Mountain Medicine

In the early 1800’s it was generally believed that illness and disease were caused by an accumulation of “poisons” in the body, and that if these poisons could be eliminated, the patient would recover their health.

bloodlettingThere were three main therapeutic principles for treatment of disease:

1.  Bleeding by opening a vein or use of leeches
2.  Purging the gastrointestinal system with laxatives, emetics (agents which cause vomiting) and enemas
3.  Sweating or blistering

laxative2Gastric and intestinal disorders were an everyday occurrence in these times because of poor sanitation, and poor food handling practices.

People who lived in the 18th and early 19th Centuries were largely helpless in the matter of health. They lived in constant dread of sudden death from disease, plague, epidemic, pneumonia, or accident.

letter2Their letters always began and usually ended with assurances of the good health of the letter writer, a query about the health of the recipient, and a wish for continuing good health for all.

Most doctors during this period learned their trade through apprenticeship and started as young as 15 years of age. Since, at the time, this was considered “middle age” it puts things in perspective. Most physicians opened their practices without the benefits of any degree or advanced training. Licensing of physicians was sporadic and medical practices were never inspected.

quackdoctorQuacks and charlatans practiced virtually unchecked.  Distrust of physicians ran high during these times, and often those afflicted with illness would attempt their own treatments medicine manthrough folk medicine or Indian remedies before resorting to “professional care.”

The Mountain Men, although experiencing all manner of wounds, lacerations, hypothermia and the like, may have had more successful recoveries from some illnesses, precisely because they lacked access to “professional” medical care.


Lewis_Clark2The list below provides the content of The Lewis and Clark Expedition’s medicine chest:

Assafoetida,
Basilicum Ointment, Benzoin,
Calamine, Cinnamon, Cloves, Copaiboe, Cream of Tarter,
Emplast, Epispastric,
Glauber Salts, Gum Camphor, Gum Elastic,
Ipecac,
Jalap,
Laudanum, Lead Acetate,
Magnesia, Mercury Ointment,
Nutmeg,
Opium,
Peruvian bark,
Root Colombo, Rhubarb, Rush Pills (Thunderbolts),
Saltpeter, Sulfate, Sulfuric Acid,
Tarter Emetic, Tragacanth,
White vitriol, Wintergreen

Old Ephraim

loganTucked away in the fertile Cache Valley of northern Utah, and less than an hour away from The Bear Lake Rendezvous, lies the agricultural college community of Logan. It was here that trappers scurried through the surrounding mountains and valleys hunting beaver and other fur-bearing animals. They “cached” their pelts in secretive locations then “cashed” in their bootie at the yearly “Vous.”zenasleonardmonument

Zenas Leonard describes the following encounter between two trappers and a grizzly bear in September of 1831 while trapping along the Laramie River:laramieriver

 “They had meandered the creek till they came to beaver dams, where they set their traps and turned their horses out to pasture; and were busily engaged in constructing a camp to pass the night in, when they discovered, at a short distance off, a tremendously large Grizzly Bear,oldephraimencounter rushing upon them at a furious rate. They immediately sprang to their rifles which were standing against a tree hard-by, one of which was single and the other double triggered; unfortunately in the hurry, the one that was accustomed to the single trigger, caught up the double triggered gun, and when the bear came upon him, not having set the trigger, he could not get his gun off; and the animal approaching within a few feet of him, he was obliged to commence beating it over the head with his gun. oldephraimhunt


Bruin, thinking this rather rough usage, turned his attention to the man with the single triggered gun, who, in trying to set the trigger (supposing he had the double triggered gun) had fired it off, and was also obliged to fall to beating the ferocious animal with his gun; finally, it left them without doing much injury, except tearing the sleeve off one of their coats and biting him through the hand.”

jedsmith2The following is an account of an encounter Captain Jedediah Smith, also with a grizzly bear.

