Jackson County, Illinois

Herbs in Jackson County

    When visiting a local pharmacy, one can find an assortment of drugs to "cure" any ailment.  There are many varieties of pain relievers, such as aspirin and Advil.  Have a cold, there are single and multiple symptom drugs available.  For coughing you might try a suppressant or an expectorant.  Laxatives cane be found in mineral oil or plant compounds.  When feeling a bit under the weather, drinking a cup of herbal tea can help you sleep or perk you up.  We are just as likely to visit a pharmacy and us self medication as to call a physician, just as the early settlers of Jackson County did during the 1840's.  They did not have the convenience of a pharmacy but their drugs were handy, in some cases even more to than yours.  Generally the pioneer only had to step outside to find his remedies, sometimes they were right on his windowsill.  Jackson County settlers suffered a variety of diseases and ailments in which they and their doctors, if called, used home remedies for the treatment of disease during the 1840's.

    The western side of Jackson county boarders the Mississippi river. This area can be divided into the upper bottoms with lakes and ponds; and the lower bottoms with swamps and glades.  The central and eastern areas were the high timber ridges and considered to be healthier places.  The upper and lower bottoms were noted to have a considerable amount of sickness.(1)  This was due to the hardship of the area, poor housing, a change in diet and being over worked, not to mention all the water. (2)  These difficulties as well as others added the problems of diseases.  When the Mississippi river flooded in 1844, the health risks were compounded. (3) So when disease struck, pioneers turned to home remedies for cures.

    Some diseases which affected other areas of America didn't have much of an impact on Jackson county residents.  Typhus fever was not seen at all in the county until the 1870's. (4) Erysipelas, a disease known as black tongue, was due to the strep bacteria.  This disease was related to scarlet fever and rheumatism.  While there were epidemics in the state during 1843-44, it did not seem to affect the area. (5)  Mosquitoes which carried yellow fever were found in southern Illinois, but there were no outbreaks in the area until 1878 in Cairo. (6)

    Smallpox was present in the state from 1840 onward.  According to Hirsch, everywhere that European immigrants went, they carried the disease.  New outbreaks were traced to Negro slaves imported from Africa.  Although there were many immigrants and a few slaves in the area, there were no reported cases of smallpox until the 1860's. (7).  Cases of pneumonia and influenza were to hard to separate, since their symptoms are so similar.  There was an epidemic of influenza in the area in 1843.  In 1849, a theory was put forth that gaseous emissions from school stoves was the cause. (8)  Influenza was also called the summer complaint and it affected children many times.  One treatment was to place yellow wooden beads around the child's neck to keep the fever from going to the brain. (9)  Pneumonia was treated with a poultice of chicken manure and lard. (10)  Diphtheria was a childhood disease which caused respiratory problems.  According to several sources, including Ben Fox, a bag of asafetida was tied around the neck.  (11)  Gun powder in a glass of warm water was also a sure cure. (12)   

    In other areas consumption was a very big problem especially in the city due to over crowding, but it was unknown in Jackson county at least until the 1850's. (13)  Lung troubles of any nature could be cured with a tea of butterfly weed or pleurisy root.  Drinking warm fresh blood was also thought to bring relief. (14)  Scarlet fever or putrid sore throat was caused by a strep bacteria but without antibiotics, settlers had to rely on their own remedies.  In 1847, a malignant form of Scarlet fever, hit Murphysboro.  According to Daniel Brush, a settler in the area, children were hardest hit.  His own son and daughter became ill.  The boy became chilly and cold then developed problems in his throat and lungs.  The girl only had a high fever.  After trying to treat them, a Dr Wall was called.  He prescribed that both children be kept cool due to having a fever type disease.  This helped the little girl but the boy developed an obstruction in his lungs and throat which led to croup.  With a windpipe so clogged with phlegm, the child choked to death.  Apparently the family was to happy with Dr Wall's treatments and a Dr. Sams was called to the little girl, she survived the disease, (15).  Some settlers used ragweed teas for Scarlet Fever. (16)

    Typhoid fever was difficult to differentiate from other fevers.  Some writers do not mention typhoid fever but it was known in the state as early as 1845.  The cause was unknown but many believed it came from malaria. (17)  Dog fennel, a type of mayweed, was used to treat the fever. (18)  Dysentery or diarrhea was a problem striking young and old.  The theories on the causes were numerous.  Many felt it was the air, that smells of decaying animal and vegetable matter contributed to this "bad air".  Another "cause" of dysentery was lack of woolen underwear or extra blankets at night,  no one thought of contaminated water or food. (19).  Treatment was from domestic medications and to refrain from eating.  If it became serious a doctor was called.


  1. Ocie Lybarger, Everyday Life on the Southern Illinois Frontier (Carbondale, IL. np. 1951), 81.
  2. William Pooley, The Settlement of Illinois From 1830-1850, disc, University, 1905 (Ann Arbor, MI: Xerox, 1968), 543.
  3. Edmund Newsome, Historical Sketches of Jackson County, Illinois (1894; reprint, Carbondale, IL; Jackson County Historical Society, 1897), 17.
  4. Isaac Rawlings, The Rise and Fall of Disease in Illinois, Vol. 1 (Springfield, IL: Illinois State Dept. of Public Health, 1927), 47.
  5. Rawlings, Vol. 1, p52.
  6. Ibid, p46.
  7. Ibid, p50.
  8. Ibid, p64.
  9. Vance Randolph, Ozark Superstitions (New York: Dover Publisher, 1964), 154.
  10. Ibid, p94.
  11. Ben Fox, "Folk Medicine in Southern Illinois," Illinois Folklore 2 (1948): 4..
  12. Randolph, p94.
  13. John K. Crellin, Health and Medicine in Central and Southern Pioneer Illinois, (Springfield, IL; Dept of Medical Humanities, 1977), 19.
  14. Randolph, p94.
  15. Author, Growing Up With Southern Illinois 1820-1861: The Memoirs of Daniel H Brush, Milo Milton Quaife (Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1944), 148.
  16. Elmer Roberts, Plants and Other Home Remedies, Signs and Superstitions of Early Illinois Settlers (np. 1982), 2.
  17. Rawlings Vol. 1, p78.
  18. Roberts, p3.
  19. Lybarger, p92.

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