Shelby County Historical Society

February & March, 2018 Newsletter


February Meeting

Barbara McClellan

Maggie Casto, Barbara McClellan, Gail Sholar


The Shelby County Historical Society hosted the first monthly meeting of 2018 on February 20th at the museum. The meeting was opened with prayer and pledges to the flags by Teddy Hopkins. He then called upon Ann Bowen to introduce this month’s program presenters. Maggie Casto, William Carroll Crawford Chapter of the Daughter of the Republic of Texas, then welcomed everyone to the meeting and explained that the program would be on “Early Frontier Medicine.” The chapter has what is called the Traveling Trunk which has a wide variety of items pioneers would have used daily during the time of the Republic (1836--2/19/1846). The Chapter shares this information with schools, civic groups or any place that will let them come in and explain early daily life in Texas history. Barbara McClellan took it upon herself to develop information on frontier medicine to show how pioneers managed to stay alive by using trees, plants, herbs, and items around them to treat various illnesses.

The Indians had a lot of information to share on early medicine. For hundreds of years Indians practiced home remedy medicine from herbs, plants, trees; you name it, that they used in treating illnesses. When the settlers came, some of the friendly Indians helped the pioneers. The most important thing was some of the settlers came prepared. These are the ones who survived.

Barbara started her information on frontier medicine with plants. An example of some of the plants used were dandelion roots to make a tea. Many of the parts of other plants were used to make a tea and there were different cures for different types of plants. The dandelion roots were used for an antibacterial, for anemia and the root could also be chewed for a bladder infection.

Wood ash was always available, and it would be added to some water, mixed and then drank for diarrhea. Diarrhea in those days was very dangerous especially to the young children. Another item often used was flour. You can even do this today. If you are using a knife and cut yourself, grab your flour placing a hand full on the cut and it will instantly stop the blood flow. Sugar can be also used to stop bleeding. Plain old tea was used by making a paste out of it and placing it on stings and insect bites. One thing unique about the paste is if you keep it on the bee sting, it will draw the stinger out.

The onion was a mighty thing. It could be used for many things. Onion cough syrup was one of the main items used. Recipe is peel a white or red onion, cut it into large slices, layer the slices in a sealed jar. Add brown sugar or honey on top and let sit for about 6 hours (may take longer for sugar to dissolve). Take a spoon full as needed. It is also an antihistamine. If someone is allergic to an insect sting, you can place a slice of onion on the sting and leave it on a while. It will help remove the sting and protect the person from having an allergic reaction to the sting. Onion of course is an eye irritant. What happens when you start peeling an onion? You start crying. So if you get something in your eye, start cutting an onion and your tears will wash the item out right away. Onion is also good for small burns; take a slice of onion placing on the burn and it will draw the fire out of the burn.

Mustard, plain old brown mustard, can be used as a poison antidote. Place the mustard and put it into a small glass of warm water and have the person drink it. This should make the person throw up.

One of the ways the early pioneers used plants were what was called a detoxin. The leaves, roots or bark were boiled until half of the water remained. The mixture would then be place in a jar and used as needed. Another was a tincture. It was a solution of alcohol; plant bark or root and it would be soaked completely in the alcohol for six weeks and then used. A wash was an item that was boiled for 5 minutes, then let it sit for a few hours before using.

If you feel the flu is coming on, mix cornstarch, dry mustard and baking soda together. Then get your bath water as hot as you can stand it and put the mixture in the water and soak, all the way up to your neck, for 15-20 minutes. The next morning you should feel much better.

Whiskey was another important item in every house. Of course, the men had it for one reason and the women for another. Whiskey was used as an anesthetic, antiseptic, antitoxin, and for colds. Hot toddies are whiskey, lemon juice, hot water and honey mixed together and used for colds.

Barbara then shared the important part trees had in early medicine. Some of the tree barks used were oak bark (treatment of sore throats, bleeding gums or canker sores in the mouth). Willow bark was good for constipation; as a detoxin (removed dead or diseased skin - almost as thick as a salve, placing it on the area to be treated). Walnut halves could be used as a tea for treatment of tapeworms and nervousness. Sassafras was good for so many things. The root was chewed for arthritis, upset stomach and nervousness. Peel the root and chop it into small pieces and chew it. The leaves of the sassafras could be use as a tonic to thin the blood, diuretic, arthritis, high blood pressure, bronchitis, and an antibacterial.
These are just some of the different types of plants, trees and leaves Barbara shared which were used for frontier medicine. Everyone is encouraged to attend one of the fascinating programs presented by the DRT and the Travelin’ Trunk.

