‘Mad stones’ were thought to cure rabies in 1800s

Published 4:18 pm Friday, February 1, 2019

Mad stones were used to treat rabies in earlier times. Besides rabies, the mad stone also was used to treat snake bites, bee stings, spider bites, other insect bites and toothaches.

The mad stone allegedly prevented rabies by drawing the poison out.

Mad stones were dark brown, about 1 1/2 inches by 1/4 of an inch, and had a rough texture. They were found in the stomach or intestines of cud-chewing animals. A stone from a brown deer was thought to work in a bind if another could not be found. A better grade of mad stone was believed to come from a white or spotted deer. It had a stony concretion as a hairball.

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The stone was placed on a wound where it stuck and could not be pulled off. It was supposed to stay in place until it fell off the skin.

Abraham Lincoln, while living in Indiana, brought his young son Robert to be treated with a mad stone after a dog bite in 1859.

Mad stones were not supposed to be bought or sold or it was thought they would not work. The stones were usually kept in the same families and handed down for generations.

W. F. Clarkson, a farmer of Pleasant Hill in Mercer County, had a genuine mad stone that had been used 59 times since he owned it, according to an article published in September 1887 in The Kentucky Advocate.

He applied the stone to a wound thought to have contained a virus from the saliva of a mad dog and the stone stuck to the wound for over an hour and, according to the article, absorbed the poison.

Several days after, the mad dog wandered into the grounds of St. Catherine’s of Sienna, a convent near Springfield in Washington County where 40 or 50 nuns lived. It had bitten two or three dogs.

A small terrier, to which Sister Benven was very much attached was one of the dogs bitten. She wiped the saliva from his head with her hand where a finger was scratched.

A day later, she feared she would die from hydrophobia caused by the scratch and went to Clarkson for help. He applied the stone to the scratch and it worked successfully.

Sister Benven was much relieved and returned to St. Catherine later in the day.

At the time, Clarkson had owned the stone for 23 years, and during this period was thought to have successfully treated 59 cases of bites of dogs, cats, snakes and poisonous insects in Marion, Washington and Casey counties.

Physicians were skeptical at first, but after witnessing experiments with the mad stone, they believed it really worked.

Peter Saunders of Washington County was badly bitten by a mad dog and it was said by reliable persons he was entirely relieved by the application of the stone. Several hogs and horses bitten at the same time by the same dog that bit Saunders died of hydrophobia.

Dr. Yandell of Louisville ridiculed the idea of a mad stone possessing any extraordinary curative powers, and his opinion was published about the same time in the Springfield newspaper. The article was extensively copied and commented on.

Clarkson claimed to have procured the mad stone from an Italian, who brought it from Switzerland. The stone, about an inch thick and one and half inches long, weighed about 2 pounds. It resembled a piece of bone and was very porous.

After being applied to a wound containing a virus until it ceased to adhere, it was required to soak it in a mixture of warm milk and water before it could be applied again, and so on until all the poison had been absorbed or drawn out.

Clarkson was offered a handsome price for the stone by people in Canada, but he refused to part with it. The stone afforded considerable revenue to the owner.

In 1926, Maggie Wingate of Norwood, Ohio, daughter of Clarkson, said she had the mad stone that had been owned by her father. She said it had been applied to hundreds of people who were bitten by dogs and cats and it never failed to adhere.

Many stories of saving people

A lumberman of New River, Tennessee arrived in Danville in August 1918 in search of the mad stone, after he was attacked by a bulldog believed to have been mad.

Edward Long spent the night at the Gilcher Hotel and left early for Pellyton, in Casey County, to find a man with a mad stone. He also heard there was someone in Bradfordsville and planned to make a trip there.

Long told an Advocate reporter he was on his way to his office when he observed a large dog approaching him in a run.

The canine stopped in front of him in the road and without warning made a jump at his throat. He warded the dog off but was bitten twice on the right arm. Long drew his knife and when the dog made the second attack, Long killed it.

There were some outbreaks of rabies in Tennessee and Long said it would be safer to find a mad stone and thus take all precautions.

A couple of dogs, supposed to be mad, attacked a small boy in April 1889 and were literally devouring him when a Danville officer came to his rescue.

He shot one of the dogs and the other ran into the house of its owner. Before killing the second dog, Corman was bitten on the hand. He went to Junction City and secured a mad stone owned by Clarkson. It adhered to the bite three times, for about 15 minutes each time, greatly to the relief of Corman.

The mad stone was also used in January of 1909 in Middleburg after reports of a mad dog.

Leston Wesley, 10-year-old son of Enoch Wesley, a prominent farmer, was bitten by a dog in January 1909 and was later taken to a mad stone in Ellisburg. The stone is said to have adhered for two hours.

Vernon Jones, son of F.L. Jones, also a victim of the supposed mad dog, used the mad stone and it stuck to the wound.

The people were keeping close watch as it was thought that several dogs and some livestock had been bitten by the dog.

George William Frye, who lives near Liberty, also was bitten by a small shepherd dog in April 1889. Afraid it might be a mad dog, Frye went to Briartown to check out the mad stone. The treatment reportedly worked and he was healed.

Mad stones’ superstitious history

There were some popular beliefs not quite classifiable as superstitions which seem too deeply rooted for universal education to destroy. Several of these concern mad dogs.

The idea that a healthy dog which bites a person must be killed because if it should in the future go mad, the person bitten would get hydrophobia was reluctantly given up, even by some persons of education.

Even more strange, said the New York Post in October 1903, is the belief in “mad stones about which much has been printed of late.

“There are many mad stones in this county, and the believers in their efficacy always know where the nearest one is kept.”

In a sense, these porous stones were public institutions. Some had curious histories.

One was the property of an old man named Depp in Ohio. On his death, it was placed in the State Library in Columbus, from which, according to reports, it was taken and applied to the wound of a woman bitten by a supposedly rabid dog.

The same report stated the dog was not mad after all, but the woman received blood poison from the stone and died.

The stone’s career of healing should be ended by now.

A Virginia newspaper article said another mad stone was kept at the state penitentiary for many years, and was free for the use of any person who wanted it applied to a bite or other wound.

Later, the mad stone which may perhaps have been the same specimen was sold at auction in the county for $39.

A mad stone in St. Louis and one of its cures was written about in the newspaper.

“I was brought to this country in 1887 by a Russian physician, who settled in Nevada. He said the stone had been used in Russia for 150 years, and proof was documented in Russian on parchment. He offered the stone for sale at $1,500. A farmer formed a sock company to buy the stone. About a thousand stockholders paid one dollar. The owner of the stone gave the remainder of the sum needed.

“The stone was used on animals, and most people that were bitten by dogs. In one case, the owner said the dog was not shot on the spot, but kept until he died of rabies.

“So celebrated were the virtues of this stone the neighbors were willing to believe that an offer of $3,000 for it had been refused.”

Information for this article was taken from articles in The Advocate-Messenger Archives and the “Old Farmers Almanac.”