The madstone would stick to the wound and draw the poison out

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 18, 2015

Right up till the early years of the 20th century, a bite from a rabid animal could strike terror in the hearts of Appalachian residents. Rabies slowly destroys the nervous system. It finally attacks the spinal cord and its victim may froth at the mouth, scream and fight. Before Louis Pasteur developed a successful vaccination in 1885, death from rabies was a forgone conclusion, unless a madstone could be obtained. This trusted folk medicine gets its name from the delirious behavior caused by hydrophobia, a condition produced by the rabies virus.

rabid dog“The mad-stone? People believe it will cure snakebites and hydrophobia,” hunter Ben Lester told the authors of ‘The Heart of the Alleghanies’ in 1883. “Here’s one. It was found in the paunch of a white deer I shot this fall was a year ago; and, mind you, the deer with a mad-stone in him is twice as hard to kill as one of ordinary kind. Five bullets were put in the buck that carried this one.”

Ben Lester’s madstone, “smooth and red, as large as a man’s thumb, and with one flat, white side,” was technically a calculus, a stone-like object sometimes found in the stomach of animals who chew their cud.

According to beliefs surrounding this folk medicine, a madstone from a brown deer will work in a bind if another cannot be found. A better grade of madstone comes from a white or spotted deer. The very best madstone comes from an albino or witch deer.

To treat someone bitten by a rabid animal you’d boil the madstone in sweet milk and then, while it was still hot, apply the stone to the wound, states Douglas Mahnkey in ‘Hill and Holler Stories.’

“If the dog was actually mad, the stone stuck to the wound and would draw the ‘pizen’ out,” he continues. “Once the stone was filled with the poison it would drop off, and it was again boiled in sweet milk and applied to the wound. The milk would turn green. This process was repeated until the stone no longer adhered to the wound.”

Madstones have always been greatly prized by anyone fortunate enough to come into possession of one, and would be handed down in the same family for generations. Before Pasteur’s immunization came to North Carolina in 1915, some owners charged up to $100 for lending a madstone, or required a $1,000 bond to guarantee its return.

And in North Georgia “Faith Cochran advertised his madstone every week in the county paper. People came from as far away as Alabama to be treated,” according to Floyd C. Watkins and Charles Hubert Watkins in ‘Yesterday in the Hills,’ a portrait of farm life in Cherokee County at the turn of the twentieth century.

madstonesThe Mad Stones of Vacherie [LA] featured in “Dixie Roto Magazine” June 19, 1949. The NC Museum of History has a madstone in its collection (no photo available, sorry!) whose catalog description reads: “Light brown trapezoidal stone; ‘R.L. Steel/1829′ scratched into 1 end of stone; ‘809’ scratched into other end; small black leather pouch.”

“It looked like a worn creek rock about the size of a partridge egg with a chip broken off one end. Faith dipped the stone in milk and stuck it to the wound. After it had sucked out the poison, it dropped off the wound.”

Worn creek rock? What happened to white deer calculi? Dr. Thomas M. Owen, Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Alabama, in a letter dated September 22, 1917, wrote:

“Some of these stones are reputed to have been taken from the stomach of a deer, but they were in fact nothing more than native rock, worn smooth, and which, because of their porosity, were capable when heated of drawing out or absorbing liquids.”

We know today that rabies is caused by a virus that is usually spread through contact with an infected animal’s saliva. Whether madstones were made from deer stomach calculi or rock, was their ability to absorb quickly and efficiently the real issue, was it a chemical reaction (the tight bonding of the madstone to the wound and the milk), or some combination of both?

“Yesterday in the Hills,” by Floyd C. Watkins, Charles Hubert Watkins, Quadrangle Books, 1963
“The Heart of the Alleghanies, or Western North Carolina,” by Floyd C. Watkins, Calvin S. Brown, A. Williams & Co., 1883
“Hill and Holler Stories,” by Douglas Mahnkey, S of D Press, School of the Ozarks, 1975

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  • Byron Ballard says:

    I’m doing a book tour and in a discussion yesterday someone mentioned madstones. I had heard about them as a child but they were never explained to me. I’m grateful to see this!

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The Waldensians in North Carolina

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 17, 2015

The largest Waldensian colony in the world outside of Italy–Valdese, NC–was officially incorporated as a town on February 17, 1920.

The Waldenses, or Waldensians, are a Christian sect founded in the 12th century by Peter Valdo (hence Valdese = Waldensian), a merchant of Lyons, France who lived only a short time before St. Francis. For many years the group was confined to a rugged area in the Cottian Alps along the boundary between Italy and France. King Louis XIV was determined not to let Protestant beliefs seep into Catholic-driven France and persecuted the Waldensians mercilessly.

