The profession of medicine man was a popular one among the Indians and every tribe had one or more of these fakers. In most cases their knowledge of even the rudest forms of medical science was very limited, although they did sometimes effect simple cures. They nearly always combined the office of healer with that of religious leader, and were thought to be possessed of supernatural power, capable of communicating with the
spirits of the dead. They were held in great respect by the entire tribe, wielding a great influence over the people and acting in the capacity of confidential adviser to the chief. However, their profession was not without its dangers. If a medicine man lost several patients in succession he was thought to be in the power of an evil spirit, and was killed. In any case where the patient failed to recover all fees were returned to his relatives.
When their magic failed to exterminate the whites, and thus stop the invasion of their country, they rapidly lost the respect of their followers, and when they were powerless to combat the diseases which followed closely on the coming of the whites, their own lives paid the forfeit.
They occasionally made use of medicinal herbs in their efforts to heal, but the most common method was to scarify with obsidian knives and suck away the cause of the pain. To impress the patient, and the spectators, thus making the treatment more effective, they often put into their mouths small stones, bugs, bits of wood, or other articles, which they spat out with the blood. The patient, thus convinced that the cause of his pain, or illness, had been removed, often made a quick recovery.
In later years when the Indians had become more or less familiar with the white man's methods of combating diseases, they resorted less and less to their medicine men, and the profession gradually died out.