The Wild West was a time filled with rugged cowboys, untamed spirits, and pioneering pioneers who etched their names in American history. Amid legends and tradition, one aspect remains mysterious: their hygiene habits. Imagine a world without running water and modern toilets, where cleanliness (or lack thereof) had a whole new meaning. Prepare for a journey as we discover the disturbing but strangely fascinating hygiene practices that were common not long ago.
Lard soap, whiskey and pencils were used on women’s hair
Wild West hair care took an intriguing turn. Forget the aromatic shampoos we know today; Back then, these were bars of soap with lard and lye that were convenient and odorless. But wait, there is more! Some daring people turned to an unconventional blend of whiskey and castor oil to cleanse and condition their hair. Talk about a wild hair care cocktail! Can you imagine putting all these random products in your hair?
And how did women wear their hair at that time? With pencils, of course! They would wrap their locks around a pencil and hope it would look curly and cute afterwards.
People went to the bathroom in latrines that smelled horrible.
Most people think of cowboys and Western movies when they think of the Wild West, but it was a time full of dirty practices. Specifically, a time when modern toilets were mere products of the future. Latrines, those open-air sheds that covered holes in the ground, were the norm. Imagine the unsanitary conditions: pungent odors, bugs galore, and no toilet paper. That’s right, this essential element did not appear in the Western world until the mid-19th century.
Leaves, corn cobs, or grass served as less than ideal substitutes for toilet paper, and the smell was so overpowering that being near one of them instantly turned your stomach.
The bars were full of poor quality liquor and towels full of bacteria
The tavern world of the Old West was a time when alcohol flowed freely and adventures took place. But beneath the lively façade lies a truth that will give you goosebumps. People ventured into uncharted territories filled with makeshift saloons known for serving a famous drink known as “rotgut” liquor. These were usually poor quality randomly mixed liquors, and it wouldn’t be surprising to know that they could make people sick after drinking them.
As if that weren’t enough, the bar railings were adorned with towels, supposedly used to dry beer-soaked beards. What customers didn’t know was that these seemingly harmless towels harbored a breeding ground for germs and dirt.
It was common to sleep in beds made of straw infested with insects
Imagine a world where beds were made of straw and hay, with no frame to elevate them. It may seem unthinkable today, but that was the reality of the past. Comfort was a secondary concern, as sleeping on straw was still preferable to bare ground. However, proper sanitation was extremely difficult and regular straw replacement was often impractical. This led to some less than ideal sleeping arrangements.
The hay beds were often infested with bugs, lice and any other creepy crawlers that made their way through the hay stacks!
Cowboy Bandanas Could Protect Against Overpowering Odors
The cowboys and cowgirls of the Wild West era not only set fashion trends; The choice of accessories had a double purpose: practicality and hygiene. The scarves provided protection from strong winds and the scorching sun; There is another hidden benefit. At a time when access to clean water and regular bathing was limited, personal hygiene practices were not always up to par. Scarves, often worn around the neck or face, acted as a makeshift shield.
Not only did they protect against dust, but they also helped reduce the spread of germs and unpleasant odors that people so commonly encountered during the harsh days of the Wild West.
Oral hygiene consisted of plyers and whiskey.
The lack of essential resources for dental care meant oral hygiene took a backseat to survival, and a pristine smile was a rare gem. Toothbrushes were a luxury, and for many, brushing their teeth was an afterthought. But it gets worse. When we faced dental problems such as cavities or root canals, the remedies were far from sophisticated. Be prepared, as the preferred method was simply barbers or even blacksmiths acting as makeshift dentists and extracting the problem tooth with the players!
And although numbing the pain was a priority, the only solace came in the form of a good drink of whiskey.
Most people didn’t have toilet paper.
In the Wild West, people had to get creative when it came to the bathroom business. Toilet paper ceased to exist for a long time, so they resorted to using corn on the cob, pages torn from magazines and catalogs. It was not until 1857 that Joseph Gayetty introduced “medicinal paper,” but it was sold individually, not in rolls. Rolled toilet paper did not arrive until 1890, along with the invention of the toilet paper holder.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that proper toilet paper became widely available. The Wild West really had its share of unsanitary bathroom practices.
