The events leading up to this period in exploration history–the exploration and settlement of the Great Plains–are detailed best by some of the newspapers and journals then published.  For New Yorkers, the variety of newspapers in publication by 1815 managed to keep citizens well informed of the plans underway for the great westward expansion.  One of the more informative of these is The American Magazine, which began publication in June 1815.  This journal, printed in Albany, was distributed mostly in New York but also to some bordering states and territories about to become state.  The main urban connection to Albany at this time was Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Both New York and Massachusetts had developed a society devoted to arts and sciences in each of these states, The Society for the Promotion of Useful Arts, each with a special group of members devoted to the livestock and agricultural industries.  The goal of these two groups was to improve upon crops development practices such as fruit tree-grafting and the development of new field crops, and to improve upon the local livestock industries making specific programs then being experimented with more lucrative in the business sense and important to defining the importance of these two regions for the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, throughout all of this politicking, there were the plans to increase the size of this country severalfold.  The migration westward had begun due to the ability of Chancellor Livingston to secure for the United States the rights to much of the land west of the known post-colonial territorial claims.  It was up to the local newspapers and magzines to keep the public informed on this important part of an early American version of the “Manifest Destiny” made popular sometime between 1840 and 1845 (this term was invented as a synonym to the phrase “divine destiny” coined by journalist John O’Sullivan’s to define the goals of the Democratic party for the time; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_Destiny).   This early ideology attached to this national goal is what led to the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark’s Exploration; such practices later became solidified and more routine around 1820, resulting in several Far West excursions by explorers, trappers and mountain men (Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson, Jedediah Strong Smith, Joseph Rutherford, Joseph Walker, Peter Skene, Peter Ogden, Ewing Young to name a few).  Many of these trips and journeys took place just a few years before and after The American Magazine was first published.

Horatio Gates Spafford, the editor of  this magazine, offered to his readers the following perspective on this publication and its contents, as found in the very first pages of volume 1, number 1.

Until now, the United States (and earlier Colonies) has endured the following periods or stages in the development of its local ethnobotany history (there is some overlap in time frames due to the overlap in times when specific philosophies were published):

The work and travels of the early post-war botanists like the Bartrams, Benjamin Barton, Andre Michaux and F.A. Michaux (the French Revolution followed by Reformation was underway, so French scientists were fleeing to the US), Lewis and Clark, and others were influencing the scientifici and medical communities with their publications.  The Westward Expansion officially began sometime soon after the Lewis and Clark Expedition began 1804-5-6, assigning it the year 1807 in many writings and teaching materials.   Yet a lot of these travels into the “Near West” (east of the Mississippi River for the most part) were already underway during the 1790s.  The 1790s travels of Michaux provide one example of this early midwestern exploration period, especially from 1793 to 1800.  This only continued in the Midwest from those years on, resulting in what appeared to some to be a complete survey of the Midwest as early as 1825.

Once enough was known about this previously unknown territory, the same philosophy that helped set the stage for the migration and settlement of territories along the Atlantic shores also led to numerous attempts to inhabit the midwest as well, in much the same way, and with much the same ideology.  The early 1800s migrations into the Midwest had two unique differences from the first attempts made to settle the shoreline colonies and later states, and the immediate interior of these well-occupied regions by the 1780s and 1790s.  First, travellers and unofficial explorers and settlers of unoccupied, unclaimed lands had previous examples to learn from.  Until the Louisiana Purchase was completed, the midwest was unclaimed territories and wilderness, even though much of this region lacked the majestic rustic patterns typical of places all along the Atlantic coastline.  Even with le Vente de la Louisiane (the Louisiana Purchase) over with by the end of 1803, and the ongoing speculation and news about the Lewis and Clark Expedition being disseminated from 1804 to 1806, very little was done to aggessively add new medicines to the industry of medicine at hand for the United States, much less the rest of the world.  We see occasional attempts made to standardize certain herbal medicine uses in the medical and pharmacal professions, but most of these skills were learned and practiced by the unofficial practitioners residing in the wilderness.  The early American herbal markets such as the Carolina Pink industry and its related Patent Medicines beginning to be developed, along with the Ginseng international business, were dwarfed by the culturally-defined practices that had developed, and the mixed herbal medicine practices that consisted of blending Native American uses and traditions with European and Euro-American cultural beliefs.  Both Christianity and Indian philosophy were used to pull these first few examples of new practices of medicine together for the United States.  Members of the regular medical profession had a minimal impact on these events taking place in the very rural borderland and hinterland settings of North America.

The following is an example of the news items published in the local New York magazine devoted to local culture.  Along with city development and reviews of living style, social, and governmental changes, this publication spread the news about events important to national history.  During this time, the following events ensued according to this magazine (all of the following are in The American Magazine, vol 1, no. 1):

    1. laudanum is recommended to alleviate diseases due to cold water (72)
    2. the malt liquors are being adulterated by bitters other than hops, causing illness and intestinal distress (74)
    3. a report on the July 4th celebration (89),
    4. a letter from “CLERMONT” to the Editor about recent writings on the economy of nature and an explanation of heat and light (97)
    5. news that a bottle was dropped off the coast of Brazil dated September 6, 1808 is picked up on June 29, 1809 at the Island of Martinique (100)
    6. methods of proper schooling (109),
    7. David Ramsey’s Universal History Americanised is published (115),
    8. Govr. Dewitt sends a circular to all counties pertaining to their natural resources (123),
    9. the Steamboat Enterprise becomes the first to ascend the Ohio River, travelling from Pittsburgh to New Orleans (128),
    10. news pertaining to The Farmer’s Club of Dutchess and Columbia Counties (104,129),
    11. recovery of French givernment following the Revolution and Napoleonic war (131),
    12. the settlement an d natural history of Bern next to Albany (141),
    13. on parental duties (148),
    14. death of the Indian Prophet Tecumseh (166),
    15. cession of the Islands of the Niagara River by the Senecas to the State of New York (172),
    16. the installation of an iron conduit to channel water through the city of Albany (191),
    17. a two-part sketch on Baron von Steuben (177,209),
    18. the economy of a healthier method for home building in Albany was established (265),
    19. The Abbe Berthelon’s perception of “Natural Electricity” was published (268),
    20. a valuable lead mine was discovered in Ancram (329),
    21. a “double forcing pump” was invented for the city of New York (330),
    22. the Northern and Southern State differences in opinion about slavery and manumission were better defined (332),
    23. the art of the Water Rod was more perfected (p. 346),
    24. the important patriot Patrick Henry died (p. 401),
    25. a proposal for “The Grand Canal” (for the westward expansion)in NY was published (405),
    26. a cabinet maker in Albany invented the “valetudinarian chair” for those retreating for good health (431),
    27. the use of “Gas Lights” in Albany was conceptualized and tested (433)  .


At the end of this page, I post any additional notes provided about this time frame which I pulled from The American Magazine, volume 1 (June 1815 – May 1816).

As a part of this transitional period in east coast civilization and the conversion of midwestern settings from wilderness to rural Euro-American settings, I have included some parts of the series Early Western Travels into this work, in which there are a number of trappers that add to our knowledge of this time frame in American herbal medicine history due to their chronological overlaps.  It seems best to consider this period in American medical history more applicable to trappers, Midwest and Farwest medicine than Eastern or East Coast Medicine.  Some of these notes very much resemble trapper ideology, others are very much European, not Euro-american.

There are also the utopian groups that came to the Great Plains and westward with hopes of living more “perfectly”, and of course, following in their footsteps were the much larger culturally defined regions, defined by nationality and language, and to some extent religion, more so than based upon utopian and communistic ideals.  In the end, it is politics that determines the outcomes for each of these phases of development of a region like the Great Plains or Midwest.   Following the wilderness and trapper-mountain man ways of living in these settings, local culture and politics came first, then culture alone of a much broader scale areally and politically.  But finally, it is the nationality  and national defined ownership of such settings that comes to play in determining what sorts of medicine are being practiced.  We find that large areas, with monolithic but mostly urban-present governing bodies, have these rural settings conducive to the development of new medical traditions and new healing faiths.  Like the writings of Pedr Kalm told us earlier in American history that one cannot that easily erase cultural beliefs and practices from the communal-like hamlets and villages, much less the most avid followers of the popular culture in medicine for the time.   A law passed against a particular medical faith only eliminates its legalness and licensure, not its local wants, needs or legitimacy.

Local Culture and Politics

The reason for this placement in the various topics of American history pertains to the fairly unique influences the early western travellers must have had on trappers in general.  The schism here in trapper history is that trappers are responsible for breaking in virgin territory for new settlers to later enter.  So with each bit of news the civilized world learns about the trappers out there in hinterlands, the more inspired some of them are to move out there and share with trappers some of these experiences.  So the main difference between trappers and their admirers who decide to settle on these lands is that the trappers reside in the hinterlands, the new settlers reside in the borderlands.  The trappers have no communication with the civilized world much of the time, whereas the settlers depend on a little more socialization with each of the other families within 10 or 20 miles from where they live.

Likewise there were numerous utopian movements underway at this time, in which the philosophy of a specific group or class of people made more sense being practices in some geographically isolated cultural setting.  This made the vast and open prairies of the Great Plains states extending from the western edges of New York and Pennsylvania to the western edges of Kansas, Nebraska and even the Dakotas appear to be locations predefined for these commune to be established.  Within very short time, as these parts of the early 1800s “Northwest” region were settled, the Far West became the next place to search for inhabitable open space.  The desires for isolation and communal living during the first decades led to the following communal groups to be established as a part of the early western traveler’s experience.

