Published on February 16, 2012 by Amy
American Indian men and women who acted as doctors or healers consisted of two groups. The first type was the shaman or medicine man (or woman), who sought cures through spiritual means. The second type included herbalists, who relied on more practical methods of treatment.
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A number of diseases prevalent among Europeans afflicted Indians living in the Ohio Country as well. David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, missionaries of the Moravian Church during the 1770s and 1780s, recorded some of the Indians’ physical disorders. Fairly common were consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis), whooping cough, pneumonia, rheumatism, arthritis, dropsy, asthma, malarial fevers, dysentery, and intestinal worms.
The natives also suffered from tooth decay, sore eyes, blindness, boils, mental disorders, measles, smallpox, and venereal diseases. Some of the sexually transmitted diseases may have been contracted from Europeans. In addition, because of the nature of their lives as hunters and warriors, the Indians experienced other serious injuries, including broken bones, wounds, and snakebites.
Native Americans made medicine from a wide variety of roots, bark, leaves, seeds, berries, flowers, and stalks. The Indians used some medicinal plants when fresh. Others were dried and powdered or prepared as liquids, salves, or poultices.
“I firmly believe,” Heckewelder wrote, “that there is no wound, unless it is absolutely mortal, or beyond the skill of our own (white) practitioners which an Indian surgeon (I mean the best of them) will not succeed in healing.” He related an instance of a member of the Shawnee Indians, who suffered a nearly fatal gunshot wound in his chest. The Shawnee medicine man completely healed the injury.