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As It Was-Miners and Settlers Depend on Homemade Remedies

Homemade remedies substituted for medicines in mining camps and early settlers’ homes.  The Van Matre family of Trinity County concocted a variety of remedies.

For colds, the Matres used mountain balm, onions, or a syrup made of horehound, a strong smelling, hairy plant of the mint family.

Turpentine mixed with lard or bear oil was rubbed on a rheumy chest, but with care to children to avoid burning and blistering tender skin.  Bear oil was also used for cleaning guns.

Kerosene dripped onto some sugar was often given for severe coughs.  Cornstarch was used like talcum powder, and mutton tallow applied to babies’ bottoms or rough, chapped hands.  The tallow contained some lanolin, a modern-day lotion.  A ‘sugar-tit’ to pacify fussy babies was made from sugar wrapped in cloth.

Poultices were applied to wounds, especially those that didn’t heal; bread soaked in milk was a mild remedy; creamed brown sugar and brown soap made a stronger one; and one Van Matre father used a feather to apply carbolic acid mixed with sweet oil. 


Source: Children of John and Bertha Van Matre. “The Van Matres: History of And Life On the Van Matre Ranch.” Trinity, 1961. pp. 4-20.

Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.