By Kristen Kauffman


In recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, here's Kristen Kauffman with a reminder of how people dealt with the very different kinds of accidents that occurred in the 1800s…


On February 1, 1873, a Prescott newspaper, the Arizona Miner, reported on a detective chasing a diamond swindler across the country and then to Europe. There were stories about the Arizona Territory erecting schools and selecting instructors and about balls being hosted at townspeople’s houses and in public spaces. Nestled between an article about church services offered in the area and an ad for Wm. B. Hooper & Co. General Merchandise was this article offering advice:


“Prof. Wilder, of the Cornell University, gives these short rules for action in cases of accident. It would not be a bad thing to cut them out and carry them in one’s pocketbook, or better yet, commit them to memory.

For dust in the eyes, avoid rubbing: dash water into them; remove cinders, &c., with the round point of a lead pencil.

Remove insects from the ear by tepid water: never put a hard instrument into the ear.

If an artery is cut, compress above the wound; if a vein is cut, compress below.

If choked, get upon all fours and cough.

For slight burns, dip the part in cold water; if the skin is destroyed, cover with varnish.

Smother a fire with carpets, &c: water will often spread burning oil, and increase danger. Before passing through smoke, take a full breath and then stoop low but if carbon is expected, walk erect.

Suck poisoned wounds, unless your mouth is sore; enlarge the wound, or, better, cut out the part without delay; hold the wounded part as long as can be borne to a hot coal, or end of a cigar. 
In a case of poisoning, excite vomiting by tickling the throat or by warm water and mustard.

For acid poisons, give alkalis; for alkaline poisons, give acids; white of egg is good in most cases; in cases of opium poisoning, give strong coffee and keep moving. 

If in water, float on the back, with the nose and mouth projecting.

For apoplexy, raise the head and body; for fainting, lay the person flat.”


The Arizona Miner article offers a revealing look at Prescott’s culture in 1873. In contrast, today’s newspapers might offer advice on relieving stinging paper cuts, on treating a cut on your hand from using a cheese grater slicer or on scraped knees from falling on a hike or a jog. But in 1873, it appears the average reader’s common injuries involved poison, fire, burns, bugs and dust, as well as lacerations that might include cut arteries or veins.


Today’s reader may not find this advice useful. For instance, most readers are not going to get cinders out of their eyes by delicately applying the tip of a pencil to the cinder. Additionally, it is no longer considered good advice to cut the site of a snakebite and suck out the poison with your mouth. According to most medical professionals today, this procedure can spread the poison inside the mouth (and potentially to organs), thus maximizing exposure to possible detrimental effects. In addition, cutting the area can alter blood flow and potentially pool the poison internally, causing more damage to the area; and today’s advice definitely doesn’t include holding the burning end of a cigar onto the wound as long as you can stand it.


Modern-day medicine offers treatments that Prescott didn’t have in 1873, and current advice is simply to get to the hospital as soon as possible.


“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at for information or assistance with photo requests.