In the 1800s wilderness of the PA Wilds, there was a healer named Nancy Range.
These days, when you get sick, you go to the doctor. Maybe a clinic, or urgent care, or the emergency room if it’s serious enough. But back in the early 1800s, if you lived in the Allegheny National Forest and Surrounds Landscape, you’d go see Nancy Range.
Nancy was born on June 4, 1784, in Clarion County, one of eight children born to Henry and Mary Myers. On April 12, 1798, she married John Range, who later went on to fight in the War of 1812. They lived in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania, near Little Brokenstraw Creek. At times, their home was in both Forest and Warren Counties as the new county was formed. Nancy is discussed in a chapter of “Old Time Tales of Warren County,” by Arch Bristow.
“She was a character, was Aunt Nancy Range,” the book explains. “The cabin dwellers scattered in the clearings and settlements loved and respected her.” Nancy is described as “rotund,” tall, and having an air of strength about her. She wore dark-rimmed glasses held on her head with black strings, and rode her horse, Mollie, wherever she needed to go.
Nancy Range was known, loosely, as a kind of healer, using herbal medicine and dubious brews to nurse people back to health. If one of the early settlers of Warren or Forest Counties was sick or injured, they would send for Aunt Nancy, who would respond.
“She answered the call with a promptitude and unfailingness that made a reputation that lingers to this day,” states Bristow. “The plump saddlebags hung always behind her door, ready for an emergency.”
Nancy would grab her bags and supplies, and race to the patient’s side as fast as possible. Some of her methods were not exactly going to be approved by the American Medical Association, but she made up for that in sheer dedication. Upon arriving at the home, she would treat the patient with the herbs she’d been growing in her garden, and would stay by his side until he recovered. She would stay up all night, reading by the bedside, checking the patient’s pulse, and keeping the fire going while the family got some much-needed rest. If the patient didn’t recover, Nancy would handle arrangements there, too, cooking for the family and guiding them through their grief.
As far as payment went, Nancy Range was not exactly demanding about that, either. She would often accept payment in food or supplies. A little meat, a bag of vegetables, or a few yards of homemade cloth went a long way with her.
Nancy had a few close calls and adventures in the Pennsylvania Wilds, at the time when they were truly wild. Once, she reported having been chased by wolves through a forested area of Warren County, relieved to finally reach the home of her patient.