Footnote Files: Parasitic Bots and Charley Horses

Frontier medicine was not for the faint of heart.

I did a lot of research before writing Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More. So much, in fact, that I had two filing cabinet drawers full of research and information about the people, places, and things mentioned in my great-great-great grandfather’s twenty-two page journal.

Every now and then, I like to pull out a fun fact that didn’t make it into the book and share it in a blog post.

Today, the subject is bots. Not web robots, but the larvae of the botsfly, an internal parasite that lives in the stomachs of animals.

This from Henry’s journal, dated Thursday, August 30, 1838:
We passed through Tridelphia, West Alexandria and Claysville, where we stopped to feed. Charley, one of the horses, appeared to be sick and did not eat his feed. We gave him about 2 oz. of No. 6 with water, without much effect. He appeared to be in a great deal of distress. We then gave him a 1/2 pint of whiskey with as much indigo as would lay on a cent, but he still did not eat. A stage driver looked at him and said he had a touch of bots, and said if I would let him he could help him. I told him to go at it. He turned the upper lip up and took his knife and cut this way, then rubbed as hard as he could with coarse salt and he said if we would hitch up and drive slow he would soon eat.

Henry’s horse, Charley (side note to the side note: I think it’s humorous that Henry had a “Charley Horse.” Though it makes me chuckle, it’s quite possible that in 1838, the term didn’t mean what it does today. I did a quick internet search for the origin of “charley horse” and found this on

The earliest known use of the term is from the Boston Globe, 17 July 1886:
Several years ago, says the Chicago Tribune, Joe Quest, now of the Athletics, gave the name of “Charlie horse” to a peculiar contraction and hardening of the muscles and tendons of the thigh, to which base ball players are especially liable from the sudden starting and stopping in chasing balls, as well as the frequent slides in base running. Pfetlor, Anson and Kelly are so badly troubled with “Charley horse” there are times they can scarcely walk. Gore had it so bad he had to lay off a few days, and is not entirely free from it now. Williamson, too, has had a touch of it.

Yeah, I totally nerd out over word origins and history. But I digress!

The home remedies they used to treat bots seemed unlikely to help, and it makes me wonder if they had any impact. Henry does note in a later entry that the next morning, Charley was “in good spirits and able for his allowance.

Nowadays horses are treated for bots with preventive medicines in the spring and in the fall.

According to, bots carry diseases that can severely harm a horse’s health, and cause damage to the horse’s stomach and intestines:

Horses that show no outward signs of illness can be severely infested, giving no clue to damage occurring inside.  However, some horses do show signs of infestation, including an inflamed mouth area and stomach irritation. Infestation with bot larvae may cause ulcers in the stomach lining.  If the infestation is severe, the opening from the stomach to the intestines may be blocked, which can cause irritation, ulcers and even colic.  The burrowing larvae can cause small tears in the skin, which can become infected.

Nasty stuff!!

Photo of the stomach lining of a horse infected with bots:





Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.