Madstones: Are they myth, superstition or medicine

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022

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Madstone. Merriam Webster defines madstone as “a stony concretion, such as a hair ball taken from the stomach of a deer that formerly was used in folklore and by some physicians to counteract the poisonous effect of an animal bite that was affected with rabies.”  Those people who believed in the curative powers of madstones thought the most powerful stones came from the stomachs of deer, especially white deer.

There were specific rules or superstitions to follow when using a madstone.  First, madstones were never bought or sold; the injured party had to go to the person with the madstone and there was never a charge for the service.  Before using the madstone it had to be boiled in sweet milk then applied to the wound.  The stone would adhere to the wound and would begin drawing out the poison.  Once the stone fell off, it was boiled again in sweet milk until the milk turned green and then reapplied to the wound again.  This process was repeated until the stone would not adhere to the wound.  When the stone no longer adhered to the wound, it was believed all of the poison had been removed.

Major Thomas M. Murphree, a former tax assessor and one of the most prominent citizens and Confederate veterans in this section had a madstone.  According to a notice in the March 10, 1892 Troy Messenger, “Mr. Thomas M. Murphree now possesses a madstone given him by a man down in South Alabama.  This is a consolation to the people who have faith in them.”

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In the May 10, 1899 Troy Messenger, “W. T. Fields, of Sprague Junction, brought his little son to this city last Sunday night to be treated by Thos. M. Murphree with his madstone.  This little boy was bitten in two or three places on his forearm by a mad dog last Saturday.  Mr. Murphree took charge of the little fellow and began making application to the wounds which was continued for three days and nights, when Mr. Murphree pronounced the work done.”

In the May 21, 1902 Troy Messenger, “Milton Whaley, one of Pike’s most prominent planters was bitten by a snake Wednesday.  The place began to swell, so Mr. Whaley, although always a sturdy man, took on a quantity of ‘snake bite’ to offset the poison and then hurried to secure the services of Mr. Thomas Murphree.  The wound required two applications of the madstone before all the virus was extracted.  Mr. Murphree says the virus extracted from the bite of a snake is different from that taken from the bite of a dog or any animal.” 

Madstone…myth or medicine?  You be the judge.

All of these articles can be found in previous editions of The Troy Messenger.  Stay tuned for more.  Dianne Smith is the President of the Pike County Historical, Genealogical and Preservation Society.