Monday, September 30, 2013

Western Fictioneers Presents West of the Big River: The Forty-Niners by Charlie Steel

The discovery of gold in California launched a stampede of fortune-seekers across the continent in search of wealth. Willing to face any hardship – outlaws, hostile Indians, bad weather, thirst, starvation, and the horrors of disease – they battled fiercely to overcome these challenges and seize their destiny. But sometimes the treasures they found were not the ones they were expecting . . .

THE FORTY-NINERS is the fifth novel in the exciting West of the Big River series from the Western Fictioneers. Charlie Steel's story of courage, romance, and danger is based on historical incidents and vividly illustrates a compelling chapter in American history, recreating a lawless era that exemplifies both the best and the worst in a vital young nation!


Sunday, September 29, 2013


On a vast open plain a few miles south of Ponca City, Oklahoma, lies the burial ground of one of the greatest ranching empires of the West—the Miller brothers’ 101 Ranch.

Established in 1893 by Colonel George Washington Miller, a former Confederate soldier, and his wife Molly, the 101 became known as the “Largest Diversified Farm and Ranch in America.” It was nicknamed the “White House.”

Not only was the 101 one of the largest working ranches west of the Mississippi, it was even more famous for its Wild West shows. These displays of horsemanship, roping, and daring “rescues” transitioned from local shows to the national level in 1907 when the 101 Wild West Show performed at the Jamestown Exposition in Virginia. In 1908, the tour circuit began in earnest.

The Miller brothers, Joseph, George Jr., and Zack, had permitted some of their cowboys to perform at a local fair, and from this, their own Wild West show grew to become known worldwide.

It was essentially a Wild West show, complete with cattle, buffaloes, cowboys and Indians. It included an all-around crowd pleaser—the attack on the stagecoach. But it also contained elements of the circus with sideshows, and “freaks” such as the Bearded Lady. In the heyday of its popularity, the Millers’ 101 Wild West Show netted them over one million dollars per year!

The idea of formalizing the performing cowboys into a Wild West show came from the Millers’ longtime friend and neighbor, Major Gordon W. Lillie—also known as Pawnee Bill. Pawnee Bill eventually combined his own Wild West show with Buffalo Bill Cody’s. The 101 Wild West Show, however, remained solitary, boasting stars such as black bulldogger Bill Pickett, Bee Ho Gray, early movie star Tom Mix, Mexican Joe, and eventually, Buffalo Bill Cody as well.

The Miller brothers were latecomers to the Wild West show circuit, causing them to suffer financially with the advent of movies. Even so, their show became the largest in the nation by the 1920’s, requiring more than 100 train cars to travel from town to town.

By 1916, the two younger Miller brothers, George Jr. and Zack, gave up trying to work with their temperamental oldest brother, Joe. It was during this time period that Joe hired an aging Buffalo Bill Cody to star in a WWI recruitment show: The Pageant of Preparedness. Cody quit the show due to illness, and died within a year. Still, Joe tried to keep the show going, but was unsuccessful. He offered it for sale to the American Circus Corporation in 1927. They were uninterested, suffering from financial distress as well. On October 21, 1927, a neighbor found Joe Miller dead in the ranch garage of carbon monoxide poisoning. Several months later, his brother, George Jr., was killed in a car accident. In 1932, Zack Miller was forced to file for bankruptcy. The U.S. Government seized what remained of the show’s assets and bought 8,000 acres of the 101 Ranch. Zack Miller died in 1952 of cancer.

Today, what remains of the once-glorious three-story stucco 101 Ranch headquarters is rubble. Over ten years ago, efforts began to turn the site into a roadside park.

Bill Pickett, the inventor of bulldogging, or steer wrestling, is buried there. On the same mound where Bill Pickett lies is a memorial to the Ponca chief, White Eagle, who led his people to a nearby reservation during the 1870’s from their holdings along the Nebraska-Dakota border.

