I'm going out of town for a week or so and I don't want to leave you without anything to read, so I'll just jot a few words down about the "mad stone." A few months ago, my cousin Jim Phillips (see blog post Sept 24, Oct 5, and Oct 9, and http://discoverthewordwithdrjim.com/) told me a story that his great grandmother Hattie Jane told him. She said that when our great great grandmother Ela-Teecha's first husband, Jason McClure, was dying of hydrophobia, his friend, our great great grandfather Smith Paul, tried to find a mad stone to save his life. Through the years Jim has collected a couple of mad stones, and he sent me a picture of them:
According to multiple articles I found on Google, the "mad stone" is actually a bezoar, a collection of undigestible material that can accumulate in the stomach of any animal. Authentic mad stones though come from the stomach of a deer, preferably a white deer, and they are purported to have the power to cure rabies, or hydrophobia, as it used to be called. They can also be used to cure poisonous snake bites.
Hydrophobia is one of the most dreaded diseases ever to affect mankind. The infected person or animal develops fever, headaches, and then confusion, and hallucinations, hence the term "mad dog." Excessive saliva develops so the person or animal "froths at the mouth." The victim also develops severe, painful spasms of the jaw muscles which are precipitated by even the thought of drinking, causing the patient to fear water, hence the term "hydrophobia. Over a period of a week or so, general paralysis develops, accompanied by painful muscle spasms. It is a terrible way to die.
Rabies is rare now but it is still a threat. Since pets are routinely vaccinated, the main source of infection is from wild animals, mainly skunks, racoons and bats. There's still no cure, but the incubation period is so long, usually over a month, that there is time for a person to be immunized by a series of shots if they are bitten by an infected animal.
During the early 1900's before a vaccine was developed for rabies, people just had to take their chances. During those times there was no protection for pets, or for hunters, so infection was more common, and people were more aware of the symptoms, so an animal bite caused panic, especially if the animal was wild or unfamiliar. Hence the popularity of the "mad stone."
I couldn't determine from my cursory Google search if a belief in mad stones originated with Native Americans or in Europe. Both views are expressed, but apparently the mad stone was pretty commonly used well into the 20th century. The standard procedure was to apply the stone directly to the site of the bite after it was boiled in milk. It was left to fall off on its own, and then boiled again and reapplied until it no longer stuck. You could tell if the stone was working if it turned green.
There were some who believed that mad stones worked because they had magical properties, so there was some mythology surrounding their use. They could not be sold, only handed down from generation to generation. The owner couldn't charge for their use, and he (or she) couldn't take the stone to the victim. The victim had to come to him.
Being old and forgetful, when Jim mentioned the mad stone to me I had forgotten that my mother also told me a story about a mad stone. I was just reminded of the story last week as I listened to some old tapes of our conversations. It happened when she was a little girl. Her sister, my aunt Kaliteyo, who was sick in bed, looked out of her window one day and saw a stray kitten. She couldn't go outside, so she asked my grandmother if she would catch the kitten and let her play with it. Grandmother asked the doctor the next time he came around, and told her to go ahead and let Kaliteyo play with the kitten.
Meanwhile someone in town came down with rabies, so all stray animals became suspect. Grandmother got rid of the kitten, and then started searching for a "mad stone." My mother said she heard her discussing it with my grandfather. She didn't know if they ever found a stone, but Aunt Kaliteyo didn't get hydrophobia.
Kaliteyo and J Wenonah Paul