  • Shakers, formed in NY 1787, well established by 1794 (see seaprate section on this group, with Poughkeepsie Journal coverage of their history); originally known as “Millenial Church, or United Society of Believers, common called Shakers”, formed in New Lebanon, Columbia County, NY.  Settled further west beginning about 1805.
  • Rappists, a Harmonist group, 1805, Father George Rapp, 1818, philosophy and books revised 1836, and 1847 ; idea was ‘to prepare your soul and spirit for the future life along Jesus’.
  • Separatists, Baumalers, or Zoarites, 1817, from Wurtemburg, Germany, to village of Zoar, Tuscarawas County, Ohio
  • Perfectionists, 1834, New Haven, CT, John Humphrey Noyes, in Putney, Vermont, 1847, in Oneida, Madison County around 1848, and then Brooklyn, 1849.
  • Eben-Ezers or Amanas, 1844, an offshoot of Perfectionists
  • Oneida Perfectionists, 1848, an offshoot of Perfectionists
  • Aurorans, 1852, German “Pennsylvanian Dutch” followers pulled from Rapp’s colony at Economy, removed to Phillipsburg, then Louisiana, the Hannibal, Missouri, then Bethel, Missouri (close to Quincy), then  Shoalwater Bay, Oregon by 1855, and finally Aurora, 1856.  Allied group that split from the Missouri population about 1844/7 is in Bethel, Mo.
  • Icarians, Etienne Cabot, 1839, following the French Revolution recovery, wrote about ‘the voyage to Icaria’, went from France to Red River Texas in 1848, removed to Nauvoo area remaining just outside the city until yellow fever attacks on Mormons led then to evacuate the city around May 1850.
  • Bishop Hill Swedish Colony, Henry County, Illinois, sect formed 1830, originating in Helsingland, Sweden; Eric Janson led them 1843; due to police, legal and jail related threats, sought out a new site in North America in 1845; Olaf Olson founded a place in Illinois,, which they began to settle in 1846.   The 1850 census records for this commune is a list of almost entire male residents, many the most learned and diverse scholars in this part of the state.  By 1848, 800 people were residing here.


Each of these groups had their distinct philosophies, not to be reviewed here (perhaps elsewhere).  Most of them take on fatalistic and/or determinist philosophies regarding sickness. labeling it a consequence of personal living and social practices, themes common for religiously minded communal settings.  Many of these traditions also have parts of their philosophy drawn from their culture.  Their fatalistic concepts may be religious born, but their work and communal eating, religious and governmental practices may relate more to utilitarian models and exactly how they believe they should exercise fair and equal rights, equal liberty, and equal income/barter roles to all of their members.  this means that often some very specific gender role differences often exist in these communes.  Several of these philosophies have even unique health maintenance philosophies–for the Icarians, for example, hard work, tenuous labor practices, and proper foodways made for a much healthier body.  For the Shakers, disease is in large part a manifestation of your status in the spiritual world.  The Bishop Hill Swedish Colony members were very much focused on knowledge and intellect, and hard mental or physical labour.

A unique relationship of this type is found in the various communal like setting that began to emerge in the midwest between 1825 and 1850.  Until you view the census records of this region and see an arrangement of families and individual that turns on a light in your mind as to what exactly was happening out there, you were pretty much imagining these rapidly settling regions to be much like some farming community at the edge of suburbia, a mish mash of houses and buildings of all sorts doing everything possible that could be done with the unclaimed territory.  This was often the case, but equally frequent it seems was the spread of this new philosophy of utopianism and communal living that was developing a big following.

A good example of what I am referring to is found in the census records of 1850 in Illinois.  In these documents we find the results of what has just taken place in this northwest territory.  The most famous communal setting with a large population in Illinois was the Mormon community occupying the city of Nauvoo.  A few miles east of Nauvoo there was a Swedish Utopian settlement established, where mostly men were residing for the time being until the buildings were completed and families could be invited over.  In just a few years, the Mormons left Nauvoo behind and began their trip to the New Jerusalem, finally settling in Utah.  Meanwhile, a French Utopian Socialist group, originated by the Marquis de Lafayette around 1788 known as Carbonari was revitalized in April 1848 in Paris by French socialist Etienne Cabet.  They developed their own utopian setting just across the river in Corning, Iowa–they called themselves the Icarians.  In this perfect commune, people wore overalls and lived off the farms, children were the possession of all parents as a group in this social setting, and the men were kept isolated from the woman most of the day due to their nearly defined purposes in life, which was in fact the reason they all agreed to reside in this community in the first place.

Each of these settlements in the Midwest had their own interpretation of  the”New Jerusalem” many had just founded or felt they were now contributing to.  These experiences were much like the first such settlements in the Eastern Colonies and earliest States, where a mystic could build her own house while her husband tended more to the large shipping industry (the Filipse Patent), or where the Foxites’s religion was born again in the form of a type of Shakerism practiced in southern Illinois.   Somewhere between all this multiculturalism that was penetrating the Great Plains territory were some people who had an influence upon the trappers and future of medicine in general.  Some of the earliest Western travellers and settlers provide us with the pieces to this part of the puzzle as to how the beliefs were developed and passed through the Great Plains into the Rocky Mountains and across to California and Oregon as the trappers brought some of this knowledge with them.


Regions define by Culture alone

The above small region or utopian community ideology helped set the stage for most of the other settlers who removed to these parts of North America.  Numbers of people made all the difference when it came to determining who and what cultural pattern and legal and even religious system would come to rule a territory or state once the Manifest Destiny goal for a large area became possible.  In Oregon Territory for example, one of the few examples of a well-defined Danish communal setting was established south of the Portland region.  This single building piece of property in some ways mimicked the Swedish community set up in Illinois, but made significant use of orphaned male children as the sources for much of its labor needed to develop and construct the remaining living establishments.  This Danish group was only in this location for a short time, due mostly to encroachment of the Territory by specific United States and French Canadian religious groups and followers into this region.  This cultural influx also outnumbers and, philosophically speaking, outgunned the British when it came to deciding upon certain religious and communal-like social practices.  Even though this helped solidify the United States claims to ownership rights for this territory just a year or two later (in 1850, the existence of Oregon as a State was passed), it did not prevent other philosophies from creeping into the various social, professional and even official government operated settings at times in this region.  For example, the first physician of this Territory, John McLoughlin, was able to take on a look and medical-surgical practice very different from that of one of his predecessors and associates, William Frasier Tolmie.  Following in the footsteps of his predecessor and theoretical mentor in New York, Dr. Naturalist and phlogistonist Samuel Mitchell, “MD and P [!?] as noted in his book and studies on Rachel], John McLoughlin, MD and mesmerist [?!] An unofficial title, with skills related to him working as a mesmerist psychologist].

In territories and large regions with well defined cohabitants sharing a common cultural setting, we see signs of even the more common cultural groups trying to lay their own special claims to these fairly unoccupied regions.  In this way the continuation of a New Spain, New France, New Sweden, and newer, more traditional form of New Britain could exist in both the Great Plains and the Far West.   Even parts of the west coast had two sections principally claimed by Russian groups prior to Hudson Bay and finally members of the Astor Expedition were able to erode away these claims, some time between 1820 and 1830.  These Russian settlements were located north of the Canadian-US border latitude line, all the way through the coastal island community ports and settings well into the complete Aleutian Islands chain, with another possible Russian commune with a small population found to exist south of the California Border on the Baja Peninsula.

The following are examples of some of the culturally defined large area regions, noted to exist in some theoretical, philosophical, unofficial, and quasi-gubernatorial fashion in the Midwest.

 French Culture

The singlemost important culture we find influencing trappers from this part of the continent is the French culture which New France laid in place in this region more than a century earlier.   Not only was there the trappers but there were also the montagnard, the French rendering of the Mountainman.   We know that the fur trade taking place just east of the Rockies in the Northern Territory in and around the Dakotas southward along the Missouri and other Mississippi River tributaries, that there were forts set up with French Canadian trappers serving during the 1830s (esp. for the Astor expeditions), perhaps as early as the late 1820s.  In Northwestern Territory, ten years later, the same existed for the Washington-Idaho-Oregon first and fur trade settings.


Ref: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Louisiana1804a.jpg

If we look at some of these traveller’s writings for the regions east of these early fort and fur trade settlements, we find evidence for influences by the French part of the local culture on local plant uses–a lot of the plants mentioned by certain writers bear French names with French-defined uses in the plant name.  So what these writers introduced to their readers at the time included the history of French behaviors, but especially Creole culture in the Midwest.  Based on the New France series by Thwaites, we learn that the Creoles were a  group of people originating somewhere in the Great Lakes region of New France, who ultimately ended up at the other end of the Mississippi River close to the French-controlled villages in and around Louisiana and some of the southern towns inland on the Mississippi River.  This enabled French culture to establish for itself its own region, with one of its more precious goods for cooking — the cayenne pepper, bearing a name with a characteristic French accent, and bois de gombo (Sassafras tree, the leaves of which make the thick soup base for gumbo).   This culturally defined “French Territory” extended along the length of the Mississippi, along some parts of its tributaries, but perhaps at most only a day’s travel from any of these river edges, with evidence for social presence and commercial activity seen in the various historical documents extending from about 1670 to 1720, with possible later influences developed as well in certain parts of this New France territory.  The signing of this land over as the Louisiana Purchase around 1803 had little impact on any culture remaining in certain well-established population settings from 1720 on.


Louisiana Purchase, 1803. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LouisianaPurchase.png

English Culture

From Notes on A Journey in America... ,Morris Birbeck, 1818, 4ed.

Interestingly, close to Adams County, Illinois, and Corning, Iowa, the British were trying to lay claim to some area once again, not officially in a governing sense so much as culturally in a lifestyle and traditions sense.   This communal setting, the English Prairie as Morris Birbeck called it,  had its British necessities in life, such as the cup of tea in the afternoon and a fancifully decorated piano sitting in the living room with sheet music, all of this in the commoner’s room of what might otherwise be misconstrued as a log cabin, if it weren’t for the fancy candle holders and pieces of fancy furniture imported in thanks to river boats.  Like the local Swedes and French, the British had their own sense of home in their carefully designed and laid out commune in the Great Plains.  Since the Plains in this area appeared more like farming community, with less trees to be felled in order to open up new pastures, this was a place that some Englishmen felt more acclimated to and adapted to.  Faux’s writing is very humourous at times because of this.  British Prairie is the only place one might expect to find some sense of civility so to speak in an otherwise primitive Midwest cultural setting.

Creole Culture

Creole culture is a special sociological subgroup of the French Canades culture and lifestyle.  Some of the earliest publications on these people which are easy to locate are in the New France series. (My New France section reviews this series further.)  Both Cajun and Creole have distinct cultural heritages and should not be confused.  The same is true for two other traditions of older Louisiana across to Georgia–the Hoodoo cultures which had their mainstay on the off-shore sandbar islands still found in parts of the Carolinas on south to Florida.  These island cultures and ecosystems still have important plants wither accidentally introduced or freshly seeded as a result of pirated and damaged ships and people from the carribean trying to find their way to the mainlands sometime during the mid- to late colonial years.  French Creole culture can be traced along the route from Quebec to Louisiana, with islands of  this culture found all along the Mississippi River and lower sections of its major tributaries.  Further north, as one travels westward past the Great Lakes, the next French cultural derivative is Metis, a unique society of “halfbreeds” who came up with this new and original traditional name for their people.  Unlike the Creoles who were associated mostly with  Native American groups around the great lakes and eastward, the Metis were more often related to Cree cultural beliefs and upbringings.  For further insights into French and Creole cultures with regard to medicine see the work of Jean-Bernard Bossu in the New France section, though somewhat ethnocentric, and possibly at times with some parts fabricated, his writings do include more revelaing details about the lower Mississippi New France culture thans some fop the other documents I have reviewed (excluding the New France writings).


In some ways there is a humor to all this “new harmony” and new ways of living being established out west, well at least what appeared to be the Far West to the Easterners.   To the North there was the British, to the west the Texans, Spaniards, Mexicans, and other Indigens.  To the east a Euro-American/American culture heavily dependent upon African labor was established.  To the south the French Creoles and more Icarians.  To the north, there were utopians (including the Owenites this time) and Canadians.

Putting all of this back into the trappers perspective of things, the trappers point of view regarding these social changes is interesting to conceptualize.  A trapper leaves his home in the Eastern Atlantic or Eastern Great Plains States.  His only neighbors back then were left overs from the French Canadian trapping expeditions, and perhaps a few early Dutch, German and Scandinavian settlers.  He then heads into the Mountains and crosses into the Great Plains, where he remains for a short while before finally heading to the Far West.  A couple of years later he returns to his homelands only to find some communal center being built next door, on what used to be prime trapping territory.  He finds lakes that were once rich in fish and fowl have now become filthy due to cattle grazing and a plentiful supply of cowpies.  Areas which where once heavily wooded wilderness settings with pines, deer, elk, and such have now become fenced in farmlands.  The trapper’s point of view is that he left a place a couple of years back that had no cultural base, where only survivalism was being practiced as its best, only to come back to some utopian setting where rigid social laws were developed and enforced, where neighbors pushed back upon neighbors laying claim the land next door, with buffalos being replaced by pigs, goats and cows.  Of course the trapper is going to head back west, or even better, into the virgin territories still found in Canada or Mexico.  But he could only conclude one thing after witnessing all of that change–civilization is no longer civilized!

Note: for more on Icarians, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icarians.

Reuben Gold Thwaites (from wikipedia)

Most of these references are from the Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites.  These books were originally published in Cleveland, Ohio, by Arthur H. Clark Co., 1904, and republished in 1966 by AMS Press, Inc., N.Y..   The specific volumes of Thwaites’ texts researched are noted at the end of the title name in brackets.

John Bradbury.  Travel in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811.   [Thwaites, Volume 4.]

Fortescue Cuming.  Sketches of a Toure to the Western Country Through the States of Ohio and Kentucky; a Voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and a Trip through the Mississippi Territory and part of West Florida.  Commenced at Philadelphia in the Winter of 1807, and concluded in 1809.   [Thwaites, Volume 5.]

W. Faux.  Memorable Days in America: being a Journal of a Tour to the United States…including Accounts of Mr. Birbeck’s Settlement in the Illinois.  (London, 1823)   [Thwaites, Volume 11 and 12.]

Edwin James.  Account of an Expedition from Pittsburg to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819, 1820.  Originally Published in London in 1823.  [Thwaites, Volumes 14-17.]

Text written by Edwin James, Botanist and Geologist to the Expedition,  This expedition was performed “By Order of the Hon. J. C. Calhoun  Secretary of War, under the command of S.H. Long, of the U.S. Topographical Engineers.”  Being a government-sponsored expedition, the medicines used are post-War Colonial and allopathic, and notes only Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) Opium, Peruvian Bark, whiskey and soap for use as medicines.  Makes a comment on vaccinating Native Americans [v. 18, pp. 274-287].

Andre Michaux, F.A. Michaux and Thaddeus Mason Harris.  Travels West of the Alleghanies Made in 1793-96 by Andre Michaux; in 1802 by F.A. Michaux; and in 1803 by Thaddeus Mason Harris, M.A.  [Thwaites, Volume 3]

Andre Michaux noted several Creole medicines of importance (see “Creole Medicines” and the individual herbs noted).  For the most part he makes use of colonial or allopathic remedies for treating himself or friends.  Andre Michaux’s text appears in Thwaite’s edition for pages 25-104; Francois Andre Michaux (reprinted from the 1805 London edition), on pages 105-305; T.M. Harris, A.M.’s writing was on pages 307-382 (reprinted from the Boston Journal, 1805.)   F.A. Michaux and Harris made very few notes on the medicines or flora.

F. A. Michaux.  Travels To The Westward Of The Allegheny Mountains, In The States Of The Ohio, Kentucky, And Tennessee, In The Year 1802.  London, 1805.

Maximilian, Prince of Weid.  Travels in the Interior of North America.   Part I of Maximilian, Prince of Weid’s, Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-1834.  From the London Edition, 1843; translated from the German Edition by Hannibal Evans Lloyd.  [Thwaites, Volumes 22-24]

Thomas Nuttall.  A Journal of Travels in to the Arkansas Territory, during the year 1819, with Occasional Observations on the Manners of the Aborigines.  [Thwaites, Volume 13]

Joel Palmer.  Journals of Travels over the Rocky Mountains, to the Mouth of the Columbia River: Made during the Years 1845 and 1846.  [Thwaites, Volume 30]

Notes only soap and tar formula for treatment of Split Hoof on cattle (p. 49).

James Ohio Pattie.  The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie.  Timothy Flint, Ed. (1833)

Adlard Welby.  A Visit to North American and the English Settlements in Illinois, with a winter residence at Philadelphia.  Originally published in 1821 in London. Reprinted as part of Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, Volume 12, pp. 145-341. Reuben Gold Thwaites, Ed. AMS Press, Inc., N.Y., 1966.

John Woods.  Two Years’ Residence in the Settlement on the English Prairie in the Illnois Country, United States. [1822.]   [Thwaites, Volume 10]

John Woods gives a non-specific rendering of botanical medicines in the Ohio region, likening  them to the European equivalents.  Woods appears to have had a poor knowledge of Botany and plants, and gives them names taken from his English botanical knowledge.  These notes are entered into this listing together as “Herbal Medicines.”


_________. The Navigator ; containing directions for navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers ; with an ample account of these mnfli admired waters, from the head of the former to the mouth of the latter ; and a concise description of their Towns, Villages, Harbors, Settlements, &c. with Maps of the Ohio and Mississippi.To which is added an Appendix, containing an account of Louisiana, and of the Missouri and Columbia rivers, as discovered by the voyage under Capts. Lewis and Clark.—Eighth editionimproved and enlarged. Pittsburgh, 1814.


Adam and Eve

Near an old French Settlement, Cote-Sans-Dessein, consisting of six to eight houses were “French Families and Half breeds” who were descendents of the Osage.   While botanizing, Maximilian came upon an orchid:  “the Monocotyledonous plant…which is called here Adam and Eve.  Its roots consist of two bulbs joined together, of which it is said that, when thrown in water, one swims and the other sinks.  It is held to be a good cure for wounds.”

[Maximilian, pt. 1, [Thwaites, 22], 1832-4, p. 242]

This is probably an orchid.  But the option as to identity is based on where these events took place.  The use of Adam-and-Eve as a common name is very much a part of the history of the orchid family member Aplectrum spicatum (Walt.) B.S.P.and lily family member Erythronium giganteum Lindl. (Farwest).  If we assume Maximilian is familiar with the famous Adam-and-Eve of Europe,  Orchis mascula L, Aplectrum would be more likely.    Erythronium  has a yellow flower and resides too far west to really be considered a possibility.

Alcoholic Beverages–see Barley, Gin, Whiskey.

Ale–see Barley

American Camomile


See “Herbal Medicines” entry related to Maximilian, 1832-1834.





“amorpha…it cured the cholic.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 182]

Note: Other members of leguminosae are popular, due to naming problems around this time; but for now the above is considered the identity.

See Medicine Man


Blackfeet Indian:  use of amulets, rattles and bear’s paws.

