Archive for the ‘History’ Category

387. Traditional Health Care

There seems to be a great longing for the past these days, for a time before the civil rights and women’s movements, before environmental regulations and especially before the Affordable Care Act brought health insurance to millions.  With this nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ in mind, and considering that efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act through tax legislation are currently underway, it seems appropriate to consider more traditional – and much less expensive – forms of medical treatment.

Humanity survived for untold millennia without antibiotics, MRIs, or even anesthetic.  And while traditional techniques might appear primitive by today’s standards, they served our ancestors well.  So for anyone afraid of losing their health coverage, I’d like to offer some remedies from Nebraska’s past, as compiled by Roger Welsh in A Treasury of Nebraska Pioneer Folklore.  (Please understand, though, that you need to sue Mr. Welsh – not me – if any of these cures doesn’t work and/or produce undesirable side effects.)

To avoid headaches, the hairs left in one’s comb should be burned regularly, “lest some bird find them and build its nest from them.”  If this happens your headache will last until the “fledglings leave the nest.”  But should one fail to exercise proper caution with one’s hair, just glue a cottonwood leaf to each temple.  When they fall off (taking the skin with them), you’ll never have a headache again.

For an earache melt a grub worm and pour the warm grease into the afflicted ear.  Sore throats can be cured by wrapping a “soiled, black stocking around the neck with the heel always placed over the Adam’s apple.”  And for a cold try ingesting a teaspoon of skunk grease.

For a cough “render lard from a skunk and apply it to the chest.”  Or make a syrup of kerosene, sugar and onion juice.  For croup, just administer the kerosene.  And for pneumonia, cut a live chicken in two and place the halves over the lungs.

For colic, steep a teaspoon of soot and give that to the baby, while hiccoughs can be cured by getting someone to pull on your tongue until your mouth bleeds.

People living along the Dismal River used to treat tuberculosis by drinking warm animal blood.  And for quinsy, gargle gunpowder and glycerin.

Eye problems require a different approach.  To get rid of a sty “go for a ride early in the morning.  Stop at the first crossroads and say: Sty, sty, come off my eye/And go to the next passer-by.  Do not look at the spot again until you’re sure someone has gone by.”

To cure bladder ailments, drink a quart of cocklebur tea.  To stop bedwetting, feed the child the “hind legs of a rat fried crisp.”  A toothache can be cured by pricking the gum with a toothpick until it bleeds.  One must then stick the toothpick into the bark of a tree.  But make sure no one sees you or this won’t work.

Last but not least is a simple cure for asthma.  Just “go down to a river and catch a frog.  Pry its mouth open and blow your breath into it.  This must be done before daylight.  The frog will die before sunset with asthma, but the person will never have it again.”

Today, as our nation seeks to turn back the clock in so many ways, it would be wise to look carefully at the past.  Things were certainly different then, but were they really better?  Let’s hope traditional medicine was better, though, because soon that may be the only health care millions of Americans can afford.

377. The Importance Of Culture

I once asked an old man what happened to Bradish.  He replied that a lot of little towns like Bradish had been built about every seven miles along the railroad because that “was as far as a steam locomotive could go without breaking down.”  Once more-reliable diesel engines replaced steam locomotives, many of these little towns “dried up and blew away.”

While that wasn’t the only reason for spacing communities every few miles along the tracks, the railroad did want towns at frequent intervals.  Primrose, for example, was founded at the behest of Union Pacific which wanted a stop between Cedar Rapids and Spalding.

Primrose takes its name from early pioneer David Primrose and I recently stumbled across a brief biography of him in an old book about Nebraska pioneers.  His bio says he was known “throughout Boone and surrounding counties as a man of broad mind, culture and ability.”

I find it interesting that having a “broad mind” and being cultured were qualities Mr. Primrose was known for – after all, we don’t often remember the pioneers for their intellect and culture.  These people lived in houses made of dirt and struggled for years just to establish a small farm.  The pioneers presumably didn’t have much time for the “niceties” of life – they were too busy focusing on the necessities of life.

But if you think about it, isn’t that when people needed culture most, in a place and time when there was so little of it?  The pioneers really were focused on survival.  But they had originally come from places – either in Europe or the eastern United States – where culture was well established.  Their goal, after all, was to “upbuild” life here, as they put it then, into something much more than just subsistence living.  People wanted the finer things in life and the deprivation they faced when homesteading only made them want these things more.

So it’s really no surprise that a pioneer like David Primrose would stand out for not only his ability to build a community but also for his broad mindedness and cultural sophistication – these were traits the pioneers respected and aspired to.  They wanted the small towns that sprang up across the Great Plains to grow into places at least as cultured and broad-minded as the established communities they’d left.

I was reminded of this last weekend when my wife Lori and I, in our role as co-directors of the Albion Area Arts Council, put on the week-long Missoula Children’s Theatre.  Students of all ages from six communities – including Neligh and Fullerton – worked hard to learn parts and present a musical adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels.  We’ve been doing this every summer since 2005 so we don’t think a lot about it anymore.  But a surprising number of parents and grandparents thanked us for providing this activity and their comments reminded us that although the Missoula Children’s Theatre isn’t “high art” it is an introduction to drama for young people who in many cases don’t otherwise have that opportunity.

Unfortunately, cultural opportunities in rural areas still aren’t as widespread as our ancestors desired.  And not everyone needs the arts and humanities in their lives.  But for those who do, like those willing to drive here six times in a week for play practice, culture is important.  Culture is our common legacy and it strengthens communities both large and small.  The pioneers understood this, and though we may sometimes forget it today, culture remains an important tool in preventing communities across the Great Plains from “drying up and blowing away.”