This was made by the looks of it in the early 1920s so I realize it is not politically correct today. The Can Med Assoc J. 1929 Jan;20(1):69-70. The Proprietary and Patent Medicine Act and Improper Medicines– so this was made in the 1920s or after by the Blackhawk Medicine Company in Carleton Place. Another reason is the can. World War I brought about new methods of food processing as manufacturers streamlined production methods of canned and frozen foods. Canned foods had a bad reputation initially as the lead solder used in construction leached into the food causing health problems. Once new safer cans were introduced then canned foods etc. increased in popularity enormously.
The Carleton Place company probably chose the name Black Hawk as Black Hawk was a popular war chief and leader of the Sauk tribe in the Midwest of the United States. He was known more for being a war leader, a “captain of his actions” than he was a tribal chief. Black Hawk earned his credentials by leading raids and war parties in his youth. So, it would seem the perfect name for leading a raid on your bowels in those days.
There were scores, maybe hundreds of these shows across the country (mostly the south and midwest), fronted by flashy characters in buckskin suits and western hats promising miracles from these bog Native American remedies and
Gone were the simple herbs prepared at home or by the local apothecary from time-honored recipes. During the early 1900s in came the elaborate concoctions in dark-colored bottles with attractive labels to gain attention for your daily needs.
Then came the Cathartics, used to cleanse the bowels. We must keep those bowels clean! Fiber does that for us, but if you live on highly processed foods, increasingly possible in Victorian times, you don’t get that effect. Many patent medicines were cathartics – very popular stuff.
Unhealthy diets aside, people liked medicine that makes something happen — the more dramatic, the better. We see lots of cathartics in the diet-trickery aisles at drug stores today. Tonics like the one above made in Carleton Place were used to ‘brace up and give increased tone to the system. The Victorian era also used laxatives and tonics for chickenpox. You could buy it over the counter in tonics, powders, and soft drinks.
Even a tiny dose of strychnine can cause convulsions. Yet the Merck Manual, following the medical practice of the day, recommended small amounts as a treatment for acute constipation. Commonly derived from the plant Strychnos nux-vomica, strychnine was thought to improve gastric function. (Strychnine injections were also recommended for both flatulence and ulcers.) Opium and turpentine were also recommended, but patients probably derived more relief from the less dramatic manual-recommended regimens, such as eating apples and figs or drinking coffee. In the shop, as in any druggists, poisons are freely available over the counter and are not kept in separate, locked cabinets. Some are also used in medicines, for example bitter tonics containing strychnine to stimulate appetites and improve muscle tone. Laws governing the sale of poisons will not emerge for almost a decade, in 1868.