[Maximilian, pt. 2, [Thwaites, 23], 1832-4, p. 148]

Animal Doctoring

Tongue and Mouth Sores: “Alum and Copperas, tied in a rag around the bit of the bridle to prevent chewing.”

[J. Woods, 1822, p. 286]

Anthoxanthum odoratum [Scented Grass]

Tallow Poultice.

The Manitaries, Missouri:  “As a remedy for wounds, they burn scented grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum); hold their hands in the smoke, and then, at some distance, over the wound, after which they lay tallow upon it.”

[Maximilian, pt. 2, [Thwaites, 23], 1832-4, p. 384]


Grease Poultice.

“a sound dressing of aqua-fortis and grease, and scrubbing and washing in strong hot lie…”

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 301]



Used by a shaman “to make himself feared and most dreaded…because he put his enemies and rivals out of the way when it suited him.” [See also James’s Narrative of Major Long’s Expedition.]

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 277]

as a medicine                       [Welby, 1821, p. 85]

as a Rat poison

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 12), 1823, p. 85]

File:Artemisia tridentata 2.jpg


“artemisia, common on the prairies and known to the hunters by the name of hyssop”

Part of the contents of a Medicine Bag.  The association with Hyssop is for biblical purposes, not that utilitarian in reasoning I suspect.  The smell and taste or Artemisia and hyssop are different.   Artemisia is of course more like sage.  The artemisia species illustrated above is the more commonly known shrub version–A. tridentata.  Artemisia does have erect herb forms as well like A. ludoviciana, which does have an appearance more like hyssop but a different colored flower spike.

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 132-133]

See Medicine Man

File:Astragalus glycyphyllos fruit.jpg


“two new species of astragalus”

Part of the contents of a Medicine Bag.

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 132-133]

See Medicine Man


Blackfeet Indian:  Balsam and liniment used together to make bandages for treating battle injuries.  The wounded are recognized as being “exhausted” by the loss of blood.

[Maximilian, pt. 2, (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 148]


Malt Liquor/Ale. “Barley…cultivated in the Alleghenies, and hops which grow wild in abundance.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 312]

Bath/Bathing–see various Water entries, Brandy.

Bear’s Paws

Blackfeet Indian:  use of amulets, rattles and bear’s paws as medicines.

[Maximilian, pt. 2, (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 148]

Beer–see Barley


An embrocation or chest rub was made Rosin and Beeswax, melted together to make a treatment for consumption, was used by Mrs. Skinner, who was confined to her bed due to her consumption.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 54]


James O. Pattie is “bled with a butcher knife by a friend”

[J. Pattie, 1824-30, p. 158]

Bloodroot  (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Also known as Puccoon.

A brief note on using it to garnish a bouquet.  Makes a brief note on its use as a body paint and dye for cane baskets by Native Americans, and as a garden decorative.  Notes it “would furnish artists with a brilliant print or dye, and perhaps be adopted into the Materia Medica as a valuable drug.”

[T.M. Harris, 1805, p. 334]


used against cold temperatures and water, and for a warm brandy bath to treat heavy mosquito bites.

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 12), 1823, pp. 68, 90, 129]



F. Cuming is allopathic, with Native American herbs known since colonial times added to the basic colonial fever protocol of Calomel and Peruvian bark.

“One of the sons was suffering under a fever and ague, the first time it had been known in the family…I recommended a plentiful use of calomel occasionally, and a strong decoction of Peruvian bark, snake root and ginseng, during all the intermissions.”

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 122-3]

used to treat Bilious Fever/Inflammation, with a “warm relaxing bath.”

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 95]

Camphorated Spirit

Domestic-Colonial (early Allopathic).

The wife of an old Squire had dislocated her hip by falling off a horse.  Refusing to see a surgeon, she opted to use her own cure: “[she] is curing herself gradually, though slowly, by an embrocation of camphorated spirit.”

Probable content of the camphorated spirit: Camphoratum and Turpentine/Pine Oil.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 105]

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

The Catalpa bears wood of differing colors and therefore different Creole names:

  • Bois Shavanon
  • Bois noir  [Black Wood]
  • Bois jaune [Yellow Wood]

No uses are given by F. Michaux.

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 78-79]

File:Typha latifolia 02 bgiu.jpg

Cattail (Typha latifolia)

“reed mace, (typha palustris)”

Part of the medicine bag for an Arapaho Medicine Man; “used in cases of burns or scalds.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 182]

See Medicine Man

Celtis occidentalis [Hackberry Tree]

 “the Second Bark of Celtis occidentalis”

Creole Medicine.  Also known as Bois connu, in Illinois, and Bois inconnu, in New Orleans.  Considered an excellent remedy for jaundice, with “a handful of the roots or leaves of Smilax sarsaparilla added to it.”  Used for eight days as a decoction.

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 78-79]

Cheltenham Salts–see Mineral Drugs

Ching Sang–see Ginseng

Coneflower–see Rudbeckia purpurea, Medicine Man.

Colombo Root

“Another plant of the woods of Indian, which is much esteemed, is the spurious Colombo root.”

The true Columbo Root species is Jateorrhiza palmata.  It is a native of East Africa.

American Columbo Root is Frasera caroliniensis Walt. By about the time of this writings, it is just becoming popular in Germany and France. Maximilian’s writings substantially improved its marketability.

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 167]

Colombo root is a strong laxative.  There are several American plants that would take on a similar role in medicine.  Several are herbs with similar laxative or purgative effects.  One or two of the cucumber family species are remarkable similar to the imported purgative Colocynth.  There is  substitution process beginning to happen in early American herbalism, with people who discover a particular remedy often trying to make claim to their equivalent value to another expensive imported medicine.  This is perhaps the most important change American herbal medicine undergoes between 1810 and 1850.

Copalm (Liquidambur styraciflua)

A French (Creole?) remedy.

“A Frenchman who traded among the Cheroquis Savages cured himself of the itch by drinking for ten days a decoction of Chips of that tree which he called Copalm and which is true Liquidambur; [with] Gleditsia triacanthos, [known as] fevier (bean-plant) by the French[,] and sweet locust by the Americans.” [Tues, 20 Oct. 1795]

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 77]

Copal is a particular form of gum or resin, produced by Copaiba (Copaifera langsdorfii, Fam: Leguminosae).  It is possible this name Copalm refers to this name and use, suggesting some perceived similarity between Liquidambur and the South American Copaifera.

Creole Plants and Medicines

In the various notes taken by Andre Michaux from 1793 to 1796 and published in his Travels West of the Alleghanies, he notes several Creole remedies, most of which appear on pages 68, and 76-80.

See   Celtis occidentalis

  •  [Bois connu, Illinois, Dictionary of Louisiana French: as spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American …  By Albert Valdman, Kevin James Rottet, p. 871, has for Bois connue ~ Bois Inconnu for Catalpa]
  •  [Bois inconnu, New Orleans, according to Valdman and Rottet’s Creole Dictionary: Catalpa; this French phrase translates to “wood unknown”, sometimes referring to its splender and beauty, but also simply due to its popularity and lack of knowledge about where it came from]
  •  Copalm  [Louisiana: Liquidambur styraciflua)
  • Bois Shavanon (Catalpa speciosa, see J. A. Warder’s The western Catalpa,: A memoir of the shavanon, or the Catalpa speciosa (Engelmann), name common ca. 1845, for this tree found of the banks of the Shavanon, now called Cumberland River.)
  • Bois noir  [Black Wood, possibly Florida species Avicenna nitida, Black Mangrove. Lyons Plant Names.]
  • Bois jaune [Yellow Wood, possibly Xanthorrhiza var. species, or Kentucky/American Yellowwood Cladastris lutea (Lyons Plant Names; Dictionary of Louisiana French: as spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American …  By Albert Valdman, Kevin James Rottet has Tulip Tree]
  • Olivier [Olive Wood, possibly Nyssa sp.; more than likely black tupelo (cited specifically as boule d-olivier by Valdman and Rottet), but also possibly Chinese Tallow Tree or a similar in the region, see Dictionary of Louisiana French: as spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American …  By Albert Valdman, Kevin James Rottet, p. 871]
  • Fagara
  • Fevier [Bean Plant, any of numerous species; Catalpa also noted for its “bean”]
  • Herbe or Racine a Becquet/Bequel [Sanicula  marylandica]
  • Herb a quatre feuilles [Four-leaves herb or grass:    Veronica virginica]
  • “Zanthoxilum clava-Herculi”
  • “Smilax, Squire”

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6]

Note: for more on these trees, (“Bois . . . “)  from a time-specific reference see: The trees of America: native and foreign, pictorially and botanically … By Daniel Jay Browne, 1846, at Google Books.   Fore Creole, see: Dictionary of Louisiana French: as spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American …  By Albert Valdman, Kevin James Rottet,  at http://books.google.com/books?id=vw5TIVBcNsIC&lpg=PA871&ots=J6LIJJJ9ym&dq=inconnu%20bois&pg=PA871#v=onepage&q=inconnu%20bois&f=false


Cucumber Tree–see Magnolia acuminata


“The woods abound with medical herbs.  The Ching Sang and Ipecacuanha are found, for emetics.  The vine is very luxuriant, and cultivated at Harmony with success; while the trees are full of gum.  The Dogwood bark is also found as efficient as the Peruvian, and the Sassafras tea is in general use for two or three months.” [8th Nov. 1818]

There are two Cornus species that were very popular as medicines.  The traditional dogwood is Cornus florida.  Another popular Cornus however is Cornus sericea.  Usually the C. sericea is not named dogwood, so C. florida is probably the species.  There are no other Cornus species with a flower like that of C. florida, so identifying the tree is very easy and usually unmistakeable.

The most important medical history of Cornus florida is its use as a substitute for quinine.  This was due to the bitter taste its bark produces, the primary feature of the cinchona bark from which the quinine is extracted to treat fevers.  This particular use of Cornus appear to date back to the Revolutionary War, or perhaps a few years before, when cinchona bark was scarce and expensive due to the need to import it.

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 228-9]

Elder Flowers

Identification: Sambucus canadensis? (Elderberry) or ?

See Herbal Medicines entry related to Maximilian, 1832-1834.

Embrocation–see Camphorated Spirit, Rosin, Beeswax.

Epsom Salts–see Mineral Drugs/Salts

Eryngium aquaticum

This medicine was used by the inhabitants of the White River area, in Arkansas, Feb. 1819.  Served as a diuretic, and in larger doses as an emetic.

[T. Nuttall, 1819, p. 110]

Erysimum Lanceolatum

“Erysimum Lanceolatum or Chieranthus Erysimoides…used as a medicine by the Aricaras.”

Called Chieranthus Erysimoides [from Heller’s Catalogue] due to its likeness to the European-New England medicine Erysimum or Hedge Nettle.  The Europe-New England species of Erysimum is E. cheiranthoides L., known commonly as Treacle or Wormseed Mustard; this species was used medicinally as a worm remedy and a stomachic.  The Southern species is E. asperum DC. (E. lanceolatum Pursh; E. Arkansanum Nutt.; C. Arkansanus (Nutt.) Greene); it has no medical value noted in Lyon’s Plant Names.

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 319]

File:Zanthoxylum fagara (homeredwardprice) 001.jpg


Creole Medicine.

Possibly the neotropical species Zanthoxylum fagara (L.) Sarg., lime pricklyash.

The root, made into a decoction, was considered “a powerful remedy for curing disease of the Spleen.”

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6. p. 79]

Fevier–see Sweet Locust

Footbath–see Water, Cold; see also Turpentine.

French Canadians/French Canadian Doctors

“I was not surprised on learning that at least two-thirds of our Canadians had experienced unpleasant consequences from their intercourse with the squaws, not withstanding which the traffic before mentioned continued.  I had been informed by Jones and Carson of the existence of this evil, but found it was of the mildest description, and that here, where the natives do not use spirituous liquors nor salt, it is feared.  I found some of the Canadians digging up roots, with which I understood they made a decoction, and used it as a drink.  They mostly preferred the roots of rudbeckia purpurea, and sometimes they used houstonia longifolia.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 180]

“French Quackery has hitherto been preferred to the advice of a regular physician.” [Feb. 3, 1819, at Mr. Mosely’s on White River, heading into Arkansas]

[T. Nuttall, 1819, p. 109]

See the Creole notes by Michaux in this writing and the individual herbs bearing italicised French names.


Other names: Racine a Becquet and Herb(e) a Becquet.

Noted by Andre Michaux at Fort Cheroquis.  Used for treating chronic diseases, often in combination with Veronica virginica, ‘Herb a quatre feuilles’ [which see].  [Sunday, 25th Oct. 1795]

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6. p. 77]

German Quack Doctor

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 12), 1823, p. 90]


Following a thunderstorm at Glascock’s Plantation, Cuming fortified himself “against a chill” with a glass of gin presented to him by the lady of the house.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 313]


Allopathic, with Native American herbs known since colonial times added to the basic colonial fever protocol of Calomel and Peruvian bark.

“One of the sons was suffering under a fever and ague, the first time it had been known in the family…I recommended a plentiful use of calomel occasionally, and a strong decoction of Peruvian bark, snake root and ginseng, during all the intermissions.”

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 122-3]

Close to the village of New Harmony, off the Wabash River, “…its roots are still in request, but not so much as formerly.”

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 167]

“The woods abound with medical herbs.  The Ching Sang and Ipecacuanha are found, for emetics.  The vine is very luxuriant, and cultivated at Harmony with success; while the trees are full of gum.  The Dogwood bark is also found as efficient as the Peruvian, and the Sassafras tea is in general use for two or three months.” [8th Nov. 1818]  Reference is made to use of Ipecac and Ginseng(?) as emetics.

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 228-9]

The first mention of Ginseng as a possible source for income for the colonies was with the first explorations on the Mid-Atlantic region.  The marketing of this produce with the Orient was in full force by the first or second quarter of the 18th century.  In the local newspaper printed by Sauel Loudon in New York City, and later Fishkill, NY, and then back in New York sity following the war, there are several advertisements requesting that individuals in the woodlands settings harvest this plant for possible marketing purposes.   By the 1800s, most of the easily accessible American ginseng was overharvested.  Also during this time, the Oriental herbalists noted this plant to not be as potent as their own.  In part this may have been due to the very distinct rules they had established for defining the more potent versions of this plant, which were the oldest of the slow-growers.  A ginseng plant produces roots that should be thin with age, not too pulpy or bulky.  The American ginseng did bear these features, but controlled growing attempts were few and far between, if anything like this was done at all during these earliest years.  So the marketing of this plant varied considerable, and as noted by some early writers discussing this plant, the increased amount of ginseng root available to the marketplace resulted in the typical supply-demand problem–the prices went down to values too low to make even gathering this crop in the wild questionable worth it in terms of time and energy.   

For more information on the state of this natural products industry for this time, the following article is provided, which provides us with a glimpse into the early Ginseng industry in the United States, insights into this important piece of early American history.

Note: in the first paragraph of the following article, the author is referring to the following of Michaux’s writings then recently published:

This article published earlier in the same journal (pp. 168-169), is entitled “STRAMONIUM A VULNERARY, To the Editor of the European Magazine.”  (See James[town] Weed further down.]   It is a review of the history of Datura stramonium use and the Jamestown story–‘James Town weed’ leading to the common name ‘Jimson weed’.  This brief article also notes the use of this plant for treating asthma, a very early example of this specific use for this plant.

Note: this is almost a direct citation of what can be seen beginning at http://www.archive.org/stream/alleganymoutains00michrich#page/70/mode/2up (pages 71-2).

Gleditisa triacanthos–see Sweet Locust

Grass, Scented–see Anthoxanthum odoratum


“a sound dressing of aqua-fortis and grease, and scrubbing and washing in strong hot lie…”

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 301]

Hackberry Tree–see Celtis occidentalis

Herbal Medicines

European Colonial drugs.

Trying to treat complaints of the bowels, with catarrh and cough, Maximilian checked the fort’s medical stocks for pepper-mint and other herbs, but instead found “only a handful of elder flowers, and rather more of American Camomile, which has a different taste to the European.”

[Maximilian, pt. 3, (Thwaites, 24), 1832-4, p. 18-19]

John Woods’ notes pertaining to herbs are general, and seen only once on page 303.  Prairie land equivalents to the plants he noted are given, when possible, in parentheses.  John Wood’s selection of names for these herbs are often English in origin when he can’t give an actual North American name for the plant; the Balm and Horehound for example may be any of many wild mints.

Woods notes the scents of Prairie Rose, Balm “here called Bergamot” (Monarda fistulosa?), and Sassafras wood (Sassafras albidum).  The herbs he mentions are Balm (either Verbena or Mentha), Horehound (a large-leaved wild mint?), Penny-royal (Hedeoma sp.), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare, escaped from the gardens), Coriander (?), Pepper-mint (either Mentha arvensis, a native, or Mentha piperita escaped), Spearmint (the same), and Sage, “but unlike English sage of any kind” (any of several Artemisia species.)  For Medicinal plants, he notes: Snakeroot (var. species), Gentian, Ginseng (Panax quinquefolia), Columbian root (Colombo Root: Citrullis colocynthis), Sumach (Rhus sp.), and Sassafras Tree.  He also makes note of Castor Oil, Sunflower seed oil, and Fir Trees.

[J. Wood, 1822, p. 303]


Herb[e] a quatre feuilles–see Veronica virginiana

Note:  Another popular four-leaved medicine in France was Paris quadrifolium.  This plant resembles the Trillium spp. in North American and was often mistaken for Paris by people more familiar with the Paris species.

The following naming alternatives (same plant, different name accepted for different times)  are given for the Veronica identification: Veronicastrum virginicum =Leptandra virginica = Veronica virginica.

Herbe a Becquot–see Geranium

Hops (Humulus lupulus)

Malt Liquor/Ale. “Barley…cultivated in the Alleghenies, and hops which grow wild in abundance.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 312]

Houstonia longifolia

“I found some of the Canadians digging up roots, with which I understood they made a decoction, and used it as a drink.  They mostly preferred the roots of rudbeckia purpurea, and sometimes they used houstonia longifolia.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 180]

See rest of this text under “French Canadians.”

Hyssop–see Artemisia

Note: Hyssop is a biblical name for a medicinal plant as well.

Indian Doctors

Of Blackfeet Indians: “They have great confidence in the medicines of the whites, and often apply for them…”

[Maximilian, pt. 2, (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 120]

See the Creole notes by Michaux in this writing and the individual herbs bearing italicised French names.

See Plantago notes.  Mr. Birbeck, of the Settlement in Illinois, refers to an Indian Doctor in 1818.



“The woods abound with medical herbs.  The Ching Sang and Ipecacuanha are found, for emetics.  The vine is very luxuriant, and cultivated at Harmony with success; while the trees are full of gum.  The Dogwood bark is also found as efficient as the Peruvian, and the Sassafras tea is in general use for two or three months.” [8th Nov. 1818]

The Ipecac Faux is referring to is the “American Ipecac” a name shared by Euphorbia ipecauanha and Gillenia stipulata.  The official Ipecac (Cephaelis ipecacuanha) was used in overland expeditions and governmental excursions.

