Thursday, February 23, 2017



the blog about the medicine and surgery of yesteryear

Keith Souter aka Clay More

Two of the earliest posts I wrote for this blog were  entitled Dig It Out Doc. Part one was about treating arrow wounds. It was based on a paper written by Dr Joseph H Bill, published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences in 1862. Part 2 was about treating bullet wounds. It was essentially about the methods used by Dr George Goodyear, the surgeon to the gunfighters and was based on his papers on the subject.

In this blog I am going back to the Civil War to see what the eminent surgeon, Dr John Julian John Chisolm had to say. You might find this useful in your writing about the way bullet wounds actually heal.

Dr Julian John Chisolm (1830-1903)
Julian John Chisolm, often referred to as John Julian Chisolm, or as J.J. Chisolm was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1830. H obtained his MD medical degree from the Medical College of South Carolina in 1850, then travelled to Europe to study medicine and surgery in Paris and London.

Dr Julian John Chisolm (1830-1903)

He returned to Charleston in 1860 and took up the post of Professor of Surgery at the Medical College, from whence he had graduated a decade previously. He kept the position throughout the War and in 1861 published the first edition of his textbook A Manual of Military Surgery for the use of Surgeons in the Confederate States Army.

Here is what he says in his book:

In gunshot wounds the swelling of the soft parts, which commences a few hours after the injury has been received, usually continues to increase until the completion of the fourth day, when it has attained its acme, with commencing suppuration.  Should sloughing occur, it will show itself by the sixth or seventh. On the eighth or north day the slough has, in most cases, separated itself from the edges of the track of the ball, and in a few days more will have been disengaged. With the cleansing of the wound, when no complication with foreign bodies exist, the inflammation gradually subsides, the swelling diminishes, purulent discharge lessens in quantity, and the wound commences to contract. The middle portion of the track first closes, and with with utmost frequently the opening of the exit, leaving a funnel shaped canal, which diminishes from day to day, becoming more superficial, until no depth is left to the orifice of entrance. The wound cicatrizes (scars) with a depression, marking distinctly the nature of the injury which has been received. In the experience of many army surgeons the most dependant orifice heals last, without reference to the entrance or exit of the ball. Should the orifices, however, be situate at the same place, the orifice of exit is usually the first to close. This is the ordinary course which gunshot wounds take when judiciously treated in good constitutions. 

In the general treatment of gunshot wounds, interfere with the general health as little as possible. The commonly prescribed antiphlogistic (anti-inflammatory) remedies are, with but rare exceptions, not required. The endless list of emetics, purgatives, diuretics, and diaphoretics, to which some European writers still cling with wonderful tenacity, can, with decided benefits, be dispensed with. 

Guthrie, who represents this class, in speaking of the inflamed stage of gunshot wounds, says that the treatment for subduing this should be active: "The patient, if robust, ought to be bled (if no endemic disease prevails), vomited, purged, kept in the recumbent position, and cold applied as long as it shall be found agreeable to his feelings; when that ceases to be the case, arm fomentations ought to be resorted to, but they are to be abandoned the instant the inflammation is subdued and suppuration well established."

From this tract you can see that he strongy disagreed with Professor George James Guthrie, a British surgeon who had seen service in the Peninsula and the Napoleonic Wards and who was regard as the founder of British Military Surgery. He did not disagree with his surgical techniques, but with his use of bleeding, blistering and purging, which had been the accepted testament up until then. I will be returning to Professor Guthrie in a later post.

Professor George James Guthrie (1785-1856)

Give them whiskey
Chisolm goes on to discuss aftercare.

We have, therefore, abandoned the plan of starving wounded men, or, by mistaken policy of a rigorous diet, to keep off inflammation. We look upon inflammation as always depressing in its character - nature requiring assistance from without to enable her to cope successfully with disease. We do not hesitate, therefore, as soon as the stage of reaction has passed, to feed the wounded with strong, nourishing diet, and also further to support the system by the use of stimuli. Whiskey has been freely given to our wounded, particularly during the suppurative stage, and with decided benefit. 