The next part of the program was presented by Gail Sholar. She passed out various sheets of paper that had remedies on them. These early pioneer methods of treating illnesses were gotten from a series of books call “Firefox” which is an illustrated guide to the herbs and roots used in traditional Appalachian healing. Some of the remedies ranged from the practical (burdock tea will help aching feet) to the magical (carrying a buckeye in your pocket will help lessen arthritis).

Chigger bites: To relieve itching and infection, rub chewed snuff or tobacco over the bites. Make a mixture of butter and salt to stop itching.

Spider Bites: If bitten by a black widow spider, drink liquor heavily from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. You won't get drunk, you'll be healed.

Athlete's Foot: Wrap a wool string around the toe, or step in cow dung that is fresh.

Warts: Rub the wart with the skin of a chicken gizzard, then hide the skin under a rock. The wart will disappear.

Worms: Eat tobacco seeds. Eat a head of garlic every day until they are gone. Put three or four drops of turpentine in a teaspoon of sugar and eat it.

Bleeding: Place a spider web across the wound.

Diarrhea: Take a tea of red oak bark. Drink some blackberry juice.


March Meeting

Bill O'Neal

People attending the program

John Chisum, Frontier Cattle King 


On March 20th State Historian Bill O’Neal was the speaker at the monthly meeting of the Shelby County Historical Society.  O’Neal shared information on John Chisum and information on some of the books he had written including the “fort” book, ‘Frontier Forts of Texas.’

There were many forts in Texas starting with Spanish presidios to protect the missions, private forts such as Fort Parker but the military put more forts in Texas than any other state - about 3 dozen in all. There were no forts in east Texas, however, in the Hill County and far west Texas they were all over the place.  He stated he wanted to tell one story about the forts.

They were called fort so and so, like Fort Mason or Fort Davis. They were not fortified; no blockhouse, no stockades.  The soldiers knew the Indians; most Apaches and Kiowa would not attack a fort with soldiers.  The Indians preferred to hit homesteads and isolated ranches.  The Army didn’t worry about having a fortified fort; most were built as military towns except for one, Fort Lancaster, which was in far southwest Texas

Most of the forts were built for 2 troops but in 1867 there was but one understrength cavalry troop stationed at Fort Lancaster, only 40 men.  A detail of men took the horses to a stream to be watered and they were attacked by about 400 Indians. Only 3 of the men were killed in the initial attack.  The men with the horses made it back to the fort.

The officers got the men out and since they were Calvary the soldiers were armed with Spencer carbine.  The Spencer repeaters were a superb cavalry weapon, lever action repeating rifle that carried seven cartridges in the magazine tube and an eighth round in the chamber.   The soldiers also carried an item that is like a quiver which could hold 10 of the magazines in it.  This meant once a magazine was empty all the soldier did was eject it and ram another one in the rifle. Those 40 men armed with Spencer carbine were able to hold off the Indian attack.  This was the only time a fort was attacked.

In preparation for writing an earlier book, O’Neal stated he had gathered a great deal of information on the large ranch of John Chisum. He stated he was aware of the nearly 50 years of research about Chisum done by Harwood Hinton.  O’Neal encouraged Hinton to write a book on Chisum, but Hinton wouldn’t.  After Hinton's death in 2016, his papers were donated to the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. These papers had not been cataloged and there were 18 boxes to go through. O'Neal only had from 9-5 as they closed.

He continued with the story about Chisum.  His name was John Simpson Chisum and as a young boy he was called “Cow John” for his affinity for the cattle on his grandfather’s Tennessee plantation.  After he became an open range rancher, Chisum was plagued by rustlers so he developed a distinctive and easily recognized earmark called the “Jinglebob.”  Chisum was soon being called “Jinglebob John” and “Jinglebob Chisum.” As his herd grew he became known as the “Jinglebob King.”  He was a genial and prominent man with his New Mexico ranch stretching 200 miles along the Pecos River. His cattle holdings numbered 60,000 – 80,000.

