Masquerading as "stories," ads for patent medicines took up a considerable amount of space in Utah newspapers as the 19th century waned. They were a feature of an era when most Utah families diagnosed and treated their own ills, when a visit to a doctor was considered by many to be bad for one's health and when home remedies were the accepted norm.

In fact, on the same page where Hood's Sarsaparilla was touted as the "only true blood purifier" was an ad for competing Ayer's Sarsaparilla, "the only sarsaparilla to win a medal at the Worlds Fair." H.O. Hinson of Kendard's S.C., swore by Ayers. In just two weeks, he said, he went from 125 pounds to 200 and regained the vigor he had lost to a mysterious, debilitating disease.A satisfied customer of Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription proclaimed that she was "not able to stand on my feet without suffering almost death" until imbibing the prescription. Immediately, she was able to do everything for a family of eight - with time left over to provide endorsements for the nostrum, advising it for all mothers and mothers-to-be.

For liver ailments, there was Simmons' Liver Regulator, good for every body as a laxative and tonic. Coughing? Quick, buy up some of Dr. Martin's Panacea of Onions and Miscal, available at ZCMI drug store. If you were still coughing, there was always Ely's Pineola Balsam.

Even the Utah Liquor Co. shared space on the page, assuring readers that "It has been indorsed by the medical profession that wine, especially in summer, is the most healthy beverage, provided it is obtained in a pure state."

Competing with such remedies, a Dr. G.W. Shores offered a "generous New Year's gift" - two weeks of free service, "regardless of the complaint." Presenting himself as "The People's Doctor," with a motto of "A low fee; a quick cure; and mild and painless treatment," he invited customers to the Zions Medical Institute, 34 E. 200 South.

If you distrusted the doctor and didn't want to go to the druggist, you could always concoct a cure yourself at home. Popular cures were passed by word of mouth, repeated in almanacs or copied into cookbooks, family Bibles and journals. Those used in Utah were common throughout the United States, particularly on the frontiers.

Such items as flour, bread, eggs, sugar, onions, honey, mustard, whiskey, kerosene, turpentine, hay, corn, skunk grease, goose grease, manure, bacon, ham, lard, common weeds and garden herbs went into cures. And to get rid of warts, one need only bury a dishrag.

Common wisdom held that colds could be prevented by wearing little bags of garlic, asafoetida or camphor or - if you preferred the perfume at a distance - by putting an onion in the window. If these things didn't work and the cold came anyhow, it was time for a syrup made of onion steeped in sugar. Poultices and plasters of dried mustard, lard, goose grease or skunk grease helped relieve chest congestion. Nasal congestion might respond to steaming with a dry weed mixture called "wild snuff" or, if that didn't work, a drink of gunpowder and milk was advised. Sore throat relief was found in a dose of kerosene and sugar or turpentine and honey.

Another remedy for sore throat was to wrap the throat in a dirty sock. In one set of instructions, the advice was to "take a left sock off a foot which you have already worn." (The instructions didn't expand on what to do in the event you had not been wearing your left foot.) Not everyone agreed it had to be a left sock, but it did have to come directly off the foot to be effective.

Utah's pioneers may have been even less reliant on medical doctors for care than other groups that settled the West. The Saints were encouraged to depend on faith to cope with illness. Calling in the doctor was an admission, for some, that faith was weak.

However, in that day, the Mormons were not the only ones suspicious of medical science. Soon after the New York City Board of Health was established, the city's mayor refused to call on its expertise in a cholera epidemic. "I will not call on the Board of Health for discussion, as I think it more dangerous than the cholera," he said, as reported in a Utah Historical Quarterly article by Ogden physician Joseph R. Morrell.

The fact that several pioneer leaders in Utah were "Thompson- ian doctors" - a group that relied primarily on mild herbal remedies - also influenced territorial attitudes toward medicine.

The Thompsonians created a Council of Health in the new territory, with many of the church's leaders involved. The council frequently advised the pioneers as to diet, hygiene and other health matters. The pervasive influence of the council left regularly trained physicians largely out in the cold.

Most of them made a living farming or doing other menial work. In The Sept. 18, 1852 Deseret News, it was noted that "Two physicians have moved to one of our most distant settlements and gone to farming; three have gone to California to dig gold; three have taken to traveling and exploring the country; one has gone to distilling and we are beginning to get some alcohol, which is desirable for gentlemen's shoe blacking, hatter's waterproofing, chemical analysis, washing the bodies of the well to prevent sickness and the sick that they may become well, when such there be. Those physicians who remain have very little practice and will soon have less, we hope."

It was true that "regular" doctors (called "poison doctors" by those of the Thompsonian camp) couldn't do much more than the herbalists to alleviate illness. Little was then known of the cause of diseases or how to treat them effectively. The common practice of bleeding and/or purging patients was, as critics claimed, often more damaging than restorative. To be really effective, a bleeding had to cause the patient to faint, most doctors believed.

Many early LDS converts tended to be poor and subject to chronic disease, and Utah Territory shared in the common diseases of the era, including cholera, typhus, yellow fever, diphtheria, influenza, malaria, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and diarrheal complaints. Childbirth was a critical time for both mother and child, and half of the deaths that occurred were among children under 10.

Even when early researchers such as Louis Pasteur found that microorganisms invisible to the naked eye were causing disease, it was difficult to persuade people to take life-saving precautions. Utah pioneers were like many other Americans who refused to submit to vaccination, so smallpox continued to take its toll. In 1900, a public uproar against a Utah Board of Health requirement that schoolchildren be vaccinated forced withdrawal of the provision.

Despite the general negative feeling about doctors, it became apparent that expectant mothers needed better treatment. The church's Female Relief Society petitioned church leaders to support the training of women doctors to care for female patients. (A woman who would choose to go to a male doctor could be suspected of "an adulterous spirit," a church publication said, while a male doctor accepting female patients "is possessed of the same spirit.")

A territorial medical college for women did not succeed, but the church eventually sent about 20 women to Eastern schools, their expenses being largely met by the Relief Society. These doctors played an important role upon their return, training midwives and nurses to serve their communities. Neonatal deaths declined and fewer women were lost to "child-bed fever."

Some of the women doctors founded the Deseret Hospital, but it was a financial failure and abandoned after only eight years.

St. Mark's Hospital was the first viable hospital in Salt Lake City, with its initial quarters in a converted residence at 400 South and 500 East. It was primarily for the care of miners who contracted lead poisoning. Holy Cross Hospital followed in 1875 at 500 East between South Temple and 100 South. The W.H. Groves LDS Hospital came along in 1905 and the Salt Lake County Hospital in 1912.

By degrees, as medical care became better founded in reliable science, Utahns began to put more trust in the medical establishment. But the state still has unusually large remnants of the old do-it-yourself approach to medical care.