Not until the Edict of 1848 did the sect finally receive freedom to worship as they wished. Toward the later part of the 19th century many Waldenses emigrated to North and South America to form missionary colonies—no longer because of religious persecution but because their small strip of land in the Alps had become overcrowded.

They migrated to New York City, Chicago, Missouri, Texas and Utah, as well as Valdese, NC, in Burke County between the towns of Morganton and Hickory. The Valdese colony became the largest Waldensian colony in the world located outside of Italy. After crossing the Atlantic on the Dutch ship Zaandam, the original Valdese settlers arrived via train on the Salisbury-Asheville line of the Southern Railway on May 29, 1893. Eleven families formed the first group, led by Reverend Charles Albert Tron, a pastor and philanthropist. Rev. Tron did not come to settle, however, but to lead the immigrants and help launch their enterprise.

Valdese NC settlersInitially the settlers tried to make their living off the land as they had in Italy, but the poor soil would not produce. They turned instead to manufacturing. In June, organizers led by Rev. Tron formed the Valdese Corporation, including Waldenses and American investors, and purchased 10,000 acres of land. Due to the undesirable layout of the land and the independent nature of the Waldenses, the corporation was an unpopular arrangement. It was dissolved the following year when the Rev. Barthelemy Soulier arrived in Valdese to replace the leadership lost when Tron returned to Italy to recruit more colonists.

In 1895 the Waldensian Church in Valdese united with the Presbyterian Church, which shared similar structure and theology. The Waldensian Hosiery Mill was established in 1901 and the yarn factory, Valdese Manufacturing Company, in 1913. Valdese became a hub of the American textile industry. The town’s first mayor, John Long, was also the groom in the first Waldensian wedding in Valdese.

Since 1967 an outdoor drama, From this Day Forward, has been performed each summer by Valdese’s Old Colony Players. The saga features authentic costumes and folk dances that highlight the heritage of North Carolina’s Waldensian settlers.



Phifer Jr., Edward W. , Burke: The History of a North Carolina County (1982). Print.

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  • kathy says:

    i loved studying the history of the waldenses. initially, i had been told that the waldenses had been hunted and murdered down to the last man, woman and child and consequently, the group did not exist anymore. i was very upset and cried bitter tears, but this was many years ago. i was estatic when i found out that the waldensians has actually survived the persecutions in the alps some had fled to north america. i had hoped to study you more, however, i was very sorry to read you had merged with the presbyterians because their religious beliefs were similar. for me, that was a sad momemt. originally, you guys were so very pure! as you know, today there are many groups that worship on the 7th Sabbath. i worship with Sabbatarians and am anxious to visit the cogic sabbatarians (church of God in Christ).

    be safe in your quest to teach the world His message – we must be faithful in our responsibilities to God through the Son Jesus.

  • kathy says:

    sorry, i meant to say “as you know, today, there are many groups that worship on the 7th day Sabbath.

  • John Barnette says:

    Spent two days in this city, i will be back. Protestants owe everything to this great people!Keep the faith.

  • John from Argyle,TX says:

    We are planning to visit the Waldensian Museum there.
    Their trials in their native Italy are very stirring. Makes you hate French King Louie XIV.

  • Phil Howerton says:

    My uncle wants to know who started the Mill and who owned it in the 1940s. “I would like to add to the account the relation that Papa had with the owner of the Waldesian Hosiery Mill and the Valdesian yarn mill. What was his name?”

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Happy Presidents Day

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 16, 2015


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The panic of 1907 leads to depositor insurance

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 13, 2015

In early 1907 consumer goods prices were high and continuing to increase, a situation set in motion by too easy credit. Most glaringly, the money center banks of New York City owed their depositors more money than the whole country possessed, real money and ‘credit money’ combined. The system couldn’t sustain itself that way any longer. A stock market “panic” hit that threatened to topple the New York investment banks and reverberate through the economy, triggering a depression.

The ‘Panic of 1907’ caused nationwide bank failures, timber prices collapsed, mine operations ceased, railroads stopped running, a rash of bankruptcies occurred, and a dramatic loss of confidence and a nasty economic downturn sank in for the next year. Although not as severe as many in the past, the Panic made clear the need for national legislation to protect bank depositors.

The First National Bank, of White County, TN was one of the few banks in that state which was able to keep open through the Panic. The Tennessee Bankers Association (TBA) took notice of that fact. They sought to craft a proposal to the state’s legislature that would emulate many of that company’s best practices.

First National Bank, Jackson, TNCustomers inside of the First National Bank in Jackson, TN, 1900.

The TBA’s lobbying activities were in fact responsible for the state’s 1908 legislature passing banking bills of very minor importance. The TBA made every effort to prevent what it considered undesirable legislation until it could present a bill satisfactory to banks as well as offering sufficient protection to depositors.

At each succeeding annual association convention many bankers increasingly felt that depositor protection legislation was inevitable. However, the legislative committee of the association found it very difficult to prepare a bill that met the approval of all the bankers in the state.