THE DOCTOR'S BAG - MEDICINE AND SURGERY OF YESTERYEAR has been published by Sundown Press, available on ebook or paperback.

Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Available at


Friday, February 17, 2017

Dodge City and Me

Dodge City and Me

Troy D. Smith
I love me some Gunsmoke.

And I’m clearly not the only one. Gunsmoke is the 
longest running dramatic series in television history 
–broadcast from 1955 till 1975, for a total of 20 seasons. 
Law and Order, a show I also love, managed to tie this feat 
–but with a caveat. The cast of L&O turned over several 
times during its run, with none of the original ensemble 
group making it the whole time. In fact, the longest tenure 
of any original first-season L&O character was five seasons 
(Mike Noth’s Det. Logan, although he did appear several 
seasons in the spinoff Criminal Intent.)

On the other hand, the four main characters introduced 
in the first episode of Gunsmoke had staying power. 
Marshal Matt Dillon remained the central protagonist for 
all 20 seasons. Doctor “Doc” Galen Adams also appeared 
for 20 seasons, although he missed most of Season 17 due 
to heart surgery. Miss Kitty made it for 19, leaving before 
the final year. Even the short-timer, Chester Goode, made 
it partway into the ninth season.

Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier Crane” character tied Matt 
Dillon for longest run of an actor in a television role 
–but there is a similar caveat there. Frasier was not 
introduced on Cheers until the third season, and for two 
years was only a recurring guest rather than a featured 
cast member. James Arness brought Matt Dillon to the 
small screen as the main character of a program for 
twenty consecutive years –plus a series of TV movies, 
from 1987 till 1994. So in a way, James Arness played 
Matt Dillon for closer to 40 years.

But even twenty years is a big chunk of time. When 
Gunsmoke premiered my father was eleven years old. 
When it was cancelled I was almost eight –and when 
the final TV movie featuring retired marshal Matt Dillon 
aired, I was 26 and a father myself. To this day, love of 
Gunsmoke continues to be one of the bonds between my 
father and me, and we discuss it often.

I remember watching “The Deadly Innocent” with my 
grandma –and informs me this was on 
Dec. 17, 1973. I distinctly remember watching “The Tarnished 
Badge” –in which Victor French, whom I recognized as the 
kindly Isaiah Edwards from Little House on the Prairie, played 
a vicious sheriff that Matt had to bring to justice. The next day I 
re-enacted the story with my Marx cowboy action figures on the 
red clay banks behind our home (Johnny West was Matt Dillon, 
and Pat Garrett was the evil sheriff.) Whenever I think of that 
episode, I smell that red clay. That was Nov. 11, 1974.

That year my mom was in the hospital for awhile. My 
step-father, my older cousin, and I were on our own for 
several days. I remember our efforts to make breakfast 
that Sunday morning… the result being biscuits so hard 
you could break a window with them, and gravy so thick 
it was hard to pull the spoon out of it. And we watched 
the two-part episode “Island in the Desert,” in which 
Festus was held captive by a crazed prospector played by 
the great Strother Martin (who had a pet rattlesnake named 
Homer.) In a bizarre sort of family tradition, for years 
afterward we delighted ourselves in imitating Martin’s 
distinctive nasal voice: “Bite’im, Homer!” “I’ll cut ye, Festus, 
and I’ll cut ye good!” That was early December, 1974.

When I was 18 I had a job buffing floors at Wal-mart 
–back in the days when such stores actually closed at 
night, from 9pm till 9am. The floor guys would be locked 
in overnight. The other floor guy became my best friend 
–and he was a huge Gunsmoke fan. Syndicated repeats 
showed on the local Fox outlet at 10 pm every weeknight… 
when we were at work, yet before the rest of the employees 
went home and got out of our way. We had a contraband 
VCR tape that we kept hidden above the ceiling tiles in the 
janitor’s closet… every night, just after we got to work, we’d 
secretly stick it into one of the display TV/VCR’s, turn it to 
the proper channel, and push record. Every morning at 2am 
we’d retrieve it and watch Gunsmoke on our lunch break. 
Those are some great memories. And beyond that, the steady 
western diet contributed to me writing my own western stories 
at night while locked in those stores, never dreaming that I 
would one day be a published author.

