No. 653
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 27, 2024

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
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Tag: Indiana

Wanted to Sit by the Widow.

A ruffianly brawl at Haman's Hotel, Greensburg, Ind.

5/10/2022

So Far from Home

Her struggle was useless, the life-blood was pouring from a gaping wound in her throat.

12/21/2021

Beat the Hypnotist.

Two girls, who had been ill-treated by a fake mesmerist, get revenge in Indianapolis, Ind.

7/2/2018

Her Wheel Was Her Ruin.

A father of Indianapolis, Ind., catches his daughter drinking wine with a jovial crowd at a notorious local roadhouse.

4/2/2018

Peeped at the Bride.

A little incident that marred actor Lawrence Hanley’s wedding night in Terre Haute, Ind.

4/3/2017

The Women Screamed.

A gang of pickpockets go through an excursion train near Wabash, Ind.

11/15/2016

A Pair of Turtle Doves.

J. C. McLean, of Anderson, Ind., discovers that his wife is of a too-loving nature.

5/23/2016

Killed by a Baseball.

John Walters, of Richmond, Indiana becomes a victim of his love for the national game.

4/5/2016

A Woman’s Flat-Irony.

Miss Sallie Utterback, of Shoals, Near Vincennes, Indiana, knocks out a man with a waggin’ tongue.

2/2/2016

A Woman’s Flat-Irony.

Miss Sallie Utterback, of Shoals, Near Vincennes, Indiana, knocks out a man with a waggin' tongue.

2/17/2015

Giddy Young Girls.

12/1/2014

Drove Nails in his Ear.

7/23/2013

It Was a "She."

7/9/2013

Breaking Up a Bagnio.

11/18/2012
The archives of the Humble Oil & Refining Company are about the last place where you’d expect to run across a first-rate poltergeist account, but it just goes to show that we live in a funny old world.  In 1948, a folklorist and historian was browsing through the company’s papers when he came across a letter that had absolutely nothing to do with oil.  It read:Jan [illegible] '
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Strange Company - 5/27/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
When these photos from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York were taken at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery at the end of May in 1899, Memorial Day didn’t exist. “Decoration Day,” however, was an established holiday celebrated every May 30. The idea was to visit the final resting places of thousands of […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/27/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
John Wesley Elkins.11-year-old John Wesley Elkins was slight of stature—four feet eight inches tall, weighing 73 pounds. He was intelligent and well-spoken, and he had never caused trouble until the day he murdered his parents. At 2:00 am, on July 24, 1889, while his parents were sleeping in their Iowa farmhouse, he shot his father in the head and then beat his mother to death with a club.
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/25/2024
CHIEF OF CONSThe Morning Times(Cripple Creek, Colorado)February 15, 1896Courtesy of Mitch Morrissey ig Ed Burns robs a dying man?      Mitch Morrissey, a Facebook friend and historian for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, found and published an interesting newspaper piece on "Big Ed" Burns, one of the most notorious characters in the West. Burns was a confidence man and
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/2/2024
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 … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
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.