The Wild West Doctors And Their Shocking Treatments

Imagine a typical ordinary day in the Old West. Saloon fights, shootings, bandits, robberies, stagecoaches, mining accidents, diseases...And I’m mentioning these without much thinking, my dear! The way of life and the conditions of the Wild West were definitely risky. 

And when something bad—like the above—happened, people would need...medical treatment! And who would treat them? 

Well, doctors of the Old West. Who were called physicians.

So today my dear, prepare to be shocked...

Doctor's Work or Devil's Work?

Of course, things were way different than they are today—and I’m grateful for that. A doctor back then could easily prescribe a mercury compound to a sick person that not only it would not help his condition, but also it would probably make the person’s teeth fall. 

That is why many people who lived back then claimed that the doctor’s work was the devil’s work. Many doctors of the Wild West performed some kind of surgery—wait for it—without anesthesia! 

People tended to be afraid of the medical treatment much more than their injury or sickness. But can we blame them?

​Any Previous Experience?

The most shocking thing I found out in my research was that most of the Frontier doctors were untrained. They had no previous medical experience or any experience at all. And just like that, they were physicians. Or to say it better, they called themselves physicians

They were self-taught and many times they performed surgery without even having seen one before in their life. Some of them had perhaps read one or two books written by healers of their previous era, but we can understand that this wasn’t a relief to anyone. Healers and druids might have known some important things about treatments, herbs and homemade medicines back then, but they weren’t scientists in any case.

Give me the Strong Stuff

Well, we can imagine that, if the majority of doctors was like that during the Frontier Era, the medicines were even worse. The patients were treated with purgatives or drugs. Their doctors claimed that purgatives would clean up their entire system, and make the sickness go away. Of course, the sickness didn’t bother...

The other option back then was drugs. Strong, powerful medicines that caused the patient dizziness, delusions, trembling and numbness. Those drugs were also very expensive. A single ounce of each could cost more than a horse, or a cow back then. Quinine or Ipecac were especially wanted. Most of the time, the effect of the drugs wasn’t the patient’s cure.

​Other Treatments

It was strongly believed that strong-smelling and vile-tasting were also very effective treatments. Drinking sulfur, for example, was considered to do good in everything. Instead of drinking milk, for example, people of the Western Era were drinking sulfur or other strong stuff.

Steam or frozen baths, weird diets and Indian herbs were also widely popular. Very few of them actually helped the sick people though. 

And now it’s time to tell you about the famous calomel!

It was the drug made of mercury that was supposed to cleanse the patient’s system, but also had another effect…It made the patient’s teeth fall. 

Bloodletting or just bleeding was another treatment method. It was thought something like purging. The patient should let the disease flow through his blood.

Medical Equipment

Homemade bandages, knives and alcohol  would easily be found in a physician’s bag. Alcohol was thought to be a very good painkiller and was offered to the patients in any case. It didn’t matter what you had—it did matter what you drunk. Whiskey in most cases. What else?!

​Surgeries, Because "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger"

A “physician” would perform “surgery” everywhere. At the kitchen table, at the saloon, at home. Many times, his tools were rusty or not cleaned properly, but still, he would perform the surgery. 

Needless to say that except for alcohol, there wasn’t any painkiller available back then. Therefore, a patient had to suffer the surgery without any anesthesia at all.

​Shocking Medical Cases

In my research, I found examples of real experiences in the Old Western medical treatments. Among others, I was shocked to read about:

  • A Caesarean section by an untrained physician who had never even seen one before, without anesthesia. The mother survived, but the child didn’t make it.
  • A 25-minute operation without anesthetics in which the physician managed to remove a 22-pound tumor from a woman’s abdomen.

Post Morten...Experiments

There were many cases in which physicians were examining the bodies of deceased people, in order to know the human body and understand its remarkable functions and organs.  

It is kind of ghoulish, but back in those days, there wasn’t any other way to explore and discover human anatomy and the miracle of the human organism. That was how anatomy and biology were developed after all.

Concluding...

In conclusion, we may say “good old times”  when talking about the Old Western Era ,sweetie, but the truth is that when it came to medical treatments things were terrible—and terrifying, if you ask me!

Thank you for being here with me once again! I appreciate your love and support! 

I would love to hear your thoughts once again! So please feel free to share them with me! You know how! 😉

Written by Cassidy Hanton

  • WILCIE MULL says:

    Spring time dose of castor oil was to cleanse the system, and so was sassafras tea was also good. We couldn’t drink milk when we ate fish, don’n know why. They amputated limbs and buried the part so it could be buried with the body later. My grandfather had his leg dug up and buried with him when he finally past.

  • Elisabeth says:

    UPS sounds really grizzly

  • Melanie Landgraf says:

    I was aware of a lot of the treatments and surgeries you have mentioned here, but not the use of mercury. There were however, many plant based remedies that were learned from the Indians of the area. Some of which brought temporary relief. As you have shared, there were many treatments used that contributed to the person’s demise. Surgery was brutal back then!

  • Sandra says:

    This is a good reason not to develop time travel.

  • Ann says:

    Very interesting. I think I would have headed for the nearest Indian Medicine Man. Thanks for the tidbits.

  • Gwen says:

    This is informative just think about all the training that doctors and nurses have to these days

  • Linda says:

    Ya medical care and surgery was terrifying back then! I wouldn’t have made it because of all the layers of clothes and corsets the ladies wore.

  • carol sotosky says:

    I can’t imagine what those patients went threw!!

  • Irene Gray says:

    All I can say is “Ouch!!” How awful to endure & indeed much less than to survive such bizarre treatments. As for the examining of deceased bodies, a particularly grim study, it definitely served a real purpose in that physicians did begin to understand how the wondrous human body functioned.

  • I’m glad I didn’t live in those days. No wonder the life expectancy was so short.

  • Elizabeth M says:

    So many things about those bygone eras are horrifying. Living conditions for the majority were very depressing. I can’t stand wearing the same pair of underwear the next day, even if I’m experiencing an emergency! That’s way I always carry my “earthquake” kit in my car, or when I was working, kept one in my office as well. I always had a weeks worth of underwear LOL And roll(s) of toilet paper! I could go on, but you get my drift!

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