I’m willing to bet that many of you have your own Gunsmoke stories, 
and I invite you to share them in your comments.

It’s hard to get out of Dodge.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Hi everyone! Sorry for the re-post, but this one bears repeating and you may have missed it the first time around--I ran out of time and thought I'd put up this "oldie but goodie" about this wonderful, wonderful Dorothy M. Johnson story rather than totally miss my blog date! Heaven forbid! Hope you enjoy--even if you may have seen it before. What's YOUR favorite short story?

I know we’ve talked before about Dorothy M. Johnson, the iconic western short story writer who penned such classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Hanging Tree, and A Man Called Horse; but today, I wanted to tell you about another short story of hers that I read a few days ago. Quite possibly, the best short story –in any genre—that I’ve ever read.

You may never have heard of it. It wasn’t made into a movie, because it too closely mirrored the true life of a real person, Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah Parker. The story is called Lost Sister.

I’d heard this story mentioned before by a couple of friends, and thought, “I need to read that—I’ve never read much of Mrs. Johnson’s work but the movies have all been good.” I know. I hate it when people say that, too. Anyhow, I bought a collection from Amazon that contained the three stories I mentioned in the first paragraph and Lost Sister as the fourth. Of course, I had to read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, since that’s tied for my all-time favorite western movie, along with Shane. I was so disappointed. The characters in the short story were not the same as my beloved Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne! Hmmm. Well, even though I was disappointed, I decided to give Lost Sister a shot.

It more than made up for my lukewarm feelings for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Lost Sister is the story of a woman who has been kidnapped as a young child by “the hostiles”. She has an older sister, who remembers her well from childhood, and loves her with the devotion that most older sisters have for a younger sister. Through the forty years she has been gone, the oldest sister, Mary, has cherished memories of her younger sibling.

There are three younger sisters, as well, who have no recollection of the Lost Sister, Bessie. The older sister doesn’t live with them, but in a different town a thousand miles away. The three sisters are notified that their sister, Bessie, has been “rescued” and is being brought back to them. The story is told from the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, whose mother lives with the sisters. She is the widow of their brother, who was killed by the Indians. The boy has dreams of growing up and avenging his father’s death, but something changes once his Aunt Bessie comes back to live with them.

Up until Bessie is returned to them, they have gotten much attention from the neighbors, and have been pitied as being the family who had a sister stolen by the savages so many years ago. Once Bessie is returned, their standing in the community takes a subtle twist. The other sisters don’t know how to handle Bessie’s homecoming. They make plans to go into her room and “visit” with her every day. One of them decides to read to Bessie from the Bible for thirty minutes each day. The others come up with similar plans, none of which include trying to understand Bessie’s feelings at being ripped away from her Indian family.

The oldest sister, Mary, comes to visit. What’s different? Mary loves Bessie, and accepts her; and Bessie loves her—they both remember their childhood time together. The language of love overcomes the barriers of the spoken language that neither of them can understand, for Bessie has forgotten English, and Mary doesn’t know Bessie’s Indian dialect. But Bessie has a picture of her son, and Mary admires it, and by the time Mary is to go home, she has made arrangements for Bessie to come live with her—a huge relief to the other pious sisters who had made such sympathetic noises about her being reunited with them in the beginning.

In a fateful twist, Bessie makes her own decision about what she will do, taking her own life back, and helping her son avoid capture. This is one story you will not forget. Once you read it, it will stay with you and you’ll find yourself thinking about it again and again. It doesn’t fit the mold of a romance story, except for the fact that I think of Bessie being in love with her husband, having children with him, and then being “rescued” and forced to live in a society she had no ties with any longer…except one—the love and understanding of her older sister, Mary.

