John E. Healy and Charles Bigelow were proprietors of a patent medicine business called the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company that sold several different concoctions under the “Kickapoo Indian” name in the late 1800’s. Later, the company continued to operate as a subsidiary of the William R. Warner Co. well into the 1900’s.
What they’d like you to believe about their line of patent medicines was spelled out in Healy & Bigelow’s “Family Cook Book,” published in 1890.
The Kickapoo Indian Remedies have acquired a wide spread fame, and have done more to help suffering humanity than any other medicines…
They have been born in nature’s bosom and reared in nature’s lap; hence the mysteries of all nature is an open book to them. They live up to nature’s laws and partake in nature’s remedies, and this gives them the healthy lungs, superb muscle power, strong constitution, luxuriant hair and sound white teeth for which they are noted. No-one has ever seen a deformed or bald headed Indian.
…None are more intellectual than the Kickapoo’s, and they have discovered superior medicinal qualities in certain barks, roots, herbs, gums and leaves, never ascertained or applied before…and the peculiar compounding of their medicines is known only to themselves. These Kickapoo doctors now manufacture five special remedies:
Their “Family Cook Book” went on to illustrate each medicine’s late 1800’s packaging.
The affectations supposedly cured by each of these remedies were spelled out in another 1890 advertisement, this one found in a publication called “Keeling’s Book of Recipes.”
The Kickapoo remedies were promoted by traveling medicine shows that featured both Native Americans and vaudeville performers. According to a book entitled “Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones,” by Ann Anderson:
Each traveling unit featured a “village” populated by varying numbers of Native Americans, several performers to entertain the audience with jokes and songs, and an agent who harangued the audience about the benefits of Kickapoo Indian Remedies during the performance.
This undated photograph of one such show was recently offered for sale on the internet.
According to a story in a Wisconsin newspaper called the “Steven’s Point Gazette,” in 1895 Healy & Bigelow had 100 of these shows operating throughout the country. The story was published on February 6th after one such show had just closed up and left Steven’s Point.
Dr. Percy Hudson and his Kickapoo medicine company closed a two weeks’ engagement, at Chilla’s Hall, last Saturday evening, giving good performances nightly and selling fair quantities of their Kickapoo remedies. Healy & Bigelow are the proprietors, and they have 100 companies on the road at present, covering the entire country, and they have been traveling continually for years. The size of these companies average a half dozen people, and it will be seen that the income from their sales and performances must be considerable.
In addition to saturating the United States the company put on their medicine shows in places as far away as South America, as evidenced by this item that appeared in the September 23, 1891 edition of New Haven’s “Morning Journal-Courier.”
Five colored men from the “sandy hollow” district of New Haven went to New York last night to sail for South America, where they are to do their musical acts in the employ of Healy & Bigelow.
The concept for the “Kickapoo Indian Medicine” operation was born in the late 1870’s when John E. Healy got together with a patent medicine manufacturer named E. H. Flagg who, early in the 1870’s, was hawking two patent medicines; a pain reliever called “Flagg’s Instant Relief,” and “Flagg’s Cough Killer.” This advertisement touting both appeared in the July 12, 1871 edition of Portland Maine’s “Daily Press.”
At around the same time, Healy was managing a traveling comedy company that performed an Irish themed variety show called “Healy’s Hibernian Gems.” Between 1874 and 1876 the troupe was criss crossing the country performing in various cities along the way. The following advertisement touting their San Francisco stay appeared in the September 3, 1874 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.
It follows quite naturally that Healy’s experience with traveling shows coupled with Flagg’s patent medicine business resulted in the traveling medicine show concept. In fact, its likely that Flagg’s “Instant Relief” became “Kickapoo Indian Oil” (both cured both internal and external pain), and Flagg’s Cough Killer became “Kickapoo Cough Cure.”
Now all they needed was a front man and Charles Bigelow fit the bill. According to the New England Historical Society, in the late 1870’s Bigelow was associated with a man named “Dr. Yellowstone” who had also concocted a line of Native American themed medicines called “Indian Herbs of Wonder,” so he was certainly familiar with the requisite “sales pitch.”
Early on the company headquarters was no more than a series of tents pitched in a major city where they put on extravagant medicine shows and coordinated the operations of their local traveling shows.
According to “Snake Oil Hambones and Hustlers”
Healy & Bigelow started the Kickapoo business in a Providence hotel storeroom and then moved to Boston where they pitched a tent in front of the train station and put on a show.
Not just a tent, as early as May 20, 1882 they were advertising it as an Indian Village in the “Boston Globe” .