The stone monument was built as an Indian trail marker where signals and messages could be left by different friendly tribes who passed by. These tribes generally understood the signals, and could tell which way the other travelers were going. Gradually, settlers took away the stones for building purposes. Because Colonel George Miller and White Eagle were lifetime friends, and Joe Miller was adopted into the tribe, the renovation of the trail marker had significance to the 101 Ranch for many reasons.

The 101 Ranch was a bridge between these old, lost days of the early West, when Colonel George Miller started the venture as a settler after the States’ War, and the modern times of change. The 101 Ranch was the headquarters for the show business contingent of cowboys and other western performers of the early 1900’s. Will Rogers was a frequent visitor, as well as presidents and celebrities from around the world. Some of the first western movies were filmed on the 101 Ranch.

Though there isn’t much left of the actual building, the 101 Ranch exceeded the expectations for a “cattle ranch.” Indeed, it was a virtual palace on the Oklahoma plains; a place where dreams were lived.

In my novel, Fire Eyes, Kaed Turner talks with his friend and mentor, Tom Sellers, about giving up law enforcement and settling down to ranching. I don't think they ever had anything as grand as the 101 Ranch in mind. At first, Tom sees it as an unattainable dream; but as the conversation progresses, the possibilities look better. Here’s what happens!

Tom smiled. “Glad you’ve got somebody good—deep down—like you are, Kaed. Ain’t too many men who’d take on another man’s child, love her like you do your Lexi.”

Kaed put his hand against the rough wood of the tree and straightened out his arm, stretching his muscles.

Tom drew deeply on his pipe, and Kaed waited. He’d known Tom so long that he recognized the older man was going to broach a subject with him that he normally would have avoided. Finally, Tom said, “I told Harv he needed to find someone. Settle down again. Grow corn and make babies. Think I might’ve offended him. But after seein’ him with little Lexi, it hit me that he seemed content. For the first time in a long while.”

It had struck Kaed, as well. Harv rarely smiled. But when he’d played with Lexi, it seemed that grin of his was permanently fixed on his face.

“Seems that way for you, too, boy.” Tom wouldn’t look at him. “Seems like you found what you’ve been looking for. Don’t let marshalin’ ruin it for you, Kaed. I’ve stayed with it too long. Me and Harv and Jack, we’ve been damn lucky to get this old without gettin’ killed either in the War, or doin’ this job.”

“Tom? Sounds like you’ve got some regrets.”

Tom nodded. “You made me realize somethin’, Marshal Turner, and now I don’t know whether to thank you or cuss you. When I saw the way that woman looked at you, the way that baby’s eyes lit up, it made me know I shoulda give this all up years ago and found myself somebody. Taken the advice I gave Harv. Planted my seed in the cornfield and in my woman’s belly, and maybe I’d’a been happier, too.”

“It’s not too late.” Kaed’s voice was low and rough. The doubt he’d had at starting his own family again was suddenly erased by the older man’s words. Nothing would bring his first family back. But he had a second chance now, and he was a helluva lot younger than Tom Sellers. He’d had it twice, and Tom had never had it at all. Never felt the love flow through a woman, through her touch, her look, and into his own body, completing him. Never looked into the eyes of a child who worshipped him. He wouldn’t have missed that for anything the first time. Or the second.

Tom turned slowly to look at Kaed, the leaves of the elm tree patterning the filtering moonlight across his face. “You think that cause you’re young, Kaed. Twenty-nine ain’t forty-three.”

“Forty-three ain’t dead, Tom. There’s plenty of women out there. Plenty of land. Room to spread out. What’re you grinnin’ at?”

Tom laughed aloud. “Got any particular woman in mind?” Quickly, he added, “Now, remember, Kaed. She’s gotta be young enough to give me a baby, but not so young she’s a baby herself. Gotta be easy on the eye, and I want her to look at me like your Jessica looks at you. And by the way, have you got any idea where a fella could get a piece of good land for raisin’ cattle, with a little patch for farmin’?”

