Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/December 1883/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors:

NEAR the mouth of the Little Cheyenne River, in Dakota Territory, there is a rock on which are some curious indentations. The rock lies on the north slope of a bowlder-covered hill, and is itself an erratic. It is about twelve feet long by seven or eight feet wide, and rises above the surface of the ground about eighteen inches. Its edges are angular, its surface flat, and it shows but little, if any, effect of ice-action. It appears to be magnesian limestone, and its size and whiteness make it a conspicuous object.

On the surface, near the southeast corner of it, is a perfect foot-print as though made by the left, moccasined foot of a woman, or boy of, say, fourteen years. The toes are toward the north. The indentation is about half an inch deep. About four and a half feet in front of it and in line with it, near the middle of the rock, is a deeper indentation made with the right foot, the heel being deeper than the rest of the foot. And again, about five and a half feet in front of this, and in line with both the others, is a third foot-print, this time with the left foot.

The three foot-prints are of the same size, and are such as would apparently be made by a person running rapidly. The foot-print of the right foot is an inch deep at the heel, and three quarters of an inch at the ball. The third foot-print is about three quarters of an inch in depth. In all three the arch of the instep is well defined, and the toes faintly indicated. The rock is hard, and not of uniform texture, having vein-like markings about a quarter of an inch wide running through it, which, weathering harder than the body of the rock, present slightly raised surfaces. This difference in the weathering of the rock is the same in the bottom of the foot-prints as on the surface of the rock.

From Mr. Le Beau, a "squaw-man," who has lived in that region for twenty-six years, I learned that it is known to the Indians as a "medicine"-rock, and that they worship it. He says that none of the present Indians know anything of the origin of the foot-prints. A town has been recently started within half a mile of it, called Waneta, and white children playing about it have found numerous beads and other trinkets, probably placed there as offerings.

I had heard of the rock several weeks previous to my visit, and expected to find either the work of nature with only a fancied resemblance, or the rude sculpturing of the Indians. The uniformity in size and direction discredits the former view, as the difference between the foot-prints seems to make the latter doubtful; and the possibility of the foot-prints having been made when the material of which the rock is composed was in a soft state presents itself as the best solution of the problem.

I trust that this communication may lead to its investigation by those competent to decide the matter.

Very truly yours,
Herbert P. Hubbell.
Winona, Minnesota, September 10, 1883.


Messrs. Editors:

Your "Monthly" for September contains an article by Felix L. Oswald, M. D., on "Asthma." For many years I was a martyr to that distressing complaint; and know its character and symptoms from personal experience. Naturally, I have also gathered, from others who were similarly afflicted, results of their experience, to say nothing of what I have read in medical works on the subject. My own experience, and that of all whom I have known, is so different from what Dr. Oswald writes, that I am impelled, for the sake of many who may receive great injury, and perhaps even lose their lives by following his extreme doctrine, to write to you in criticism of what he has written.

There are many errors of statement in his article. He says "the most frequent proximate cause is violent mental emotion—fear, anxiety, and especially suppressed anger." I do not dispute that any one of these may cause asthma, but among the proximate causes that are far more frequent are an ordinary cold, a damp pillow, an ill-ventilated, stuffy room or berth, a, severe attack of indigestion. Indeed, as an asthmatic attack generally comes on in the early morning, the patient waking in a semi-nightmare to find the attack already begun, it is after a period of rest rather than passion or mental excitement that it supervenes.

"Asthma," he says, "is a warm weather disease." Perhaps it may be with some. There is a great variety in asthmatic cases. Some are better in cities, some in the country. There are no two cases alike in all their features. So far from asthma being a warm-weather disease, and "June being par excellence the asthma-month of the year," my experience goes to show that the worst months are those in which the vegetation is decaying—September, October, and November.

Now, as to the remedy which our author recommends—cold water. I would like to apply his own language on a previous page of his article to this, where he says: "Horseback-riding is an approved cure for epilepsy, but during the progress of the fit the application of the specific might lead to strange consequences. Yacht-sailing in a storm would be a bad way of curing sea-sickness, though it diminishes the danger of future attacks."

So it is with cold water as a cure for asthma. "A plunge-bath into a pond or tub of water" would indeed be a terrible remedy, for a person afflicted with a severe asthmatic spasm. No person of adult years in such a condition would think of such a remedy, for its consequences might be fatal. The shock of such treatment would infallibly increase the spasm and greatly intensify the suffering. The patient instinctively feels this, and knows that he can endure only the most soothing and gentle treatment. Therefore there is no danger to any adult asthmatic in reading such advice. But parents or unskilled medical men might be misled by this authoritative statement as to the cold-water remedy, and might subject children to it with a refinement of brutality which they happily would be ignorant of, but which Dr. Oswald certainly ought to know better than to recommend.

Imagine the poor sufferer, propped in a chair, livid and gasping for each imperfect breath, unable to speak, fearful of the slightest motion, a terrible strain pressing on heart, brain, and nerves, and think of a plunge cold bath in such a case. Yet our Doctor says "it is the most reliable remedy." Certainly he, for one, has not been an asthmatic.

If this criticism has only the effect of making parents or physicians hesitate before adopting such cruel remedies with children (there is no fear of adults permitting it), my main purpose in writing it will be fulfilled.

Our author also condemns, the use of the ordinary alleviations in asthmatic attacks. There is some truth, doubtless, in what he says on this subject. Still, they are of the greatest value. A traveler, for instance, who is free from asthma at home, stops at a close country inn, and contracts an attack of asthma. Then the remedies which are usually prescribed—perhaps stramonium, perhaps coffee, or perhaps niter paper fumes—relieve rapidly, and enable the traveler to proceed, whereas without them the spasm might last for days. These remedies act as helps, and the system has a surplus of strength sufficient to repair the slight damage caused by them. They help in the time of need. They act as brandy does to a frozen mountaineer; and, if a mistaken medical philosophy is going to deprive the suffering asthmatic of these invaluable aids and reliefs, it ought to be combated and exposed. As well say that surgical operations should be conducted without chloroform or ether, because the effect of those anaesthetics is harmful, as to say that the blessed relief which nature's herbs provide should not be used in case of an asthmatic emergency.

Whatever may be Dr. Oswald's merits as a physician, his paper on asthma, judged from the standpoint of a campaigner in that complaint, is not sufficiently correct or judicious to be a safe guide for the physician or the sufferer.

New York, September 15, 1883.

Messrs. Editors:

From the symptoms described by Mr. W. B. Crosby, I suspect that his affliction is not chronic asthma, but the dyspnœa which sometimes accompanies a latent tubercular diathesis, and which, in its spasmodic form, is generally aggravated by catarrh. Asthma, like hay-fever, is chiefly a warm-weather disease; still, if Mr. Crosby's trouble is not confined to the end of the year, I believe I can reconcile his experience with my observation on the secondary causes of the disorder, viz., that the symptoms often ascribed to the effect of a vegetable pollen "are probably a consequence of the relaxing influence of the first warm weather, for in midwinter a single warm day, following upon a protracted frost, may produce symptoms exactly resembling those of a hay-catarrh" ("Popular Science Monthly," p. 606). Your correspondent suspects a morbific agency in the decay of the autumnal vegetation, and, in America at least, the October frosts, when the falling leaves expose a vast area of woodland-soil, are almost yearly followed by a return of warm weather. I make no doubt but annual asthmas are often supplemented by Indian-summer attacks. What Mr. Crosby says about the causal connection of asthma and indigestion was mentioned in other words on p. 610 ("Popular Science Monthly"): "There is a curious correlation between asthma and close stools; they come and go together."

Mr. Crosby is probably not less correct in his statement that his asthmatic spasms "generally come on in the early mornings, the patient waking in a semi-nightmare to find the attack already begun," and his description does not materially differ from mine, that, "after rolling and tossing about till relieved by that form of sleep which the Germans call 'Ein-dämmern'—the patient is almost sure to start up with a feeling of strangulation" ("Popular Science Monthly," p. 611). But even in such cases the proximate cause can generally be traced to some occurrence of the preceding day; indeed, most sufferers from chronic asthma know from the experience of their waking hours what the next night may be expected to have in store for them.

