GrandPa Morgan's Madstone

by Frances Barger of the Arkansas
Democrat and published May 29, 1966

Grandpa's abilities were many. He was the postmaster at Edgemont for many years. He also operated a small store in the same building. Here he mixed his own special brand of wit and wisdom with the sacks of flour and beans he sold.
He was justice of the peace, and the marriage ceremony he composed was said to be one of the best in Cleburne County. He could set a broken limb or treat a sick cow with equal aplomb. He could teach a Sunday School class or even preach, if the occasion demanded it.
Often he rode out to talk with some person who owed him an account. By the time that customer had finished explaining why he could not possibly pay, Grandpa was usually so touched, he either extended credit or gave him an outright gift of whatever was needed.
Only one time did Grandpa seem to get the better end of a bargain. This was the time he rode out to see a man by the name of George, who owed him $10.
George gave him a fresh drink of water from the well, and they sat on the front porch and discussed George's financial situation. The familiar pattern began to evolve. Dry weather had damaged the corn crop. George's wife had been unable to can anything from the garden. Only two pigs had survived out of the litter. Besides all that, he three oldest children had no shoes to wear when school began.
The thought of three children without shoes distressed Grandpa. He asked what sizes they wore, and while he was trying to remember if he had the correct sizes, a bee stung him on the hand. He immediately asked George for some snuff to apply to the sting. Since snuff dipping had proved too costly, George was unable to supply Grandpa with his favorite remedy. The other healing aid he happened to have was his madstone. This he brought out and quickly applied.
Up to this point, all of Grandpa's information concerning madstones was hearsay. He was skeptical, to say the least. The next few minutes changed all that. The stinging and burning ceased. The stone fell off, leaving Grandpa a confirmed believer in its merits.
"George, is there any way I could buy or trade you out of this?" When George hesitated, Grandpa offered to buy shoes for the children and throw in two bottles of snuff. Seeing that George was still reluctant, Grandpa quickly offered two more bottles of snuff. This closed the deal.
Back in his store, Grandpa lost no time extolling the qualities of the madstone, and almost every week someone came to have "Morgan's madstone" applied to a bite. (Grandpa's full name was William Weldon Morgan but he was most often called "Uncle Willie" or "W.W." by persons outside the family.)
Grandpa did not use the stone on anything except animal or snake bites. It was too valuable to be used on common stings, he said.
I was not born when Grandpa acquired the madstone, but I became interested in it at a very young age. It was kept in a small leather bag under lock and key in Grandpa's tall desk. Since I was not trusted to hold it, I went to great lengths to obtain it anyhow. Once I found the key but was caught in the act of trying to open the desk.
I came to the conclusion that the only way I would ever come in close contact with the stone was to have a real need for it. I considered picking up a small snake and allowing it to bite me. I was never much afraid of snakes and once asked my mother if I could bring a small green one in the house. She was horrified and threatened dire consequences if I ever tried such a thing.
My dilemma was great. A snake bite would pave my way to the use of the madstone, but at the same time it would bring on the dire consequences. Not knowing what they would be, I decided to shelve the whole idea and put my hand on a wasp. I felt certain Grandpa would make an exception in the case of his only grandchild.
All my reasoning proved to be erroneous. The sting hurt worse than I had expected. I ran to mother and asked her to take me to Grandpa's. She was usually beside herself when I tripped over a rock or hurt myself in any way. This time she merely looked at the small swelling and went to hunt some antiseptic, saying that it would stop hurting before we could walk to Grandpa's. My only consolation as I rushed out of the house was that she would be sorry if I died.
Although I never figured out a way to use the madstone on myself, I soon had the opportunity to view it at close range. It was a Sunday morning and Mother, Dad and I stopped at my grandparents' house before going to church. While we were there, a young girl and her parents came. The girl had been bitten on the hand by a dog. Grandpa seated them all in the parlor while he went to get the stone.
Now, as I look back, I can see that the parlor was almost indispensable. Grandpa married people in the parlor. He doctored people in the parlor. He even held church services in the parlor, if the weather was too bad to get to the church house.
After the stone was applied, Grandpa admonished the girl to hold her hand very still. The stone always fell off of its own accord when all the poison had been drawn out of the wound.
I wanted to see the stone fall off, so I asked Mother and Daddy if I could just miss church this one time. When there was a difference of opinion in our household, Daddy always had the final word. His final word this day was go to church. I went.
Church was no longer than usual, but the time really passed slowly for me. It was not until I returned and found the stone still clinging, that things began to look up. I tried to think of some way whereby I might sit by the girl at the dinner table. I never did think of a way, but I did manage to eat at the first table, which was quite an accomplishment.
It was mid-afternoon before the stone fell off. Grandpa took it to the kitchen to boil it in sweet milk. This extracted the poison. I followed him to see the job well done and thought what a wonderful day it had been for all concerned.
Back in the parlor, everyone was talking and laughing. The girl's parents were very happy to hear their daughter tell them she felt better. They had been greatly worried about her.
When Grandpa and I went back into the parlor, the girl's father asked him how much he owed him. I think Grandpa's real moment of triumph always came with that question. He found so much joy in helping others. His answer was always the same: "Not a thing in this world."
I saw Grandpa use his madstone on several other people after this particular Sunday. The stone always stuck, and so far as I know the people were always satisfied with the results.
With the passing of the years, fewer and fewer people came to use the stone, and Grandpa must have been disappointed, but he understood that not everyone had the confidence in it that he had. He also knew that there were more doctors, and that they were more accessible.
I don't know how old I was when I learned that the correct term for the madstone is bezoar stone.
According to my encyclopedia, it is a hardened mass found in the stomachs of antelopes, goats and other ruminants and was formerly much valued because of imaginary medicinal virtues, particularly as an antidote to poisons.
Grandpa is not with us anymore, but the madstone still remains as a treasured possession, in the family. My family and I live on a farm in White County. I suppose we have our quota of snakes on the farm, but I find that my attitude concerning them has changed considerably. Any inclination I ever had to hold one has completely disappeared. I have even been known to walk a quarter of a mile out of my way to avoid seeing one.
However, if I should accidentally come in contact with one and be bitten, a question keeps pestering me. Which would I reach for first, the phone or the madstone?