Yesterday’s medicine

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Farm Forum

During South Dakota’s social experiment with prohibition from 1917 to 1935, alcohol for medicinal purposes was legal and it was dispensed in drug stores.

An entrepreneur in Roberts County decided he’d dispense alcohol that he claimed was a cure for rheumatism.

Once word got around, a large majority of the men living in the northeast corner of South Dakota came down with some pretty bad cases of the rheumatism.

His “sanitarium” was doing a land office business. There was always a line of males awaiting treatment. But the good “doctor” was arrested in 1921 and a Roberts County jury found him guilty of violating our state’s prohibition law.

Drug stores in the state were the most common dispensers of liquor needed for medicinal purposes. In fact, in 1931, the State Legislature passed a law that approved drug stores approved for dispensing alcohol to advertise that fact.

The South Dakota law limited the quantity of drug store prescription liquor to a pint every ten days for each patient. In 1929, there were 58 drug stores in the state authorized to issue liquor prescriptions.

And issue liquor prescriptions they did. Records show the total liquor medications included 1,193 gallons of alcohol, 172 gallons of brandy, 83 gallons of wine and 3,063 gallons of whiskey.

Patients whom doctors felt required that form of medication were very happy in 1929.

Of course, anyone could purchase the so-called patient medications that drug stores carried. Most of those were made with at least 50 percent alcohol. No prescriptions were need.

Today’s prescription medications, that actually work, don’t have the fancy, exciting names that yesterday’s patent medicines had.

After the Civil War, with so many veterans coming west and catching all sorts of hacking coughs and aches and pains, the popular cure all was “Shiloh’s Cure,” named after a famous Civil War battle.

Vitalizer was a good thing to buy since it cured almost everything, including consumption, loss of appetite, dizziness and all symptoms of dyspepsia. You could get a well-laced bottle of it for as little as ten cents.

If you really had all the symptoms of dyspepsia, you’d want to get the super sized alcohol-based kind for 75 cents.

To appeal to German settlers there was a medication named S. Jacobs Oil. It advertised itself as a great German remedy for pain, rheumatism, neuralgia and sciatica, but in a pinch would also cure sore throats, swelling, sprains, bruises, burns, scalds and frostbite.

Tutt’s Pills bragged that for 25 years it had been used for symptoms of Torpid Liver, whatever that was. A medication known as Pastille advertised itself as the “radical cure for nervous debility.”

And every spring in eastern South Dakota, a doctor made a tour, setting up for a few days in hotels in the little towns, where he claimed he could cure what was then called “kidney gravel.”

It was only later that we started calling them kidney stones.

Write the author at cfcecil@swiftel.net.