Friday, May 25, 2018

Nathan Graves and the "Indian Cancer Plaster"

Nathan Graves had cancer.  And he was desperate.

He was about 53 years old when the cancer first appeared on his right cheek, but it didn’t cause him a lot of suffering until about four years later.  And then, he was frantic to be rid of it.

Nathan was a Ross County, Ohio native, who came to Stark County with his newly widowed mother in the fall of 1844. He was just 14 at the time.  He remained under his mother’s roof until the age of 22, when he married 14-year-old Emily Boardman, an orphan. Nathan procured his own farm in Stark County, and they set about raising a family. Nathan and Emily had six children in all.  He was described by his niece as "a big fat man with a hearty laugh."  During his cancer crisis, he gave up his farm and moved his family to nearby Wyoming, Illinois.

I know little about what treatments Nathan sought to eradicate the tumor, until late summer of 1889.  As a last resort, Nathan wished to see a "cancer specialist" in Kansas City, who employed a special method not commonly used – the method was called Indian Cancer Plaster 1– a recipe used to destroy the “roots” of the tumor.  The cost of the treatment was $100, and the patient needed to stay in Kansas City under the care of the physician for the duration of the treatment, at an additional cost of $1 per day.  Proceeds of a local event were unanimously voted to go to Nathan, described as a “sorely afflicted citizen.”  But he needed more – he petitioned the Stark County Board of Supervisors for $100 in financial assistance for the cost of his treatment, but was turned down.  Despite that blow, Nathan found money from somewhere, and made arrangements for one of his sons to take him to Kansas City.

Nathan was in Kansas City for four weeks.  During this time, he kept in touch with the editor of the local newspaper, and told him in October that the cancer “fell off his face” and weighed over a pound.  He said he would bring it home with him, and that, he did.  In a jar of alcohol, it was on display at Cox’s drug store.

Once Nathan arrived home from Kansas City in October of 1889, he told a different story than the encouraging notes he had sent to the newspaper.  He was uncertain about the permanence of the treatment, and was in such poor physical condition upon his return that the first order of business was to regain some strength.  He described his doctor as a “little sawed-off German,” and his living conditions while under the doctor’s care were dismal.  He was kept locked in a small, dark room on the third floor of a large building.  The only things in his room were a hard cot and a broken chair.  Three times a day the doctor’s servant would bring him soup made of garlic and onions, which sometimes Nathan could eat, and sometimes it was so bad he could not.  Nathan, ordinarily a husky man, was reduced to a skeleton by the time he was able to leave, and he was glad to get away while he still had sufficient strength to go.  Hopes were still high that once he regained a bit of stamina he would be on the road to recovery.

However, just five months later, Nathan was again seeking medical help, this time in Marshalltown, Iowa, where a physician would take a look at the cancer which had returned to his right cheek.  The doctor agreed to care for him on a “no cure, no pay” plan, and he would be given the medication to take home with him, where his family and friends would be able to take care of him.  Three weeks later, he noted that his condition had improved “considerably.”  But again, it was not to last.  One of his daughters came home to Illinois in July to help in Nathan’s care, and he finally passed from this earth on October 4, 1890, at his home, just past 60 years of age.


1"Dr. H.W. Libbey's Indian medical infirmary and national bath rooms : 90 and 92 Seneca Street, Cleveland, Ohio, where he treats all forms of chronic diseases with complete success"
by Libbey, Hosea W. Publication date 1863. This publication lists different formulations of the “Indian Cancer Plaster” and their uses.

Other sources:
Numerous issues of the Wyoming Post-Herald, Wyoming, Illinois
Letters of Myrtis Evans
Obituary of Nathan Graves

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