The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company: Old-Style Hucksters
Medicine shows had their origin in the Middle Ages in Europe, when circuses and theaters were banned, and swindlers traveled from town to town selling miraculous cures and offering street shows. In America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hucksters took advantage of three things: imported patent medicines were expensive, Americans believed that Indians were extremely knowledgeable about natural medicine, and they didn’t trust doctors.
The peddlers in America began to bring medicine shows with them to attract customers and the shows began featuring “Indian agents” or “professors” in between Indian acts. These “professors” made outlandish claims for their “cure-alls.” The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company was not the only peddler of fake “Indian” medicine, but they were the most successful, with nearly 100 troupes on the road at a time, traveling west to Chicago, and south to the West Indies. During their shows, they peddled the Kickapoo Cough Cure and Kickapoo Sagwa which they claimed could cure any ailment.