Far West and its Hygiene Habits

Far West
Photo by Sarah Lachise on Unsplash

When you read the title of this article, I imagine you had much the same reaction as I did. You must have thought that hygiene habits in the Wild West must be practically non-existent! Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the hygiene habits in the Wild West when we are currently living with COVID-19.


The Wild West is the most famous period in the history of the American West. This period began in 1865 after the Civil War (between 1861 and 1865) and ended in 1895. Geographically speaking, the Wild West constitutes the territories located in the west of the Mississippi. Of course, there had been several waves of settlement in the West since the arrival of the first European settlers in America. The California Gold Rush of the 1840s was the first, and the call of Manifest Destiny (the idea that westward expansion was an American right and should be guaranteed) was the second. With the development of railroads in the 1860s and improved technology after the Civil War, the west became more accessible.


According to Frank Clifford, a cowboy and drifter who wrote a memoir about his life in the American Wild West, soap existed. He spoke of “soap-weed,” which Mexican women used to wash their hair. Made from the yucca plant, the soap left hair soft, clean and shiny. Many settlers used soap made from animal fat, although it was known to be harsh and irritate the skin. However, soap was not a priority. Body odor was considered a fact of life and many believed that having pores that were too clean exposed them to germs and disease.

As for shampoo, some people used soap-weed to wash their hair when they were lucky enough to have it. Another method was the use of whiskey, which was also used as a disinfectant. It was mixed with castor oil to wash the hair, which was then rinsed with rainwater or water softened with borax.


Outside and inside, dust was inevitable in the Wild West. Frequent and devastating, dust storms covered entire towns with thick layers of dirt and grime. Sarah Raymond Herndon, author of American stories who traveled from Missouri to the Montana area in the 1860s, quotes: “Oh, the dust, the dust; it is terrible. I have never seen it half as bad; it seems to be almost knee-deep in places […] When we stopped, the boys’ faces were a sight; they were covered with all the dust that could stick on.” The presence of so much dust, of course, caused severe respiratory illness.


The scarf, one of the iconic aspects of cowboy attire, was an essential and used for a multitude of purposes. It was used to protect the mouth and nose from dust (like a mask), to protect the neck from the sun, the ears from the cold and much more.



Towels in Wild West bars were used to wipe beer foam from customers’ mouths and beards. These shared towels were accessible to everyone near the bar counters. They were thus carriers of innumerable germs and diseases.



The outhouses experience is, going into a shed built over a hole in the ground. When the hole was full, it was buried. Then, the structure would be moved to another hole. Outhouses attracted all kinds of insects because of the smell. These toilets were an easy way to catch diseases. There was no toilet paper, so people used leaves, corncobs and grass.


Wild West Camp

Eventually, due to the unsanitary conditions of the many people living in the Wild West, it was normal for diseases to affect the settlements on the American frontier. Cholera was one of the most important and was devastating to both settlers and Native Americans. Upon arrival at one camp, Sarah Raymond Herndon said, “There is no disease at all in the camp; it is wonderful how well we are doing. I hope it continues that way.”

So, it’s no surprise that the hygiene habits of that era were terrible.
To learn more about the history and other facts of the Wild West, visit the sources below.

Loose translation of What Was Hygiene Like In The Wild West?

Sources :


Wednesday’s tale: Black Death and its Origin

Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay

This wednesday’s tale, June 29th 2022, is about one of the worst pandemics in history, the Black Death! This pandemic of plague reached Europe in 1346 via the Mediterranean basin through ships carrying goods from the Black Sea. On board these ships, in addition to cargo and passengers, there were little stowaways: flea-infested black rats carrying the bubonic plague. And so, one of the most deadly pathogens was released at the ports of Europe. Rapid and fatal, the consequences were: disease, suffering and death on a cataclysmic scale. Up to 60% of the population of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa was killed in eight years by the Black Death.


First, in 1894, the pathogen responsible for the disease was discovered by bacteriologists Kitasato Shibasaburo and Alexandre Yersin. At the same time, they discovered the plague bacillus, an elongated “rod-shaped” bacterium. They named it Yersinia pestis, a bacterium carried by fleas proliferating on rats and other small rodents. The bacilli multiply in the flea’s intestine. When the flea bites its host, it regurgitates the bacilli into the host’s body and infects it. And normally, this happens in a closed cycle between fleas and rodents. The bacteria spreads at such a rate that it kills its rodent hosts. This forced the fleas to find new hosts, namely humans. The infection spread easily. Rats were attracted to human activity, especially to food stored in barns, mills and houses.


