The charming man in colorful western enthralled the crowd with a smooth, well-practiced presentation about the benefits of snake oil.

Clark Stanley

Clark Stanley told his attentive listeners about how he traveled to Walpi, Arizona, in 1879 and met with a Hopi medicine man to learn about the all the benefits of snake oil.

During the presentations, he killed dozens of rattlesnakes in order to process the venom for his all-purpose-cure—Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment. 

Snake oil, he ballyhooed, could be used for all kinds of aches, pains, colds, and even rheumatism.

He often told crowds he was born in Abilene, Texas, about 1854, and worked as a cowboy for eleven years. Abilene, however, wasn’t founded until March 1881.

Despite the discrepancies, he became a popular draw at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

His products, which included Stanley’s White Cactus Soap, and Western Herbs, proved successful enough for him to open production facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In 1897, Stanley published a 40-page booklet, The Life and Adventures of the American Cowboy: True Life in the Far West by Clark Stanley, Better Known as the Rattlesnake King.

In addition to promoting his products, the booklet contained lyrics to cowboy songs and passages about cowboy life. Some, however, contend Stanley never even lived as a cowboy.

A few years after passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, U.S. officials examined Stanley’s snake oil concoction.

Scientists found its curative powers pretty much worthless. None of the ingredients came from snakes.

The mixture contained mineral oil, red pepper, camphor, turpentine, and one-percent fatty oil.

Not long after the unmasking, the terms snake oil and snake oil salesmen stood for false cures and those who peddled them.


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