I remember when he (Bob) told me about the time his Mom and Dad were with Chief Eagle Eye's Medicine Show. The Chief was a real, full-blooded Indian from around Cherokee, North Carolina and when he appeared onstage to make his pitch, he dressed like an Indian Chief, complete with headdress, buckskin clothes and moccasins.

Bob said that he didn't know why the Chief was named Eagle Eye because he couldn't see ten feet in front of himself as a result of smoking too many peace pipes and drinking fire water. He said that the old Chief made his own Elixir and snake oil. He and his squaws would mix the concoctions in a wash tub.

For the spring tonic, or Elixir, they would first put in five gallons of water, then a quarter of an ounce of oil of anise, to give it a kind of licorice flavor and a couple packs of egg dye to provide an orange color and then, five pounds of Epsom salts.

The Chief would say, "Do you feel dizzy and nauseated in the morning, feel weak and run down by noon, no energy? If you do, my friends what you need is a bottle of my Elixir. It is good for colds, runny noses, headaches and that tired, run down feeling. My Elixir is also an excellent spring tonic. I guarantee that it will put pep in your step and width in your stride or I will refund your money. Be sure to shake the bottle well before you take it."
Bob said, "After taking three tablespoons full at bedtime, early the next morning you had better put pep in your step and width in your shoes on the way to the outhouse, or you would nasty your britches before you got there."

As for the Chiefs snake oil, he would take a couple of gallons of kerosene, add some dry powdered mustard and some eucalyptus oil and bottle it in small bottles. He would then attach a label with a picture of a rattlesnake and the words
'Snake Oil.'


He used to say "Back on the reservation, my people never suffered from corns, callouses, bunions or ingrown toenails because every time they washed their feet they put a few drops of snake oil on their feet and rubbed it in. Is there anybody out there that has a corn that is bothering them?"

Several of the marks would raise their hands. The Chief would pick one out and have him come up to the stage and sit down in a chair. Then he would say "Are you from around these parts?" and the mark would answer, "Yep, I live up in Possum Holler, " or some other place around town. Then the Chief would ask his name. After he told his name, the Chief would ask him which toe was hurting and the mark would start to take off his shoe. The Chief would stop him and say, "That won't be necessary, leave your shoes on."

The mark would point to the toe with the corn on it and the Chief would bend down and put a few drops of his snake oil on the shoe over where the corn was.

Now, owing to the fact that back then, the upper part of the shoes that people wore were leather, the kerosene was quickly absorbed into the leather, softening it and taking pressure off the corn and numbed it to a certain degree. In a minute or so, the pain eased off.

The Chief would then tell the crowd as he held up the small bottle of snake oil, "Thousands of people have tried my snake oil and paid five dollars a bottle for it, but today, just to get a few of you people to try it, I'm going to have my wife and daughter pass a limited amount of bottles out at only two dollars and fifty cents each. That's half price. There will be a ten minute intermission before the next show begins. In the meantime, you can get candy apples, popcorn, cotton candy, orange juice, hot dogs or have your picture taken. 'You never know how you look until you get your picture took.' You can get three photos for a quarter at our photo booth next door to the hot dog stand."

Bob recalled that back then, there were hundreds of medicine shows on the road who peddled everything from corn medicine to hair growing shampoos. The folks in the small towns and communities that didn't have a theater welcomed them with open arms because it was the only form of entertainment that they had.

To be Continued



Posted here courtesy of Midway Publications - Copyright 1999 William T. Usher All rights reserved


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