The Surprising Truth Behind Infrequent Rainfall in the Far West
In the rugged, dusty terrain of the American West, cleanliness took on a whole new meaning. Pioneers and cowboys had the peculiar idea that bathing too frequently could harm your health. They feared that frequent washing would leave their pores vulnerable, becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and disease. However, the reality was far from ideal. With limited access to clean, uncontaminated water, many settlers had no choice but to forgo regular showers and baths.
They did not know that their reluctance to wash would have unhealthy consequences. The cowboys, dressed in the same clothes day after day, fell victim to persistent fungal infections that flourished amid the filth.
Barbers were often sought out for advice on personal grooming habits.
Go back in time to the Old West, where barbers held a special place in society. They were seen as knowledgeable figures, providing not only haircuts but also hygiene advice. However, their recommendations were not always the best. People praised them for promoting personal cleanliness as a key to comfort and health. But what they didn’t know was that some of the practices and products suggested by barbers, such as using questionable lotions and powders, were not actually effective.
However, her status in the community remained high and even women sought her guidance on beauty routines.
It was difficult to get clean water for drinking and showering
The Wild West was a time when the luxury of running water was but a distant dream. As the United States expanded westward in the 19th century, most regions lacked adequate water infrastructure. While established areas enjoyed the convenience of irrigation and filtration systems, venturing into uncharted territories meant leaving these modern conveniences behind. This also meant that showering, brushing teeth, and even drinking fresh water were a challenge.
Therefore, the best they could do was to collect the rain; Otherwise, drinking water and washing yourself was a daunting and difficult task to do every day.
Most men in the Wild West had long, dirty hair.
In the Wild West, men’s hairstyles became more than just a fashion statement: they revealed travelers’ stories. Most men avoided cutting their hair because they were traveling on the run. Therefore, they were not being cleaned or groomed. So their long hair was representative of how long they were on the road. And most likely, how long have they gone without a good shower. You can imagine how smelly her hair would get!
But that’s just the beginning; Stay tuned as we expose the grossest details of the unholy secrets of the Wild West.
Mercury was used to combat syphilis
There was a time when a terrible epidemic known as syphilis swept through the population like wildfire. In search of a remedy, medical professionals turned to a substance that seemed to hold the key: mercury. Despite serious side effects, patients endured a grueling routine of daily applications of mercury ointment. This reckless treatment could last for years and unleash many horrors on the afflicted. However, people were convinced that the treatment was worth it.
Ulcers, tooth loss and even kidney failure were just some of the devastating consequences. In fact, it was a scary time to deal with any health issue.
Soaps were made with animal fat
In the modern era, we are spoiled for choice, with many brands of soap for every preference; The options seem endless. However, in the days of the Wild West, the selection of soaps was much more limited. However, that didn’t mean they were left without them. Their soaps had a simple recipe. Typically composed of animal fat, lye, and water and infused with herbs for added scent and effects, these cleaners got the job done.
Although it may seem disgusting to think that people actually washed their bodies with soaps composed of animal fat, it was simply a way of life.
People spit so much that it had to be banned
In the saloons of the western frontier it was common to see men spitting tobacco on the floor. Spittoons and spittoons were placed along the bar to catch the spit, but this did not solve the problem. The floors were covered with sawdust to absorb saliva, creating a breeding ground for germs. It became a hotbed for respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. To make matters worse, travelers who rented rooms in these halls slept amidst this unhygienic mess.
Some places even passed laws prohibiting spitting, especially at train stations, with heavy fines and imprisonment as punishment to combat this unhealthy practice.
Live shows were breeding grounds for germs
In the 19th century, amid the grandeur and excitement of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, there were behind-the-scenes realities that highlighted the unsanitary conditions of the time. Behind the dazzling performances and exciting reenactments, the show faced challenges in maintaining proper hygiene. With limited access to sanitation facilities, artists and staff struggled to maintain cleanliness amid their rigorous schedules. Dusty sands and crowded campgrounds provided the perfect breeding ground for germs and disease, posing health risks to both performers and audience members.
While the Wild West spectacle captured the imagination of many, it also serves as a reminder of the unhealthy practices that were prevalent at the time. Read on to discover even more hygiene practices we’re glad are behind us.
