Friday, June 10, 2016

Pain in the Old West

by J.E.S. Hays

After a hard day on the trail, your cowboy's going to have sore muscles, and he might have a headache Sunday morning after a night on the town. Here are some typical pain remedies your characters might have tried. When possible, I've included the ingredients, prices, and any advertisements I found. I've also included approximate dates for the brands, so you can figure out if it would have been on the druggist's shelves when your characters were looking.

    Dover’s Powder: from the 1700's, opium and ipecac
    Pain Killer: 1854-1895, opium? (“adapted for both internal and external application, and reaches a great many complaints, such as sudden colds, chills, congestion or stoppage of circulation, cramps, pains in the stomach, summer and bowel complaints, sore throat, etc. Applied externally, it has been found very useful for sprains, bruises, rheumatic pains, swelled face, etc. Arising from toothache” “Is just what its name implies - a killer of pain. It is not a cure-all but is just the thing needed in case of the slight ailments and accidents which occasionally afflict us all. For cholera morbus, cramps, and all bowel troubles, it has no equal. It removes all pain and soreness from cuts, bruises and burns, etc. (It smarts upon application, but only for a moment)”)
    Miller’s Anodyne Cordial: 1872-1883, morphine and chloral hydrate
    Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup: 1849, 65 mg morphine per ounce ("Should always be used when children are cutting teeth. It relieves the little sufferer at once; it produces natural, quiet sleep by relieving the child from pain, and the little cherub awakes as 'bright as a button.' It is very pleasant to taste. It soothes the child, softens the gums, allays all pain, relieves wind, regulates the bowels, and is the best known remedy for diarrhoea, whether arising from teething or other causes.") for children, but adults sometimes indulged! 25 cents
    Wolcott’s Instant Pain Annihilator: 1863, possibly opium and alcohol (“A speedy and permanent cure for headache, toothache, neuralgia, catarrh and weak nerves.") 

    McMunn’s Elixir of Opium: 1830's ("This is the pure and essential extract from the native drug.") 

    Pyroctin Fever Killer: 1885-1901 ("Reduces the temperature and relieves pain. Acts as an antirheumatic and anodyne and is especially indicated in cases of acute neuralgia hemicrania, la grippe and allied troubles, without inducing cardiac depression.")
    Humphrey's Homeopathic Specific No. 9 for Headache: 1898-1902
    Salfene: after 1898 acetanilide, salicin, caffeine, cactus quinine ("For pain and fever. Antipyretic, anodyne, sedative, anti-neuralgia and anti-rheumatic.")
    Krato Rheumatic Tablets: after 1898 ("For rheumatism, gout, sciatica, lumbago, neuralgia and headache.") 50 cents
    Dr. Shoop's Twenty Minute Headache Tablets: after 1880, acetanilide ("For neuralgia or headache.")
    Blair's Gout and Rheumatic Pills: after 1882 ("For gout, rheumatism, lumbago and pains in the head or face.")
    Warner's Safe Nervine: ca 1898, at least partially alcohol ("For headache, neuralgia, insomnia and nervous prostration.")
    Allen’s Cocaine Tablets; ca 1880's (“for hay fever, catarrh and throat troubles; cures neuralgia, nervousness, headache and sleeplessness”) 50 cents a box 
    Cocaine Toothache Drops; ca 1880's (“Instantaneous Cure! Price 15 Cents”)  

    Peptonix; ca 1890 (“sick headache resulting from indigestion cured by Peptonix digestive tablets” "Acid stomach, heartburn, flatulency, gas and all gastric difficulties are promptly relieved and effectively cured by the use of the digestive tablets.") 75 cents

    The Forest Liniment: ca 1875 (“cures rheumatism, headache, spinal complaints, swollen limbs, neuralgia and sprains, relieving pain almost instantly”) 50 cents
    The Golden Ointment: ca 1875 (“as an external application for piles, salt rheums, poison of insects, cuts, burns or wounds of any kind, cannot be surpassed. It’s effects are truly wonderful.” 35 cents a box  

    Redding’s Russia Salve: ca 1875 (“unequalled for flesh wounds, sold all around the world”)
    Holloway’s Ointment: 1860 (“will cure any wound, sore or ulcer, however long standing, if properly used according to the printed directions”)
    Hunt’s Liniment: 1842-1900 (“Rheumatism, sore throat, affections of the spine, nervous disorders, weakness, salt rheum, ring bone, spavin”)
    Alcock’s Porous Plasters (“Seem to possess the power of accumulating electricity and imparting it to the body, whereby the circulation of the blood becomes equalized upon the parts where applied, causing pain and morbid action to cease” “For lumbago and all pains”); worn on the breast or between the shoulders or over the kidneys; other adverts suggested using them for such varied disorders as quinsy (you had to put a strip of plaster under your chin, stretching from ear to ear), diabetes, St Vitus’s Dance, epilepsy, dyspepsia, diarrhoea, coughs and colds, asthma, pleurisy, whooping cough, consumption, ruptures, sciatica, paralysis, rheumatism, tic douloureux and kidney problems. (The ads boasted that it only took 2 seconds to apply the plaster. Getting it off, however, was another matter. Dick’s Encyclopaedia noted in 1872 that: These plasters adhere very firmly, frequently requiring the application of heat (by means of a hot towel or warm flat-iron), for their removal.)
       Johnson's American Anodyne Liniment: 1881-1906, morphine and alcohol ("For diphtheria, coughs, colds, influenza, bronchitis, asthma, whooping cough, cramp and pain in the stomach, bowels or side; rheumatism, spitting of blood, and all lung complaints; sore throat, spinal complaints, chronic diarrhoea, dysentery, chapped hands, burns, wounds, sprains and bruises.")
       Powdered Antikamnia: 1890-1906, codeine, quinine, salol ("Analgesic, antipyretic, and anodyne. It will reduce temperature and relieve pain with the greatest certainty and celerity, and has no evil after effects. Valuable in neuralgia, myalgia, sciatica, acute rheumatism, hemicrania, also headache and other neuroses due to irregularities of menstruation.")  
       Petrolina; ca 1890, petrolatum ointment ("Nature's great healing ointment.")
       Alden's Liniment; ca 1890 ("Sprains, bruises, fresh cuts and wounds, etc. Rheumatic affections. May also be used for strains, sprains, fresh wounds, harness galls, scratches etc., on horses and oxen.")

       Chamberlain's Eye and Skin Ointment; after 1884 ("For sore eyes, tetter, salt-rheum, ring worm, scald head, barbers itch, prairie scratches, itch, piles, burns, scalds, frost bites, chilblains, frozen feet, sore nipples, chapped hands, old chronic sores and fever sores.") 25 cents


  1. Great list! Imagine if they would've been required to list all the side effects like they do on those drug commercials!

    1. I'll bet your average Joe would still have bought it! People can be really gullible.

  2. Wow! Alcock's Porous Plasters cures about everything. A handy item to have around.

  3. J.E.S. Hays,

    Ditto! Great list.

    Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, 1849, 65 mg morphine per ounce. Suggested giving it to an infant for a toothache. Hmmmmmm. I bet there was more drug addiction than what was documented.

    1. And a great many infant deaths as well, since many poor mothers would "dose" the baby so it wouldn't cry while they were slaving away at their factory job!