Kaed’s lips twitched. Tom was dreaming, but only half dreaming. The serious half had taken root in his heart and mind. Kaed knew before too much longer, that part would eat away at the lightheartedness until it took over completely, becoming a bold, unshakeable dream that he would do his utmost to accomplish. Now that Tom had envisioned what his life could be, Kaed knew it would fall to him to help make it a reality.

“Let’s end this business with Fallon. After that, we’ll find the land and the cattle.”

“Don’t mean nothin’ without the woman, Kaed. You oughtta know that.”

“I do.” Kaed smiled, his thoughts straying to Miss Amelia Bailey, the not-so-young-but-young-enough school teacher in Fort Smith, who always seemed to trip over her words when Tom Sellers came around. Just the right age. And very easy on the eye. “Stick with me, old man. I may even help you find a decent woman to settle down with.”

I'm giving away an autographed copy of FIRE EYES today to a lucky commenter! Please leave your contact info in your comment and be sure to check back sometime after 9:00 this evening to see if you were the winner of the drawing!

You can find more of my work here:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Favorite Western TV Series: Gunsmoke

Troy D. Smith

I have no problem picking my favorite Western TV series- it's the grand-daddy of them all, Gunsmoke. I would have trouble picking my #2- I'm also a huge fan of Have Gun: Will Travel and Maverick, as well as more recent shows like Deadwood. But my first love is Dodge City. And why not? It's the most iconic of the "adult" westerns to hit the tube in the 1950s, running for twenty seasons.

I don't need to describe the show for you. You know about Marshal Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc Adams, and the rest. Instead, at the end of this article, I will post links to several essays I have written about different aspects of the show at my own blog.

For today I will focus on my favorite episode. Now that's a tough one, there are probably dozens of contenders. But the one I always go back to is an episode from the Eighteenth season, "A Quiet Day in Dodge." (note: okay, the two-part "Island in the Desert" would be #2.)

The episode first aired on January 29, 1973, so I probably saw it in its first run. It's one of the humorous episodes, thrown in now and then to break the tension, and while it's quite funny that's not the main reason I like it so much. I like what it tells us about Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, and their relationship.

The story opens with Matt riding into town just after dawn, a prisoner in tow. He locks the guy up, and then retires to his own cot- he has been up for 36 hours, and all he wants out of life right now is a peaceful sleep.

But he's not going to get it.

As the day progresses, an increasingly rumpled and grumpy Marshal Dillon has to deal with a host of problems, all designed to keep the sandman away.

Festus, who is apparently one of those annoying, chipper morning people, makes an ungodly racket cleaning fish in the office.

Matt's prisoner stabs him in the hand with a fork.

A young whippersnappery rapscallion, with overly permissive parents, terrorizes the town.

A crotchety old lady harangues the marshal over what she deems his lapses in duty (played by Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West herself.)

A brawl breaks out in the Long Branch, started by two grizzled old miners.

But the worst of it all... Miss Kitty is royally ticked off at Matt. It seems they had a picnic scheduled for the day before, which had been put off several times, and -yet again -Matt missed it because of work.

Finally, by the end of the day, Matt has managed to solve all the problems (including that of the kid, whom he gives a good spanking.) He even patches things up with Kitty; she makes him a special dinner, which they share in her room. It is pretty obvious what Miss Kitty has in mind for dessert.

This is one of the very rare glimpses we get into what goes on behind closed doors between the two longtime paramours. Remember that Toby Keith song, when he said Matt never did hang his hat at Kitty's place? Well, he does... and with a very domestic sort of familiarity.

But then, Kitty turns her back for a moment.... and the exhausted marshal is stretched out on her bed, snoring like a banshee. Not quite what she had in mind. The quietly fuming Miss Kitty breaks a porcelain pot to see if it'll waken her beau, but he doesn't stir. She marches downstairs to the bar -pouring beer over the heads of the two miners -then heads out the front door. The ever-protective bartender Sam calls after her, "It's awfully late, you might be molested!"