Women would clean their faces with river water
Imagine yourself in the Wild West, where dirt was an unwanted companion that clung to every corner. But how did people cope with this constant dirt? Well, the resourceful women of the time had their own tricks up their sleeves. Each morning they embarked on a quest for cleansing, venturing to springs or streams to wash their faces and quench their thirst. But there was one snag that really kept things from being completely clean.
There was hardly any privacy in these bodies of water, and full baths were a luxury reserved for rare occasions, so splashing your face with water was about as clean as they got.
The not-so-new reality of cowboys and their horses
When we imagine cowboys, we imagine tough, rugged individuals with a deep bond with their loyal steeds. Riding across vast landscapes and embarking on daring escapades, their partnership is the stuff of legends. But behind the romantic facade of the Wild West lies a less glamorous truth. The cowboys, known for bathing infrequently, inadvertently subjected their beloved horses to the same fate. As they traveled great distances, proper hygiene took a back seat for both rider and horse.
Apparently, cowboys were known to enter town after a long trip with a potent, distinctive smell following them and wafting through the air.
The fight for sanitation and proper toilets
While indoor plumbing reached large cities like New York as early as 1842, it took several more years for the West to catch up. In 1920, barely 1% of homes across the United States could afford any type of indoor plumbing. However, for most rural households in the Wild West, hand-pumped water was the best they could hope for. Most bathrooms then looked like today’s port-a-potties.
The lack of proper sanitation in many Wild West homes meant that basic hygiene practices suffered, contributing to unsanitary living conditions and potential health risks for their residents.
Families bathed in the same bathwater
In the early days of the Wild West, having a bathtub in the home was a luxury that most homes could not afford. The lack of suitable bathtubs was mainly due to the inconvenience of carrying water, heating it and filling the bathtub. It wasn’t until Sears, Roebuck & Co. began publishing mail-order catalogs in 1894 that people had access to affordable bathtubs. However, even then, a tub from the Sears catalog would cost nearly $800 in today’s money.
As more households acquired bathtubs, the family would share the same bath water, one person at a time, to save effort. The “Saturday night bath” tradition arose when everyone wanted to be clean for church on Sunday.
The dirty truth behind the Hoover Dam transformation
In this stunning historical photograph, we get a glimpse of the wild Colorado River as it flowed near the site of the Hoover Dam. But what lies beneath the surface is a history of unsanitary conditions that plagued the river and its surrounding areas. In the wild days of the past, the Colorado River was subject to pollution from a variety of sources, including mining activities, industrial waste, and improper waste disposal practices.
The once crystal-clear waters became a breeding ground for disease and posed serious health risks to those who depended on them for drinking, bathing and irrigation.
Sand storms caused respiratory illnesses
Grab your cowboy hats, friends, because we’re about to reveal a dirty little secret from the Wild West! Picture this: frontiersmen, tough and determined, fighting not only the elements but also an unsanitary nightmare. We’re talking jaw-dropping dust storms and sand that seemed to seep into every corner. These brave souls had to get creative to stay clean amidst the chaos.
From covering their faces to avoiding sand in their eyes, they faced serious risks to their health. Inhaling sand and getting too much dust in your eyes posed health risks, including respiratory illnesses.
Men were much dirtier than women
In the Wild West, cleaning was a battle against the elements. With water shortages at the time, bathing became a luxury, and some people were lucky enough to wash once a week! But here’s the twist: women emerged as the heroines of border hygiene. By taking care of interior chores, they had better access to precious water and maintained a higher level of cleanliness. Meanwhile, the men worked outdoors, fighting dusty winds and dirt without frequently bathing.
Basically, you didn’t want to be a man, especially during this time, because you were most likely going to be outside, dirty and smelly all the time.
Germs and health risks were everywhere
Picture this: brave frontiersmen and daring pioneers setting out on an epic quest to conquer the untamed territories of the Wild West. But what they didn’t know was that, with every step they took, they were unknowingly becoming carriers of invisible enemies: germs! As they traversed vast landscapes and found new communities, these explorers unknowingly spread bacteria and viruses from one corner of the frontier to the next. With limited medical knowledge and resources, diseases were rampant.
Influenza, measles and tuberculosis, to name a few, wreaked havoc on the population. The lack of proper sanitation and hygiene practices only fueled the transmission of these diseases.
