Snake Bites and Turpentine

There are all kinds of folk remedies. One saved my father's life. It's a story that involves a copperhead snake and turpentine.

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Does the thought of going to the doctor make you sick?

Does all the turbulence surrounding health care within our government, not mentioning the long waits in doctors’ offices, and the headaches caused by medical insurance fiascos, often make you want to forget the professional medical community and go back to simpler times when illnesses were treated with home remedies?

Many of these remedies you already have in your pantry, spice rack, growing in your garden or in the field or forest. For example, one all time favorite is honey. According to one home remedy prescription, combine honey with a pinch of cinnamon and ingest for treatment for allergies (in this case, it should be local honey), bad breath, bladder infections, and weight loss. 

In our modern medical world, a specific drug is prescribed for each ailment. After the doctor’s visit and drug store visit you end up with a medicine cabinet full of drugs to be taken only as prescribed. Think of the money you could save with a pint of honey and a canister of cinnamon in the treatment of medical conditions and what’s not used to cure illnesses, you can cook with it, or simply use the honey for a natural sweetener. 

Perhaps the old fashioned ways were not so bad. Most of us have heard at least one story about how these home remedies do work. I’ve assembled a few old-fashioned home remedies from here and there to honor those who used them in the past, and for others looking to kill a few minutes waiting in the doctors’ office. 

First, I would like to preface the collection of remedies with a true story of an old time remedy—turpentine—used by my dad’s family. 

I only heard my dad tell this story one time, on a cold-snowy winter’s night when three or four of his coalminer, hunting buddies gathered at our house, as they usually did, to tell hunting and fishing stories. 

On this particular night I was doing homework in an adjoining room at the dining table. I could see Dad reared back on his ladder back chair with only two legs touching the floor. The men had gone through a couple of rounds of stories and it was Dad’s turn again. 

He didn’t start immediately but first whistled an entire stanza of  The Wildwood Flower. Then, he cleared his throat. Silence fell over the room—Dad was about to tell his story. I will tell his story as if he were telling it to you.

Copperhead by Earl Dotson

We lived on a large farm in Buchanan County, Virginia. We kept two or more milk cows. On this particular summer evening, my parents had gone to a church gathering. My sister Rose and I were all alone at home. She was around 17 and I was seven or eight.

Buchanan County, Virginia, on the border of Kentucky, around 1895.
Rose told me to go the field and drive the cows home so she could milk before dark. We all knew there were many rattlesnakes and copperheads in the area, especially in the cow pasture. When Pa cleared the timber to make a cow pasture, he cut tree stumps as close to the ground as possible with the remains left to rot – the perfect hiding place for snakes.

I was soon able to hear the cowbells far back near the timber about a mile from the house. When I climbed the hill and got near the cows, I came close to an old stump with a fresh groundhog track on the upper side. My older brother Frank often talked about hunting and trapping groundhogs and I thought that would be a good place.

Buchanan County, Virginia.
Well, I thought while I am here, I will smooth the dirt out and pack it down, and make a place to set a trap. When I stuck my left hand back in the hole something stuck hard. My hand was bleeding and burning real bad.

Now, just to think how foolish a boy can be, I thought the groundhog had bitten me. So, I thought, I will carry rocks and stop up the hole and tomorrow Frank and I will come and dig him out. I carried a few rocks but my tongue began getting stiff and swollen. My hand and arm were swelling. The two small holes in my hand were oozing black blood.

I tried to unbutton my shirtsleeve but I could not. I started walking toward the house but I kept staggering and falling down like a drunken man. All I could see was a blur. 

I got close enough to see the house and I tried to holler out for help but I could not. My tongue was so swollen it was choking me to death. My legs gave way. I fell and could not get up. I knew I would not make it.

Rose had come hunting for me. She carried and dragged me to the yard. Rose knew it was a bad snakebite but did not know what to do—no phone, no car, no neighbors close by, no doctors within miles. The only sound I remember was my sister Rose crying and praying—my heart was pounding and fluttering like it would tear out of my body. I went into shock or a coma.

My fate was in the hands of Rose, the good Lord — and turpentine (obtained by the distillation of resin obtained from pine trees). 

I’d always wondered what plans the good Lord had for me—why he did not just let me go away and save my family the agony they went through for the next four days. But on day four, the strong smell of turpentine woke me up. Rose was by my bed. She was the first to notice my eyes were open and I was looking at empty bottles of turpentine on the floor. She began to cry. My hand was in a pail of cold water laced with the home remedy. She said that she changed the water often and poured in turpentine each time.

My family was all there. I could hear them talk. I heard them say, “He may be a cripple. The poison may settle in his joints or in his brain, but thank God he is alive.”

I told Frank where it happened. He took his rifle and found the place. He said that he found a very large copperhead snake coiled up on the stump sticking out her ole black tongue.

She would bite no more.

****

Old-Time Home Remedies

Freckle Paste – Take a teacupful of sour milk; scrape into it a quantity of horseradish; let it stand for several hours; strain well, and apply with a camelhair brush 2 or 3 times daily.

