Fremont County, Iowa

Country Doctors and Home Remedies
by Sherry Perkins

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of September 23, 2013

In the early days of Fremont County, doctors made house calls to deliver babies and to treat the sick and injured. One could travel by horse and buggy or walk to town to see him, but chances were, he would be on a house call. Lack of telephones hindered knowing if he would be available to see you.

Enter cod liver oil, sassafras and ginger teas, sulfur, goose grease, mustard plasters etc. Home remedies were a necessary part of a mother's responsibility. For a sore throat, you rubbed the throat with lard, applied a strip of raw bacon and wrapped the throat in flannel. Warm salt water was gargled as well. Coughs were treated by a mixture of honey, vinegar and butter. One mother crushed chopped onion and sprinkled sugar over it and had her children swallow a teaspoon for coughs. Olive oil was warmed and dropped into the ear for earache or warm cigarette smoke was blown into the ear.

For the common cold, goose grease was always warm and ready on the back burner of the wood stove. It was applied to the chest as were mustard plasters. For those, women mixed flour, water and mustard and applied it directly to the chest with a warmed flannel cloth over it. Some used a mix of lard, turpentine and camphor, heating it and rubbing on the chest. How great everyone smelled!

An internal remedy for a bad cold was a mixture of one tablespoon of hot water, a dollop of butter and a shot of whisky which you drank. A spoonful of castor oil mixed with red pepper, sugar and water also worked.


Bleeding was stopped by packing the wound with spider webs. Burns were treated with butter or salve from the traveling Watkins or McNess man. The itching from chicken pox was relieved by a slice of bread soaked in milk and applied to affected areas. Lard was rubbed on aching joints and a colicky baby given whiskey mixed with sugar.

Most turn of the century communities had a much loved and respected doctor they turned to in times of need. Randolph, Iowa, depended on their Dr. Kerr and Dr. Piper while nearby Tabor, had the faithful Dr. Miller. In later years, Dr. Rodabaugh served the area with dedication to his profession and the community. Dr. James Lovelady, Dr. Ralph Lovelady, Dr. John N. Penn, Dr. Murchison and Dr. J. Venable were early doctors in Sidney. Thurman residents relied on Dr. Cole. The Hamburg community had the first woman doctor, Dr. Sarah C. Taylor. A Dr. Cyrus Hoover also practiced in Hamburg.

And let's not forget the midwives and herbal healers who treated our early Fremont County residents. If there is a doctor's Hall of Fame, the names of those mentioned above would be on the roster.

Source: Information was taken from "Pages from the Pastil" published by Tabor Manor Care Center in 1979, Fremont County History Books, old newspapers, old cookbooks, and family recollections.

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau