Home Cures for Ailing Horses: A Case Study of Nineteenth-Century Vernacular Veterinary Medicine in Tennessee

Document Type


Publication Date



Vernacular human medicine, otherwise known as folk or popular medicine, has received considerable attention from scholars in the United States, but little research has been done on how lay people dealt with livestock ailments prior to the professionalization of veterinary medicine. Using Tennessee in the nineteenth century as a case study, this paper examines the corpus of popular knowledge on the identification and treatment of horse ailments available to lay people in printed sources, focusing primarily on newspapers and to a lesser extent on patent medicine brochures and horse care handbooks. Information on horse medicine found in the newspapers was often in the form of a letter to the editor or as an excerpt from another periodical. Collectively, newspapers served as a national clearinghouse for popular veterinary knowledge. An examination of the horse remedies reported in the newspapers and other printed materials shows a close correspondence between the materia medica and therapeutic modalities used for treating humans with those used for treating horses. The paper also considers folk remedies for horse ailments and folk healers known as “horse doctors,” but the discussion is limited due to paucity of information available in the historical record.