I do not suppose that your correspondent, whose letters bespeak him an intelligent observer, can be a dupe of the vulgar fallacy which mistakes a low temperature for the cause of "colds" and catarrhs; still, it is evident that he overrates the danger of its employment as a "remedial agent." For one life lost by the abuse of cold water, a million have been lost by the abuse of drugs. Dr. Carl Bock, whose manual of health, "Das Buch vom gesunden und kranken Menschen," is a standard (though entirely non-systemic) work on practical hygiene, recommends a sponge or shower-bath among the safest antispasmodics (c. "Angor pectoris, or Asthma," p. 502). It is well known that the paroxysms of yellow fever and cognate diseases decrease the intoxicating effects of alcoholic stimulants, and hydropathists have repeatedly called attention to the fact that under similar circumstances the dreaded nervous shock of a cold douche is partly neutralized by the conditions of the disease itself, and acts only as a tonic in the best sense of the word; and, since Dr. Koch's discovery, no modification of accepted medical theories has excited more attention than the successful application of cold baths to the treatment of typhoid fever. For a practical illustration of their efficacy in severe cases of spasmodic asthma, I can refer Mr. Crosby to the experience of two of my correspondents, Mr. Otto Schreiner, of Jacksonville, Florida, and Dr. H. D. Warner, of Reliance, Polk County, Tennessee. After stating his personal experience, Dr. Warner adds, "Priessnitz," the founder of hydropathy,"would become the patron-saint of asthma-patients, if they could rid themselves of the superstitious dread of cold water and give the plan a fair trial."

Stramonium (vide Datura in "American Cyclopædia," or any medical or pharmaceutical compend) is one of the strongest narcotic poisons, and in its physiological action resembles belladonna and henbane, producing "dryness of the throat, active delirium, dilatation of the pupils, and a rapid pulse. Death may occur with coma and convulsions." And such remedies Mr. Crosby proposes to apply to patients who "can endure only the most soothing and gentle treatment"! It is true that the action of the drug is somewhat modified by the abnormal condition of the system; still, its after-effects are perceptible for days; while those of cold water are limited to the dread of direful consequences, and one or two test-experiments will rarely fail to remove that objection, which is, after all, only a specialized form of the same traditional fallacy which in winter ascribes fatal consequences to an open window, but risks the sickening effluvium of an unventilated bedroom; which in warm weather dreads a draught of cold water, but trusts its life to the tender mercies of the liquor-mixer. Besides, the asthenia of an asthma-spasm is an eclipse, a temporary paralysis, rather than an exhaustion of the vital energies; and the shiver of a cold douche, instead of complicating the afflictions of the patient, relieves them by breaking the spell of the obstruction. Of course, neither stramonium nor cold water alone can reach the cause of the disease, which must be removed by an invigorating regimen out-door life, wholesome food, and persistent continence; cold water, however, is at least an adjuvant means to that end, while the repeated use of narcotic drugs never fails to impair the tone of the nervous system, and thus directly tends to perpetuate an asthenic diathesis.[1]

But I fully agree with your correspondent that asthma is the most capricious disorder of the human organism, and that its study can never be exhausted. Most of his observations can be readily reconciled with the doctrine of my treatise; but, even in as far as they may represent the record of an exceptional experience, I consider them, on the whole, a valuable contribution to the pathology of the disease.

F. L. Oswald.


Messrs. Editors:

An article on animal friendships, which appeared not long since in "The Popular Science Monthly," reminded me of a remarkable instance that came under my own observation a short time ago.

While on a visit to a farmer in a neighboring county, I was surprised to see a magnificent, full-grown wild-turkey wandering around with the fowls in his barnyard. On watching the turkey, I was still more surprised to notice that she followed particularly a large rooster; the two seemed to be on excellent terms, and frequently strayed off from the main flock together. Inquiring of the owner, I learned the following facts: Two of his children found a few wild-turkeys' eggs in the forest and brought them home, placing them under a domestic turkey, with other eggs, to hatch. Three of the wild-turkey eggs hatched, and two of the chicks lived to grow up, but soon betrayed an evident dislike for the domestic turkeys, the one before mentioned showing a warm regard for the rooster, which was evidently reciprocated. When this one became fully grown, the children traded it off to a neighboring boy who resided about three miles distant in the woods, but on the following day the turkey appeared at its old home and immediately sought out its friend the rooster. It was returned to the neighbor, who finally found it impossible to keep his new possession, and so the bargain had to be annulled, and rooster and turkey were allowed to peacefully enjoy each other's companionship.

E. M. S.
Springfield, Missouri, October 22, 1883.

  1. "China tobacco" and niter are hardly less objectionable. Only three weeks ago Charles H. Codman, the well-known liberal and political economist, died from the effects of inhaling niter-fumes. (Vide p. 148 in Boston "Index" of September 27, 1883.)