Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Nature and Origin of the American Indian Madstone

By Allan B. Colombo

In the WMD article entitled “Did U Know the American Indian Had a Cure for Rabies?” (, we discussed a procedure used by American Indians to treat the dreaded and often deadly disease called Rabies. Well, it appears that there is an additional method used by Native American Indians to neutralize rabies and other forms of poisonous bites, such as snakes. This list also includes general infections.

In the March, 1981, issue of Frontier Times--partner to True West--author, Mary Whatley Clarke said, “They were first used in America by the Indians but how the Red Man discovered their magic power can only be surmised” (p.40). Clarke said that the use of madstones began with Native Indians and that they knew this because early pioneers called them “Indian Stones.”

According to Clarke, these objects were given the name “madstone” because of the mad dog that transmits rabies through a bite. As early as 1864, the word “madstone” appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, the term disappeared from the Webster’s New World Dictionary in 1968.

In Europe, Clarke claimed that “Such stones were valued as highly as diamonds or other precious jewels. Only the rich could afford them.” A good example of this, according to Clearke, was Queen Elizabeth who commonly dipped her madstone--called a bezoar stone by Europeans--into her wine glass several times to ensure that it was safe for her to drink.

Where Madstones Come From

Madstones are in good company. They’re made from the same bodily processes that form bezoars, pearls, kidney stones, gallstones, and others. Evidently they can form in almost any part of an animal’s body when things go chemically afoul.

Madstones, in particular, are found in animals that have more than one stomach, such as deer and cows. It’s said that madstones that come from white deer are considered the best. Over time, people of the Old West came to know that Indians had the cure for snake and rabid animal bites. Thus, they would ride several hundred miles to an Indian village just to receive treatment.

In some manner that’s not entirely understood, these objects, in some way, can neutralize and/or absorb poisons from the body--both animal and human.

“In the folklore of the early United States, a madstone was a special medicinal substance that, when pressed into an animal bite, was believed to prevent rabies by drawing the ‘poison’ out. The Encyclopedia Americana described it as ‘a vegetable substance or stone.’ Researchers publishing in 1958 reported ‘130 cases of healing attributed to the madstone’ and ‘three authenticated stones in the United States today’” (Wikipedia:

The Madstone - Talisman Connection

The bezoar stone itself dates back to a time before the Crusades. It was commonly used in Persia and other countries throughout Europe, according to Clarke. The Persian word “bezoar” actually means “protection from poison.”

As mentioned earlier, Queen Elizebeth was known to use a bezoar stone to assure the integrity of her wine. When she died, her stone was given to James I of England who had it set in a gold amulet (see photo).

The March 1981 issue of Frontier Times goes into great detail as to the many cases throughout society when high royalty used a talisman, or madstone, to ward off the poison from a potentially deadly bite. There’s even a mention where a flood was invoked through the use of a talisman.

One historical account of talisman use was told in the introduction of a novel penned by Sir Walter Scott. In his writings he spoke of a Scottish crusader, Sir Simon Lockhart, who had acquired a talisman through a ransom paid to him for the release of a wealthy Emir. The talisman was said to have magic powers as an astringent “which drove away fever and also possessed several other special properties as a medical talisman.”

Lockhard brought the stone back to Scotland where it continues to this day to bare the name Lee-penny. “One reads about the famous Lee Penny in the ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’” (


At the time of this nation’s western expansion, Native American Indians were looked upon as savages. And yet, in truth, they were far ahead of the White Man in many ways. One way, as we can see through this and our previous story, is through the medical treatment of a poisonous bite. In many ways, the Red Man was proven to be advanced and capable of feats far greater than we could ever have known at the time. What a shame there wasn’t more communication and collaboration between both races for the good of all concerned.

Additional Reading:

Madstone (Wikipedia)
Talisman (Wikipedia)

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  1. I found this article very interesting and unusual ...had never given a thought to the mad stones until reading this article.....perked my imagination enough to want to study or research further! Thanks for planting the seed!

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