She laughs sarcastically and says "Really!" The implication, of course, was that she had been trying all day.

For the better part of two decades, the real relationship between Matt and Kitty was sort of between the lines. In this episode, we finally get an idea what they had been up to upstairs all those years. Although... not on that particular day.

Click on this link to see a blooper from the episode, in which the Wicked Witch cracks up the whole cast with a very unexpected ad-lib:

And here are my previous blogs about the show:

Gunsmoke, Dodge City, and Me

Marshal of What, Exactly?

Chester vs. Festus

Matt Dillon's Dodge City: A Historian's Nightmare

Friday, September 27, 2013


We loved them, we cheered for them, we cried for and with them, we sighed if/when the hero finally returned the heroine's love, devotion, loyalty... etc. Previously, I'd explored sidekicks and villains in western films. Today, it's time for the women who stood by and behind their men.

Here's a few I've found - many I've seen in movies and on television. Several have interesting backgrounds and awards. I'll start with my favorite.

MAUREEN O'HARA - The fiery-tempered red-headed Irish actress was a hit in several westerns with the Duke. Pictured to the right is the duo in McLintock! Maureen also starred with John Wayne (and shared remarkable on-screen chemistry with him) in two non-westerns, The Wings of Eagles and The Quiet Man. In her own words - "I was tough. I was tall. I was strong. I didn't take any nonsense from anybody. He was tough, he was tall, he was strong and he didn't take any nonsense from anybody. As a man and a human being, I adored him." (Chicago Tribune, May, 2013) Maureen starred in a few other westerns but McLintock! and Big Jake are my favorites.

GAIL DAVIS - I barely recall seeing Gail Davis in Annie Oakley when ABC rebroadcast the TV series after the 1950s show ended. But I enjoyed her portrayal. Strong, gutsy women, that's what I loved seeing, and Gail starred in many western films with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. She also had roles in many television western shows. In her own words - "Back then I knew (Annie Oakley) was having a positive impact, especially on little girls. It wasn't until years later that I realized just how much. Little girls had turned into influential women, thanking my portrayal of Annie for showing them the way." (from the Gail Davis exhibit, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame) Loved the pigtails, too.

JENNIFER HOLT - I don't remember seeing her by name, but I'm sure I watched a few films with my dad that had Jennifer featured as the heroine. She joined the cast of movies starring Hopalong Cassidy, Russ Hayden, Rod Cameron, Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter, Eddie Dean and Lash LaRue. The B-westerns were popular then and are still replayed (on occasion) on the TMC channel - usually on Saturday mornings or afternoons. All but eight of the 48 films she made were westerns. Maybe ya'll remember her, even if I don't. That's a lot of film credits, so I figured she belonged here in the list.

AMANDA BLAKE - I was fascinated by the actress' name (born Beverly Louise Neill.) We ended up naming our daughter Amanda, by the way, since it was so unusual (although the poor kid shared the name with at least three others in every school class.) Her beauty mark also intrigued me. Was it real? Ha! I missed the earlier shows where she was more than just owner of a saloon (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Ahem. As Miss Kitty, she had a heart of gold on the television western show Gunsmoke and kept Marshal Dillon company for 19 long years. Did you know Beverly first worked as a telephone operator? In 1968, Amanda Blake was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at Oklahoma City's National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum - the third actor, after Tom Mix and Gary Cooper! Not bad, Miss Kitty.

BARBARA STANWYCK - Well, I can't leave her out since she ruled the roost as Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley. I have to admit I preferred watching Bonanza over this show and Gunsmoke (sorry, but Little Joe caught my fancy along with his paint horse.) Barbara ruled in Hollywood as a first-rate actress in many roles, both villainous and heartfelt, and she was successful as the wealthy widow of a 1,000 acre California ranch based loosely on history. The Hill ranch, established in 1855 and owned by Lawson Hill until his 1861 murder, was taken over by "Auntie Hill" - his wife Euphemia - who was the matriarch over their three sons and one daughter. Today the ranch lies beneath Lake Camanche in Calavaros County, near Stockton.

