Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company

Kickapoo Pills Box (ca. 1910), manufactured by the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Co., Inc.

The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company was famous for its traveling medicine shows, which also featured Native American entertainment in the form of company-sponsored pow wows, horsemanship skills, and other acts. Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, a blood, liver, and stomach regulator, was the company’s best-selling product. Promoted as a genuine Native American remedy—the Sagwa was actually a mixture of grain alcohol, beer, and laxatives.

Despite advertising claims to the contrary, the Kickapoo Medicine Company was not owned by Native Americans. Charles Bigelow and John Healy, two white men with no connection to the Kickapoo Indian Community, founded the company in Connecticut in the late nineteenth century, fabricated the company’s history, and exaggerated the effectiveness of their products.

They secured the endorsement of Buffalo Bill Cody, himself, another traveling medicine show pioneer. Buffalo Bill said that:

"Kickapoo Indian Sagwa … is the only remedy the Indians ever use, and has been known to them for ages. An Indian would as soon be without his horse, gun or blanket as without Sagwa."

For more information about the history of the Kickapoo Indian Company and its traveling medicines shows:

Brooks McNamara, "The Indian Medicine Show," Educational Theatre Journal 23, no. 4 (Dec. 1971): 431-45.

Front page of a 1917 advertisement for the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company products. Click on the image above to read the complete advertising brochure.

Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company