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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

historical moments & musings: Facts & Fables from BV Historical Society

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

There was a time when Buena Vista County was pristine prairieland.

The early white pioneers often found the prairie a rather hostile and foreboding place to live. They lived a primitive frontier lifestyle that was pretty much devoid of the necessities and luxuries of the normal daily life from whence they came. Much of the basics of life had to be shipped in to them, at great expense of time and money: much of the food, medicines, personal needs, homemaking necessities, etc. Some things they had to do without. It was difficult for them to adapt into a comfortable homeland lifestyle.

Not so for the primitive tenants of the region who had been here since time immemorial. They were perfectly at home in their environment. The prairie provided them with essentially all of their needs for a comfortable life. They had their natural food service outlets, their pharmacies, department stores, do-it-yourself outlets, and most everything that they wanted or needed--all from Mother Nature's prairie. Much of their expertise in being accommodated by the prairie "stores" was gained from experience, legend, and religious beliefs--and Mother Nature provided for them quite amply. Their white pioneer counterparts had much to learn from the natives and, to an extent, they did. Whether or not pioneers adapted to the lifestyle of the Indians, they observed that they could survive on the bounty provided by prairie--and it was all natural and healthy.

The Prairie Pharmacy

The Prairie Pharmacy had medications for nearly all of the common maladies of the human body--brown or white. If you knew which plant would provide the appropriate medication for a particular ailment, a plethora of medicines were available--all free, and all natural!

Got a headache? (Jack-in-the-Pulpit.) A toothache? (Marsh Marigolds.) How about a sore throat? (Columbia leaves.) Kidney troubles? (Black Current). Or problems with the bowels? (Bur Oak.) There were treatments for boils (Sour Dock), intestinal worms (Yellow Lady Slippers); and the usual problems of cuts (Wild Plum), or to draw out slivers and thorns (Plaintan). The older folks might find relief from neuralgia or rheumatism (Lead plant). The youth of any heritage are often afflicted with acne and pimples, for which the pharmacy had a treatment (Wild Bergamot). And then, of course, there was a general preventative medicine one could always take (Purple Clover).

The great attributes about the Prairie Pharmacy were that the "drugs" were all readily available, at no cost, without contamination with laboratory chemicals and artificial fillers. It was all natural--and no FDA to contend with!

The Prairie Food Service

Besides the protein from the meat of the local wild animal kills (free of charge, and free from government regulation, of course--no slaughter house or feed contaminants to worry about), the prairie provided ample nutritious and natural foods--abundant and free for the taking. Staple foods of diverse nutrients included Bull Rush, Chokecherry fruit, Cottonwood sprouts, Gooseberries, Bur Oak acorns, Wild Plum, Prickly Pear, wild Raspberries, and Tipsin (Indian Turnip). Milkweed roots made good fried foods, the Box Elder tree provided sugar making, and Hackberries were excellent for meat flavoring. For those preferring various flavors of teas there were Smooth Sumac, wild Raspberry, and Purple Clover.

The beauty of the Prairie Food Service was that it was all natural health food--no pesticides or insecticides--the original organic food. It didn't contribute to obesity (how many obese Indians were ever seen?), was readily available, and free of charge. Also, no FDA, no packaging regulations, no content or nutrition labeling hassles, and no waiting in the supermarket checkout lane!

The Prairie Personal Care Store

As is the case with persons of any heritage, sex, or age, one always wants to be personally attractive and sociable. This is true especially of young men and women of courting age. The young people were sometimes afflicted with pimples and acne, and might well have been advised to be treated with the above-mentioned Wild Bergamot to clear the skin. The young girls, in attracting the boys, would often pretty their hair with hair dressing (Porcupine Grass or Sunflower), choose to use a clothing perfume (Meadow Rue), and perhaps a potpourri (Sweet Clover) when inviting a young man to her abode.

A young man, in an attempt to be invited to a girl's abode, might himself use a bit of masculine cologne (Columbine), and bring her an icon expression of love (Spider Wort); but, if he had been smoking (Horsetail, Wild rose, Smooth Sumac), he might be advised to deodorize his breath with chewing gum (Gum plant, Compass plant). However, should the encounter result in behavior that might bring a sense of guilt or shame to either party, according to religious belief, a bath of Wild Sage should relieve the conscience.

The Prairie Home Store

The Prairie Home Store also provided many of the necessities for the homebuilder and homemaker that would be found in a modern hardware or do-it-yourself store. Too extensive to elaborate here, suffice it to say that nature provided most everything from the prairie required in building an abode, furnishing it, maintaining it, and providing for housekeeping. The home could be built and maintained according to the desires of the owner--without the limitations and regulations of plumbing codes, electrical codes, zoning ordinances, OSHA, the EPA, NLRB, etc., etc., etc.

The white settlers came to this prairie land to make their homes and futures. And, although they brought standards of living with them, far exceeding those of the native tenants, they found the environment harsh and discomforting. Meanwhile, although living a primitive lifestyle the native tenants, through their remarkable knowledge of their environment, had learned to be part of it. While the prairie provided the settlers with a challenging and austere environment, the Indians lived in the comfort of their prairie home.