No. 521
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 10, 2021

The Diamond King.

J. I. Lighthall, better known as the Diamond King, was a charismatic showman and a master of marketing, but he was also a dedicated healer.
December 4, 2012
...
...

Margery WrenUnder normal circumstances, one would expect that anyone who knew they were about to die as the result of a brutal attack would spend every bit of their remaining strength towards bring their murderer to justice.  However, the following case proved to be very far from normal.  An old woman’s murder, which, at first, seemed fairly simple and straightforward, soon took a puzzling turn
More...
Strange Company - 5/10/2021

`
"Your Aunt Emmie Lu died"Artifact #84-LetterJeff Smith Collection     mma Lu "Emmie" Smith(Abt. 1867 - May 3, 1915)   My great-grandaunt, Emma Lu Smith, the oldest sister of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, was born in Coweta County, Georgia around 1867. She was ten years old when her mother passed away in Round Rock, Texas in 1877.(l to r) Emma Lu, Maurice Gregory Moriarty, Eva
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 5/4/2021

A few weeks ago, Ephemeral New York put together a post about the former Czech neighborhood once centered around 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues on the Upper East Side. The post generated many comments, with readers either reminiscing about a vanished enclave they remember well or wishing Manhattan still had pockets of ethnic […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 5/9/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
More...
Executed Today - 11/13/2020
8-year-old Alice Sterling disappeared from the steps in front of her father’s Boston barbershop the afternoon of April 10, 1895. The three-day search for Alice ended at a shallow grave in the floor of a nearby barn. Angus Gilbert, a friend of the Sterling family especially fond of little Alice, lived in a room above the barn. Gilbert was charged with her
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 5/8/2021

With the advent of AI imaging now found on My Heritage and elsewhere, and free programs which will colorize old photographs, clearer details are being revealed every day. In this famous crime scene photograph of Abby Borden, the bed was removed so that Mr. Walsh, the hired photographer, could get a full body view of Abby Borden. With new techniques in cleaning up old photos, colorizing them and sharpening the details, now the sewing machine in the northwest corner of the room comes into sharper view as well as the tapestry folding camp chair. The two perfume bottles on the dresser, a vase and a framed photo can be readily seen as well as Mr. Walsh’s camera in the mirror as it stands in the doorway. The colorizing method also tinted the carpet maroon, which indeed was the color of the carpet in the guest room. But most astonishing is the dark pool of bloodstain around the head of Abby Borden which, with amplifying the contrast, shows very plainly. The bureau wood tone and burled wood panels appear clearly as well as the drawer pulls. The pattern on the carpet is somewhat distorted and elongated but the pattern is very plain to see. You can even see where the carpet has been patched in against the right wall. The sewing machine still has its cover in place which would hint at Abby never living long enough to run up those pillowcases and you can see her sewing basket on the bureau opened up. The folding camp chair has been moved from above her head, leaning against the wall to its position in this photo. Abby Borden herself was moved at least once before this photo was taken, Dr. Bowen having turned her over after the body was found around 11:35 a.m. This is a sample of a 1890 Singer machine with the cover which closely matches the one we see in this photo.
More...
Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/6/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
More...
Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
The Great Disappointment. | Little Egypt.

The Diamond King.

Diamond Kng

By the end of the nineteenth century, hundreds of self-proclaimed doctors crisscrossed America in traveling medicine shows. Some led elaborate tent shows with dozens of performers using patent medicine sales to finance their productions. Other focused more on the medicine than the show.  J. I. Lighthall, better known as the Diamond King, was a bit of both—he was a charismatic showman and a master of marketing, but he was also a dedicated healer.

Lighthall

J. I. Lighthall was born in Tiskilwa, Illinois in 1856. He claimed to be one-eighth Indian and left home at age eleven bound for the Indian Territory where he learned “Indian Herbal Theory.” Lighthall decided that “what was good for an Indian certainly was good for a white man” and he considered it his duty to share his knowledge with the civilized world.

A natural born showman, J. l. Lighthall soon had one of the most impressive medicine shows in the country. At its height, Lighthall’s show would enter a town with a fabulous procession of cowboys and Indians, singers and other performers, a brass band, wagons pulled by decorated horses, and a brass-trimmed chariot.

Lighthall was boyishly handsome with long flowing hair. He was known as the Diamond King for the flamboyant diamond studded costumes he wore. Sometimes he would appear in an ankle-length sealskin coat with matching broad-brimmed hat; sometimes in a red velvet suit with buttons made from $5, $10 and $20 gold pieces and a Mexican sombrero trimmed in gold and silver.

As many traveling doctors did, Lighthall advertised painless dentistry, and he would open each show by pulling teeth, free of charge. As the brass band played, Lighthall, with incredible speed, went to work, tossing each extracted tooth high in the air. He claimed his home in Peoria had a walk paved with human teeth.

King-of-pain

The Diamond King’s signature product was called Spanish Oil, The King of Pain, a blood purifier and liver regulator. The tonic, a brown liquid which reportedly smelled like a combination of turpentine and whiskey was made in Peoria by Lighthall’s mother and her third husband Isaac Wright and shipped to the Diamond King’s camp and to drugstores throughout the country. This is how Lighthall described it in verse:

A balm is hidden in the leaf,
That God has given for relief.
The Indians of the Western plains
Have found that they will cure our pains

So now the author does extend
A helping hand, an honest friend.
He’ll cure your aches, relieve your pain
If you will buy his King of Pain.

It’s made of barks, and oils and leaves,
And seldom ever man deceives.
It never fails to satisfy
And on it, friends, you can rely

In 1882, J. I. Lighthall published a book entitled The Indian Household Medicine Guide. In addition to being a comprehensive guide to Lighthall’s brand of herbal healing - including dozens of recipes - the book is a good layman's guide to conventional nineteenth-century medical knowledge. For those with health problems, the book included a list of health-related questions which could be answered and sent to Lighthall’s office. He would send his diagnosis and prescription by return mail.

In January 1886, J. I. Lighthall, twenty-nine years old, died of smallpox while performing in San Antonio, Texas. His passing was noted by newspapers throughout America.


Sources:

  • Fowler, Gene. Mystic healers & medicine shows: blazing trails to wellness in the Old West and beyond. Santa Fe, N.M.: Ancient City Press, 1997.
  • Lighthall, J. I.. The Indian household medicine guide. Peoria, Ill.: [s.n.], 1882.
  • McNamara, Brooks. Step Right Up. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.