Appalachian Medicine Heritage Profiles of Mountain People

Entertainment And Fun In The 1930s

Canton NC
The Medicine Show by Charles Fletcher

A medicine show consisted of three people: a doc, a pretty young girl, and the very popular music man. The young girl was always dolled up with make-up and wearing a dress pulled up to her knees, with short sleeve bows, a low neck and no collar. Us boys got our ears pulled a lot and the men got a lot of elbows in the ribs from their wives for gawking and trying to get up close to her. The music man would play a guitar, harmonica, and drums all at the same time while singing. He would ask for requests but would just ignore them and sing what he wanted to. The main attraction of The Medicine Show was the Doc though. Doc was the fancy dressed man that owned the truck and the show. After the young girl and the music man warmed up the crowd, Doc would come out for the main act.

We didn’t have any telephones back then but news of a show coming to town would spread from one person to another quickly until everyone in town would know.

On the night of the show, Mom cooked supper and we children got the milking, feeding of the animals, and wood chopping for the cook stove done in a hurry. We rushed to finish eating then started the three mile trip to town.

“I’ll wash the dishes when we get back”, Mom said. “Don’t want to miss any of the show.”

There was always a small platform on the back of the Doc’s truck that acted like a stage where everything took place. Doc, as he was always called, strode out onto the stage.

“Gather up close neighbors and friends. I want to tell you about the Miracle Medicine I’ve brought you. If you have back problems, sore feet, head aches, lack of energy, sleeping issues, or any other problems, this medicine will have you up and going in less than half an hour. (you children move to the back). It’s only fifty cents a bottle and, if it doesn’t do what I say, I’ll give you your money back. Now step up. Who will be first?”

My Mom took a dollar from her apron pocket and handed it to the Doctor.

“Lady, to let you know how much I appreciate your trust in my medicine I will let you have three bottles for a dollar.”

“I’ll take it”, Mom said.

Then nearly everyone began to step up with their dollar to buy three bottles.

“Better head for home”, Mom said. “Got to clean up the kitchen before going to bed. Won’t be long until four o’clock in the morning and it’s time to cook breakfast.”

Back home, Mom went into the kitchen to clean up. Me, my brother, and our two sisters went in the parlor where Dad had two oil lamps burning for light. We were getting our school homework done when Mom began to sing at the top of her lungs.

This little light of mine

I’m going to let it shine

Mom was always humming and singing, but never this loud.

“Better go see why she is singing so loud”, Dad said.

She started up again.

I’ve got a home in Bul-

“What’s wrong, Mama?” Dad asked.

“Nothing. Just felt like singing.”

Dad noticed that one of the bottles of medicine was sitting on the table, about a quarter empty.

“You been taking this medicine?” he asked.

“Just a few spoons full. Was sort of tired but I feel much better now.”

Then she started singing again at the top of her lungs.

In the sweet by and by

In the sweet by and-

Dad picked up the bottle and read the front label.

Cure All Miracle Medicine

He then looked on the back of the bottle.


25% Spring Water

75% Alcohol

Oil of Peppermint added for color and flavoring

Patent Pending

Dad went to the parlor, got his hat, and headed to the door.

“Where are you going?” Mom asked.

“Got to catch that Medicine Man before he leaves town. We need a few more bottles to get us through the winter.”

Out the door he went. My Dad was known to like a little drink every now and then. In fact a big drink anytime.


Hope you enjoyed Charles’s story as much as I did-leave him a comment and I’ll make sure he reads it.



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  • Reply
    Ronnie Seals
    November 12, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    I wnjoyeed the story very much.

