1800’s Western Medicine to Cure Poorly Me

The Horror of Old Timey Medicine!

When I think of 1800’s Western Medicine I always think of Doc Holiday, American Indian medicine men, and that helpful woman in the pinny who usually works in the Church. I don’t recall there being a lot of emergency medicine being performed in the westerns I used to watch. But I do remember learning that a tourniquet works wonders when you’ve had your arm accidentally severed, you’re only gonna last 30 minutes if you’ve been gut shot, and a knife in the fire is as good as anything for cauterizing a wound (don’t worry if stuff underneath is torn up, more than likely it’ll sort itself out if you’re not looking at it). And a good pull of medicinal whisky will deal with them pesky tooth worms in no time.

I’ve been a bit ill this week, the chills, sweats, very sleepy, and a blinding headache. Strong possibility I was taken over by evil spirits (or had a touch of a migraine perhaps). And it made me curious -cause you’ve gotta think about something as you lay there moaning with pain- what would I have been given back in the west.


You’ve got a headache? Ok you need this – take a small amount whenever you feel the pain. It’ll work for just about anything. And if that don’t work just take a little bit more – not too much mind, wouldn’t want you getting addicted, ha ha ha. Have a nice day now. – 1800’s Western Medicine salesman. 

This delightfully helpful all-round tonic was produced from Opium and contained Morphine. Today purchase of morphine is restricted but back then it would have been just like any other commodity you might buy. Over the counter and drank like whisky. And whilst I have previously taken Codine (another opiate) for a fracture in my back (a rib high up – fell down some concrete stairs getting a bag of horse feed), I’ve only had morphine after surgery. Seems a little on the extreme side for how I’ve been feeling this week.

1800's western medicine
via L.A.Hilden Blog

Willow Bark

This is where aspirin comes from and could potentially be offered as a cure for my headache – one I would even take today. In fact I often have a bottle of Bach Remedy Willow specifically for my migraines – it has the bizarre ability to head the migraine off at the pass, so to speak. Although back then I might have been handed a bit of tree and told to chew.

Cold Compress

An easy to use, produce, and turn to, 1800’s Western Medicine remedy for the poor (or not so ill). Always pleasant whilst you’ve got a migraine – there’s something about the cold against the forehead that just eases the pain. So this would be helpful in easing the discomfort but probably not enough to get rid of it completely.


Originally offered as a headache remedy this delightfully refreshing drink once contained cocaine (yes I know, widely known fact) which combined with the caffeine to restrict the blood vessels and reduce the symptoms of headaches. It was first introduced as a headache remedy in the 18th century but whether or not it would have been available outside of the main cities I don’t know. It’s actually still a recommended cure by some, although there’s now no cocaine in it – and I can’t say it’s ever worked for me.

I would have survived this illness with 1800’s western medicine.

Seeing as how my symptoms weren’t too bad I might have been okay with the cold compress, some willow bark tea, and perhaps a day of sleeping. So glad it wasn’t anything more serious. I may not have even needed to see a saw-bones (doctor) at all and could have got back on my horse by about tea time.