No specific Indian tribe is mentioned in the story, probably for a purpose. I think, one of the main reasons is to show us the cultural differences and how, in this case, the “civilized” world that Bessie had come from and been returned to was not as civilized as the “savages” who had kidnapped her. Also, as I say, Cynthia Ann Parker’s story, at the time this story was published, was not that old. There were still raw feelings and rough relations between whites and Indians. But by leaving the particular tribe out of the story, it provides a broader base for humanity to examine the motives for “rescue” and the outcome for all concerned, of a situation such as this in which it would have been better to have let Bessie (Cynthia Ann) remain “lost.”

I’ve posted the link below for the story as it was printed in Collier’s Weekly on March 30, 1956. It’s also available on Amazon in several collections.

Do you have a favorite short story to tell us about? Please share--I'm all about making an ongoing reading list!

Friday, February 10, 2017

More Old West Recipes

Your Old West characters would have been interested in reading about many of the same things that interest modern folk: the latest news, expert advice, and of course, looking and feeling good. People back then worried about the same things we do, too: clear skin, gray hair and no hair. This particular list of recipes is from The Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette (Mrs. E.B. Duffey, 1877).
Some terms explained:
      Ambergris: a wax-like substance that originates as a secretion in the intestines of the sperm whale; found floating in tropical seas and traditionally used in perfume manufacture.
      Attar of Roses: the essential oil extracted from the petals of various types of rose.
      Bandoline: a mucilaginous preparation used for smoothing, glossing or waving the hair.
      Cantharides: extract of crushed blister beetle
      Deliquated: dissolved or melted.
      Drachm: a unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equal to 60 grains or one-eighth of an ounce.
      Felon: also known as a whitlow; a deep, usually pus-filled inflammation of the finger or toe, especially around the nail.
      Gill: a unit of volume equal to 4.16 fluid ounces
      Goulard's Extract: a solution of lead acetate and lead oxide; commonly used as an astringent up until the early 20th Century.
      Grain: A unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equal to 60 milligrams. 1 gram is equal to 15 grains, and 1 dram is 60 grains.
      Isinglass: a kind of gelatin obtained from fish, especially sturgeon, and used for making glue, etc.; also used of transparent sheets of mica.
      Muriate: a chloride compound.
      Rectified Spirits: highly concentrated ethanol, which has been purified by repeated distillation (rectification).
      Spermaceti: a waxy substance found in the head cavities of the sperm whale (and, in smaller quantities, in the oils of other whales).
      Tragacanth: a natural gum made from the dried sap of several Middle Eastern legume plants.

To Cure Chilblains:
·      When indications of chilblains first present themselves, take vinegar three ounces, camphorated spirits of wine one ounce; mix and rub.
·      Rub with alum and water.
·      Put the hands and feet two or three times a week into warm water in which two or three handfuls of common salt have been dissolved.
·      Rub with a raw onion dipped in salt.
To Prevent the Hair from Falling Off:
·      Vinegar of cantharides half an ounce, eau-de-cologne one ounce, rose-water one ounce. The scalp should be brushed briskly until it becomes red, and the lotion should then be applied to the roots of the hair twice a day.
·      A quarter of a pint of cod-liver oil, two drachms of origanum, fifteen drops of ambergris, the same of musk.
·      Boxwood shavings six ounces, proof spirits twelve ounces, spirits of rosemary two ounces, spirits of nutmeg one-half an ounce. Steep the boxwood shavings in the spirits for fourteen days at a temperature of 60 degrees; strain, and add the rest.

Hair-Curling Fluid:
The various fluids advertised and recommended for the purpose of giving straight hair a tendency to curl are all impositions. The only curling-fluid of any service is a very weak solution of isinglass, which will hold the curl in the position in which it is placed if care is taken that it follows the direction in which the hair naturally falls.
One of the fluids in use is made by dissolving a small portion of beeswax in an ounce of olive oil and adding scent according to fancy.
This essential for the toilette is prepared in several ways.
Simmer an ounce of quince seed in a quart of water for forty minutes; strain, cool, add a few drops of scent and bottle, corking tightly.
Take of gum tragacanth one and a half drachms, water half a pint, rectified spirits mixed with a equal quantity of water three ounces, and a little scent. Let the mixture stand for a day or two, then strain.
It may be made of Iceland moss, a quarter of an ounce boiled in a quart of water, and a little rectified spirit added so that it may keep.

