The problem of rabid or “mad” dogs running wild through Boone County, endangering public health, is largely unheard of today, thanks to animal control programs. If a bite should occur, a trip to the doctor may bring a series of shots to prevent the progression of this virus, which is fatal to humans if untreated.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Boone County experienced multiple events of rabid dogs attacking humans and animals throughout the county, as reported in the Boone County Recorder. Unfortunately, the rabies vaccine was not yet available, and those affected often looked to traditional folk remedies.
One such treatment for bites and stings is the application of a madstone . This “stone” is actually a mass of calcified, partially digested plant material and hair from the stomach of a cud-chewing mammal, such as a cow or deer, and is sometimes referred to as a “bezoar”. Although there is variation in color and size, a madstone has the appearance of a polished mineral.
The treatment for a dog bite is as follows: first, it must be boiled in sweet milk before being applied to the wound (which must be open), it will then “stick” to the wound, drawing out the poison. Next, the stone is placed back in to the boiling sweet milk to release the toxin.
According to legend, if a madstone is bought or sold, it is rendered useless. As a result of this restriction, a madstone may remain in a single family for generations. One of Boone County’s pioneer families, the Tanners, brought a madstone to the area when they migrated from Virginia. Many dog bite victims from near and far would seek out treatment from the Tanner madstone. Several articles reporting the application of this stone, at the time in the possession of brothers Jacob and O.B. Tanner, appear in the Boone County Recorder from the 1870’s into the early 1900’s.
The need for treatment, traditional or modern, was clear. In one instance, in 1907, a rabid hound dog went from Richwood to Petersburg, biting several people along the way. Victims included a ten year old boy and an elderly man protecting his own dogs. However, the worst wounds were those of Florence dentist, Dr. David Marshall. Marshall did initially seek help from Tanner madstone (which didn’t stick), then headed to Chicago’s Pasteur Institute for treatment.
All three victims survived, though it’s unclear if all sought treatment from Tanner. The madstone’s work may not have ended there; the Recorder reported that during the week following the attack on Dr. Marshall, several rabid dogs of different descriptions were spotted throughout the county.