BY SUSAN PITTMAN
OVERLAND TRAIL MUSEUM MUSINGS :
DR . JONES ’ S MEDICINE CABINET , 1900
2020 has been the year of COVID-19 . Newscasts are rife not only with the staggering number of persons infected and lost , but also with the hopeful expectancy of successful treatments and , ultimately , a vaccine .
After a slew of false promises , the antiviral Remdisivir , a treatment for patients with COVID who require hospitalization , has been approved by the FDA . It and the steroid dexamethasone , which boosts blood oxygen saturation , were both used to treat President Trump . While the former is the first and , at the time of this writing , the only COVID-19 treatment approved for use in the U . S ., at issue may be its cost : $ 2,340 to $ 3,120 per treatment , depending on the type of insurance a patient may have . This turbulent time puts a spotlight on the efficacy of medicines used throughout history .
By the 19th century the practice of homeopathy , the treatment of diseases by minute doses of natural substances thought to trigger the body ’ s natural defense , was fairly widespread in the U . S . despite its having been labeled by orthodox physicians as unscientific and even barbaric . Conventional practitioners criticized herbalists ,
midwives , and other “ non-regulars ” because they weren ’ t medically trained , although many were graduates of the same medical schools as the “ regular ” physicians .
When Dr . W . T . Jones came to Texas in 1889 and began his practice in Collin County , he was not licensed and may have resorted in part to a homeopathic approach . But by 1900 when he arrived with his family in Fort Davis , he had completed a study to receive his license . A glass display case in the Overland Trail Museum displays some of the medicines common to his practice . To look at a few of the bottles and containers among those displayed is to look back into the history of medicine . So , what ’ s represented there ?
Castor oil is a laxative whose use goes all the way back to 1550 B . C . Made from castor beans , it was often given , among other reasons , as a means to induce labor . An older generation may remember it as punishment threatened or administered to unruly children by their parents . More egregious , Mussolini and his Fascist squads used it to intimidate or humiliate political dissidents .
Another familiar treatment widely used since before recorded history is alum powder . Canker sores , cracks in heels , bad odors , acne and pimples , wrinkles , head lice , razor cuts – you name it , alum seems to have been the answer . Dr . Jones may have used it to induce vomiting in someone who had ingested a toxic substance .
Native Americans used an extract of witch hazel extensively as an astringent . They boiled the stems for a decoction to treat inflammations , swellings , and tumors , plus a variety of skin problems .
Aromatic Spirit Ammonia , smelling salts familiarly , is a stimulant now mostly used by athletes . Although it has been banned in boxing , in 2005 former player and now television talk show host Michael Strahan estimated that 70 – 80 % of NFL players use it .
A familiar trauma kit mainstay in the day was Franklin Blood Stopper . That particular brand of the sterile wound and trauma dressing is no longer on the market , although it is a critical element for emergency use . It causes the blood flow in wounds to coagulate and was common for use in nosebleeds .
Another necessity to a medical supply kit was mercresin , called upon its development in 1936 “ a new surgical germicide ,” with the ability “ to dissolve fat and degenerative cellular debris from skin surfaces .”
Widely advertised in newspapers with glowing testimonials was Dr . Miles Nervine . Also known as Dr . Miles ’ s Restorative Nervine and Nerve and Liver Pills , it was a remedy sold with a money back guarantee and a book on diseases of the heart and nerves . It was also used as a sedative for children who acted up , and to help relieve anxiety . Today , we recognize it by the brand name Benadryl . It ’ s also the PM in Tylenol PM .
Percy Medicine for diarrhea is still produced and marketed today from its headquarters in Waco . But its popularity has given way to the more commercial Pepto-Bismol and Imodium . Those two brands probably don ’ t cause the black or darkened tongue Percy ’ s did . The black tongue represented no medical danger , though , but is due to the oxidation of the bismuth it contains .
In every medicine cabinet from the 1930s through the 1960s , Merthiolate and / or its cousin Mercurochrome ( monkey blood ) was a common antiseptic . Trademarked by Eli Lilly in 1926 , the medicines were forced to change their active ingredients in the 1970s when its mercury component was discovered to damage kidneys , brains and developing fetuses . While it ’ s still in use abroad , the U . S . Food and Drug Administration ended its use here in the 1980s .
Methyl alcohol , a high-polarity solvent , was a necessity for practicing physicians during those earlier times . While small amounts are present in healthy humans , as little as . 34 fluid ounce can cause permanent blindness . Its use to the medical industry was in embalming .
Dr . Jones was not simply the country doctor in Fort Davis . He also served as county treasurer , school board member , and an organizer of Fort Davis State Bank . He was a charter member of the Masonic Hall . Upon retirement in 1917 , he and his wife moved to Yoakum , Texas where he died in 1932 .
Coincidental to this account , the youngest of the Jones ’ s seven children , who taught for three years in Fort Davis , died later in 1919 during the infamous influenza pandemic .
Curious ? With an appointment , you can visit the Overland Trail Museum to take a peek at this prominent early citizen ’ s livelihood . Contact the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce at 432.426.3015 .