This indispensable adjunct to the toilette may be made by melting in a jar placed in a basin of boiling water a quarter of an ounce each of white wax and spermaceti, flour of benzoin fifteen grains, and half an ounce of oil of almonds. Stir till the mixture is cool. Color red with a little alkanet root.
Rose-water may be made by taking half an ounce of powdered white sugar and two drachms of magnesia; with these mix twelve drops of attar of roses. Add a quart of water and two ounces of alcohol, mixed in a gradual manner, and filter through blotting-paper.
An application of cold, wet common whitening placed on immediately, is recommended as an invaluable remedy.
Stretch a piece of black silk on a wooden frame, and apply dissolved isinglass to one side of it with a brush. Let it dry, repeat the process, and then cover with a strong tincture of balsam of Peru.

J.E.S. Hays

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why would anyone want to write westerns?

Yeah, why?

Since my original ancestor Captain John Whipple landed in what is now Massachusetts, his descendents have pushed westward. Even Commodore Abraham Whipple, the ship captain who fired the first shot in anger by the Continental Navy, moved westward into Ohio.

My own grandfather, Willard, born some 200 years after Captain John, arrived in Arizona as a young man. He worked making charcoal for silver refineries in Nevada until he had enough money to get a place in Arizona. The homestead he filed on near the current Fool’s Hollow Lake is a golf course, but when I was a boy, it grew corn.

All my dad ever wanted to be was a cowboy. But of eleven children, my grandparents chose Dad as the one child they would send to college. So his day job was educator; his regular job was ranching. And that’s where I grew up.

Show Low, Arizona, is still a small town as such communities go in Arizona. But when I was a boy, it was a little mountain community of some 350 families. I knew them all by name.

My uncle Howard was a full-time rancher. My uncle Orson was the local game warden. And my Dad was the principal of the local elementary school. There was no high school.

I listened to the stories of those who’d come into the country in the 1880s. Clyde Merrill regularly drove by our house with team and wagon. He never did buy a car. Aunt Sarah Mills, as we all called her, always said Geronimo tried to buy her from her father with four prime Apache ponies. And Bushrod Ellsworth (his real name was LaMell, but what man would want to go by that name?) found the burial cave of the old Apache chief P’Tone. Bushrod was our hero. He rode a sawmill carriage during the day, carrying 3-foot-thick Ponderosa logs into a whirling 4-foot saw that stripped the logs into 2-inch boards. Early in the morning and late in the evening, he pranced past our house on the hill riding a golden palomino horse with white mane and tail. Bushrod wore his curly hair long and held it back with a rolled red bandana tied in a headband. His shoulders were an axe handle and a handspan wide, and the fringed buckskin jacket he wore was made from mule deer hide he’d tanned himself. To us, he seemed like the last of the mountain men.

Growing up in Show Low, I had more cousins than one child has a right to expect. Sam was a year older. Wayne J six months older. Earl six months younger. Jay a year behind. Couldn’t we get into trouble? But that has nothing to do with writing westerns . . . or does it?

Together, we rode horses from before we could even walk. Together we held down calves while fathers and older cousins made the ear marks, branded them, and castrated the bull calves with freshly whetted pocket knives. Together we dug postholes and hoed corn and baled hay and chopped silage. Together we played and worked and grew. Our west wasn’t the wild west of our grandfather, but it was feet on the ground, head in the clouds west. The same kind of west that hardy pioneers carved into a place where their descendents could have a good life.

Many of the stereotypes of western stories lived in Show Low. Charlie Johnson owned the feed store. Lamar and Leland Nicklaus ran the grocery store, long before there was such a thing as a supermarket. Bill Huso had a Shell station on the corner, but in times past, it would have been a livery stable. The church house stood on the hill, actually an ancient Indian burial ground, in the same spot as Corydon Cooley had his White House, a ranch headquarters and bed-and-breakfast rolled into one.

