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Pioneer Healthcare in Keystone

In the early years of the Keystone settlement, doctors, nurses, and medicine were nonexistent. Fortunately, most of the people remained healthy. We had clean fresh air, free from the chemical contaminants of industry and the automobile. Our water was pristine. Our food was fresh and free of additives. We never worried about fiber in our food. Everything we ate had fiber. Our life was not easy, but it was simple and healthy.

The settlers had to improvise their own health care, and they depended on home remedies. Mom possessed a broad knowledge of cures for illness or injury. Most of it was the product of the rich folklore she grew up with when living among the Creek Indians in Oklahoma. She used herbs that grew wild such as dandelions and nettles. Willow bark and twigs served as an excellent remedy for pain. She made poultices from rabbit droppings, which she applied to the chest for various respiratory illnesses. As children, we gathered peppermint, which grew abundantly in the ravine. Mother dried it and we drank peppermint tea in the winter for colds. We also drank hot lemon tea and mother would rub Mentholatum on our chests when we had the flu. Cough syrup was made from a mixture of honey, lemons and grapefruit. In the spring, we ate dandelion, pigweed, and nettles as greens.

Another source of curing colds came from our lamps. Before there were gas lamps, everyone burned coal oil. A couple of drops of coal oil or turpentine put on sugar was used as a cold remedy. (When the coal oil can was filled at the store, the storekeeper put gum drops on the spout to keep the coal oil from running out. We children always argued over he gumdrops.) Goose grease was rubbed on the chest and back and then mustard plasters were applied as a cure for chest colds. Poultices made with hot cornmeal and mustard were use dot fight the cold bug. If the mustard was too strong, it could actually blister you. My wife told me that when she had whooping cough, she was given mare's milk. Carbuncles were treated by applying linseed meal dampened with warm water to the carbuncle until it came to a head. Then cold bread was soaked in sweet milk and applied to the carbuncle until it drew the core out.

They rubbed dirt and I think spider webs on insect bites to stop the itching. I don't know what king of dirt they used, but it must have worked. Most people, especially the children, wore asafetida [a gum resin of various types of oriental plants] around their necks. It's like a rock that smells terrible. Almost everyone wore it during the flu epidemic of 1918.

There were some things that home remedies couldn't cure. In her early twenties my oldest sister Virginia suffered an appendicitis attack. My brothers Ellis and Elmer walked to Stone's Corner to borrow a car to take her to the hospital in Edmonton. They returned home, loaded my sister into the car, and set off for Edmonton. Mother couldn't go with hem. She had to stay home with the other children, but I can remember her saying how worried she was. She prayed all night.

From Gwen Hooks' The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black SettlerReprinted with the kind permission of the author.

See also:

[back] [First People and Settlers] [New Beginnings] [Adventurous Albertans]

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