George McGuire Catches a Bad Cold
The doctors in early Union City, including Dr. Alfred Carter Sherwood, often worked in conjunction with midwives and herb doctors like Aunty McGuire and Aunt Nancy Range who traveled Erie and Warren Counties doctoring people. Aunt Nancy Range who is related to the Union City Thompsons rode circuit in Warren and Erie Counties, sometimes spending weeks at the homes of her patients.
Arch Bristow tells the story of Aunt Nancy Range in his Old Time Tales of Warren County. He also provides an amusing window into one of the pioneer remedies for a bad cold in another story, this time from the life of Aunty Lucretia McGuire. When someone in hardy pioneer families like the Grays and Thompsons came down with a cold, there were no handy over the counter remedies. People had to rely on themselves and on herb doctors like Aunt Nancy Range and Aunty McGuire to help them get better.
Aunty McGuire’s husband, George McGuire as she called him, had come down with a bad cold and had spent at least three days in bed with it. He refused her offer to give him a hemlock sweat and “provoked her to the point of unrighteous indignation,” as she put it.
In Aunty McGuire’s experience, hemlock sweats always worked. She would take a batch of fresh hemlock twigs, the lighter green of the new growth being the best, and line the bottom of a wash tub with the twigs. Next, she would pour boiling water over the twigs to leach the oil out of the hemlock. The fragrance of hemlock penetrating the house assured her that the water had liberated the oil.
As soon as the water in the tub had cooled enough to be comfortable, Aunty McGuire would sit the patient in the tub on a stool with his feet in the hot water. Then she would take a heavy blanket and wrap it around him so that it would come out over the edge of the tub and keep in the steam. As Aunty McGuire succinctly put it, “You make kind of a one pole circus tent out of him and just leave his head out at the top.”
Aunty McGuire’s Hemlock Sweat Remedy
Aunty McGuire’s hemlock sweat remedy worked on her other patients, but her husband George McGuire wouldn’t stay in the bath long enough to sweat out his cold. The longest George McGuire would stay in the bath was ten minutes. It took at least half an hour or better to thoroughly sweat out a cold, so Aunty McGuire had to come up with a scheme to keep her husband in the bath.
She used her blackberry cordial as bait to entice him to agree to sit in the bath for ten minutes. Then while he was out milking she slipped a half mile down the road to the house of Sister Potts who had a lady from the West visiting her. Aunt McGuire stayed for five minutes arranging for George McGuire’s hemlock sweat.
Aunty McGuire Prepares George for the Remedy
An hour after supper she pulled down the curtain, got out the wash tub and set it in the kitchen close to the stove. She suggested to George McGuire that they let the fire go out in the setting room and keep the kitchen warm for her geraniums. He agreed because that meant less wood to cut and he liked to sit in the kitchen so close to the pantry.
By the time Aunty McGuire poured the boiling water on the hemlock, the kitchen was warm and steamy. She had George McGuire take off his clothes and sit in the tub and firmly pinned the blanket on him. He had been in about five minutes and was stirring purposefully when a knock came at the door and in stepped Mrs. Potts and her friend from the West.
George McGuire is Trapped
Showing her guests to the kitchen, Aunty McGuire told Mrs. Potts and her friend that the sitting room fire was out but the kitchen was warm. She assured them that George McGuire was covered up perfectly respectable. “You can’t see anything of him but his bald head,” she said. The ladies settled themselves comfortably by the kitchen fire. Every twenty minutes Aunty McGuire opened a crack in her husband’s blanket and poured in more hot water.
Aunty McGuire had George McGuire right where she wanted him and she could see that he was angry. The blanket trembled and his face grew redder than her geraniums, but he couldn’t move and he was too ashamed to complain. If the company had just been Mrs. Potts he might have moved, but the lady from the West kept him in the bath. Aunty McGuire gave him a good three quarters of an hour while she sat and visited with her guests, adding fresh hot water right along. Finally she winked at Sister Potts and Sister Potts and her guest from the West departed.
George McGuire is Cured
Aunty McGuire got George McGuire out of the blanket and into a warm night shirt and then to bed with a few hot soap stones. She took in his steaming hot blackberry cordial and watched him drink it. According to Aunty McGuire he dropped right off to sleep and in the morning his cold had disappeared.
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