Medicine Show Comes to Town:Short Story Western Story
Edmonds Historical Museum- Patent Medicines.
Guess it was when James McNulty got into kind of a spat with Sarah at the newspaper that the town started taking sides about the medicine show coming to town. The Carbon’s Creek Sentinel, Sarah’s newspaper, was preparing a large ad for the medicine show. She also had Sandy putting up posters ‘round town to promote it. When Jim, our local sales agent for a medicinal company, got wind of it he went to the newspaper and found she was also writing a news story about it
What I heard is that he told Sarah that he thought the medicine show was selling phony cures and outn’t to be supported. I think maybe Sarah might ‘a suggested in her polite fashion that maybe Jim didn’t like the competition.. She woulda’ felt bad afterward ‘cause she don’t got any mean attitudes and Jim just went through the ordeal of having his goods stolen.
Jim talked to Jason Taylor, our acting sheriff, about it. Jason tol’ him that she’s got a perfect tight to take advertising and the medicine show can advertise and unless they does somethin’ illegal he can’t do a thing bout it.
Later on Sarah caught up with Jim and said she was sorry to say what she said. She said she needed the advertising revenue and couldn’t rightly turn it down wi’out some evidence that the show was crooked. She did say that if he wanted to write a guest editorial she would be glad to print it. An’ he did.
Patent medicine ad
Most everybody in twenty miles a town knew Jim. Most folks liked him and judged him to be a straight shooter. If’en they didn’t like one of the products he sold he give ‘em money back no question.
Jim’s editorial got mixed reaction among folks. Cause he was well like and trusted, folks tended to believe him. On the other hand it made them wonder bout the show. Folks naturally wannna see for themselves. Maybe more folks came to see the show than might ‘a iffen Jim hadn’t a raised a fuss.
And what a show! I mean they didn’t a jest set up. No sir. They did a parade first. They come inta town with high steppin’ horses outfitted with fancy bridles and saddles. Behind the horses is Indians doin’ a dance. Next come a open wagon with music players and dancers Pretty soon the whole parade stopped in front of the Little Buckhorn Saloon. The dancers hopped off the wagon and mingled with the crowd and pretty soon they had a street dance goin’.
Sandy, a young deaf boy, who worked part time for me taking care of horses and spent some time working for Sarah was taken with the dancing. He couldn’t hear the music but he could relate to the motion of the dancing. In fact he danced with Sarah and than he was with a gal more his own age. Don’t rightly know his age. Don’t think he knows hisself. When I first met him I thought he looked about twelve but he’s most likely a few years older ‘n that.
With it bein’ a warm day, with the dancing an’ all folks was working up a thirst. Since most everbody in the Buckhorn had drifted out to the street to see what was goin’ on the owner decided to break out a couple of kegs on the boardwalk in front.
If the town folk hadn’t already come, the music and the dancing brought them out. While the dancing was goin’ on a huge banner went up in front of the Buckhorn Saloon.
Doctor Kilburn’s Original Remedies.
Then this hombre come out wearing a tan vest over a stripped shirt with a dark brown string tie., a bowler hat and patent leather shoes with spats. He waved his hands and called for the attention. Two good lookin’ gals held up a banner with a picture of a medicine bottle. The Doctor took up a stick to point with and pointed at the banner. The doctor rambled on for half a hour or so ‘bout the wonders of his miracle cure. Iffen you believe him, he traveled the country o’er into deserts and swamps, talked to Indians, and doctors to find the best medicines.
Then an Indian in buckskins with a fancy feather headdress and designs painted on his arms an chest rode up on a pinto pony. The doctor said the Indian was a Kickapoo medicine man and the tonic he held up for us to see was his own formula.
Jest than I spotted Chief Red Eagle one of the chiefs from the nearby reservation. I sidled over to see what he thought of all this. He reckoned the so called Indian medicine man was probably from some tribe up north. He didn’ think a medicine man would waste his powers on this white man’s claptrap. Sandy joined us along with his deaf dog Spot.
Now Sandy has considerable standing with the local Indians because of him and his dog being deaf an both of them having special feelings for horses. I pondered on that when Doc, our town doctor, joined us. I asked Doc if I got him some of Doctor Kilburn’s Tonic if he could determine if it was any good or maybe dangerous. I like to see if the Doctor Kilburn is OK or a humbug. He said he could try. So I bought a bottle and passed it on to Doc., who took it and made a bee line to his office.
What Doc Found
Doctor Kilburn’s Medicine Show was a world of amusement. Dancers and singers went right along while Indians and others moseyed with the crowd and sold liniment and the miracle cure. Doc came back with a list of stuff he found in the medicine. “Mostly the usual stuff. Doc tol’ me. Also alcohol and opium, which isn’t much uncommon He was more bothered by impurities that may have come from contaminated water thqt the drug nostrum were made from. Likely nobody in the troop took any or some would be likely sick from the medicine .I tol’ Sandy to round up Sarah and James McNulty.
After hearing Doc out Sarah said she could print another story but the paper wouln’t come out till after the show had left. McNulty din’ take satisfaction in being right but was concerned about what to do ‘bout things. Would folks believe him now ?
The Sheriff can arrest them!
Since Sheriff Taylor has the most legal authority he went up to the stage and halted the show. He talked to the crowd and told them that the tonic might be dangerous to drink.. Doctor Kilburn acted shocked by this and denied was anything but pure medicinal mix. He claimed that McNulty and Doc were jealous of competition and lying.
“How ’bout a test?’ McNulty suggested.
I were surprised that the Doctor Kilburn agreed. He had the Indian medicine man lead his pony up on the stage. He went back of the curtain an’ come out with a fresh bottle of tonic and started to give it to the pony. “No,” McNulty broke in. Here’s a bottle I just bought from your people. Use it.”
The Doctor hung back but then agreed. Sandy let his dog Spot go up where the pony was. Reason I have Sandy help tend my horses is that him an’ thet dog seem to have a special way with them
Whether the dog had anytin’ to do with it, I ain’t shore but maybe. Anyhow after the dog went up there the pony refused to drink. The dog led the pony off the stage and the folks clapped and hooted. The thunk it was part of the act.
“Maybe about a dozen of your dancers along with you and the Indian medicine man should take a few good swallows,” Sheriff Taylor suggested.
Well sir, they wasn’t bout to do that.
Warn’t long fore I heard shouts about givin’ the swindlers a ride out of town. The ride they meant was on a pole. The sheriff put a stop to that but gave the doctor a strong invite to leave town for he changed his mind.
The sheriff saw to it that the doctor and his remedies were gone by the end of the day.
Wahl, Sarah wrote it up and put out a front page story in the newspaper of what all happened that day. Jim McNulty wrote another guest editorial in which he advised checking out what is in any medicines they buy. Even rr Red Eagle got a word in about phony Indians
Sandy found the fun entailed in dancing and started practicing for the next hoe down. Spot went back to hanging out with the horses.
- Medicine Show: Patent Medicines in the 19th Century
As early as the Middle Ages medications have been sold by a combination of hucksters, showmen and sincere promoters. Prior to the twentieth century consumers had very little way of knowing if medications...
© 2011 Don A. Hoglund