Saturday, February 28, 2015

New Mexico’s Rio Grande Gorge Bridge by Kaye Spencer

Taos, New Mexico is one of my favorite places to visit. ('X' marks the Taos-spot on the map.) From where I live in the southeastern corner of Colorado, it’s just a long day trip, so I’m fortunate to be able to go there every few years. The history of the area draws me. With each visit, I make sure to find a new and different place to see.
At any given time of the year in Taos, you’ll find “artsy” activities going on around town, which are always entertaining experiences. During the summer and early autumn, especially in the early morning, the skyline will be dotted with hot air balloons in flight.

Taos of the 1880s is one of the settings in my western historical romance (Gunslingers & Ghostriders – currently out-of-print for 2nd edition revision). A block from the Taos Plaza is an old church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, which I will talk about in a future blog.

My most recent trip to Taos was on October 1, 2014. After my usual drive around the historic downtown area, my destination was the Rio Grande Gorge, which is northwest of town about 12 miles. Having never been there nor having researched anything about the gorge, it was quite a surprise to one minute be driving over nondescript, flat prairie with the San Juan Mountain range off to the northwest and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range on the east and the next minute to come upon a bridge out in the middle of nowhere. Really. Nowhere.

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, NM - flat prairie view

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - south side view from rest area
…the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the second highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System. The bridge is a three-span steel continuous-deck-truss structure with a concrete-filled steel-grid deck. It was called the "bridge to nowhere" while it was being built because the funding did not exist to continue the road on the other side.

At 650 feet (200 m) above the Rio Grande, it is the fifth highest bridge in the United States. The span is 1,280 feet; two 300-foot-long approach spans with a 600-foot-long main center span. The bridge was dedicated on September 10, 1965 and is a part of U.S. Route 64, a major east-west road.

In 1966 the American Institute of Steel Construction awarded the bridge "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge" in the "Long Span" category. The bridge has appeared in several films, including Natural Born Killers, Twins, She's Having a Baby, Wild Hogs, and Terminator Salvation.

Kaye Spencer fall 2014

There is raised concrete walking path along both sides of the bridge. A four-foot-high steel railing keeps the observer from toppling over the edge, but if you have vertigo, a dislike of looking down from a high vantage point, or you don’t particularly care for feeling the bridge move under your feet from the traffic (especially trucks) crossing the bridge, you won’t be a happy camper here. There are "look-out points" on both sides that allow you to step farther out over the edge of nothingness. From these places, you get a good view of the gorge floor. Even without binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera, you can see the white water rapids. Apparently over the years, these lookout stations have been the jump off point for suicides.

Rio Grande Gorge - rapids

On the west end of the bridge you'll find a dirt parking area and a plethora of roadside vendors, who have touristy wares to sell. A state park rest area, with additional parking, is a short walk up a slight slope. In March 2013, President Obama designated 242,455 acres, which includes the Rio Grande Gorge as the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.


  • The Rio Grande Gorge is a “rift valley”, which is a separation in the earth’s crust due to fault activity some 29 million years ago.
  • The valley appeared before the river, which is not typical as rivers tend to create valleys, canyons, gorges, and similar geologic features.
  • The gorge has many ancient petroglyphs along its walls.
  • There are hidden hot springs and ancient ruins along the river.
  • The river and immediate surrounding area offers camping, fishing (brown and rainbow trout and northern pike), boating, and rafting opportunities (Class II to Class V white water rapids).
  • The gorge is approximately 50 miles long running northwest to southeast of Taos.
Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking southerly

Rio Grande Gorge from the bridge looking northerly

For more information about the Rio Grand Gorge and the bridge:

Having had more than my fill of the bridge trembling under my feet, I wandered away from the highway and walked along the canyon rim as far as the safety fence allowed. As the highway noises faded, and I took in the sight of the vast, wide-open scenery, I imagined standing here a hundred and fifty years ago. I thought of cowboys searching for cattle and wild horses or outlaws hiding from the law. From the petroglyphs and ancient ruins that tell their tales 650 feet below, it wasn't difficult to imagine Native Americans engaged in spiritual prayer and ritual in this hidden sanctuary. I thought of the animals that sought shelter, food and water, and protection from predators down in the bottom of the gorge.

