History in the News
Life and Death in Pioneer Times
By Nancy Olson, co-author, Cedar Mill History
The Cedar Mill pioneers, like other frontier settlers, were isolated and
largely unenlightened by modern science. Many home remedies were
relied upon to improve and prolong life. Lots of these cures were supplied
by the pioneer gardens rich in herbs both for flavoring and medicinal purposes.
Other home remedies were brought with the pioneers.
William Walker crossed the Oregon Trail in 1852. In his diary can
be found some good examples of various cures typical of the times.
Nerve and Bone Liniments
Take one ounce of spirits of turpentine, half a pint of brandy and
one gill of neatsfoot oil. Simmer it over a fire til mixed, then
bottle it for use.
Fleas, Bedbugs, etc.
A writer in the Gardener’s Chronicle recommends
the use of oil of wormwood to help keep off the insects above named. Place
a few drops on a handkerchief or a piece of muslin and put in the bed haunted
by the enemy.
In the absence of a medical doctor, many practical remedies came
from midwives. One of the first in the area was Elizabeth Constable
Young, wife of JQA Young, the owner of The Cedar Mill. Mabel Young’s memoirs
“She was a wonderful soul. She brought fifty babies into the world
(and never charged a penny of course) and the first thought among
her neighbors in any sickness was “send for Mrs. Young.” She
bore eleven children and raised eight of us. I was born when my oldest brother
was in his twenty-fifth year. She lived to be ninety-four and a half.”
A pioneer garden including typical medicinal herbs of the period
is planned as part of the restoration efforts for the JQA Young House
Another midwife in the area was Seatta Smith Dix. She was the daughter
of pioneers Joseph and Margaret Smith who owned 320 acres just east
of what became the Multnomah County line.
Home remedies and midwives’ simple expertise notwithstanding, death
always came. Infant deaths were frequent, evident in the Union Cemetery’s
many small headstones. The dangerous occupations of logging and farming caused
many accidental deaths. Most of the adult settlers survived to middle and
old age, surrounded by family, friends and neighbors.