HAILEE STEINFELD - Give me some leeway here. My favorite book is Charles Portis' True Grit, and I knew back in 1969 that actress Kim Darby was too old for the role of Mattie Ross in the film True Grit with John Wayne. So when the Coen brothers remade the movie in 2010, the year before Double Crossing was published, I cheered for Hailee's wonderful performance. She was perfect. Even the Duke would have agreed! Hailee portrayed Mattie with the right blend of innocence, savvy perspective about life's low points and die-hard determination. I'd suggest her to portray Lily Diamond if I had input and a film contract for my book. I hope to see her in more westerns.

Well, that's my list. Who are your favorite western film and television heroines? Leave a comment below. Happy trails!

Meg Mims is an award-winning author with two western historical mysteries under her Eastern belt. She lives in Michigan, where the hills are like driveway slopes and trees block any type of prairie winds. LIKE her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check out her books on her website



Thursday, September 26, 2013



By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE 

Anaesthesia is one of the great blessings of modern medicine. Until an effective means of inducing unconsciousness was devised people had to depend on copious amounts of alcohol, a good strong piece of leather or wood (or a bullet) to bite on and the speed and skill of the surgeon or bonesetter.

The development of anaesthetics (and please put up with the British way of spelling) was not straightforward.  As with most things in the development of medicine it was a mix of chance, bravery and scientific endeavour.

Dr Thomas Beddoes and Pneumatic Medicine
Dr Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808) was a believer in many things in his time and in a way he was a catalyst for some of the spectacular advances that would occur in Victorian science and medicine. Indirectly, he as a place in the history of anaesthesia.

Some of his ideas were decidedly odd. One such was his observation that butchers rarely suffered from consumption (tuberculosis). When he asked some of them why they thought this was the case he received the reply that the inhalation of the odours in the slaughterhouse was heath-giving! He pondered on this and concluded that the air from the lungs of beasts may be the key and so he actually introduced windows into his clinics through which cattle could poke their heads and breathe upon the ill. Some patients, however, were not so happy about the smell of dung that they were also forced to endure.

When he settled in Bristol he set up the Pneumatic Institute for Inhalation Gas Therapy in nearby Clifton. He firmly believed that the various gases that chemists were discovering were just variants of air and that each gas had the potential of healing. Carbon dioxide, for example, had been used to treat consumption. Beddoes planned to extend the range and use hydrogen and other gases.

He decided that the institute needed a chemist to help him and as it happened, the young man that he appointed was the twenty year old Humphrey Davy. This was fortuitous for it gave Davy opportunity to develop his skills as a chemist. Soon Davy was inhaling gases that he produced in the laboratory. One of these was nitrous oxide, which he found was quite intoxicating. Not only that, but on one occasion he was suffering from toothache and he discovered that inhaling the gas actually gave pain relief. Strangely enough, although he was working in a purported medical institute no-one realised the potential that laughing gas would have. It fell to an American dentist to discover this fact forty odd years later.

Surgical humbug and dangerous inhalation
In 1824 Dr Henry Hill Hickman (1801-1830) a young Shropshire country doctor had followed Dr Beddoes’ ideas of inhaling gases and experimented on animals. He induced the state of what he called ‘suspended animation’ in these animals by making them inhale carbon dioxide gas. He then operated upon them in a seemingly painless manner. He advocated that it should be tried on humans, but his suggestion evoked ridicule. Indeed, an article in The Lancet totally derided his work under the title Surgical Humbug.