The only mention of Healy & Bigelow in the Boston directories during this time appears in 1884 when they’re listed in the commercial directory under the heading “medicines,” with an address of 130 Commercial. There’s no mention of Flagg suggesting that he was out of the picture by then. The next year, in 1885, the Boston Directory simply stated: “Healy & Bigelow, patent medicines, removed to New York City.”
There, the city directories listed the business as John E. Healy, “pat meds,” (1885 to 1887) and later, “Healy & Bigelow” (1887 to 1888). Always listed with an address of 26 West Street, this is likely where they manufactured their medicines during this time.
Though not listed until 1885, as early as 1882 they were operating what they called “wigwams” in New York, as evidenced by this item that appeared in the November 12th edition of the “Boston Globe.”
John E. Healy of the Indian Village claims to be clearing $1,000 a week at his New York branch wigwam.
Apparently a seasonal operation, in the Spring of 1883 the New York “wigwam” was located on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and described like this in the May 13, 1883 edition of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle:”
Three large tents have been erected here, in which are to be displayed, in the first a “real” Indian village populated by “real” Indians; in the second a museum which is claimed to be unequalled for the extent and variety of its curiosities and rare exhibits; while the third is fitted up as Summer theater, with a well appointed stage, comfortable sittings, etc., and which is to be devoted to acrobatic, gymnastic and specialty performances of the best class.
This advertisement for opening night appeared in the May 14, 1883 edition of the “Brooklyn Union.”
The next day, opening night, which included more than one appearance by Charles Bigelow (alias Texas Charlie), was described like this in the “Brooklyn Union.” Having bought in to Texas Charlie’s spiel, the reporter certainly appeared awed by the experience.
The Big Indian Wigwam
Mr. W. C. Coup opened his Indian wigwam at the corner of Flatbush and Fifth Avenues last evening, and the prevailing rainstorm, though making unpleasant for an opening night, did not very materially interfere with the attendance, as all the seats were occupied. The tent in which the performances are given is about 150 feet in diameter, having a circle of “circus seats” and the center is supplied with chairs. The interior is tastefully decorated with bunting and large squares of movable pictures of Indian warfare scenes are exhibited. Mr. Charles Bigelow (“Texas Charlie”) introduced fifty Indians to the audience and made a speech which was in reality an eloquent plea for the red man’s rights, and, coming from one who has had long experience on the border, carried a conviction with it. The audience heartily applauded the lecturer for his sentiments, which were given with an unmistakeable Western feeling. These Indians during the evening gave their war and medicine dances and peculiar chants, and the more intelligent among them welcomed visitors at the close of the performance to their tents. The variety show comprised a dog circus by Mr. Shedman’s trained canines, tight-rope gyrations by a trained monkey, banjo playing by Al Harris, horizontal bar acts by Currey and Avery, songs and dances by Saunders and Dean, musical selections by Pettingall and Frazer, acrobatic performances by the Sherman Brothers, and trapeze acts by Ella Zuila. The fancy shooting by Texas Charlie was excellent, shooting potatoes off a stick from almost every conceivable position, and ending up with two shots which made the audience feel somewhat awed, knocking off at the first shot the ashes from the cigar of a gentleman held between his lips and at the next shot cutting off the lighted portion.
The museum tent is about one hundred and thirty feet in diameter and is filled with one of the most remarkable collection of curios and antiques outside of the old-established museums of universities and scientific bodies. Mr. Coup intends to remain all summer and will add fresh novelties every week. Stage performances are given afternoons and evenings.
The following summer Healy & Bigelow were operating another “wigwam,” this one in Manhattan. According to a story published in the June 25, 1884 edition of the “New York Tribune,” it was not well received in the neighborhood.
A “Big Indian Wigwam” at One-hundred-and-sixteenth Street, between Second and Third Aves., has so far disturbed the usual quiet of that neighborhood that a petition signed by nearly a hundred residents was recently sent to District-Attourney Onley, asking if some action could not be taken against the proprietors. John Healy and Charles Bigelow – the latter known as “Texas Charlie,”- proprietors, and the manager, Thomas E. Hallock were indicted for keeping a disorderly public resort. Hallock was tried yesterday before Recorder Smyth. More than a score of businessmen living in One-hundred-and-fifteenth and One-hundred-and-sixteenth Sts. were called as witnesses. Some of them described the place as a nuisance and testified that the tent was nightly filled with a crowd, mostly boys, that yelled and hooted in applause at the performers, who were called by the Assistant District-Attorney “Sullivan St. Indians.” The jury convicted Hallock, and he was remanded for sentence.
