)

Unicorn root.  The mention of Unicorn root may refer to true Unicorn Root (Aletris farinosa) or False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum).  Both are of the East Coast.   According to Lyons, the only other plant with ‘Unicorn’ as part of its common name is Martynia louisiana of Iowa, Illinois and Southward.   Common names include Unicorn Plant and Devil’s Claw,with the later name derived from Mexican history. 

Blue Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa and allies)

Witch Hazel (Hamamaelis sp.)


Rheumatic Liniment and to take inwardly

1 pt. Alcohol

1 oz. camphor gum

1 1/2 oz. harts horn

1 oz.  Blood Root
1 1/2 Sasifras Bark

1 1/2 oz. white mustard

1 1/2 C. pepper

      Dose 1/2 to 1 teaspoon full in water 1 to 3 times     a day.

      Bathe the parts near it in 1, 2, 3 times a day. 


  • camphor gum (official pharmacal ingredient)
  • harts horn (traditionally cornu cervi, by 1845 probably the chemical equivalent ammonia or some equivalent)
  • Blood Root (Sanguinaria canadense)
  • Sasifras Bark (Sassafras albidum)  This is a midwest to east coast plant, but possibly marketed,and with attempts to farm further west.
  • white mustard
  • C[ayenne] pepper


Yous daly a bitter of sirrup of as many of the Indian recep [recipes] as you can git.  Make strong.  This is good for ring worm tittir [tetter] worm




Retention of Urine

rost [roast] brown Egg Shels pulvrise [pulverize] make a strong tea drink frely. 

Ditto take a spoon full or so of honey bees make a tea.



3 lbs. Lard

1 1/2 Rasum [resin?]

1 1/2 Beas Wax


add 2 oz. oil spipe or Coal oil


[Hocking gives “Crude Petroleum” for Coal Oil (p.153); alternatively, not Coal oil?, i.e. consider Kole/Kohl/mustard?]

      Again see p. 1.

      oil spipe: see materia medica–oil spike.


Ague & Liver Costive pils [Costive Pills]

dry Beaf gal to thick mollases thicking [thickening] it with may apple Equal Colicinth [Colycynth] and Blood Root 1/4

Dose 2 tsp. at bed time as often as the case needs

      Note: This is a repeat of a formula: see p. 1, first recipe.


Best kind of Phisix [Physick]

1/3 cayenne pepper

2/3 May Apple

Dose from 1 to 1/2 tea spoon ful in water or molases


            Again see p. 1.   Mayapple is Podophyllum peltatum (the magical ingredient that caused yelloe stools in Carter’s Little Liver Pills).


Do [ditto. Best kind of Phisix [Physick]]

1/3  pepper

1/3  Colicutt [Colocynth]

1/3  May Apple

The same dose as above

Colocynth  is a Central to South American species.  Its family Curcubitaceae has other wild cukes , also with the potential  for use as purgatives or strong laxatives.  (Example: Echinocystis)



Sweat Elder [Sweet Elder] Bark

Scrape  Squese [Squeeze] the juice out 

wash and inject on part to [too?]

Drink yarrow tea


Sweet Elder —  Identification uncertain.  Must have been astringent, or coating/soothing.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)


Wild Ginger tea good for painful menstration [menstruation]

Allways git all you can but youse what you can git

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense, east coast, A. caudatum, west coast)


Cough Powder


C. pepper [Cayenne Pepper]

Epinar [id?]


Equal parts pulversized


take a nuf in water to case [cause] the salvy [saliva] to flow every few hours oftener or longer as the case requires


Epinar (options?)  Probably not Epinard (Spinach) and its wild equivalent Chenopodium.    Possibly a mis-transcription by researcher/notetaker.

“Epinar Opium” could be  interpreted as “Spiny Opium”, suggesting Mexican Prickly Poppy (Argemone mexicana), or White Prickly Poppy (A.alba), which fits the western to farwestern location.  However, Dain has not mentioned many western plants so  far.

Other Possibilities:

  • epinet [WI: St. Lucia, Trinidad] Zanthoxylum sp. (red and white) [Hocking, p. 76]
  • epinette (Fr.): Spruce  [Hocking, p. 76]
  • epineux (Fr.) Zanthoxylum sp.  [Hocking, p. 76]
  • epinne-vinette (Fr.) Berberis vulgaris  [Hocking, p. 76]


Flower Slbus [sic] Whites [Fluor Albus  Whites]

2 hands ful of dogwood blossoms

1 hand ful White Soloman Seal

Steap in 2 qt. water to 1 qt. add 1 pt. honey 1 pt. spirits

Dose 1 stem glus [stem glass] 1, 2 or 3 times

a day Unicorn [Aletris farinosa] blue chush [blue cohosh] is good to add


Dogwood Blossoms.  Cornus stoloniera or Red Osier Dogwood has flowers that are in small bunched blossoms on corymbs; this is native to New England, south to Kentucky, west to Arizona and California.  Cornus florida if large flowers, butthis is an East Coast plant.