In a brushy river bottom, while the trappers were leading their horses in single file, a grizzly charged into the line and lumbered toward the front. Jedediah Smith challenged the bear. By the time they drove the bear off Smith was sprawled on the ground bleeding.

jimclymanClyman, the second in command, checked the Captain over. Old Ephraim had broken several of his ribs. He had gotten Jedediah’s head into his mouth. The left eye was gashed. His skull near the crown was stripped bare. The right ear was hanging by a thread. Everyone stood around as Clyman asked Smith what should be done. The Captain said, “One or two go for water. Get a needle and thread and sew up the wounds around my head.

Clyman figured that if Smith, bleeding profusely, had enough gumption to give instructions, then he had enough to stitch him up. He floundered and fretted, Smith coaching him all the way. Finally he managed to sew the edges of the wounds back together except for the severed ear. He said he couldn’t do anything about it. “Stitch it together some way”, said Smith. Clyman looked, hesitated, and began to poke the needle through the various edges and pull the thread tight enough that flesh would touch flesh.

Smith crawled on his horse and rode a mile to water, and then let the men install him in the only tent. In ten days he was ready to ride. The scarred ear, the missing eyebrow, and the scalp scars would clearly stay with him the rest of his life.


grizzly3“Old Ephraim” is the Mountain Man name for Grizzly Bear.  The bear who truly owned the name was an infamous 1,100 pound beast, also known as “Old Three Toes.” The nickname was given by sheephearders due to a deformity on one foot of the grizzly.  Old Ephraim had a hearty appetite for sheep, cattle, and big game and was the last grizzly bear known to roam Utah.  His reign was from 1911 until his death on August 22, 1923.

Frank clarkFrank Clark shot Old Ephraim in the head on 8/22/1923 with a .25-35 carbine rifle. It reportedly took all seven rounds to kill the bear. At the time of his death, Old Ephraim stood 10 feet (3.0 m) tall. oldephraimskulls

OLD EPHRAIM’S SKULL WHILE ON DISPLAY

His skull was first sent to The Smithsonian and later returned for display in the Special Collections section of the Utah State University library in Logan, Utah. The skull has also been on display at The National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho.

Oldephraim1Boy Scouts placed a pile of stones over the bear’s remains. Later, an 11-foot tall stone monument, designed by Max Arthur and Howard Jorgensen, was placed at the grave site. This memorial was dedicated on 9/23/1996. Two plaques were placed. One was a poem that reads: “Old Ephraim, Old Ephraim, Your deeds were so wrong yet we build you this marker and sing you this song. To the king of the forest so mighty and tall, we salute you, old Ephraim the king of them all.”


From The Mountain Biker’s Guide to Utah, By Gregg Bromka:

oldephraimsignThe ride to Old Ephraim’s grave is a 20-mile loop rolling through the northern Wasatch Range, following dirt roads, jeep roads, and a touch of singletrack for bikers. The loop commences with several miles of moderate climbing up Cowley Canyon, followed by more climbing, at times rough and steep, to the upper trailhead for Ricks Canyon.oldephraimmap2

The Great Western Trail passes through here on its 3,000-mile course from Canada to Mexico. As the loop circles north, it winds through thick groves of aspens separated by lush meadows. At this point and over your shoulder is a grand view of the central Wasatch Range as it fades into the distant south from Ogden to Salt Lake City.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Mountain Men – Myths and Legends

As a small and unique cultural subset of the U.S. population in the early 1800’s, Mountain men distinguished themselves by forging into the wilderness between St. Louis and California. They mapped the rivers and mountains, established relations with Indian populations, saw unimaginable sights, survived uncivilized conditions and experienced incredible adventures.

When the energy of the nation was focused on westward expansion, the Mountain Man was at the forefront of that expansion and consciousness.  Subsequently, who and what they were become distorted until today popular knowledge holds, as truth, multiple misconceptions. It did not help matters that Mountain Men were also masters of spinning tales.  Many an experience was embellished into a larger than life story that made it into the books of American history.

Some of these misconceptions include:

  1. Mountain men always have beards
  2. Mountain men were solitary and loners
  3. Mountain men softened their leather by first chewing it
  4. Mountain men cheated the Indians by trading worthless trinkets for valuable furs
  5. Mountain men were illiterate

What are some myths/legends  you may have heard? Post them on our face book page.