When I was walking behind the barn one day, a glint in the mud caught my eye. When I leaned over to check it out, I was surprised to find this little bottle. It must have been buried there for some time, but was still undamaged. It is about 5 inches tall and has 10 narrow facets. Its embossed label reads Kendall’s Spavin Treatment For Human Flesh. On the center of the bottom it reads Made in USA, while letters ringing the bottom read Enosburg Falls Vermont.
Thanks to the wonder of the internet, it was easy to learn more about the bottle and its former contents.
A number of webpages reproduce the same information about Dr. Kendall and his treatments. This quotation is from J. Kevin Graffagnino of the Vermont Historical Society:
Kendall’s Spavin Cure was the brainchild of Dr. Burney James Kendall, an Enosburg Falls druggist. An 1868 graduate of the University of Vermont Medical School, Kendall devised the spavin cure formula in the early 1870s. After a few years of producing and marketing it himself, he recognized the need for additional capital and wider distribution if the business was to expand.
In 1879 Kendall formed a partnership with Carmi L. Marsh, a relatively well-to-do local farmer. In 1883 they and their two other partners incorporated the Dr. B.J. Kendall Co. In less than a decade what began as a one-man operation in Kendall’s barn had grown into a thriving business with 20 employees.
Two-man teams drove distinctive Kendall wagons from Enosburg as far west as Kansas City and as far south as North Carolina.
By the turn of the century the company was spending more than $75,000 a year just to promote the products that its 40 to 50 employees stirred, blended, ground, mixed and packaged in the Enosburg factory.
Bone spavin is now known to be osteoarthritis, or the final phase of degenerative joint disease (DJD), and it seems unlikely that Dr. Kendall’s liniment was very helpful, in spite of claims made for its curative properties. In Kendall’s manual The Doctor at Home, the human version was recommended for a wide range of ills including toothache, warts, weak back and wounds.
I didn’t come across a list of ingredients, but it’s probable that alcohol was a key component, in which case it likely was helpful for toothache and wound cleansing. Opium was also a common patent medicine ingredient. Early bottles were labelled Kendall’s Spavin Cure. However, the Food & Drug Act of 1906 changed the medicine business and forced Dr. Kendall to drop the word “cure” from his advertising.
The B.J. Kendall Co continued to manufacture proprietary medicines at Enosburg Falls at least until World War II. The handsome building that housed the company still stands in Enosburg Falls, but has fallen into disrepair. The Spavin Cure Historical Group was attempting to raise funds to restore the building and founded a radio station to that end, WEVT-LP (98.1 FM).