A common illness in the past was scrofula. It was often called the “King’s Evil.” Very few people today have ever heard of it. It is a disease that in many ways resembles tuberculous. It causes enlargement and degeneration of the lymph glands, especially those in the neck. It also causes inflammation of the skin, bones and joints.
The illness was called the King’s Evil because the royal families of France and England were believed to be able to cure the disease by touching the individual with their hand. A description of the touching ceremony can be found in Act Six, Scene Three of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England listed the prayers used in the ceremony of “Healing by The King’s Touch” until the mid-18th century.
King Charles the Second of England touched over 100,000 of his subjects with scrofula in hopes of curing their condition. Queen Anne of England was said to be one of the last of the royal family to use the royal touch to cure the disease. The child she cured was the famous Samuel Johnson. A person who was touched was given a medallion on a ribbon to wear around their neck. It was called a touch piece.
William A. Garren, a mountain man from Henderson County, was given an old mountain formula of local mountain herbs, which cured scrofula. He made the formula in Hendersonville and sold it under the name of Garren’s Tonic. People also called it Garren’s Remedies or Garren’s Blood Tonic. It apparently worked and thus sold well.
Garren found the cure by accident. As a young man in the 1890s, he would travel WNC in a buggy selling what was called “patented medicine.” One day, he stopped at the home of a man just across the state line in Georgia. The man asked him if he had a cure for scrofula. Garren told him he didn’t. The farmer told Garren that his daughter had suffered with it for years. He said a tramp, cold and hungry, had come by his house one day and saw the terrible condition his daughter was in. He told the farmer he would cure the girl in return for food and a place to stay. The tramp went off in the woods, returned with some herbs, and brewed them to make an elixir. The farmer said he gave it to his daughter and within 20 days she was totally cured.
The man told Garren he would give him the medicine he had left if he would use it to help other people, and Garren agreed.
Back in Henderson County, Garren gave some of the medicine to Bob Hutcherson, who had scrofula. Hutcherson was completely cured within 30 days and lived another 14 years. This was in 1896.
He studied the included sarsaparilla, May apple, yellow dock, wild cherry, gold seal, yellow root, lady slipper, and other plants. News of the tonic spread far and wide and demand kept increasing.
D.S. Pace and his son became interested in the tonic and formed the Garren Medicine Company in 1919. They made Garren’s Tonic in large quantities. They sold 16,000 bottles in Henderson County alone in 1921. The Natural Remedies Company got control of the Garren’s Tonic formula in the 1920s. The company spent millions on advertising, and it was estimated they sold 77 million bottles a year in the US and Canada.
The great depression of the 1930s hurt sales. Millions of people were out of work. The government spent millions of dollars on medical research just to create jobs. This led to many medical advances that help put Garren’s Tonic out of business.
Garren died in Henderson County in July 1954. He was well thought of for his career in law enforcement and for his tonic that helped a great many people.
William Absolum Garren was born in 1870. He was the son of Wilbur and Margaret Lanning Garren. Will was a strong and erect mountain man who always looked you in the eye. He served in law enforcement in Henderson County for 49 years, starting his career as Constable of Hendersonville Township in 1897. He was Chief of Police in Hendersonville from 1910–1913. He was Sheriff of Henderson County for three terms, and he served as a deputy sheriff, a city police sergeant and a special officer. It was said that he never struck a man when making an arrest and that he always assumed a person was innocent until they were tried and convicted. He would often just send a postcard to the person he had a warrant for, telling them to come by his office and turn themself in. It was said they would usually comply and come in as requested.