Lysol was used as a cure for many infections
In a time when intimate issues were silenced, a peculiar product took center stage: Lysol. Yes, you read that right. Originally marketed as a household disinfectant, Lysol found an unexpected role in personal hygiene. Women seeking relief from uncomfortable conditions turned to this potent concoction to address their feminine concerns. Surprisingly, Lysol was marketed as a panacea for everything from yeast infections to contraception. What they didn’t know is that the harsh chemicals and toxins hiding in Lysol could cause more harm than good.
It was not until later that society realized the dangerous implications of such practices. The Wild West may have been a frontier of adventure, but it was not a very pleasant time for those facing health problems.
The therapeutic power of Colorado hot springs
While daily showers may not have been the norm, pioneers found solace in the rejuvenating waters of Colorado hot springs. Pagosa Springs stood out as a haven of relaxation and cleansing among these natural wonders. The pioneers immersed themselves in mineral-rich waters, believing in their healing properties. These hot springs were revered not only for their therapeutic benefits but also as a way to escape the challenges of frontier life.
Today, these historic hot springs had been transformed into luxurious spas, preserving the legacy of the pioneers’ pursuit of cleanliness and wellness during a time when cleanliness was difficult to achieve.
Transmitted infections were rampant
Desire and danger were intertwined in taverns and brothels. Behind the attractiveness of the painted ladies, there was a hidden threat: the risk of venereal diseases. Surprisingly, it is estimated that half of the adult performers in the region suffered from these contagious infections, and the use of dangerous remedies such as mercury and boric acid only exacerbated the danger. This meant that infections transmitted between adult performers and their clients spread like wildfire. The true extent of the ravages caused by venereal diseases remains unclear, as death certificates often conceal the cause of death.
The grim reality of the Old West took its toll on the lives of sex workers and their clients and on the harsh realities faced by a society where a clean life was a luxury few could afford.
The healing waters of Arkansas were used as a remedy for the unhealthy practices of pioneers
In a time where diseases and unhygienic environments were rampant and medical treatments were scarce, these hot springs had a mystical power to heal. Imagine a time when back pain and inflammation were common ailments. Instead of modern creams and treatments, American and European medical professionals recommended a trip to hot springs. The pioneers would embark on arduous journeys, crossing thousands of kilometers to immerse themselves in the therapeutic waters.
These natural wonders provided a much-needed break from the hardships of frontier life while also shedding light on the unsanitary hygienic practices of the time and the strong belief in the healing abilities of these extraordinary springs.
How the Wild West Adopted Hygienic Hair Care
Personal hygiene practices often took a back seat during this time. Long, unkempt hair became common among pioneers and cowboys, and served as a testament to their travels. However, as time passed and awareness increased, a change occurred. Men began to recognize the importance of proper hair hygiene and the potential risks of neglecting cleanliness. With improved technology and grooming tools, a new trend has emerged: the clean look.
Men eagerly took up scissors and razors, saying goodbye to their wild, tangled manes and adopting a cleaner, more polished appearance for the first time.
The Deadly Cost of Disease in the Wild West
In the Wild West, disease was the leading cause of death among pioneers. About nine out of ten pioneers succumbed to diseases such as dysentery, smallpox, measles, mumps, influenza, cholera, mountain fever, and scurvy. Cholera, in particular, was the most common and deadly disease. It spread through contaminated water, which was abundant in the unsanitary conditions of the time. Pioneers faced constant risk of infection and death due to poor hygiene practices and lack of sources of clean water.
Staying healthy and avoiding illness was a constant challenge in the unforgiving wilderness of the Wild West.
Taking care of emotional health with superstitions and mystical practices
In the unpredictable world of the Wild West, people found comfort and solace through various means, including superstitions and mystical practices. However, these practices coexisted with the harsh reality of limited access to clean water and proper hygiene. Given water scarcity and difficult living conditions, unhygienic practices could make people seriously ill. So how would they deal with it? They would turn to fortune tellers to glimpse their destiny and future.
They adopted practices such as crystal ball gazing and tarot card readings brought by the Romani people from Europe. These traditions offered them a sense of comfort and connection amid the challenges of frontier life.
Even the churches of this era were plagued with germs
While the Old Mission Church in New Mexico is a symbol of rich history and cultural heritage, it holds secrets of unhealthy practices of the past. In the days of the Wild West, hygiene was often neglected and the church was no exception. With ownership transitions and occupations by various groups, the church lacked proper maintenance and sanitation. Dust and dirt settled on its old walls, making them a breeding ground for bacteria and allergens.