Chisum was destined to become cow country royalty.  He began ranching at the dawn of the range cattle industry in Texas.  Within a few years his cattle numbered in the tens of thousands.  Chisum would soon own more cattle than any other individual in America.  His cattle in the West were known by their earmark rather than a brand.  He was a true pioneer looking for open range grass farther and farther toward the west.   His last ranch in New Mexico was his biggest.  He relished his role as cattle baron, serving as a gracious and generous host to one and all.

During 3 decades on the frontier, Chisum endured Indian raids, stock thievery, drought, financial reverses and murderous conflict known as the Lincoln County War which was the war involving several rival cattle barons and Billy the Kid. Chisum met every challenge head-on, hanging rustlers, taking losses of money and even entire herds (both cattle and horses) in stride, forging ahead without complaint.

After 30 years as a frontier rancher, Chisum died at the age of 60 just as his beloved open range was being fenced in by barbed wire.  John Chisum has never been forgotten in the world of ranching.

The cattle king was born in 1824 in Hardeman County, Tennessee.  John and his sister Nancy were joined by three brothers, James in 1827, Jeff in 1829, and Pitser in 1834. O'Neal mentioned all the brothers because they participate in John’s big cattle operation.

In 1837, John’s father Claiborne moved his family to Texas.  John was only 13 at this time. During these early years Chisum helped on his father’s farm, clerked in stores which he applied to a series of ranch supply stores throughout his career as a frontier cattleman.  He even decided to try polities and in 1850 ran for the office of county clerk but lost.  He ran again in 1852 and won this time.  While in office he learned a great deal about property and real estate.  John's next step was buying steer and selling them to butchers in Paris. In 1854, Chisum met a man by the name of Stephen Fowler from New Orleans. Fowler had money to invest in the new cattle business and saw possibilities, but he just didn’t know anything about cattle business.  Chisum had learned where to buy cattle cheaply and where to graze them.  A new partnership was formed.  With Fowler money, Chisum brought cattle for $6 per head with calves thrown in. Chisum bought 1,000 head of cattle for $2 a head and talked the owner into delivering the herd to him.

John’s cattle on his first ranch at Bolivar which is about 18 miles north of Denton grazed all the way to Wharton.  Also tucked away on his ranch were 11,000 head of sheep which gave 2 payoffs a year, lambs and wool.

Chisum's business model was open range not like Charles Goodnight who bought his own ranch and was reportedly the first Panhandle rancher to build fences of barbed wire.  With open range there would be no financial cost for land, except for a small plot for ranch headquarters. Cattle was cheap, grazing was free, and drovers were paid a small amount. Reproduction on the range would increase the herd at no expense. 

There were risks but Chisum found himself to be a risk-taking entrepreneur during a wide-open time in American history.  He did acquire 200 acres of land for his headquarters and built a large house and named it the “White House.” He loved to give parties and even built a special building just for dancing. 

At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Chisum had one of the largest cattle herds in Texas.  He was designated a supplier of beef for the Confederate troops.  He had no interest in fighting a war, but he had a great deal of beef to sell to soldiers.  From 1861-1863, Chisum drove cattle to Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Littlerock. He was paid $40 a head in Confederate money and at that time Confederate money was still worth something in Texas.  He put that money to work by purchasing more cattle which was how he accumulated 60,000 head. In 1864 Chisum started driving herds to Concho and Coleman counties which is out toward San Angelo.

This is just some of the information Mr. O’Neal shared on the life of John Chisum  The complete history of John Chisum can be found in O’Neal's book “John Chisum, Frontier Cattle King.”  The museum would also like to invite anyone interested in learning more about the life of John Chisum to come to the Shelby County Museum to view the CD of Mr. O’Neal’s presentation. The CD was made by our own local historian, Buster Bounds.  The museum is open Monday – Friday from 1pm until 4pm.





Memorial Donations

                                      Barbara Corbell                            Laurie Lewis Rogers                       G. W. Strong
                                        Donated by                                     Donated By                                  Donated by
                        Daughters of Republic of Texas    Shelby County Historical Commission       Charlene Kraemer
                     William Carroll Crawford Chapter


                                      Willie L. Bowen                                Sue Howard                             Elaine Weaver
                                         Donated by                                      Donated by                              Donated by
                                         Ann Bowen                                 Donna Thomason                      Marleta Childs
                                                                                             & Dawn Barnes