April 12, 2012

Smelling Soapy Smith's wife: Sloan's Liniment

Sloan's Liniment

he title of today's post lends a very dangerous task if you were around during Soapy Smith's time and tried to steal a whiff of Mary, his wife. At the very least you would wake up on the ground in some side alley with a sore noggin where Soapy buffaloed you with his revolver barrel. All I really wanted to do was make the point that there is a product on the market today in which the smell will take you back to Soapy's era. It won't actually take you back in time but you will smell a product that has the same odor it did in the late 1890s. You may ask how I know this to be true.

Imitators capitalized on Sloan's lack
of copyright and incorporation.
In the 1970s my parents were into collecting antiques and loved to go to the Antique Trader swap-meet, a big outdoor antique show put on once a year. It was there that my father found and purchased a very old bottle of Sloan's Liniment. When I first smelled the stuff I thought it had gone bad but he said it smelled just the way it did when he was a child. For a time, after his mother passed away, my father lived with Mary Little, his grandmother. She was born Mary Eva Noonan in 1872. Her last name changed to Smith when she married Soapy, and then became Little when she remarried after Soapy was killed in Alaska. It is not known exactly when Mary started using Sloan's Liniment but the grandchildren all remembered the smell as being a part of the household all of their lives. Sloan's for human use began in St. Louis where Mary lived and it appears to have arrived on the scene in the early 1890s so there is a pretty good chance that Soapy had a whiff of the concoction.  The smell was all too familiar with my father.

Shortly after my father had purchased the old bottle of Sloan's, his sister Joy (my aunt) came from New York to California for a family visit. It had been many years since they had seen one another so the house was full of laughter and good times. One evening my father had Joy close her eyes and he pulled out that Sloan's bottle and placed it near her nose. She instantly blurted out the word, "Mammy," which is the name all the grandchildren called Mary. I witnessed Joy's reaction but my father eventually pulled the same stunt on all his siblings and they all recognized the scent. It was at that time that my father learned that Sloan's was still being manufactured and he ordered samples for all his brothers and sisters. That was a common trait with my dad.

The history of Sloan's Liniment is split into two sections, pre and post incorporation. Earl Sawyer Sloan, philanthropist, was born at Zanesfield, Logan County Ohio, September 8, 1848. He was educated in public schools and later studied veterinary medicine, but never practiced. In 1871, a 23-year-old Earl, armed with several bottles of his father's horse liniment, joined with his brother Foreman Sloan in St. Louis, Missouri, where Foreman was engaged in the buying and shipping of horses. While thus engaged he prepared a liniment for disabled animals, and at some point in the brothers' venture the liniment was applied to someone's back, discovering that it relieved human discomfort, as well. Thereafter, the Sloan brothers began selling even more of the liniment advertising it as "good for man and beast." The Sloan liniment formula was in great demand. For about twenty-five years, Earl and his brother peddled their remedy from farm to farm, and also worked the horse fairs and carnivals.

Sloan put out a cookbook in 1901
(Click image to enlarge)

He placed his preparation on the market as "Sloan's Liniment," which became known the world over. Its wide and increasing use placed it in the forefront of similar remedies, a position it continues to hold, and it has had thousands of imitators. In 1903 he organized for its manufacture the Dr. Earl S. Sloan, Inc.

John Randolph Smith (my father)
National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, volume # 20
Wikipedia: Earl Sloan

1861: Confederate forces opened fire on the U.S. garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Georgia was the fifth state to secede from the Union. 
1898: Soap Gang member Harry Green signs his name as “Jeff Smith” on the register of the Hotel Northern in Seattle.


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