Chief Black Cloud and Prairie Flower

in their Rifle Shooting and Musical Specialties




Chief White (Black?) Cloud and his wife Prairie Flower

with the Oregon Indian Medicine Company

Carry PA Season of 1888




Specialties of White Lillie & Spotted Wolf


Spotted Wolf and White Lillie in Double Rifle Shooting

with the Oregon Indian Medicine Company

Pittsburg PA 1887




Brings Plenty


Sioux Indian South Dakota

Porcupine Tail Creek Pine Ridge Agency


with the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company

Through Texas New Mexico


Dr. T.C. SoRille Manager Season 1894




R.W. Tilford

Manager Kickapoo Medicine Company No. 22




Robert Wilson Lecturer & Tooth Extractor

with the Kickapoo Medicine Company No. 22




Sig Molitamo

Cuban Wonder Fire Eater

with the Kickapoo Medicine Company

Season 1891




Onaga Kansas Aug 14th 1891

Kickapoo Camp Party No. 22

R.W. Tilford Manager




Chas E Brown (Ventriloquist)

Timmy Adams (Comedian)

Sig Molitamo (Fire Eater)




Isaac Waterman

Running Elk

Canada Cogawagona Indians

Mitchell Martin

Wife & Papoose



Canada Cogawagona Indians


with the Kickapoo Medicine Company

Season of 1891 in Kansas

Manager R.W. Tilford




Westmoreland Kansas August 21 1991

Eastward View of Kickapoo Indian Medicine Camp No. 22

After a Young Cyclone


The Indian Medicine Show

Brooks McNamara


Kickapoo Indian Sagwa . . . is the only remedy the Indians ever use, and has been known to them for ages.  An Indian would as soon be without his horse, gun, or blanket as without Sagwa.  Colonel William F. Cody in a patent medicine testimonial.


The traveling medicine show flourished at the end of the nineteenth century.  Although companies played New York, Boston, and Chicago with considerable success, the natural home of the medicine show was a village square of a small town opera house and the showman's favorite audience a crowd of eager rustics.  Business was good: for many rural Americans the medicine shows provided the only taste of professional entertainment from one your to the next, and medicine showmen were not slow to capitalize on the possibilities.  Small independent troupes and lone pitchmen vied for audiences with companies sent out by such titans of the patent medicine industry as the Hamlin Company of Chicago, makers of Wizard Oil, and the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company of New Haven.


The medicine shows cheerfully borrowed everything that was taking place elsewhere in the American theatre.  In the interests of Herbs of Joy or Ka-Ton-Ka, the Great Indian Medicine, vacant lots and village halls were filled with free plays, vaudeville, musical comedy, minstrels, magic, burlesque, dog and pony circuses, Punch and Judy shows, pantomime, menageries, bands, pie-eating contests, and early motion pictures.  The proprietors of these entertainments, often impersonating Quakers, Indians, frontier scouts, or Oriental fakirs, hawked their cures to the spectators between the acts much in the manner of their ancestors, the medical mountebanks of Europe.  Perhaps the most popular shows were produced by the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, makers of a patent cure-all called Sagwa.


Buffalo Bill Cody to the contrary, no American Indian had ever heard of Kickapoo Indian Sagwa before 1881.  In that year Sagwa followed by Kickapoo Indian Oil, Kickapoo Buffalo Salve, Kickapoo Indian Cough Cure, and Kickapoo Indian Worm Killer - Spring full-blown from the imaginations of two patent medicine promoters, John Healy and Charles Bigelow.  The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company was not the first of the patent medicine firms to send out Medicine shows.


Brooks McNamara is a Professor in the School of Arts at New York University and a Contributing Editor of The Drama Review.  He has published in TDR, ETJ, Theatre Crafts and elsewhere, His book, The American Playhouse in the Eighteenth Century, won an American Institute of Graphic Artists award in 1969.  This article is adopted from a new book, The Medicine Show.The Indian Medicine Show

Brooks McNamara
Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Dec., 1971), pp. 431-445 (article consists of 15 pages)
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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