Cordon Cooley and Marion Clark built a ranch in a valley where a good-sized creek flowed from a malpais canyon and meandered through nearly ten miles of meadows before dropping into another canyon to the north. Cooley had been a scout for the army at Fort Apache, some 20 miles away. Clark was a teamster. Less than three years from the start of their partnership, Cooley and Clark found it impossible to work together. One had to leave. In a Western novel, the standoff might have been a shootout, but in real life, Cordon Cooley suggested they cut a deck of cards to decide who left and who remained. “Show low and win the ranch,” Cooley said. History does not record the card that Marion Clark showed. But Corydon Cooley showed a deuce of clubs, winning the ranch and the right to stay. From then on, it was the Show Low Ranch, which grew into the town of Show Low.

The cabins the pioneers lived in still existed back then, though they were falling apart. Corrals built half a century before still held cattle. Fields first plowed by hardy pioneers still produced corn and alfalfa and wheat and oats and vegetables for the table. The orchard my grandfather planted gave us plums, pears, apples, and currents. The applesauce my mother made turned into apple pie and apple cobbler and a dish she called Brown Betty.

I got a bicycle for Christmas when I was in the third grade, but my preferred method of transportation was Old Spot. Spot was a three-color paint that was three years older than I and somewhat wiser. No matter what direction we travelled in, he always knew the way home, and for some reason, his pace toward home was at least twice as fast as when going away. Spot took me to my first paying job, watering the plants at the Paint Pony Lodge. We’d arrive at 6 a.m. and work until nine, for 25 cents an hour. Good pay in those days.

The route to the Paint Pony took me past Bill’s Bar, where the cowboys drank and by the Malapai Inn, where the gentlemen imbibed. Those, along with the Blue Moon dance hall, were the social centers for many adults. I never got to go inside, but I looked in the doors many times. It looked like fun. And sometimes fun turned into fights.

In time, Spot retired and a little roan mare named Pocahontas took his place. She and I rode together. Chased girls together. Caught them together. But when I turned 18 and Pocahontas was six, I went away to college. I never really returned, though I went back home for summer break. When I did get back, Pocahontas and I would ride to the east section to the promontory overlooking Long Lake, and drink the clean Arizona air while we watched the prairie dogs that dotted the slope leading down to the lake. I wrote a piece about that once. Maybe you can read it some time.

I’m a Whipple, and our DNA sends us west. Mine took me all the way to Japan by way of Hawaii. While in college and since, I devoured western novels. Zane Grey. Owen Wister. Gordon Shirreffs. Clair Huffaker. Max Brand. Ray Hogan. Louis L’Amour. And the classics, of course. The Ox Bow Incident. The Big Sky. Shane. The Searchers. I first listened to Gunsmoke on radio (no TV in Show Low) with William Conrad as Matt Dillon. I still remember the line, “I’m the first man they look for and the last they want to see.” Apparently Conrad didn’t fit the image so James Arness became Matt Dillon on Television. Watched lots of those programs. Bonanza. Alias Smith and Jones. Branded. The Rebel. High Chaparral. Wanted Dead or Alive. Paladin. Of course there are more.

People often ask me why I live in Japan. My answer is, “I like to live with my wife.” I also like to write novels that I hope bring back some of the lives my grandfather and other Arizonans of his generation lived. So far, my novels are mostly set in Arizona, on purpose. I know that land. I’ve ridden the hills and valleys, climbed the cliffs and canyons, and hunted in the mammoth Ponderosa forest that covers the great Mogollon Rim. I hope my readers catch the authenticity of Arizona and the West from my writing. I hope to make my home state live. And I hope I show all its people, black, white, red, and yellow, as they should be portrayed.

That’s why I write westerns.

One last piece of trivia. The first capital of Arizona in 1863 was Fort Whipple.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sheriff's Pay in 1853

Luke Willford Simms left New Mills, Derbyshire, England, emigrated to America, crossed the plains, settled in the desert, and set out to practice the profession he had apprenticed: a cooper.

