Newly Acquired 19th-Century Title on Botanical Medicine

Our most notable recent acquisition to the Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine is William Kelley Frohawk Fryer’s Indian guide to health, or a treatise on the cure of various diseases, by vegetable medicines, &c., published at Indianapolis in 1839.

Fryer was born in North Carolina in 1815. During his travels through the Southern and Western states, he acquired a knowledge of botanic medical practice from the Native American peoples he encountered, the so-called “pow wow” doctors he visited among the Pennsylvania Germans, and other sources. In his introductory remarks Fryer states, “From what experience I now have concerning the medical use of herbs, I am ultimately convinced that nature’s wide garden produces medicine sufficient to remove any disease in any country, or climate which said diseases visited, if it were known.” By 1837 Fryer had settled in Indianapolis, where he published the fruits of his years of studying botanic medicinals.

The Indian guide to health may be divided into two parts. The first consists of fifteen numbered sections, the first eight of which are devoted to the anatomy of the female organs of generation, conception, and midwifery. The remaining sections discuss the origins, signs and treatment of several diseases or classes of disease, including consumption, fevers, “fits,” venomous bites and stings, liver disease, dyspepsia, and asthma. The second part consists of “receipts” or recipes for the domestic preparation of syrups, powders, pills, ointments, cordials, waters and tinctures for the treatment of a more extensive range of maladies – from tooth ache to venereal disease.  “Dr. W.K.F. Fryer,” as he styled himself, also prepared his own line of botanic remedies, which may be ordered through the mails.


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