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 228-9]


Brief mention of Jalap, from Xalapa, Mexico, by James O. Pattie, Kentucky.

[J. Pattie, 1824-30, p. 317]

James[town] Weed (Datura stramonium)

Not found in index as noted [should be Andre Michaux, et al, p. 87]

A “Michaux” did write about this plant, but it is mentioned in F.A. Michaux’s Travels to the Westward of the Allegheny Mountains, in the year 1802, p. 49, as cited by editor of The American Magazine (published out of Albany, NY).  (For this item, see electronic copy of this book at http://www.archive.org/stream/alleganymoutains00michrich#page/48/mode/2up)


used for fumigating houses during a yellow fever epidemic

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 103]


Liquidambur styraciflua–see Copalm [Creole]


Lion’s Heart (Prenanthes rubicunda is given by author/editor, suggest Physostegia virginiana aka Dracocephalum virginianum)

“said immediately to staunch the most violent bleeding of any wound.”

Physostegia sp., possibly the better known P. virginiana.   But P. parviflorum Nutt. is the American Dragonhead distributed  throughout the Midwest and parts of the Far West.

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 95-96]

 See related Virginia Snakeroot note.


“a sound dressing of aqua-fortis and grease, and scrubbing and washing in strong hot lie…”

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 301]


Magnolia acuminata [Cucumber Tree]

“The inhabitants of the remote parts of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and even the western countries, pick the cones when green to infuse in whiskey, which gives it a pleasant bitter.  This bitter is very much esteemed in the country as a preventative against intermittent fevers; but I would have my doubts whether it would be so generally used if it had the same qualities when mixed with water.”

[Francois Andre Michaux, 1805, p. 152]

Malt Liquor–see Barley

Medicine Man/Medicine Bag

[p. 182]  “On account of my constant attention to plants, and being regularly employed in collecting, I was considered as the physician of the party by all the nations we saw; and generally the medicine men amongst them sought my acquaintance.  This day, the doctor, whom Mr. Brackenridge and I saw in the upper village, and who showed me his medicine bag, came to examine my plants.  I found he understood a few French words, such as bon, mal, &c.  I presented him with some small ornaments of silver, with which he appeared to be very much pleased, and requested me to go to his lodge and smoke with him.  When I entered, he spread a fine new buffalo robe for me to sit on, and showed me that it was a present, which he wished me to accept.  I smoked with him, and regretted much that he could only converse by signs, and he seemed also to feel the same regret.  He showed me a quantity of a plant lately gathered, and by signs informed me that it cured the cholic.  It was a new species of amorpha.”

Several Amorpha species

[p. 132-3]  “I walked with Mr. Brackenridge to the upper village, which is separated from the lower one by a small stream.  In our walk through the town, I was accosted by the Medicine Man, or doctor, who was standing at the entrance of a lodge into which we went.  It appeared that one of his patients, a boy, was within, for whom he was preparing some medicine.  He made me understand that he had seen me collecting plants, and that he knew me to be a Medicine Man.  He frequently shook hands with us, and took down his medicine bag, made of deer skin, to show me its contents.  As I supposed, this bag contained the whole materia medica of the nation, I examined it with some attention.  There was a considerable quantity of reed mace, (typha palustris) which I understood was used in cases of burns or scalds; there was also a species of artemisia, common on the prairies and known to the hunters by the name of hyssop; but the ingredient which was in the greatest abundance, was a species of wall-flower: in character it agrees with cheiranthus erysimoides; besides these, I found two new species of astragalus, and some roots of rudbeckia purpurea.  After examining the contents of the bag, I assured the doctor it was all very good, and we again shook hands with him, and went into several other lodges, where we were very hospitably received.”

Medicine Bag Ingredients

[Along the Cheyenne River in Northwestern South Dakota, with a tribe whose Head Chief was Le Gauche.]

Note the character differences between the attitudes of an Englishman, versus a Frenchman.  Bradbury, being of the latter, displays mild arrogance of his position with the Medicine Man.  This contrasts greatly with the less arrogance that is portrayed by many French Canadians, especially trappers.  See notes of Hudson Bay’s Company Materia Medica, an on the Trappers for more on this

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 182, 132-133]

An Emollient Poultice is offered to James O. Pattie from a Medicine Man.  For six years, James Pattie travelled from St. Louis to Mexico City and Vera Cruz, and from there towards the Pacific Ocean.  The journey lasted from June 20, 1824 till August 30, 1830.

[J. Pattie, 1824-30, p. 165]

See Maximilian, pt. 2 (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 119-12 (very good description of Blackfeet Medicine Man) and 384 (noted as a “magician”).

Mineral Drugs/Salts

Recipe for preparing for travel by ship Ruthy “in just a few weeks” 2/3 Cheltenham Salts, 1/3 Epsom Salts, mixed, of which 1/4 ounce is added to one pint of hot spring water; to be imbibed an hour before the prevent indigestion. [Dec. 21st, 1818]

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 34]

Mineral Waters–See Waters, Mineral

Nyssa (Nyssa sp.)

The Tupelo, sourgum or black gum bears wood of differing colors and therefore different Creole names:

Bois olivier [Olive wood] has been attributed to Nyssa.


No uses are given by F. Michaux.

Probably Nyssa sylvatica or black tupelo (cited specifically as boule d-olivier by Valdman and Rottet, see Dictionary of Louisiana French: as spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American …  By Albert Valdman, Kevin James Rottet, p. 871)

Buffalo berry (Lepargyrea argentea)  is occasionally referred to as Olive Tree or Bush.  This may be a misapplication of the French name for Olive Tree.  Olive is not native to North America.   Again, the name Olivier is related to the Biblical plant name use common to this period for naming local plants.

See also notes above on “Creole plants and medicines” for other identifications.

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 79]

Officinal Plants [Official Materia Medica]

“In the prairies on the Missouri, near Fort Clarke…Many officinal plants grow here, but there are no physicians to direct the use of them.”  [NOTE: Officinale is Latin for official.]

[Maximilian, pt. 2 (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 245]

“Officinal” (not spelled as “Official”)  plants are those included in the professional materia medica or pharmacopoeia books.   It is possible that a number of official remedies are native to the settings he travelled through.  A lot of similars however exist, that are either different species or look-alikes.    Maximilian was probably not that well-trained in botany to know these differences between species.  The Aristolochia for example has at least 3 species residing in the regions that were explored, yet only one is identified and discussed.  There are also some plants that originated in Europe, that most likely are not going to be native to many of these regions yet, like the Dandelion and most mustards, clovers, vetches, chenopodiums and amaranths.  Dandelion had two or more look-alikes (i.e. Hieracium).  Chenopodium had no true local species worth mentioning.  Amaranth had one or two species native to North America during this time.  Almost all of the clovers and vetches were introduced by farmers, farriers, and livestock raisers.   Maximilian’s identifications are covered specifically for each plant; see the Adam-and-Eve plant as an example, a purely European plant name was assigned to a North American species by Maximilian which had a similar looking flower.

Orchids–see Adam and Eve

Papiconah [Illinois Native and Creole name?]–see Spiraea trifoliata


Peppermint (Mentha spp.)

New Harmony, near the Wabash River.  Noted in the woods where the Native Americans lived.  Possibly Mentha arvensis, Pycnanthemum (Mountain Mint), or less likely Hedeoma;  Mentha piperita and Mentha spicata are not native to the United States.

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 167]

See Herbal Medicines entry related to Maximilian, 1832-1834.

Peruvian Bark (Cinchona sp.)

Allopathic, with Native American herbs known since colonial times added to the basic colonial fever protocol of Calomel and Peruvian bark.

“One of the sons was suffering under a fever and ague, the first time it had been known in the family…I recommended a plentiful use of calomel occasionally, and a strong decoction of Peruvian bark, snake root and ginseng, during all the intermissions.”

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 122-3]

File:Plantago major.jpg


For a Poultice: a remedy for Spiderbite “if applied in time.”

NOTE:  Mr. Birbeck’s settlement apparently had an Indian Doctor, see Gazette [newspaper], Aug. 30, 1818–“No cure could be had of the Indian, or other doctors.”

This story is a legend in Plantain folklore and herbal medicine.  See other pages in my blog for details on this.  In some important writings by Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), this plant is referred to in a folktale about a toad symbolically fighting the spider.  The bite the toad receives causes it to take shelter under a Plantago.  A while later, revived, the toad returns to fight back.  The contact of the Plantago leaf with the back of the toad is said to have healed it of the bite.  This folktale has since  been retold numerous times between ca. 1790 and 1850, and has been adapted by numerous American herbal medicine writers in their books as being their own tale of discovery (for examples, see Wooster Beach’s comments on this legend, ca. 1825-1840, in his single or multivolume sets on Reformed Medicine, neothomsonian Elias Smith’s claim to this discovery, ca. 1815-1822, in his own version of the Thomsonian book for western New York, and the Letters from New York by L. Maria Child, 1843).

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 144]


An Emollient Poultice is offered to James O. Pattie from a Medicine Man.

[J. Pattie, 1824-30, p. 165]

Quackery–see French-Canadian Doctors, German Doctor, Indian Doctor.

Racine a Becquel–see Sanicula marylandica.

Racine a Becquet–see Geranium.


Between Delaware Gap and Pokono.  “Rattlesnakes abound in these parts…Some persons eat these dangerous serpents from a notion that, when dressed in a certain manner, they are an effectual remedy against many diseases.”

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 98-9]

Rhubarb–see White Root


Rosin and Beeswax were melted together to make a treatment for consumption, used by Mrs. Skinner, who was confined to her bed due to her consumption.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 54]


Rudbeckia purpurea/Coneflower

“some roots of rudbeckia purpurea.”

Part of the medicine bag for an Arapaho Medicine Man.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 182]

“I found some of the Canadians digging up roots, with which I understood they made a decoction, and used it as a drink.  They mostly preferred the roots of rudbeckia purpurea, and sometimes they used houstonia longifolia.”

[J. Bradbury, 1809-11, p. 180]

See rest of this text under French Canadians.

See Medicine Man.

Sanguinaria–see Bloodroot

Sanicle [Sanicula marylandica]

Racine a Bequel

History: Illinois-French and Sakintepouah, by the Piankeshaw Tribe, a branch of the Miami Indian Nation living in Vincennes. [Wabash River, 18 Aug. 1795]

“A decoction of the root is a sovereign remedy for several diseases and for long-continued venereal diseases.”

Note: misidentified in the index for this Thwaites series as “Spigelia, III, 68.”

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 68]


“The woods abound with medical herbs.  The Ching Sang and Ipecacuanha are found, for emetics.  The vine is very luxuriant, and cultivated at Harmony with success; while the trees are full of gum.  The Dogwood bark is also found as efficient as the Peruvian, and the Sassafras tea is in general use for two or three months.” [8th Nov. 1818]

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 228-9]

Note:  This text is really in reference to the East Coast mountains, exttending downslope on the westface out of Appalachia.  The Ipecac is an American Ipecac, Gillenia trifoliata probably, not Cephaelis ipecacuanha.

See Herbal Medicines.

Scented Grass–see Anthoxanthum odoratum


Beginning or April at Fort Union:

“So very ill, that the people who visited me did not think that my life would be prolonged beyond three, or at most four days.  The cook of the fort, a negro from St. Louis, expressed his opinion that my illness must be the scurvy.”  This scurvy was correctly diagnosed by the negro cook, who had earlier witnessed the deaths deu to scurvy which occured at the Council Bluffs Garrison, [noted in Major Long’s Expedition, vol. 14, p. 282-3]

“[A]t the beginning of spring, they had gathered the green herbs in the prairie; especially the small white flowering Allium reticulatum, with which they had soon cured the sick.  I was advised to make trial of this recipe, and the Indian Children accordingly furnished me with an abundance of this plant and its bulbs: these were cut up small, like spinage, and I ate a quantity of them.  On the forth day, the swelling of my leg had considerably subsided and I gained strength daily.  The evident prospect of speedy recovery quite re-animated me, and we carried on with pleasure the preparations for our departure, tho’ I was not yet able to leave my bed.”

[Maximilian, pt. 3, (Thwaites, 24), 1832-4, p. 82]

Seneca Oil–see Water, Mineral/Oil

Slippery/Viscous Elm (Ulmus rubra)

Andre Michaux visited a home where several were attacked by the Measles and had a fever.  They were trying to “excite perspiration” by drinking whiskey when he arrived.  He recommended that they make a decoction of “the leaves of the viscous elm, of a spoonful of vinegar to a pint, and an ounce of sugar maple.”

[Francois Andre Michaux, 1805, p. 152]

“A kind of bark, which is now much used, is that of slippery elm (Ulmus rubra); if chewed, or softened for a moment in water, it dissolves into a viscous slime, and is found very useful in dressing wounds, as it is cooling, and allays the inflammation.  It is said to have been applied with success to cholera, in all the apothecaries’ shops.  A teaspoon of this bark, in boiling water makes a very useful berg, which is sweetened with sugar, and has the same effect as linseed.”

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 167.]


“Smilax, Squire” [Creole medicine]

[A. Michaux, 1793-6, p. 79]



Native American herbs known since colonial times added to the basic colonial fever protocol of Calomel and Peruvian bark.  This could be considered an allopathic or “irregular” medicine.  It was popular to both.  There are snake roots specific to each region.  They are not necessarily all Aristolochia species.  The further north one is, the less likely the snake root is Aristolochia.  This topic is reviewed quite completely and even exhaustively in the herbal medicine coverage of Cadwallader Colden, as well as other trapper and Indian Doctor pages (Peter Smith, etc.).  Excluding some more northern non-Aristolochia species and the mid-neotropical Aristolochia species, 3 Aristolochia species are specific to the region under review (see distribution maps above).  California also has its own species (appropriately called A. californica).

Maximilian’s travel did reach the northern parts near Canada.  The Snakeroots specific to that region include Asarum canadense, Goodyera pubescens, Polygala senega, and several Penstemon and Caulophyllum species.

The following notes were taken:

“One of the sons was suffering under a fever and ague, the first time it had been known in the family…I recommended a plentiful use of calomel occasionally, and a strong decoction of Peruvian bark, snake root and ginseng, during all the intermissions.”

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 122-3]

Aristolochia serpentaria.  Delaware Gap, 24 August, near Cherry Creek.  Note about its growth along the ravine on the Delaware River.  NOTE:  Maximilian apparently switched his notes on the uses of this plant and the Lion’s Heart (Prenanthes rubicunda) when he reviewed these notes for writing the book version.

He writes for Aristolochia: “[tis] said immediately to staunch the most violent bleeding of any wound.”  For the Lion’s Heart, he describes a plant with long, tuberous, large branching roots that are yellow and exude a milky juice; the plant is tall and bears many flowers; the leaves are long and arrow shaped.

Speculation: both of these plants bear phytognomonic clues leading one to deduce they had similar uses for staunching bleeding and treating snakebites.

Of the Aristolochia (but published as a tale for Lion’s Heart), Maximilian writes:

“Old Dutot related a number of successful cures which he had performed with this root…It is boiled with new milk, and two table-spoonfuls are taken as a dose.  The swelling, caused by the bite of the reptile, is said speedily to disappear, after chewing the root.  The Delaware Indians, who formally inhabited all Pennsylvania, made this remedy known to an old man, from whom it was inherited by the family of Dutot.  The latter had himself been among the Indians, and gave me some information respecting them.”

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 95-96]

“Another root is esteemed to be powerful against the bite of serpents.”

[Maximilian, pt. 2, (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 120]

See Rattlesnake, White Ash

Spanish Moss (Tillandsia spp.)

The Navigator . . . Pittsburgh, 1814.  From The American Magazine, vol. 1, p. 158, at http://books.google.com/books?printsec=frontcover&pg=PA159&id=kOQRAAAAYAAJ#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed 8/12/2011).

Spanish Moss Bend, is just below Island No. 82, in the Mississippi, counting from the mouth of the Ohio, and 440 miles below the mouth of that river. The river is here but about one third of a mile wide. The leavesof the peach were green here in Dec. 21, 1812, though the season was reckoned uncommonly cold. Immediately below this bend, is now IUechecka Settlement, consisting of 4 small Cabins, and 1 Indian, 1 French, and 2 American families. In this bend the Spanish Moss or Tillandsea, makes its first appearance on the Mississippi. This singular vegetable is also called Spanish Beard, and holding this idea in mind when viewing it as it suspends itself in loose drapery from the branches of the tall majestic cypress trees, we are imperceptibly thrown into reflections bordering a certain degree of veneration, by combining with its appearance the venerable long grey-beards of former days.

This is a very singular vegetable, both in its growth and appearance, and as it is found highly useful, and I believe equal to hair, for mattresses, &c. it may be made an article of considerable trade and of exportation. It is Universally used in Louisiana for all those purposes for which curled hair is applied in the northern states. Its cheapness is also an object of importance, being seldom more than from three to six cents a pound, delivered and prepared for mattresses, which is done something in this way: Who gathered from the trees, which is easilyperformed with long hooks to tear it from the branches, it is then put under water a few days to rot the outer bark, or soft vegetable covering; when it is taken up, and after drying, it isbeat with sticks, and the substance left is a fine black string or fibre, not unlike a horse hair, with the exception that it has joints from which the branches issue when growing. It is now fit for use. Mattresses made with this moss do not harden so soon as hair mattresses, but they become after sometime dusty, and require to be opened, the moss taken to pieces, and beat again with sticks, and when replaced, it is better than at first, being more elastic and not so liable to acquire or make dust.

On first visiting a tree on which this substance grows, you are induced to believe that it has no root or fastening, but merely suspending from the braneheo, depending solely on the air for its nourishment. But on examination I found it firmly rooted in the apertures of the bark of the limbs of the trees, from which root there extended branches so numerous that it would be very difficult either to trace or count them ; hence the deception, and so great, that some have said that the moss does not grow from, but is merely suspended to the branches of the trees, apparently without vegetable life. But this is a mistake ; it flowers in its season, and bears a beautiful and a small pod full of seeds. The pod is about an inch long, and as thick as a stout darning needle. The flower is yellow. Navigator.

Spiraea trifoliata 

Illinois Creole.

Also called Papiconah, this is a purgative used by the “Savages” and by the Illinois French.”  [Sunday, 25th Oct. 1795]

[A. Michaux, 1793-6, p. 77]

Sugar Maple (Acer spp., esp. A. saccharinum(sp?))

Part of a recipe treating measles and fever: a decoction of “the leaves of the viscous elm, of a spoonful of vinegar to a pint, and an ounce of sugar maple.”

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 152]

Sweet Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos?)

A French (Creole?) remedy.

“A Frenchman who traded among the Cheroquis Savages cured himself of the itch by drinking for ten days a decoction of Chips of that tree which he called Copalm and which is true Liquidambur; [with] Gleditsia triacanthos, [known as] fevier (bean-plant) by the French[,] and sweet locust by the Americans.”

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 77]


The Manitaries, Missouri:  “As a remedy for wounds, they burn scented grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum); hold their hands in the smoke, and then, at some distance, over the wound, after which they lay tallow upon it.”