In 1911 the association convention resolved: “supervision is desirable and examination made by and under the authority of the State of Tennessee would strengthen confidence in state banks and prevent failures.”

When the convention of 1912 was held the legislative committee was able to present a bill which had almost unanimous support of the association members, and this bill was presented to the legislature of 1913.

On February 13, 1913, five years after the Panic of 1907, the legislature finally passed the Banking Act of 1913, which greatly strengthened the state’s ability to oversee bank operations. It stated: [Section 1] “There is hereby created a Banking Department of the State of Tennessee, charged with the execution of all laws relating to corporations, firms and individuals doing or carrying on a banking business in the State of Tennessee. The chief officer of the Banking Department shall be known as the Superintendent of Banks, and he shall be appointed by the Governor upon the recommendations of the Tennessee Bankers Association, and his term of office shall be four years or until his successor is appointed in the manner aforesaid.”

The act required that every state bank within Tennessee should be examined by the superintendent or his examiners at least twice each year, or more often if he deemed it necessary.

The act established minimum capital requirements for banks: at least $7,500 in towns of less than 1,500 inhabitants on up to $50,000 in cities over 100,000 in population. It prohibited any bank from reducing cash on hand and due from banks or bankers below ten percent of demand deposits.

Loans could not be made to officers or employees except on approval of the directors or finance committee. Loans to one person or interest could not exceed fifteen percent of the capital, surplus and profits, except on approval of approval of a majority of the executive or finance committee.

Loans on or the purchase of the company’s own stock was prohibited, unless to prevent loss on previously contracted debts, in which case the stock had to be disposed of within six months.

On the national level, Congress was determined to create a central bank that provided a vigilant monetary policy, price stability, a more elastic currency and more careful supervision over the nation’s banks, and so the panic of 1907 led directly to the development of the Federal Reserve Act.

Sources: The Development of Banking in Tennessee, by Warren P. Gray, Capricorn House Publishers, 2007 (orig. publ. 1948)
Trust Companies, by Clay Herrick, Bankers Publishing Company, 1915
The Panic of 1907, by Robert F. Bruner, Sean D. Carr, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2007

One Response

  • Sheryl says:

    I just discovered this blog and really enjoyed reading a few of the posts. I’m impressed by how well-researched the stories are. When I have a little more time, I plan to come back and explore the site some more.

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Lots of people thought I was an idiot

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 12, 2015

“I never spoke a word until I was nine years old. I only clucked and motioned for what I wanted. Lots of people thought I was an idiot because I could not talk. I may have looked like one, for I was a little old country boy that never cut my hair in those days only about twice a year, and I wore a big checked cotton shirt and old jeans pants made by my mother and old yarn socks, and 70-cent stogie shoes with brass toes. This was my winter suit and my summer suit was only a big yellow factory shirt and no hat or shoes.

“At the age of ten I was taken by my mother and uncle, Gid Hogg, to Whitesburg, Ky., the county seat of Letcher County, a distance of about eighteen miles. We rode an old mare named “Kate,” without any saddle, and when I was taken off I could not walk I was so stiff, and that made everybody think I was an idiot sure enough.

Corporal Fess Whitaker“So when Judge H. C. Lilley opened court on Monday, February 12, they taken me before the judge. The judge ordered old Black Shade Combs, then the sheriff, to summon twelve jurors and two doctors. One doctor thought I had been born an idiot, and Dr. S. S. Swaingo, of Jackson, held out that I was all right of mind, and so the case was put off until 10 a. m. Tuesday.

“Then Dr. Swaingo got old Dr. McCray and gave me a thorough examination. The doctors found by examining my neck, where the small tits in one’s neck are, that the tit in my neck had grown together. After the doctors cut the tit loose in my neck I began to talk and to have a good joke. The doctors took me to a one-horse barber shop and had my hair cut and fixed me up and presented me on Tuesday morning to Judge Lilley, and he was surprised beyond reason that I was Fess.”

History of Corporal Fess Whitaker
Louisville, Ky, The Standard Printing Co., 1918.

Whitaker’s claim to fame is his run for U.S. Congress in 1926, in which he was narrowly defeated. Fess Whitaker (1880-1927) began his career as a politician in 1917, when he was elected county jailer in Letcher County, KY. He likely held this office until 1921, when he decided to run for county judge. The New York Times reported that sometime around 1921 Whitaker participated in a street fight, a disturbance of the peace that led to his incarceration in the very jail he supervised and earned him the nickname “The Jailed Jailer.” While imprisoned, Whitaker continued his campaign and was eventually elected. In 1922, Whitaker was again jailed, this time for possessing and transporting whisky for illegal sale. Nevertheless, he was re-elected Letcher County jailer in 1925. He died in a car crash in 1927.


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