Luke did well enough to ensure Brigham Young disrupted his life by calling him to help establish the Summit Mission. “The Summit Mission needs a cooper.” Within months the Walker War brought Brigham Young to ask him to be his constable. “I want someone I can trust.”

Trust was one thing, but Luke Willford knew Brigham thought tithing a sacred duty and paying people a minor inconvenience.  It fell to Luke’s shoulders alone to worry about how much he was to be paid for serving as constable.

Synchronicity in the service of the blog. Once Luke had to worry about how much he was to be paid, I had to worry about it.

No sweat. Search the Google string: “salary of a sheriff in Utah Territory in 1853.” As usual,  195,000 results came back. The first ten pages, about one hundred-fifty of the search results, neither turned up (nor very much discussed) direct, original evidence to answer the question. Perhaps no one had directly studied it? There remains hope that on page 11,666, the 175,000th search result will show a ledger that documents the sheriff’s pay. My patience as a researcher gave out before that. 

Much more fun came from the discovery that the first and very colorful sheriff of Salt Lake City, also personally appointed by Brigham Young, deposited $640 into Brigham’s tithing account.  Original evidence of how much someone made. But, alas, Sheriff Ferguson earned that money from his successful foray into the California gold fields. (Sheriff James Ferguson’s tithing payment amounted to about $20,224 in today’s dollars, meaning his gold discovery was probably worth about $202,240 in today’s dollars.) (For a good discussion of why to use and why not to believe $31.60 in today’s dollars for an 1853 dollar, see

Triangulation suggested working with a few facts about pay that I knew to be true. For example, a cohab in Utah (if the judge convicted him and arrest alone was almost always tantamount to conviction) was worth a $300 fine.  Those pay rates came a little bit later because public acknowledgement of polygamy by the LDS Church came in 1852, but the the Federal Government law creating fines for cohabitation did not attive until the 1880s.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of 165 years, if the closest I can get is 25 years, I’ll take it.

The arresting officer, usually a Deputy U.S. Marshal collected half this fine. (Yes, your observation that our Federal Government financed law enforcement with bounty is correct. Whistleblower incentive payments, today, are in the same tradition.) Deputy U.S. Marshalls had the power to appoint Special Deputy U.S. Marshals. If the Special Deputy made the arrest, he generally split the fine collected by the U.S. Marshal. Truly enterprising U.S. Marshals created teams and the teams worked for a split of the split. So, a Deputy U.S. Marshal earned $75 and each of his two team members earned $37.50.  (Roughly $2,370 and $1,185 in today’s dollars.)

All they had to do to earn this fine income was arrest a man who had a family and children. Oops, excuse me, two families and children.

The second point in my triangulation came from the only real data I could collect: today’s Sheriff’s salaries.  “Utah Right to Know” provides the sheriff’s compensation for every county.  The sheriff  in Summit County is not paid as much as in other Counties, but he is paid $157,398 in total compensation (2015).  Whittle away the 35.3% benefits and the vacation portion of his salary reported as a benefit, not a salary, and work back to $101,142 in today’s dollars.

Only the question of what is a day in today remains. My constable worked every day of the week, no vacation, no holidays, no health care, no pension, (and, very often, no pay.) So, $277.10 per day, today, for 365 days, amounted to $8.77 per day in 1853. Now, we’re getting close. My Fugitive Sheriff took a second job, driving the silver freight, at fifteen dollars a week, to make ends meet.  In 1883, $2 a day was something like an acceptable wage. Thirty years earlier, perhaps generous. 

I’m going to pay my constable fifty cents a day and fifty percent of the fees he collects (but not the fines.) He might get a raise in the future, after Summit Mission becomes Summit County. I welcome any thoughts or suggestions from my fellow Western Fictioneers.  It will take more than a year for Sheriff Luke Willford to sees the light of day--plenty of time to come up with a better pay rate, if there is one. 

E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.