DRUGSTORE COWBOYS


TRACES OF DRUGS AND DNA SHOW THAT THE WILD WEST

 WAS EVEN WILDER THAN COMMONLY IMAGINED.


drugstorecowboys (24K)


Julie Schablitsky, an archaeology graduate student at Portland State University, was excavating the remains of a low-income house near Virginia City, Nevada, when she found a 125-year-old hypodermic syringe and needles under some floorboards. A forensics test turned up traces of morphine, while a subsequent DNA study showed the syringe had been used by four or more people, both men and women, at least one of whom was almost certainly African American.


 It’s possible the needles belonged to members of the underworld who were sitting around using them socially,” Schablitsky says. But the presence of another artifact, a device called a urethral irrigator, implies the residence was a makeshift clinic to treat symptoms of venereal disease—a chronic problem in a mining town full of young men and brothels. The fact that the needles were being shared by a mix of genders and races suggests social boundaries were fluid in the boom-and-bust excitement of the frontier. “People think of the old Virginia City as a sort of Bonanza episode, with cowboys roping steers on the range. The real Old West might not be as picturesque, but it’s certainly more colorful,” Schablitsky says.


 By: Jocelyn Selim

         

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