Mark J. Price

How did Akron residents spell relief?

“Po-Ca-Ta-Lo.”

That mysterious word conjures up memories of South Main Street in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

Kids who grew up in the neighborhood or drove past in automobiles, streetcars or buses might remember a life-size, papier-mache mannequin of an American Indian standing on a porch at South Main and Bachtel Avenue.

For 20 years, the garishly painted figure served as an eye-catching advertisement for the Po-Ca-Ta-Lo Indian Medicine Co.

Operated by Frank D. Adams (1869-1964), a businessman popularly known as “Doc” Adams, the South Akron company manufactured 75 natural remedies and operated a factory in Canton. Adams billed himself as “The Indian Medicine Man” and claimed to be “In Business for Your Health.”

Despite an English surname, Adams wasn’t fibbing about his heritage. He was born Iris Diet Nouche to Kickapoo parents in Salamanca, N.Y., grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and graduated from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Adams said his birth name translated to “Beautiful Running Water,” but his parents, Lenora and N.H. Adams, chose to adopt Anglicized names.

Young Adams crisscrossed the country with his father, who operated a traveling medicine show in the 19th century. They passed through Summit County around 1889.

“I remember my first visit to Akron as though it were yesterday,” Adams recalled in a 1941 interview with Beacon Journal columnist H.B. “Doc” Kerr. “We pitched our show on South Main Street near the old Merrill pottery works — where the big M. O’Neil Co. store now stands. I liked the town at first glance and decided that if I ever went into business for myself it would be in Akron.”

Adams wore his black hair in a 37-inch braid when he moved to Akron about 1914, but he cropped it a few years later. He opened the Po-Ca-Ta-Lo remedy company in the early 1920s at his home at Bachtel and Main about a block from West South Street.

Po-Ca-Ta-Lo probably was derived from Chief Pocatello (1815-1884), a Shoshone leader and namesake of an Idaho city. When asked about the brand’s name, Adams said it meant “Big Chief.”

Healing treatments

Ingredients were closely guarded secrets, but the company assured that its remedies were all natural and could cure everything from headaches to muscle soreness to insect bites.

“Po-Ca-Ta-Lo Indian Medicine Acts Directly on Kidneys, Liver, Stomach.”

“Are You Hitting on All Four? Take Po-Ca-Ta-Lo Indian Medicine.”

“Overhaul Your System — Take Po-Ca-Ta-Lo Indian Medicine Made of Pure Roots and Herbs.”

The most popular remedy was Po-Ca-Ta-Lo Treatment No. 2 (“Known for many years as a reliable medicine. Used in the early days and handed down to the present time.”)

Customers were directed to “SHAKE WELL BEFORE TAKING,” and to take one tablespoonful before breakfast. “Increase or decrease dose as your condition may require to move bowels two or three times per day,” the label noted.

In addition to operating a successful business, “Doc” Adams sponsored bowling and basketball teams. The South Akron All-Stars changed their team name to the Po-Ca-Ta-Lo Indians.

The papier-mache Indian figure, which depicted a robed, long-haired man holding a tomahawk, became so popular that it served as an unofficial mascot for South High School students who passed it every day on the way to class.

When “Doc” Adams closed the business about 1946, he sold the Indian figure to a Medina antiques dealer.

It changed ownership many times — for years, it was located in the Mustill Store in Akron — before being sold for $2,300 to an anonymous collector at a 1981 auction in Canton.

Frank D. Adams was 93 years old when he died in 1964 at his Bachtel Avenue home.

“I have prospered and have made many friends,” he once said. “What greater reward could anyone ask?”

He took his secret recipes to the grave at Greenlawn Memorial Park. For decades, older Akron residents used to call the Beacon Journal’s Action Line column in search of Po-Ca-Ta-Lo ingredients.

Recipe revealed

In 1979, Harry Porter, the son of Adams’ housekeeper, Abbie Porter, gave one secret recipe to Cuyahoga Falls resident Edith Veenman, who cooked up a batch in a 50-hour process.

“My phlebitis improved as soon as I started taking the medicine again,” she told the Beacon Journal. “I am not using my crutches and canes as much either. The medicine is bitter as the dickens, but I feel good all over!”

The previously secret ingredients included gentian root, cape aloes, rhubarb root, mandrake root, sassafras bark, galangal root, ruchu leaves, uva ursi, sassafras bark, capsicum, bitter almond, sodium salicylate and soluble saccharin.

Basically, the remedy was a strong laxative.

It was purely coincidental that Adams named it Treatment No. 2.

Seeing the ingredients in the newspaper in 1980, Dr. Edward B. Truitt, head of pharmacology at the Northeast Ohio Universities College of Medicine (now known as NEOMED), felt compelled to issue a warning that Po-Ca-Ta-Lo could produce “intense diarrhea and fluid disturbance.”

“I wouldn’t recommend it for any human being or animal,” he said. “It results from an old-time idea that a drastic cleanout cures something. It doesn’t. It’s dangerous, especially to an elderly person.”

Oh, no.

That’s Po-Ca-Ta-Lo.

Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mjprice@thebeaconjournal.com.