            Hickman did not leave it there, but took his ideas to France, where he obtained a hearing and actually read a paper to King Charles X. The paper was then forwarded to the Academie Royale de Medicine, but once again nothing came of it.
 In fact, carbon dioxide would induce such a state, but it would also induce panic attacks in humans. Worse, it could be fatal! The idea of using gas, however, albeit in this case the wrong one, did have merit as a means of inducing a sleep like state.
The big three
By 1831 three anaesthetic agents had been discovered. They were, chloroform, ether and nitrous oxide. In 1842 in the USA Dr Crawford W long (1815-1878) performed three minor operations on humans using ether. Two years later in 1844 a dentist, Dr Horace Wells (1815-1848) used ether on himself and had one of his own teeth removed.

A friend of his, Dr William T G Morton (1819-1868) used it to perform surgery in a demonstration to other doctors. It was the beginning of a new era for surgery and the name ‘anaesthesia’ was devised by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Back in Britain in 1847, James Simpson started to use chloroform, which was less irritant and more pleasing to be given. He advocated giving it to mothers during labour, but met with opposition from the Calvinist Church, who said that it was natural for a woman to endure pain to bring a child into the world. This view was quickly scotched, however, when in 1853 Dr John Snow (1813-1858) gave chloroform to Queen Victoria herself when she had her son Leopold. He repeated this in 1857 when her majesty gave birth to her daughter Beatrice.

Giving anaesthetic
The casualties of warfare would have been extremely grateful for the benefits that chloroform brought them. But it was a fairly imprecise business and it was not without risk of death. Dosage was based on experience rather than scientific measurement. It was also unpleasant, since it indices a suffocation feeling ad patients were wont to panic. Accordingly, surgeons would be reassuring and sometimes would give brandy or laudanum first. Indeed, this was the regular practice in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. 

Chloroform is a liquid that was given by various methods. Children would be given it by the 'drinking glass method.' This involved putting a wad of cotton in a glass and soaking it with chloroform. The glass was then held over the nose or the mouth by the child or patient and as anaesthesia was induced, the glass fell away. 

Another method was to make a cloth cone and drop it onto this, placed over the nose and mouth. Then a sort of mesh was used as a face mask, rather like a small sword fencer's mask, on top of which a cloth was placed, upon which chloroform was dropped. 
                                                            Chloroform anaesthetic mask
There were two stages of chloroform anaesthesia. The first was a dulling of consciousness, often associated with hallucinatory images, wild-eyed excitement, then sometimes by panic if a suffocative feeling came on. Muscles could go into spasm, and if these included the laryngeal muscles then real suffocation could occur. The second stage resulted in unconsciousness when the muscles could go very floppy in some cases, again risking respiratory paralysis, which could be fatal. 

These were considerable problems with early anaesthesia and late on intubation of the larynx allowed anaesthesiologists to safely deliver oxygen and other gases directly to the lungs, thereby making it a lot safer to be anaesthetised. 

Chisolm's inhaler
During the Civil War the supplies of chloroform were often less than sufficient and there was a need to be more scientific in the application. 

The Confederate surgeon Julian John Chisolm invented a small inhaler consisting of a flattened cylinder, measuring 2.5 by 1 inch, with two tubes which could be inserted into the nostrils. The chloroform was dripped into a perforated disc onto a cloth. It apparently reduced the amount needed to about ten per cent of the amount previously used.

If you have been following the Wolf Creek series you may have seen Doctor Logan Munro using his Chisolm inhaler!

Hell on the Prairie, the sixth Wolf Creek book features Keith (Clay More's) character Dr Logan Munro, the town doctor in THE OATH, a story about a spectre from his past. Logan has been in Books 1, 4 and 6, and is due to appear in books 8 & 9.

And his other new character, Doc Marcus Quigley, dentist, gambler and occasional bounty hunter continues in his quest to bring a murderer to justice, in THE SHOOTER the fifth in his  ebook short stories THE ADVENTURES OF DOCTOR MARCUS QUIGLEY published by High Noon Press.

And his sixth, RATTLER'S NEST will be out soon.
Apologies if you comment and I don't reply straight away - my daughter gets married tomorrow and I'll be busy today - (writing my speech!)