King of Pain
Elko, Nevada - 1870s

They practiced a great deal of do-it-yourself medicine in the early 1870s. Many locals treated themselves by going out to Hot Springs Hotel, just south of Bullion Road, where they believed the waters healed many ailments.

They claimed that soaking in the pool cured rheumatism, diseases of the blood, paralysis, consumption (tuberculosis), fevers of all kinds, and miners who became poisoned by working with antimonial ores. Many communicable diseases were listed. A person could go for one illness and leave with more than they had in the first place.

Patent medicine appealed to most of the population. One popular local cure-all was "King of Pain." An advertisement in the Elko Independent, May 8, 1870, approved by Dr. J.J. McBride of Elko, promised to cure cholera, diarrhea, bloody fluxes (?), headache, earache, toothache, neuralgia, colic, cramps, rheumatism, back and side pain, bad cough, pleurisy, deafness, asthma, bronchial afflictions, kidney inflamation, erysipelas (skin disease, also called St. Anthony's Fire), liver complaint, heart palpitation, and sore or weak eyes. Actually, most of the patent medicines contained at least 15% alcohol. Which means if it didn't cure you, at least you felt better.

"King of Pain" made other guarantees: "Use 'King of Pain' as a remedy for the scalp. It causes hair to grow more rapidly than any preparation ever discovered. One application is sufficient to prevent hair from falling off."

Directions: "Take one bottle of medicine, pour it into a pint bottle, fill up with soft water and use the same as 'Bay Rum.'" Here we go again. The label said, using the same mixture will prevent neuralgia, headaches, deafness, and catarrh (inflamation of the head and throat). For sale in all respectable druggists. If "King of Pain" was what it was touted to be all one would need is only a bottle of the stuff in the medicine cabinet to take care of every ill.

This tale of patent medicines if not finished. A local potion was created for the bald. Manufactured by Joseph F. Boardman and dispensed by Dr. Louis Terry, "Nevada's White Sage Natural Hair Restorative" advertised in the Independent. More promises. The medication was "a sure and speedy remedy for baldness and gray hair as well as a quick cure for fastening falling hair." This was just another way of making money, not curing.

In 1869 there was a county hospital at the corner of Third and Railroad streets. Not much more than a shack, it had six beds. For those with contagious ills, there was a "pest house" on the outskirts of town. It was a shack. Neither was a pleasant place in which to recuperate. Patient care was provided by a local physician hired by Elko County. They allowed him to spend up to 30 cents a day for individual medication.

All doctors were not formally trained. That may have been an underlying reason for people to seek their own cures. I have a great-grandfather who "read" law and medicine. Legitimate in those days, he was whichever profession was needed the most in towns where he lived. He eventually stayed in the legal field and became a district attorney in Greenville, Texas, which was probably good for sick people there. Even after limiting himself to law matters, people called him "Doc."

The practice of dosing ourselves for what ails us has not stopped. It is now worth billions of dollars to medicine companies. Some things never change.

Source: Sagebrush Doctors by Edna B. Patterson, 1972.

©Copyright 2006 by Howard Hickson

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