White Solomon’s Seal.  Polyonatum species. The official medicine P. officinale is from Europe and Asia.  P. biflorum is from the Northeast.  P. commutatum is east coast, spreading wet to Louisiana and Utah.  There are also several similar looking west coat Lily family species.

Unicorn Root  (see above)

 Blue Cohosh (see above)

 Stem glass was a standard measurement for pharmaceutical preparations, typically measuing a quarter cup or the amount held by a wine glass.


Plaster for Pleuracy [pleurisy] or Rheumatics

take beaf gal dryd to thick molasses anuf for a plaster

mix in and on 1 table spoon ful of mustard 1 tea spoon ful of mustard 1 tea spoon pepper spread sprinkle a little labela and apply on it till cured


Beef Gall dried –typical and expected for a trapper.

Mustard, Pepper and Lobelia – domestic and Thomsonian


Gargle for Sore throte scarlit fever

tincter capsium [tincture capsicum]

Lebela gum [Lobelia and gum camphor?]

gargle and swallow some

[Note: This section was probably meant to be separate from above recipe for Gargle:]


Read Root

Prary grubs


Note: Prairie Root is Anemone ludoviciana [Hockings, 180]; Prairie Dock is Parthenium integrifolium] [Hockings, p. 180], Dunglison gives the same, p. 847.]

      [no amounts were given for each of these ingredients]


strong tea for Putrid Sore throte

good for Eye water


Recpt [Receipt] For Indian Remidys

All sorts of Weakness Clens the Blood

Good Sque [____?___] Rheumatics  

Takke [sic] all or as many as can be obtained of the following:

1 part or oz. of May apple root phisic

1 part or oz. Shoe Make [Shumack or Sumac] Bark [Rhus typhina]

1 part or oz. Popuar [Poplar] Bark

1 part or oz. Peach Bark [Prunus sp.?]

1 part or oz. Cherry Bark [Prunus serotina?]

1 part or oz. Bitter Root phisic [Rumex?]

1 part or oz. Black or Culver Root [Leptandra] phisic

1 part or oz. Bitter Sweat Bark [Solanum dulcamara?]

1 part or oz. Sasifras Bark [Sassafras albida]

1 part or oz. Dog Wood Bark

1 part or oz. Burdock Root  [Arctium lappa]

1 part or oz. Yellow Dock Bark [Rumex sp.]

1 part or oz. Yellow Perilles [Menispermum sp.]

1 part or oz. Spignent [Spignet] Root

1 part or oz. Pleuracy Root [Asclepius tuberosa]

1 part or oz. Blue Cobush [Blue Cohosh] Root [Cimicifuga racemosa]

1 part or oz. Prickly Ash Bark  [Xanthoxylum americanum or X. spinosa]

1 part or oz. Blue Sculeap hearb [Scutellaria sp.]

1 part or oz. Unicorn Root [Aletris farinosa]

1/16 part or oz. Blood…physic

1 part Lady Slipper physic [Cypripedium]

1 part Ginton [Gentian] [Gentiana sp?]

1 part Mullen [Mullein] [Verbascum thapsus]

1 parts Golden Seal [Hydrastis canadensis]

2 parts Consumtion Root [see below]

Make it in a surrup or bitters.  Youse a spoon full twise or three times a day, for a few days.  Then increase till the bowels is quite loos then small doses.  All ways youse according to simtoms.  more or les in bad cases give more at first till it physick then small doses


Most of the identifications are above.

Possible mistyping in combination with misread above by transcriber.  “Good Sque” could be “Good Ague” or “Good Agins[t]”

Spignet is possibly Aralia californica (which uses this name) or anyof the numerous Aralia species back east and down south.  The European Meum athamanticum is unlikely.


Consumption Plant, Blue bel Greak Veleran

[Pen and ink sketch of plant.]

Leaf & Stem like the same tame Locu [Locust].  Deap thorie from the ground to the upper leaf. [regarding v-shape of leaf stem or pileus?]  Sharp edges leaf lite green.  Fine whit Root Ruffles [omission] the throte when chun [chewing] a little bitter.

A spoonful a number of times a day of a strong tea or chue [chew] the root like tobacco swallow the juice it takes less it cures the most cases of cough and spitting of mater.

Identification: Polemonium reptans.  Also called Abcess root. This is an East Coast species once again.  Polemonium caeruleum is Jacob’s Ladder.


Tincter of Labela [Lobelia] to make

1 tea spoon ful together cup of scalding water not boiling.  Set it whare it is a little warm yous more or less as the case requires. 


for children for croop [croup]

ginger tea and tincter labla [lobelia] to make them drool or throw up if bad

By [Buy] your compositions at the Drug Store

A tea of this is good for colds

Ginger tea is probably from an Asarum sp. Wild Ginger.



To work on the liver

yous [use] may apple phisic as directed only 1/4 of a dose a nuf to keepe the bowles a little loos

Podophyllum peltatum once again. (This was also grown in Northwest gardens later in the 19th C)



Eye water

Prary Grub tea strong or combined with golden seal, origon grape root [Oregon Grape root, Mahonia aquifolium of Berberis aquifolium], and a little White vitrel [White vitriol]. Sulphate of Zink.

NOTE:  This is the first recipe with a number of definite West Coast species located close to Fort Vancouver.


Retention of the After Birth

Sit or Stand over a hot water to steam, give injection per vagina tincter lablea [lobelia] slepiry Elm [Slippery Elm] tea.

After the steaming if bowels costive give injection of composition tea and labelia to move the bowels and give the last teas of the mother’s releaf with the Lablia [lobelia] and all will come rite.


Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) is used to provide mucilage-the inner bark rasped down to a fine stringy powder was the best way to produce extractable mucilage.

Note Composition Tea and Lobelia, both Thomsonian.


Mother’s Releaf take

2 lbs. partridge Berry vine  (Mitchella repens)

1/2 lb. hy [high] crambark (Viburnum opulus)

      [High Crampbark or High Cranberry bark]

1/2 lb. Unicorn Root (Aletris farinosa)

1/2 blue Cohusk. Tepoos Root  (Cimicifua racemosa)

      [Blue Cohosh/Scapoose Root]

1 lb. flax seed (Linum sp. is the domestic flax; a local relative my have also been possible)

1 lb. spignirt [spignet or spikenard]  (Aralia sp.?)

1/4 lb. Baberry Bark [Bayberry bark (Myrica sp.)

1/4 lb. Birth Root (Trillium sp.)

1 lb. Read Raspberry Leaves (Rubus sp.)

1/4 Lady slipper (Cypripedium sp.)

Boil in 3 gallons watter down to 1 1/2 gal strain add 4 lbs. sugar 1/2 gal gin and sugar a nuf to keepe in sweat.

Dose 2 to 4 fluid oz. 2 to 3 times a day this to be taken from 1 to 8 months the longer the Better. 

This Prevents fals Ponis [pains?] miscarage shortens the time of Labour 1/3 to 2/3 anmd the pains liter [lighter].


This is the “most Indian” of Dain’s Indian medicine recipes.    With the possible exception of flax seed, allof the plants are native (blue toad flax could have been used).

[Note correction made to Larsell’s note, change “[sweet]” to sweat.]



After the pains has commenst

make a tea of

1 tea spoon of composition

1 tea spoon Unicorn [Aletris farinosa]

1 tea spoon Blue Cohush, Tapoos Root [Cimicifuga racemosa]

2 tea spoons Wild Ginger [Asarum sp.]

1 tea spoon Lady Slipper [Cypripedium sp.]

1 tea spoon Blue Sculcap [Scutellaria sp.]

1 tea spoon Read Rasberry Leaves [Rubus sp.]

6 tea spoons Which hazle leaves [Hamamelis sp.]

1 quart water steap strong

Dose 1/4 to tea cup once in 20, 25, or 30 minits after the child gits presented put 1 to 2 tea spoons ful of tincter of labela to each cup of tea till the child is born and the afterbirth pasest after all three stil giv a nuf of the first tea to keepe the skin moist for one day still give the tea 3 or 4 times a day for a few days then the mothers release

      Till well after the woman is put to bed sprinkle pepper in the sox and a hot and wet brick to the feet.  This treatment prevents flooding after pains child-bead fever and sorenis never yous any forse.  That makes them forgit the labour pains.

Notes:  The recipe is a blending of East coast-Traditional/Domestic-European medicine.  Note the domestic touch using pepper in sox and a hot, wet brick to the feet  to start the afterbirth.


Colic in Children

A few drops of tincter labla in brest milk Lit the mother drink compsion and Lady slipper tea if the child is costive.  Role up white paper to a point grease it youse it as injection when that passes the chile is all rite.  Colic in grone persons Labela Composition tea till the stomach is sick if bowles cramp give injection for the same.

Note: The injection here is an enema.


Polter [poultice?] for fellens [felons] sore throat or any swollin [swelling]

take lite bred or brand [bran] a little flower or shot a nuf for a potte 2 big spoons tobacco simmer sprinkle pepper and Labela on it and apply.

Note:  Another combined Thomsonian-domestic formula: bread and bran, tobacco with a sprinkling of pepper and Lobelia.




Dr. Wm. Dains Preparation