Blessed are the journal-keepers, for they shall gladden the hearts of family historians.
Excerpts from the journals of Dr. Priddy Meeks, printed in the Utah Historical Quarterly edition in 1942 (all of which was dedicated to pioneer medicine), give intriguing details of how pioneer settlers in some Utah Territory communities were cared for when they were ill or injured.
Meeks was a "Thompsonian" doctor, following the teachings of Samuel Thompson, himself a self-taught herbalist and botanist. The methods Thompson propounded were the basis for a popular medical system widely accepted in 19th-century America. Although no mention is made of formal training, Meeks studied Thompson's writings, including his "New Guide to Health," and used them to treat the pioneers in Utah communities that had no other medical resources. The system relied heavily on steam baths and vegetable and plant concoctions.
(The Thompsonian methods had many outspoken detractors, including pioneer leader President Brigham Young.)
Meeks' life was lived on America's frontiers, first with his father's family and then with his own after he affiliated himself with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and traveled to Utah Territory.
One of the entries he wrote on the front flyleafs of his journal later in life concerned the death of his father while the family was settled in Indian Territory. "In the year 1812, I, Priddy Meeks, was 16 years old. My father was then living on the frontiers of Indian Territory ten miles from the inhabitants (of a white settlement), aiming to build a mill for the future benefit of emigration … I think about the 20th of April, three Indians early in the morning crept up behind the fodder stack ten or twelve rods in front of the door and when my brother Athe got out of bed and passed out of the house and turned the corner with his back towards them, they all fired at him …
"Meanwhile, Father jumped out of bed, ran to the door (and was shot) right through the heart. He turned on his heel and tried to say something and fell dead."
His mother, seeing what was going on, tried to help Athe and was hit in the leg with an Indian axe. When the Indians left, the family headed for the nearby white settlement, although Athe felt he was dying and should be left behind. The mother refused to leave him, and they continued on to the settlement. Athe survived his injuries.
Despite this very personal experience in the dangers of frontier living, members of the Meeks family continued to gravitate to the borders of civilization. Then married and with a family of his own, Priddy wrote:
"I removed with my family from Indiana to Illinois in the fall of 1833 and received the gospel in 1840, as also did most of my family. I moved to Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, in April 1842 and lived there till the spring of 1846, then moved with the Saints in their great exodus to the Rocky Mountains, which journey lasted till the first of October 1847, on which day I entered the Salt Lake Valley with my family and remained there till the spring of 1851."
The Meeks family then settled in Parowan and subsequently helped to settle Harrisburg, Washington County, and Orderville, Kane County. At each of these places, Priddy provided medical assistance to his fellow settlers.
He described his practice and medical beliefs as "being always an anti-poison man in principle, ignoring poison of every name and nature with the greatest degree of abhorrence, not believing in bleeding, blistering, poisoning or starving the patients."
He believed that it was possible to produce most of the acceptable plant remedies in his own garden and had a particular reliance on lobelia, believing it to be "the most powerful diffusive stimulant known in medicine … a surer, quicker and more powerful anti-poison, I think, is not known."
Besides lobelia, he had an arsenal of roots and herbs that he used for specific ailments. They included black pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger, horseradish, cinnamon, catnip, hoarhound, tea, coffee, barberry bark, sumach, raspberry, golden seal, mountain grape, bitter root, hops, quaking asp, tansy, swamp dogwood, cinquefoil and a dozen or so others.
He also tried to steer people to the principles of the Word of Wisdom, health fundamentals outlined in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith and embodied in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants: "One main object I have in view is to turn the hearts of the Saints to the Word of Wisdom, that the wisdom may be sanctified in the hearts of the Saints, to the exclusion of the popular physicians and their poison medicines of the present day …."
Among Meeks' remedies:
• For canker in the throat: Put burned copperas in soft grease and rub it in behind the turn of the jaws and behind the ears and throat and top of the head several times.1 comment on this story
• Toothache: The root of the blue flag (iris) is a sovereign remedy and the pain ceases the instant it is chawed.
• Yellow jaundice: Good strong vinegar and soot or eggshells will do to cure in most cases.
• To cure swelled joints: Take two hen eggs beat fine. Put in one tablespoonful each of table salt and black pepper in one pint of good vinegar. Mix it well together. Anoint with it, rubbing it downward with the hand several times a day.
Priddy Meeks died Oct. 17, 1886, in Orderville, having fathered 19 children with three polygamous wives. His journals paint a colorful picture of life in early Utah.