Photos from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum
The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, founded in 1881 by John E. “Doc” Healy, “Texas Charlie” F. Bigelow, and “Nevada Ned” Oliver, took their cure-all pitch on the road. Based in New Haven, Connecticut, the company hired hundreds of Native Americans, said to be of the Kickapoo tribe, to tour America and Europe, teaching “Indian ways” and peddling its medicines. The names of their travelling salesmen can be seen on the registry of the Queen’s Hotel from the late 1800s which is at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum
More and more remedy-makers began to put on their own elaborate medicine shows, like Big Sensation Medicine Company and Hamlin Wizard Oil of Chicago, which came to town with a circus-like ruckus—its caravan of wagons was led by a band.
In fact, medicine shows were major events in the towns they visited. With live skits, music, juggling, acrobatics, feats of magic, sword swallowing, and ventriloquism, it was the most excitement most places would see for months. Some shows even travelled with their own flea circus or sideshow-freak acts. Stores would close, children were allowed to skip school, and residents would don their Sunday best.
Of course, the main event was always the pitch for bottled treatments such as Professor Low’s Liniment & Worm Syrup, Dalley’s Magical Pain Extractor, Dr. Kilmer’s Swamproot, Hood’s Sarsaparilla, Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry, Dr. King’s New Discovery, Edgar’s Cathartic Confection, and Schenck’s Mandrake Pills.
Many travelling “doctors” with dubious credentials knew how to create the illusion that such products worked. They would rub an arthritic’s afflicted arm or foot until the pain seemed to dull. They understood that washing out earwax improved anyone’s hearing. Some even distributed pills filled with long pieces of string so the taker would appear to expel tapeworms in their stool. Often, the medicine company would place a shill in the audience, who would pretend to be sick and claim the treatment had worked a miracle.
Toward the end of the century, the American public, fed up with being scammed by these peddlers, took to campaigning against what Collier’s magazine dubbed, in 1905, “The Great American Fraud.” Families were also concerned about the effects of alcohol and narcotics like opium on their children. Around the same time, the Germ Theory of Disease, validated by the 19th-century research of Louise Pasteur and Robert Koch, was becoming widely accepted in the practice of medicine. All of this eventually led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1907.
This ointment tin from the early 20th century was just added to our to the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum’s collection! The tin was manufactured by MacDonald MFG Ltd in Toronto and it contained a mixture of mercurial ointment and petroleum jelly.
We have little information on what year it was manufactured and what the ointment may have been used for specifically. If you recognize this design or have more information, please let us know!
On this date in 1927, Prime Minister Mackenzie King and British Prime Minister Baldwin inaugurated a transatlantic telephone service between Canada and Great Britain.
This Northern Electric telephone was used in Asselstine’s RexallDrugstore, which was located at the corner of Bridge and Franklin Streets. Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum