sure as the coming of a new year, every December one biological
process begets another when pollen produced by the male juniper
(incorrectly but far more commonly known as mountain cedar) starts
making a lot of Texans sick with allergies.
Cedar pollen is only one of many varieties of spore that bring misery
to many, a bodily reaction technically known as allergic rhinitis
first medically described in the 10th century. Another half a millennium
passed before Charles Blackley, an English physician, in 1859 correctly
pegged pollen as the culprit. Initially, people thought the smell
of fresh hay caused their problems and the malady came to be generally
known as hay fever.
But on the Edwards Plateau of Texas, where an estimated 10 million
acres are covered in evergreen cedar, cedar fever supplanted hay
fever as the most common allergy-related condition. Ragweed would
be the second-worst offender.
the 19th century, it didn't take long for the more entrepreneurial
types to deduce that from the suffering of others they themselves
could gain relief--financial relief. Before Congress passed the
Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, the field was wide open for medical
quacks to offer "cures" for allergy sufferers. As early as the 1870s,
Texas newspapers were publishing ads touting allergy relief drugs.
"Hay Fever...Have You Got It?" began one pitch for Zola's Hay Fever
Cure. "It is a positive and guaranteed Remedy that will relieve
in 24 hours," an ad in the Sept. 25, 1896 edition of the Houston
Post assured. Druggist George W. Heyer, located at Main and Capitol
streets, was the Texas agent for the product.
A few years earlier, the Evening Marshal Messenger noted that members
of the clergy were invited to call at E.J. Fry's drug store "and
we will give them (free of charge), one $2.00 box of 'Cacterine,'
or Extract of Mexican Cactus..." According to the ad, and who could
question the veracity of something published in an 1890s newspaper,
Cacterine cured pretty much anything connected with the throat and
nasal passages, including hay fever.
a traveling "Specialist," one Dr. Willis, placed an ad in the Waco
Morning News that "owing to increased business," he would stay in
until summer. Tellingly, the ad ran in the January 6 issue, the
height of cedar fever season. The good "doctor" offered a hot medicated
steam inhalation regimen that the ad averred promptly relieved hay
fever. His ad said that in addition to hay fever, his steam treatment
was generally a "positive cure" for female disorders, rheumatism,
liver and kidney diseases and neuralgia.
Allergies such as cedar fever indirectly contributed to Fort
Worth's economy with the opening of a new business, the Aztec
Medicine Co. The company produced a "safe, simple and economical"
steam generator that cured allergy problems as well as consumption
The Wise County Messenger ran an ad early in the cedar fever season
of 1885 speculating that a century might be spent in search for
any better cure for allergies than Ely's Cream Balm. "Being pleasant
and safe, it supersedes the use of all liquids and snuffs." Not
only that, "Its effect is magical. It relieves at once and cures
many cases which baffle physicians." Relief cost only 50 cents at
the drug store, 60 cents by mail from the Ely Brothers plant at
Those unwilling to try for a medical cure could seek geographical
In 1887, the Fort Worth Gazette suggested another benefit of the
newly arrived Fort Worth and Denver Railroad: "Fort Worthites who
may be suffering from hay fever next spring can jump on Fort Worth
and Denver trains and in 36 hours be in the regions of eternal snow
and finding relief quickly, return inside of a week to their bright
The newspaper did not mention that while a dose of cold mountain
air would sooth allergies for the price of a train ticket, when
the recently afflicted returned to Texas so would their immune system's
physiological reaction to pollen.
into the 20th century, removing oneself from cedar country was still
seen as a quite viable alternative to suffering. In October 1935,
at the depth of the Great Depression, the management of Galveston's
Buccaneer Hotel bought newspaper space all over the state to tout
its method of relieving the symptoms of cedar fever and other allergies:
"Plan now to spend your Hay Fever season where thousands have found
freedom from this and other annoying pollen ailments." In other
Indeed, the ad continued, freedom itchy eyes, runny nose and other
symptoms could be attained by spending time in a room at the Buccaneer.
"Your physician will tell you that ocean-filtered air is pollen
free." (Your physician, back then likely to have studied medicine
University of Texas medical school, might also tell you not to miss
the island city's entertainment spots, its civically sanctioned
houses of ill repute along Post Office Street and its virtually
wide-open gambling venues.)
The most news cedar fever made in the state's dailies came in 1947
when UT regents generated big headlines by refusing to allow faculty
member and nationally known writer-storyteller J. Frank Dobie any
more leaves of absence so he could escape Austin's
cedar fever season in the fall and winter.
These days, while over-the-counter and prescription medicines actually
do lessen or eliminate cedar fever woes for some, the suffering
"Texas Tales" January
11, 2018 column