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  • A portion of the battlefield landscape at Little Bighorn Battlefield

    Midwest Archeological Center

    Cultural Resources National Park Service

Hostetter's Bitters 

Dyspepsia's pangs, that rack and grind
The body, and depress the mind;
Slow constitutional decay,
That brings death nearer, day by day;
Nervous prostration, mental gloom,
Agues, that, as they go and come,
Make life a constant martyrdom;
Colics and dysenteric pains,
'Neath which the strong man's vigor wanes;
Bilious complaints, -- those tedious ills,
Ne'er conquered yet by drastic pills;
Dread Diarrhea, that cannot be
Cured by destructive Mercury;
Heralds of madness or the tomb;
For these, though Mineral nostrums fail,
Means of relief at last we hail,
HOSTETTER'S BITTERS medicine sure,
Not to prevent, alone, but cure.

-- Hostetter's United States Almanac, 1867


Hostetter's "Celebrated" Bitters was a nostrum developed by Dr. Jacob Hostetter of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His son, David Hostetter, put the formula into large scale production in 1853 and it soon became a national best-seller. During the Civil War, Dr. J. Hostetter's Stomach Bitters was sold to soldiers as "a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous." The original formula was about 47% alcohol -- 94 Proof! The amount of alcohol was so high that it was served in Alaskan saloons by the glass. Hostetter sweetened the alcohol with sugar to which he added a few aromatic oils (anise, coriander, etc.) and vegetable bitters (cinchona, gentian, etc.) to give it a medicinal flavor. From 1954 to 1958, when it was no longer marketed, the product was known as Hostetter Tonic.

The Hostetter's Bitters bottle illustrated with the Medicine Bottle Index was recovered in 1987 by a Midwest Archeological Center team from a privy pit at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. Fort Union was an American Fur Co. trading post (1828-1867) located on the Missouri River near its juncture with the Yellowstone River. The small, plank-lined privy pit was located in the fenced yard behind the Bourgeois (fort manager) House. Other notable artifacts recovered from the feature include a second bitters bottle, a pair of men's boots, a pair of children's shoes soles, and an undecorated plate base marked "G.F. BOWERS." At 95 cm (3 ft 2 in) below the top of the privy, a complicated series of leather and bead layers were discovered in the north and east portions of the pit. Four distinct bead patterns were identified including chevrons, tulips, rosettes, and linear designs. Linear bead bands and rosettes were associated with desiccated remains of moccasins. Although attempts were made to recover the beaded patterns intact, these efforts were largely unsuccessful. Nevertheless, photographs of the beads in situ may allow for the ethnic affiliation of the maker to be determined at some point in the future. Together, the artifacts suggest the privy was probably in use after 1860 during the last years of Fort Union's existence.