At the same location, earlier that month, a June 6th “Brooklyn Union Story” announced that Bigelow had been fined $100…
for violating the Penal Code by giving an exhibition, in which a man stood against a wooden target while another threw daggers in close proximity to the man’s body.
The following summer, there were no Manhattan or Brooklyn newspaper advertisements for the “wigwam,” suggesting that by then Bigelow may have worn out his welcome there. At which point he apparently moved on to Chicago where a “Chicago Tribune” reporter found “Texas Charlie” in 1886. It’s clear from his July 5th story that the Tribune reporter was more skeptical than his Brooklyn counterpart.
PATENT MEDICINE MEN
Indians Employed to Advertise a Certain Sort of Alleged Medicines
An “Indian village” of about a dozen tents has been located for the last few weeks in the baseball park at Thirty-third street and Portland Avenue. The occupants are some ten to twelve Pawnee Indians and an equal number of more or less civilized whites. The whole is under the command of “Texas Charley,” formerly an Indian agent and now a patent medicine drummer. The Indian village is an advertising scheme for the medicine referred to – the medicine being advertised as of Indian origin – and the proprietors of the village and the manufacturers are a firm of New York druggists, whose concoctions have probably about as much connection with Indian herbs and simples as they have with the oyster-beds of Lake Michigan or the sugar-mines of Siberia.
“Texas Charley” was found at the village yesterday enjoying a sleep in the sunshine. He was pleased to talk to reporters about Kickapoos, and Pawnees, and Sioux, and Chipewas, and wigwams, and medicine men, and braves, and squaws, and chiefs, and happy hunting grounds, and all the romantic hocus-pocus appertaining to the poor Indian. He said the firm has about twenty bands of Indians out over the States advertising their medicine. Chicago was the headquarters; he kept the reserve forces here and directed the movements of each band. They gave free shows of a Buffalo-Bill sort of character, distributed advertising pamphlets to the crowds, and then induced the local druggists to keep a permanent stock of the medicine. Their expenses here at Chicago averaged $700 to $800 a week. They gave two exhibitions a day here, except Sundays, when the baseball clubs needed the park.
“Texas Charlie” went on to answer a few questions about the Native Americans that were part of the show.
“Where do you get the Indians?
“Off the reservations. We hire them and give bonds to the government to treat them well and send them home when we are through with them.”
“You pay them a salary?”
“Yes; $30 a month. The chiefs get a commission on the business to make them take an interest in the work, and we give them about $50 a month. Of course we feed them besides. They send home about half what they earn; we don’t let them spend it. The rest of their pay they spend on tobacco and trinkets.”
“What reservations do you get them from?”
“From everywhere and anywhere we please. These here now are Pawnees from the Kansas reservation.”
In 1887 and 1888, the Chicago city directories listed “The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company,” with an address of 174 W. Van Buren. which was likely used for storage.
In 1888 Healy and Bigelow moved their headquarters to New Haven, Connecticut where they were listed with an address on Grand Avenue.
They remained at that location until 1893 when they moved to larger quarters at 441 Chapel Street, also in New Haven. The March 1, 1893 edition of New Haven’s “Morning Journal-Courier” announced the move.
Yesterday the Healy & Bigelow company bought for about $25,000 the large brick factory at the corner of Chapel and Hamilton Streets, formerly occupied for years by the well remembered firm of Durham & Wooster, carriage makers. The property has a frontage on Chapel Street of 157 feet and 140 feet on Hamilton Street and is a valuable investment.
Healy and Bigelow remained the proprietors of the business up until 1895 when Healy retired. According to the February 26, 1895 edition of the “Morning Journal-Courier:”
The well known patent medicine firm of Healy & Bigelow, with headquarters on Chapel Street, has been dissolved, John E. Healy withdrawing… Mr. Bigelow retains the controlling interest.
A week later the business incorporated with Bigelow serving as its first president. The March 2, 1895 edition of the Morning Journal-Courier published the incorporation notice.
The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company of New Haven has filed a certificate of organization with the secretary of state, its capital stock being $72,000 and the shareholders, Charles Bigelow of this city, Lucius S. Davis of Northampton, Mass., and James K. Averill of New York City.
Four years later, the September 5, 1899 edition of the “M0rning Journal Courier” announced that Bigelow had sold the Chapel Street factory and was planning a move.
Charles Bigelow, president of the Kickapoo Medicine Company, who sold their factory at 441 Chapel Street last week, says a new factory will be built for the headquarters of the medicine company, as soon as a suitable site can be procured.