[Maximilian, pt. 2, (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 384]

Tansey Bitters

A Colonial Medicine.

“prescribed a strong infusion of tansey in Geneva–the bitterness of which a little relieved my thirst”

A prescription given to him at May’s Lick for treating fevers.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 199]


Use of a Quid of Tobacco for treating snakebites.

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 12), 1823, p. 72]


Spirits of Turpentine: “…a phial of which I carried in my pocket for that purpose…”

At the house of a German family, in Connewago Hill and Creek near Elizabethtown, Pa., Cuming had Spirits of Turpentine, with which he wet the lower side of his stockings to prevent catching a cold.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 35-36]

In Middleton, at a hotel across the river from Elizabethtown, he treated his foot further:

“My foot being much blistered, I bathed it in cold water, and then injudiciously opened the blisters with a lancet, and spunged them with spirits of turpentine.”

The lancet suggests Lancet’s allopathic beliefs, although he didn’t use it for blood-letting.  The Turpentine, an item very popular in England manufactories during colonial times, further supports this notion.  Cuming was pro-allopathic, but took notes on early post-Colonial and Native American healing practices. (?)

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 35-36]

Veronica scutellata (Narrow-leaf or Grass-leaf Veronica)

Veronica virginiana

“Herb a quatre feuilles” (Four-leaved herb/grass)

Creole Medicine.

Taken as a decoction for a month to cure Venereal Disease.  Four or five roots are boiled.  A strong preparation (known as a Ptisan) may serve as a purgative.  Purportedly makes the bowels more relaxed and looser than usual for the first few days.  Concoctions are taken 3 to 4 times a day. [11 Dec.]

[A. Michaux, 1793-6, p. 79]


Part of a recipe treating measles and fever: a decoction of “the leaves of the viscous elm, of a spoonful of vinegar to a pint, and an ounce of sugar maple.”

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 152]

Viscous Elm–see Slippery Elm

Water, Cold

Overcome by cold and wearness, Andre Michaux travelled by foot, until his right foot became inflamed.  He bathed them in cold water several times that evening to releive the pain.  The next day, his toes were numb, but he got no sores.  [27 Jan, Green River]

[A. Michaux, 1793-6, p. 87]

Water, Warm

Calomel was used to treat Bilious Fever/Inflammation, along with a “warm relaxing bath.”

[W. Faux, (Thwaites, 11), 1823, p. 95]

Water, Minerals/Oil

May’s Licks, at the Licking River area.  The waters from the local salt spring were drunk as a medicine for treating many disorders.  People from around the state then frequented this place.  Cuming’s description of this water is that it is neutral, impregnated with sulphur, and tastes “exactly like the bilge water in a ship’s hold.”  He describes it as very nauseous.   The effect of drinking this water was that it acted like a cathartic and/or emetic, but without causing any cramping pains or “sickness of the stomach.”   In the footnote, Cuming gives a theory as to why he thinks this water heals:  he notes the four classes on mineral waters: saline (white), sulphureous (yellow), and martialis (red); the black biliary water is not mentioned. This water he considered a powerful diuretic and gentle cathartic.  He writes: “The water may be drunk in great quantitites with safety, from two to thirty half-pints, being the usual quantity in the case of an hour before breakfast.”  He notes an 1809 case in the footnotes in which a man experienced “discharge from his bowels after drinking this water.”  A verse from James Ross to John Anderson which Cuming cites notes the belief that this water was felt to “invigorate the system,” help the digestive system return to its normal state, and enable tender eyes and legs to regain their strength.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 67 (fn)]

[Philadelphia] the mineral waters (chiefly soda waters) are mixed with syrups

[A. Welby, 1821, p. 172]

Water, [Seneca Oil]

“About a mile above Little Beaver, in the bed of the Ohio, and near the northwestern side, a substance bubbles up, and may be collected at particular times on the surface of the water, similar to Seneca Oil.  When the water is not too high, it can be strongly smelt while crossing the river at Georgetown.  It is presumed to rise from and through a bed on mineral coal embowelled under the bed of a river.  The virtues of the Seneca oil are similar to those of the British Oil, and supposed to be equally valuable in the cures of rheumatic pains, etc…”

The Seneca Oil is collected on Oil Creek, a branch of the Allegheny River, and was then sold at 1-1/2 to 2 dolars per gallon.  Cuming gives a method for collecting these oils, by making use of a blanket, or a  flannel or woolen cloth, which is placed on the surface of the water.  The oil which adheres to it when it is lifted up is then wrung out.  Cuming estimates that as many as ten gallons can be collected of this oil each day.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 101-102 (fn)]

“The Seneca Indian Oil in so much repute here is Petroleum; a liquid bitumen, which oozes through fissures of the rocks and coal in the mountains, and is found floating on the surface of the waters in several springs in this part of the country, whence it is skimmed off and kept for use.  From a strong vapour which arises from it when first collected, it appears to combine with its sulphureous particles.  It is very flammable.  In these parts it is used as a medicine; and, probably, in external applications with considerable success.  For chilblains and rheumatism it is considered as an infallable specific.  I suppose it to be the bitumen which Pliny describes under the name of Naphtha, Lib. II, ch 105.”

[T.M. Harris, 1805, p. 346]

Water Lily

Long Pond, Northwest of Harmony.  “Our guide had taken a hatchet and a basket, in order to dig up the roots of a yellow flowering Nymphaea, which was growing in luxuriance, and which he intended to employ as a poultice to a swelled face.”

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 194]

Welby’s Formula

Welby’s formula for blebs and blisters: Copperas, Alum, Blue Vitriol, pulverized and rubbed on the tongue; then wash the area with honey and alum.

[A. Welby, 1821, p. p. 273-4]


Whiskey was recommended as an antidote against hypothermia for hunting along the Ohio border.  It was considered helpful by “preventing chill and fever, either after being wet or after violent perspiration from exercise….”  Cuming felt it did not add to inflammatory symptoms, and therefore was very good if taken internally as well as used in external applications.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 206-7]

Andre Michaux visited a home where several were attacked by the Measles and had a fever.  They were trying to “excite perspiration” by drinking whiskey when he arrived.  He recommended that they make a decoction of “the leaves of the viscous elm, of a spoonful of vinegar to a pint, and an ounce of sugar maple.”

[Andre Michaux, 1793-6, p. 152]

White Ash

Summit of Pokono; Long Pond.  “One of the sons of Mr. Sachs, our landlord, had been lately bitten by a rattlesnake while fishing, and they affirmed that he was soon cured by tea made of the bark of the white ash, which is said to be an infallible antidote to the bite of serpents.”

DOS speculation: is this because the outer bark resembles the scaley pattern of the snake’s skin?  Also note, the seed samari make a light rattling sound when blown by the wind.

[Maximilian, pt. 1, (Thwaites, 22), 1832-4, p. 101]


White Root

French Canadian: “Rhubarb”[?]

“These Indians have some efficacious remedies derived from the Vegetable Kingdom, one of which is the white root from the Rocky Mountains. which is called by the Canadians, rhubarb, which is said to resemble our rhubarb in its effect and taste, and likewise to act as an emetic.”

According to Lyons Plants Names, this is either Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal) or Asclepias tuberosa, based on the common name White-root.  The former is East coast origin and distribution.  The latter is distributed from the east coast westward into the Great Plains.  The term Rhubarb perhaps is in reference to the laxative effect it might have.  This plant is highly toxic, especially to the heart.

[Maximilian, pt. 2, (Thwaites, 23), 1832-4, p. 120-1]


Yellow Poplar

“The copper-head snake abounds here, but the rattlesnake is scarce.  Crumps to us that the bark of the root of the poplar, particularly the yellow poplar, made into a strong decoction and taken inwardly, while a part pounded and applied to the bite of any snake, is an infallible remedy: And that it is also a most powerful alterative, and purifier of the blood.”

DOS speculation: 1) the matching colors of Liriodendron tulipifera leaves and the copperhead snake, 2) the sound of leaves rattling.

Native American thinking:  The root is considered one of the strongest medicines that a plant may bear.  The doctrine of signature at play here is the Yellow color of the leaves, which might have been read by Native Americans as a symbol of the Copperhead.  The sound of the leaves, like aspen, when blown by wind may have also been a doctrine of signature for rattlesnakes, although they did not live local to the tree as Cuming described it.

[F. Cuming, 1807-9, p. 154-5]

Zanthoxylum clava-herculi[s]

“Zanthoxilum clava-Herculi” [Creole medicine]

Used to treat obstructions of the Liver & Spleen.

[A. Michaux, 1793-6, p. 79]

X. clava-herculis: The bark of this tree was used by the inhabitants of the White River area, in Arkansas, Feb. 1819, as a Toothache Remedy.  [DOS: thorns/prickles?]  With this use, we see a doctrine of signatures (thorns = teeth), and the wood is fairly white.  The use of Xanthoxylum is from colonial times, ca. 1737-43 (see the page on Cadwallader Colden’s work).  Colden is the individual who made this a most popular herbal medicine by the 1800s, although his was the Xanthoxylum americana species of New York.

Interestingly, there is a very early error in Amerinca botany history related to this species.  Xanthos = yellow, xylum = wood, referring to the color of the wood for this tree.  Colden provided the name Xanthoxylum for this genus.  Somewhere between when his manuscript on this was read and transcribed for its printing by the Linnaean Society, and when it was referred to in one of the first subsequent citing it, the ‘X’ was turned to a ‘Z’, which due to classification rules was left unchanged due to the official publication of this term.

[T. Nuttall, 1819, p. 110]

Additional Readings