Sunday, December 27, 2009

Medicines used in the fur trade

At Fort Alexandria, the summer of 1846 proved so inclement that, in mid-August, Alexander Caulfield Anderson reported the crops were poor due to the summer's constant rain and thunderstorms.
In September the men brought in the last of the ruined harvest, and the shortage of hay was so extreme they drove out to cut natural grass at a lake near the fort.
It was not long before they returned -- the driver of the cart reeled in his seat as if drunk and the rest of the crew lay violently sick in the bottom of the wagon.
Believing they had snacked on a familiar water plant the voyageurs called "Queue de Rat," the French-Canadians had eaten an extremely toxic water plant called Water-Hemlock.
It could easily have killed them, but Anderson sprang into action and using the simple medicines he had available sat the fort, he saved the lives of his men.

There were few medicines available at Fort Alexandria, and in this case Anderson probably used Tartar emetic, a colourless and poisonous salt that induced vomiting.
Other medicines in his possession were equally simple -- dysentery, diarrhea and other stomach problems were treated with jalap, calomel, powdered rhubarb, or cream of tartar.
For coughs, colds, vomiting or general pains, Anderson used emetics or purgatives, ointments, poultices, or bleeding.
Over the his years in charge of the post, he treated a number of ailments -- some patients survived, and some did not, but Anderson took his responsiblities as a doctor seriously and corresponded regularly with the doctor at Fort Vancouver.

From Reel 1M619, HBCA, B.223/d/93, Vancouver Fort Account Book 1836-7, here is a list of the Columbia District medicines --
Sulphuric Acid, Aromatic Acid, Nitrous Acid, Nitric Acid, Distilled Acetic Acid, Camphorated Acid, Citric Acid, Muriatic Acid, Oxalic Acid, Tartaric Acid.
Alcohol, Alocs [?], Alum, Ammonia Carbonate, Ammonia Subcarbonate, Ammonia Subcarbonate solution, Ammonia Muriate, Ammonia Spirits, Ammomacum.
Tartrate of Antimony, Butter of Antimony, Antimonial Powder [and then there's a few I can't read].
Belladona Leaves, Borax, Camphor Gum, Cardamon seeds, Chamomile flower, Charcoal Powder, Chalk (prepared), Cicuta Powder, Cuchona Bark, Sulphate of Copper.
Powdered Digitalis, Digitalis leaves, Ether Rectified, Gentian extract, Ginger root and powder, Arabic Gum, Iodine, Iron carbonate, Iron Sulphate, Iron Red Oxide.
Lavender comp. spirits, Lead Acetate, Powdered linseed, Liquorice Extract and root, Magnesium calc..., Magnesium carbonate, Magnesium sulphate.
Manganese Powder, Mazercon root, Myrrh and tincture of Myrrh, Mercury, Almon Oil, Croton oil, Carob oil.
Volatile Oregonium, bergamot, cloves, casia.
Ointments of Calamine, Cataccous, Cauthurides, Cotric, Mercurial.
Opium in various forms, Potash in various forms, Plaster Court, Mercurial, Ammonium, etc.
Prussian blue, Sulphate Quinine, Rhubarb Powder, Sarsaparella Root, Meadow saffron, Senna leaves, Spanish soap.
Soda, Carbonate, sulphate, solution of chlorate.
Burnt sponge, strychnine, Sassafras Root, Turlingtons Balsam, Oil of Turpentine, Valerian extract, Yellow and white wax, Zinc in plates, zinc oxide, Peppermint extract.

Medicines for scurvy were: antiscorbutics such as red cabbage in vinegared Pickle, essence of Malt, lemon crystals, sauerkraut, cranberries, vegetables.
But with all this primitive medicine, it appears they had the smallpox vaccination! Amazing!

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