Medicine Men

From Ohio History Central
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Native American men and women who acted as doctors or healers consisted of two groups. The first type was the shaman or medicine man (or woman), who sought cures through spiritual means. The second type included herbalists, who relied on more practical methods of treatment

A number of diseases prevalent among Europeans afflicted Native Americans living in the Ohio Country as well. David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, missionaries of the Moravian Church during the 1770s and 1780s, recorded some of the Native American's physical disorders. Fairly common were consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis), whooping cough, pneumonia, rheumatism, arthritis, dropsy, asthma, malarial fevers, dysentery, and intestinal worms. The natives also suffered from tooth decay, sore eyes, blindness, boils, mental disorders, measles, smallpox, and venereal diseases. Some of the sexually transmitted diseases may have been contracted from Europeans. In addition, because of the nature of their lives as hunters and warriors, the Native Americans experienced other serious injuries, including broken bones, wounds, and snakebites.

Native Americans made medicine from a wide variety of roots, bark, leaves, seeds, berries, flowers, and stalks. The Native Americans used some medicinal plants when fresh. Others were dried and powdered or prepared as liquids, salves, or poultices.

"I firmly believe," Heckewelder wrote, "that there is no wound, unless it is absolutely mortal, or beyond the skill of our own (white) practitioners which an Indian surgeon (I mean the best of them) will not succeed in healing." He related an instance of a member of the Shawnee natives, who suffered a nearly fatal gunshot wound in his chest. The Shawnee medicine man completely healed the injury.

See Also


  1. Deloria, Vine, Jr. The World We Used to Live in: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2006.
  2. Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
  3. Johnson, Troy R. Distinguished Native American Spiritual Practitioners and Healers. Westport, CT: Oryx Press, 2002. 
  4. Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The First Description of Cincinnati and Other Ohio Settlements: The Travel Report of Johann Heckewelder (1792). Lanham: MD: University Press of America, 1988.
  5. Wallace, Paul A.W. Thirty Thousand Miles with John Heckewelder: The Travels of John Heckewelder in Frontier America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.