Education: Indian John Part 3

This was the perspective Derringer brought to his herbal medical practice among the homesteaders in eastern Kansas and Nebraska. He settled first near Afton, a small community near the Washington- Marshall county line in northern Kansas, and later bought the 80 aces near Fact that was to be his home until his death. The farm became Indian John’s base of operation, but he worked as well from number of stations, or outposts, scattered across six counties on both sides of the Kansas-Nebraska state line. Each location housed both production of his medicines and storage of the plants he gathered. There, in large kettles, he brewed a popular blood tonic made from the wild sage variety known as white sage or prairie sage, combined with vervain and crowfoot goldenrod. A kidney and liver medicine contained cottonwood bark, shoestring ( leadplant ) , and sumac root. Colds and chest complaints were treated with a brew of cocklebur, balsam, and burdock. Indian John used barks such as red willow, wild cherry, and slippery elm as well as the Plains pervasive cottonwood. He gathered roots from herbs such as milkweed and ginger and the leafy parts of many plants– yarrow, cattail mint, foxglove, feverweed, catnip, ginseng, napapoose, sunflower, and fennel are some on a long list. Evening primrose was the basis for one liniment he made, and he applied the leaves of the wild hemp plant to arrest female hemorrhaging. He treated skin cancer with crushed sheep sorrel leaves and personally smoked mullein leaves as a substitute for tobacco. Lobelia, or Indian tobacco, was Indian John’s cure all weed. The plant materials Indian John gathered were measured in bunches, described as a, certain amount of herbs that a person can reach around the thumb and forefinger. To make medicine in liquid form, each bunch was combined with a gallon of water and boiled for an hour and half. Combinations of herbs required proportionately more water and longer simmering times. In one weekend alone, Indian John and a helper could brew 300 gallons of medicine. Indian John made pills by boiling down one gallon of liquid to two-thirds of a pint, and then mixing in two tablespoons of Epsom salts and about a third of a pint of flour. The stiff batter was allowed to cool for ten or fifteen minutes before bits of it were rolled into pills the size of a kernel of corn.
More on Indian John tomorrow. Part 3


2 thoughts on “Education: Indian John Part 3

  1. My mother grew up in the Afton area and remembered Indian John. He was highly respected for his herbal remedies. We have talked about him for years. It is interesting to read this article. He is buried in a morman cemetery near Fact, Kansas. Just ask neighbors and they can lead you to the site.

    • Hello Carolyn,
      My Dear friend your Mother must of been very honored to have known such a person. I wish I could of meet Indian John. Thank you for sharing that with me
      Always a friend

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