  • Reply
    Rick Shepherd
    August 1, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Tipper, do you know if any of Charles C. Fletcher’s books are available on Kindle?…..I found his A Story and a Smile in book form but would like to have it on my Kindle…..I like how he writes…..Thanks

    • Reply
      August 1, 2018 at 1:19 pm

      Rick-I do not know if they’re available on Kindle. Hopefully if anyone knows they’ll chime in with the answer 🙂

      • Reply
        Rick Shepherd
        August 2, 2018 at 6:10 am

        I about thought so, Tipper…..I went ahead and ordered Mr. Fletcher’s book, A Story and a Smile!……Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 1, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I just now accessed and read Mr. Fletcher’s story of “The Medicine Man.” We had a Medicine Man show that came through Blairsville and Choestoe, GA when I was growing up. Sometimes I remember only the Medicine Man–not the “lady” as a part of the show. But those bottles of “tonic” were always purchased and tried. I don’t have an old bottle or label to see the ingredients, but I remember that even a spoonful taken when one had a cold or any ailment always seemed to help. And I think two of my uncles, known to hit the bottle, would down a whole bottle of the tonic at one dosing!
    What days in Appalachia. How did we ever grow up???

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennesseee
    December 1, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Love this story!! Reminds me of an old Andy Griffith/Mayberry show where Aunt Bee buys some tonic from a traveling salesman. Aunt Bee is singing and twirling around on the piano stool— ole Barney says” She’s gassed!”

  • Reply
    November 27, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Wish Bebe and I could have been there. Hope y’all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We think about you often. Maybe next year we can make it back that way. Pappy P.S. I did enjoy the story.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    November 26, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Tipper, you know so many great writers. Charles could stand with the best storytellers at Jonesbourogh. Maybe you can coax more stories out of him.
    I know many will be reminded of Haddiecall (Hadacol) as they read this funny story. My uncle used to be fond of the Bay Rum hair tonic his barber sold him.
    Thanks to both you and Charles for the good time.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Great story: It’s probably way off the radar of readers on the site, but if you ever see that Donizetti’s Elixir of Love (Elisir d’Amore) is playing nearby you, it’s a great riff on the old story of the medicine show. It’s also done in english a lot in the States.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Enjoyed Mr. Fletchers story. I remember as young child in the 50’s and going to the medicine show. It was fun to see the other kids that would come and get a small box of some kind of taffy. Liked listening to the music but never could sit still while the man tried to sell his medicine.

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    November 26, 2010 at 4:45 am

    always love these stories… and im sure any of us could use a tonic or two
    especially in this hectic time of the year. i hope you and yours have a blessed season… and sure wish i could be there at the show.. would love to give you a big ladybug hug

  • Reply
    Elizabeth K
    November 26, 2010 at 1:32 am

    Great story, enjoyed it very much. It made me laugh as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Reply
    Dale Anderson
    November 25, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Mr. Fletcher, I remember the medicine shows coming to Clyde while visiting my Uncle there. Can’t remember the pretty girl although I was pretty young. Was pretty good entertainment at the time. The Medicine Show skit at Campbell Folk School is good too!

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    November 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Great story!

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    November 25, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Charles , I surely appreciate your sharing these memories with us . Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    November 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    A great story, Charles. I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Tipper, if you have time, drop by the Writing Nook and say hi.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    What a great story. Thanks Charles.
    I think there is probably a lot of truth here! LOL

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    November 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    That’s the kind of story you can just close your eyes and picture it happening just the way its told…..enjoyed…
    Hope all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    That was good reading Charles Fletcher’s Medicine Show story. I
    enjoy most all things from the older generation. You picked another good one…Ken

  • Reply
    November 25, 2010 at 9:41 am

    What a great way to begin my day! Funny story. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Tipper.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Very enjoyable, Love these stories! Have a good Thanksgiving.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Great story, Mr. Fletcher! I’ll bet there were snickers amongst you kids. tee hee
    Tipper, I hope you have a great time in North GA!
    And Happy Thanksgiving to you ALL!!!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    November 25, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I believe I could use a bottle of that “elixir” this morning. LOL..
    The pies are made the dressing is in the oven..I gotta stuff the celery and I’m done….Oh, the bird was smoking….
    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
    Thanks Tipper and Charles for a great post…

  • Reply
    November 25, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Love it ..Happy turkey day to yall!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 25, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Great story, Happy Thanksgiving everyone to you and your families!

  • Reply
    November 25, 2010 at 8:06 am

    great story, thanks for sharing, made me laugh. Happy thanksgiving

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