Applying a mustard poultice.
Bleeding – To stop bleeding, use powdered rice sprinkle on lint and applied to the wound, or put a handful of flour over the cut. If there is a cobweb handy, bind it on the wound and bleeding will stop.

Bruises – Rest and bathe in cold water. If skin is unbroken, apply half-a-teaspoonful of arnica lotion to a tumbler of water. Wet soft linen rags with this lotion; and apply and change as often as they dry. Alternatively, wring out a cloth in hot water and lay on the affected part. Renew frequently till pain eases.

Sore Throat – An effective remedy for sore throat, especially when accompanied by hoarseness: onions boiled in molasses.

Bee Stings – Extract the stinger, if left in the flesh, and apply ammonia or bicarbonate of soda. You can also apply honey to a bee sting. 

Warts – Rub them daily with radish, or with juice of marigold flowers. It seldom fails. Or, rub the wart on a piece of raw meat.  Rub a raw potato on a wart (cut a potato in half and rub the raw side on the wart) and then plant the potato. As the potato spouts the wart will go away. 

Beans — Good for a variety of ailments. For boils, reduce haricot beans to a powder, mix with an equal quantity of fenugreek and honey, and apply outwardly to boils, bruises, or blue marks caused by a blow.

Celery – Excellent for rheumatism. Cut celery into pieces and boil in water until soft, then drink the water. Put new milk, with a little flour and nutmeg, into a saucepan with boiled celery, and serve warm with pieces of toast. Eat with potatoes, and the rheumatic aches and pains will ease.

Chamomile.
Chamomile — For skin and hair. Place 5 or 6 dried chamomile flowers in a bowl and pour a half-pint of boiling water over them. Cover for 10 or 12 minutes. When the lotion has slightly cooled, sponge it on the skin with a small pad of cotton. Chamomile lotion is credited with astringent properties and is used for closing enlarged pores and toning-up related muscles. This lotion also makes an excellent hair tonic. Cleanse the scalp with it twice a week.

Honey — An excellent “pick-me-up” for older folk. It is laxative, purifying, strengthening. It is good for external sores if you take half-parts honey and flour and mix well together by adding a little water. If difficulty of swallowing is felt, boil a teaspoonful of honey with half-a-pint of water. This makes a delicious throat-gargle for singers.

Whiskey – For toothache, hold whiskey on tooth and make sure you spit it out

Vinegar – For sprains, soak a brown paper bag in vinegar and apply it to sprains to reduce the swelling and the pain

Headaches – For headaches tie a bandana around your head tightly and then sleep with the head at the foot of the bed. 

Antidote  — For alcohol, opium, prussic acid, strychnine and all poisoning – take a heaped teaspoonful each of common salt and ground mustard stirred quickly in a glass of warm water, and swallow immediately. This causes instant vomiting. When vomiting stops, swallow the whites of two eggs, then drink plenty of strong coffee.

Abscesses and Sores – Make a yeast poultice by mixing 5 oz. of yeast with an equal quantity of hot water; with these stir up a pound of flour to make a poultice, place it on the stove until it swells, then use. This is a stimulating, emollient poultice.

Bronchitis – Mix together 1/2 cup of castor oil and 1/4 cup of rectified turpentine. Warm it before rubbing on the chest at bedtime. Cover with a flannel cloth to keep the area warm. Drink plenty of fluids. Expect results within one week 

Mustard Bath – For the convalescent, a mustard bath is an excellent stimulant. Two tablespoons of mustard are required for every gallon of water in the bath. The mustard should first be made into a paste in a basin, and then gradually added to the water in the bath. Temperature 100 degrees F.

Slimming – To slim, it is necessary to reverse the process by which slim persons become fat. The main principle is withdrawal from the diet of food, such as bread, potatoes, sugar, fat and butter. But to diminish the quantities, not suddenly leave off anything to which you have been accustomed for years.

Cough – To make a cough mixture take some liquorice sticks, ½ pint of flaxseed, and the rind of a lemon; put into a quart of water allow to simmer for two days. Then add the juice of a lemon and ½ lb brown sugar. Boil for 3 hours and strain. Add, when cool, ½ pint rum. Shake well and take a wine-glassful every morning fasting.

Liver – If your liver is sluggish, drink a glass of hot water with the juice of half-a-lemon squeezed into it, night and morning, without any sugar.

Mustard Plaster – To make a soothing mustard plaster, mix mustard with the white of an egg instead of water. This plaster will draw without blistering.

Humorous Folk Remedies

Arthritis – Have a cat sit on your knee. Put 2 horse chestnuts in your pants pockets

Bad Dreams – Rub garlic on the soles of the child’s foot

Bronchitis – Wear the sock you wore all day around your neck at night to bed, with the foot part near the throat.

Cold Feet – Sprinkle some cayenne pepper in your socks.

Fever – Chop up raw onions and put them into a linen cloth. Tie this to the child’s feet. In the morning the fever should be gone.

Hair, Shine and Gray Prevention –  While standing on your head, massage your scalp.

Hiccups – Hold a penny between two toes of one foot and transfer the penny to any two toes of the other foot, being careful not to touch the floor.

Sayings to Live By

The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Mr. Merryman.

A handful of good life is better than a bushel of good learning.

 

 

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