How Did Pioneers Treat Broken Legs?

Pioneers treated a broken leg by first finding a safe place in which to deal with the injury. Pioneers then manually manipulated the dislocated bone back into its normal position, which was very painful for the patient. A splint was then used to hold the two bones in place for them to heal.

In pioneer times, two sticks or pieces of wood were used to form the splint, and the splint was secured with rope or torn cloth. Splints predated the pioneers by several thousand years. In 3000 B.C., keeping a broken leg immobilized was done by using pieces of tree bark. Anthropologists have discovered Egyptian mummies with splints made of material such as reeds or bamboo. Splints were significantly improved through the work of an ancient Roman gladiatorial surgeon named Galen, who developed advanced splint designs for injured members of the Roman army. Galen was among the first physicians attempting to use prostheses for army members who lost legs or arms in battles. Galen’s study of how muscle and bone moved together led to advanced splint designs. Most pioneers mending broken legs in the wilderness would never have heard of Galen, but they knew of his basic splinting concepts.