Many years ago my great-uncle Kenneth Ray of Greenwood Springs, Mississippi gave me a family treasure. He presents to me the “family” madstone. This rock-like object stayed in an icebox in the dining room of my great-grandparents house. This was a true icebox – no motor, no power. Put a chunk of ice in it and keep things cold. During my boyhood the icebox no longer was used for chilling food stuffs. It was the repository of seeds, papers, and the madstone.
Before being allowed to bring the madstone home I was given instructions on how it was to be used. According to Kenneth if one was bitten by a poisonous snake or a mad dog then one would come to Mammy’s house and request use of the madstone. The madstone was soaked in sweet milk and then placed on the bite. Kenneth maintained that when the madstone was used properly it had the ability to draw the poison out of a wound. It would stick to the wound and fall off after the poison was removed. Kenneth remembered the madstone being used successfully for years and years. There was even a story of a man that died from a rattlesnake bite to the head before the madstone could be brought to the rescue. It seemed like a fantastic story, kind of like witching warts away. However, I truly treasured every shred of the past that my relatives shared with me, so I thanked him and brought the madstone home in a brown paper sack.
What is a madstone? I once asked my students at Vidalia High School to answer that question for extra credit. This was way back before there was internet in every house (Apple IIE days). It was the end of the semester and several children needed to pass college prep biology, therefore I got several informative answers. Primarily, each student found out that a madstone was a concretion of sorts taken from the stomach of a ruminant that had reported curative powers.
A modern student will find much more at their finger tips via the Internet. For example the following text was taken from The History of Rabies in Texas at www.dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/disease/rabies/history/historyInTexas.pdf
Victims of an animal bite would literally ride for their lives to obtain a wad of partially
digested food from the stomach of a cow or deer. These wads of vegetable matter were
commonly known as “madstones for rabies.” In desperate pursuit, bite victims sought the
most coveted madstone, the stomach contents of a white deer. White deer being
uncommon, bite victims often had to settle for a less desirable alternative, a run-of-the mill buckskin. Once a fibrous glob of fodder was obtained, it was moistened in warm
water or, preferably, milk and applied to the wound. To be effective, the madstone had to
adhere to the wound a very long time in order to draw out the rabies poison. After the
madstone had become saturated with poison, it allegedly would no longer adhere to the
wound. At that point, it was put into warm or hot milk, which would turn green from the
poison. The therapeutic gastric contents were then reapplied to the wound. Madstones
were multifunctional. In addition to drawing out the hydrophobia (rabies) contagion
virus, madstones were purportedly effective in removing venom from a snakebite.
However, victims of snakebite were faced with unforgiving time constraints and usually
had to resort to some other remedy; only by the sheerest coincidence would a snakebite
occur in the proximity of a madstone. People bitten by a mad dog, hydrophobic skunk, or
other animal with rabies had the time and the motivation to ride a long way to find a
madstone. And ride they did.
Are the madstone stories in north Georgia? I would love to hear from you.