Another story, this one in the September 2, 1899 edition of the (Meridian Connecticut) Journal added:
The price paid was $28,000.
The medicine company has a lease on the property for a year with the privilege of an extension.
Bigelow took advantage of the additional time afforded by the lease, ultimately moving just outside New Haven, to Clintonville, in early 1901. The move was announced in the February 27, 1901 edition of the “Morning Journal Courier.”
The Kickapoo Medicine Company will soon remove to Clintonville, where a manufacturing building is being fitted up for the company. It is on the Air Line road and has ample facilities for shipping freight…It is expected that the company will remove prior to April 1.
By the time the company settled in Clintonville their menu of Kickapoo products had grown significantly. A February 13, 1902 price list that appeared in the “Pharmaceutical Era.” shows Kickapoo Indian Pills, Liverines, and Prairie Plant, along with Kickapoo Soap had been added to the original five.medicines.
Ultimately, ten years after moving to Clintonville, the corporation dissolved. The preliminary certificate of dissolution was published in the “Hartford Courant” on October 10, 1911.
Advertisements for their traveling shows, though less and less frequent, continued right up to the end. One of the last ones I can find, published in the December 1, 1908 edition of the “Waterville (Me) Seninel.” made it clear that their approach remained the same.
The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company which has been demonstrating the Indian remedies at Vose & Luques’ drug store for the past two weeks, has changed the window attraction for this week and has transferred here the little Indian family consisting of Chief White Horse, squaw Minnehaha and papoose Little Thunder.
Little Thunder is about eight months old and is strapped to the Indian cradle in the primitive way, and whenever he has appeared has attracted great crowds of all classes of people.
In addition to the Indian family there will be added two chiefs, Deep Sky and Deer Foot, and through efforts of Messrs. Rose & Luques the people of Waterville are to be given an opportunity to see and hear the Kickapoo Indians in some of their native songs and dances at the Silver Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon and evening, when will be given such songs as “Lake Side” and “Mosquito Song.” Among the dances will be the White Bean and War dances.
Indian courtship and marriage will be illustrated and also the raising of a man up to be a chief. The admission to the Silver Theater will remain the same.
While dissolution of the Connecticut corporation put an end to any connection Bigelow had with the business, it didn’t put an end to the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company or their products.
The next year, an item published in the June 6, 1912 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, announced that the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company had incorporated in Pennsylvania, with capital of $5,000. Now operating as a subsidiary of Wm. R. Warner & Co., between 1913 and 1919 their listed addresses coincided with Warner locations at 639 N. Broad in Philadelphia and 500 N. Commercial in St. Louis, Missouri.
The menu of Kickapoo products continued to expand under Warner as evidenced by this listing that appeared in the 1915 N.A.R.D. Journal.
Under Warner, their medicine shows vanished but newspaper advertisements continued through the mid-teens; most focused on their Kickapoo Worm Killer. The following, published in the May 28, 1914 edition of the “Oklahoma Register” was typical.
The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Co. remained in both Philadelphia and St. Louis up through the late teens at which time the William R. Warner & Co. consolidated in New York City. According to the November, 1916 edition of the “Practical Druggist:”
The formation of a new centre of New York chemical interests is heralded in the sale of the old B. Altman department store property, once occupied by the Greenhut Company, in the west side of Sixth Avenue, between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets, New York City, to William R. Warner & Co., of Philadelphia, manufacturing pharmacists and wholesalers, for close to $1,100,000 in cash. The transaction means bringing 500 employees and their families to New York.
The Warner Company is one of the largest concerns of its kind in this country, controlling the local Richard Hudnut Company, the Searle & Herth Co., Sloan’s Liniment Co., Kickapoo Indian Medicine Co., the Haywood Family Remedies, the Kid-ne-oid Preparations, Meade & Baker Carbolic Mouth Wash Co., Morely Medicine Co., the Sutherland Medicine Company and others.
The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company (Pa.) was listed at William R. Warner & Co.’s New York City address of 113- 133 West Eighteenth Street from 1917 up through the early 1930’s, after which I lose track.
Advertisements for most of the Kickapoo named products had petered out by the 1920’s, however “Kickapoo Worm Killer” was still included in drug store price listings as late as 1942.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to find bottles that contained three of the five original Kickapoo products; Indian Sagwa, Indian Oil and Indian Cough Cure. In fact they’re the only three that came in bottles. They’re mouth blown and exactly match the bottles exhibited in the company’s 1890 “Cook Book.”