Then, the symptoms of the Black Death. The incubation period was very long, varying between 16-23 days before the first symptoms appeared. Three to five days later, the victim would die. It was too late to understand the cause of death and to be fully aware of the danger.

Nodules in the patients’ lymphatic system were affected, causing swelling in the groin and armpits. These initial symptoms were accompanied by vomiting, headaches and a very high fever that made the patients tremble.


First, the bubonic plague as the most common form of the Black Death. The lymph gland was inflamed and widely known as a bubo. This gave rise to the term bubonic plague.

Second was septicemic plague, as one of the other variants of the plague. It infected the victim’s blood, causing visibly black spots under the skin. This is probably what gave the Black Death its name.

Third, the pulmonary plague which affected the respiratory system, causing the victim to cough. This facilitated the infection by droplet projection. In the medieval period, septicemic and pneumonic plagues had a 100% mortality rate.


Finally, the origin of the Black Death pandemic. According to a study putting an end to nearly seven centuries of questioning, it would have emerged in Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan. Researchers were able to trace the source by extracting ancient human DNA from a 14th-century burial site in northern Kyrgyzstan. Of the more than 400 tombstones at this burial site, about 100 dated precisely between 1338-1339. With an epitaph mentioning “death by pestilence”, in ancient Syriac. Phil Slavin, one of the authors of the study and a professor at the University of Stirling, knew of the existence of two medieval burial sites. These burial sites located near the lake of Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan had been excavated at the end of the 19th century.

The researchers searched the dental DNA of seven skeletons to find the cause of death. One of the authors of the study, Maria Spyrou from the University of Tübingen in Germany, explains: “The dental pulp is a valuable source, because it is a highly vascularized area that gives a high chance of detecting pathogens in the blood”. The DNA was sequenced and compared to a database containing the genome of thousands of bacteria. The verdict: the bodies were infected by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the bacillus responsible for the Black Death, transmitted to humans by rodent fleas.

This community had therefore been the victim of the same plague that struck Europe a few years later. Analyses of the Yersinia pestis genome also revealed that it was an ancestral strain of the bacterium. It was the one at the base of the “genetic tree” of the plague. This Christian community, ethnically diverse (Mongols, Uyghurs…) practiced long-distance trade. Phil Slavin argues, “Living in the heart of the Silk Roads, they must have traveled extensively, which played a role in the spread of the epidemic via the Black Sea.”

Can you imagine a pandemic without appropriate hygiene programs/guidelines, vaccines and hand sanitizers or surface disinfectants?

Sources and free translations of:
– https://www.nationalgeographic.fr/sciences/2020/03/pourquoi-les-medecins-de-la-peste-portaient-ils-ces-droles-de-masques
– https://www.nationalgeographic.fr/histoire/2020/04/rapide-et-fatale-comment-la-peste-noire-devaste-leurope-au-14e-siecle
– https://www.rtbf.be/article/histoire-de-la-sante-apres-des-siecles-de-mystere-on-connait-enfin-l-origine-exacte-de-la-peste-noire-11013317
– https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01673-4

A Wednesday Tale: Romans used to say: Automate your restrooms


This is not really that the Romans would tell each other after a rough battle against the Gallic, but nowadays the battle is never ending and merciless against the irreducible microbes!

Certain bacteria are good for us

And yet, most of bacteria are good for us, simply think of yoghurts or biological products and you’ll see that not all bacteria must be eliminated!

In certain environments such as at home, it’s not necessary to eradicate all microbial activity on the surfaces. It’s still better do it in an operating room though!

Let’s talk about public restrooms

Whether it is in a clinic, at school, in a shopping mall, a restaurant, or even at the office, certain people are a bit reluctant to touch surfaces. And you?

Conceive the ideal restroom

In this room, you will find accessories that have been conceived based on 3 fundamental criteria:

  • Infection spread risk reduction
  • Consumption reduction (environment protection)
  • Comfort and well-being of the user

Among these items, you’ll find:

The best way to discover the ideal restrooms is to visit our web site at www.lalema.com. 

We hope that you found this post informative and fun. Subscribe to this blog! You just need to write your e-mail address below. Thank you.