The lack of hygiene standards in those times contributed to the spread of diseases and the discomfort of the faithful. Today we admire the Old Mission Church as a testament to our history, but let us not forget the unsanitary realities of the past.
Miners faced lung diseases from working in dusty mines
In the pursuit of wealth and prosperity during the Wild West era, miners faced dangerous conditions that extended beyond the treacherous tunnels and backbreaking work. One of the most significant threats to their health was constant exposure to respirable dust in the air, a danger that lurked in the mining environment. Inhaling these extrafine particles posed a serious danger and caused the development of a debilitating lung disease known as pneumoconiosis.
Tragically, the risks did not end there. Miners also faced a high probability of succumbing to lung cancer, further highlighting the dire consequences of their unhealthy working conditions.
Alcohol was used as a cure for diseases
With limited access to proper medical care, pioneers and doctors were few and far between, so pioneers had to be creative in treating their ailments. They turned to unconventional remedies and elixirs in their search for health and well-being. The lack of sanitary and hygienic standards meant that cleanliness was often neglected. Dusty clothing, infrequent bathing, and an unkempt appearance were the norm. Alcoholic beverages were used as a sedative.
It was a time when the pursuit of health collided with the reality of an unhealthy existence, so drinking various cocktails was considered an illness.
Incredible Wild West Medications, From Cocaine to Aspirin
Hygiene was a luxury and diseases lurked around every corner during that time. But amid the filth, the pioneers had some surprising remedies up their sleeves. If a cowboy had a toothache and was desperately seeking relief, there was a solution. Enter cocaine, yes, you read that right! In the 1880s, toothache pills containing cocaine were all the rage. This powerful substance acted as a local anesthetic, numbing the pain and giving the cowboys a temporary respite from dental agony.
Without clean water for bathing and proper waste disposal, diseases ran rampant and people became ill. These medicines became a lifeline in a dirty world.
Whiskey was often drunk instead of a meal
When we conjure up images of the Wild West, we often imagine cowboys feasting on hearty meals around campfires. But the reality of pioneering diets in those difficult times was far from extravagant. In fact, they often ate beans as a complete meal. Another surprising staple made it to the menu: whiskey. Sometimes they drank whiskey as a full meal. Clearly, taking care of themselves was the least of their worries.
Even when they had adequate food, the lack of clean water and the unsanitary conditions in which these meals were prepared made the food susceptible to germs.
The Wild West Obsession with Chewing Tobacco and Spitting
In the untamed era of the Wild West, chewing tobacco was more than a disgusting habit: it had a purpose. Beyond its addictive nature, many people turned to chewing tobacco as a means of combating dryness while being outdoors in dusty fields all day. The moisture from chewing provided comfort, keeping their mouths salivating for long hours outdoors. However, this practice had a rather unpleasant side effect: abundant spitting.
Spittoons were placed everywhere, in banks, shops, pubs and more to accommodate everything people were doing. So chewing tobacco might have been her favorite pastime, but excessive spitting was really difficult to witness.
Whiskey, gambling, and brothels were common pastimes
On the untamed frontier of the Wild West existed a world of vice and temptation. Cowboys and settlers sought solace from their hard lives through three main outlets: whiskey, gambling, and brothels. The whiskey flowed freely, providing a temporary escape from the challenges they faced. Gambling dens and saloons became centers of excitement and risk, where fortunes were made and lost in the blink of an eye. And then there were the brothels, which satisfied the desires of those seeking companionship and pleasure.
These indulgences, while offering momentary respite, reflected the unhealthy and morally questionable practices prevalent during that era.
Bar fights over liquor happened every day.
In the realm of Wild West entertainment, the saloon reigned supreme as a refuge for cowboys seeking respite from the dusty trails. But the drinks offered in these tough establishments were far from refined. Whiskey, the drink of choice, had a recipe that consisted of burnt sugar, strong alcohol and even pieces of chewing tobacco. This concoction had an impact like no other, making many cowboys troublemakers and prone to violence.
NCactus wine emerged as a popular alternative, blending tequila with peyote tea; These potent elixirs constantly fueled bar fights.