My husband tells stories of a favorite fishing spot in the southern end of the gorge. He also says there are places that have a reverence about them—places where ancient memories still linger. Maybe it was the coming dusk, and maybe it was just my writer's imagination, but there was a mystical feel in the air as I stood there on the canyon's rim watching the shadows lengthen and obliterate all traces of the gorge. Perhaps Mother Nature was drawing the blanket of serenity over the secrets that lay between the canyon's walls.

Until next time,


Note: Photographs are Kaye’s – permission granted to use and redistribute

Friday, February 27, 2015


Last weekend, the Oscars were awarded to films, directors, actors, writers, musicians, etc., nominated earlier this year. Fashion is huge, but so are the winners and losers. And let's face it -- it's an annual ritual that many love.

Usually, when that envelope is opened, the film or actor has not starred in a "genre" style flick. Dramas, epic blockbusters, war films or biopics have earned the most statuettes for Best Picture. Romance and musicals have fared so-so, depending on the era and Hollywood's mood. Despite the popularity of the other types of films - mystery/crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, adventure, and especially westerns with American audiences (proof in the pocketbook), the Academy often withholds their votes.

Sorry, but it's true. You'd think, given the number of westerns that Hollywood has churned out since its earliest days, that there'd be a TON of golden statuettes lined up along the trail. Not hardly, pardner. Oh, don't get me wrong. There's been PLENTY of nominations - 129 westerns, in fact. Check out the list.

BUT only three, count 'em, THREE, won a Best Picture Oscar. Can you name them? Yes, the answer is below, but try to guess. I'll give ya the first one -- 1930's Cimarron, a "pre-code western", whatever that means, based on the Edna Ferber novel.

Start guessing! My first try, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and one of my favorite films (okay, it might have played fast and loose with history, but it sure was fun!), didn't fare so well.

It earned plenty of nominations (and as I can attest, it's an HONOR to be nominated!), but only won the Best Original Screenplay (William Goldman, who also wrote The Princess Bride), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Song. What film won Best Picture that year? Midnight Cowboy. Hmph. Controversy claimed the big prize.

My second guess, the 1956 film The Searchers, based on the book by Alan LeMay, received ZIP. Nada. Nothing! No nod to John Wayne, director John Ford, not a even a Cinematography nomination! That's criminal!

But it has withstood the test of time and is considered a masterpiece, plus one of the most influential films - inspiring David Lean in making Lawrence of Arabia and probably many other sweeping epics. So there.

How about Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman? Based on the book by Thomas Berger, by the way, but only Chief Dan George received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Hm. Okay, maybe it was "revisionist" history, but still.

Let's try another guess - one of my favorites, True Grit, based on the Charles Portis novel. Yes, John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar in 1970 for portraying Rooster Cogburn (he deserved it, even though some people believed it to be a 'sympathy vote'). In fact, after accepting the golden statue, he said, "If I'd known that, I'd have put that patch on 35 years earlier." Ha!

Okay, skip a few decades. How about 1990's Dances With Wolves, based on the Michael Blake book? Kevin Costner, a Hollywood favorite. Come on! It had to win something out of TWELVE nominations. And it did pretty well - seven out of twelve. Best Picture. Best Director for KC. Best Adapted Screenplay for author Blake. Best Cinematography. Best Sound. Best Film Editing. Best Original Score. This was the HIGHLIGHT of the western Oscars! Surely it meant Hollywood was falling back in love with the genre? Er...

Two years later, Clint Eastwood claimed this 1992 film as his last western. Oh boy, talk about predicting the death of the genre. So how did Unforgiven fare? I mean, he's Clint Eastwood! CLINT EASTWOOD, best known for riding a horse, for heaven's sake. The film received NINE Oscar nominations, pretty decent, but claimed not even HALF that number. Hm. It did win four - Best Picture and Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Film Editing. Sigh.

Dare I mention this 2005 western film, which earned eight nominations and won three Oscars, for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (from the short story by Annie Proulx), and Best Original Score? Sure spurred controversy, so maybe that's why... Let's see how did the Coen Brothers remake of Charles Portis's True Grit fare six years later in the 2011 Academy Awards.

The film received TEN, count 'em, TEN nominations. Lost every time. Hmph. Does this mean Hollywood has given up on western films? Well, Christoph Waltz received a Best Supporting Actor for Django Unchained in 2012. But when it comes to Best Picture? Three. Cimarron (1956). Dances With Wolves (1990). Unforgiven (1992). Sigh. Only three Best Picture Oscars. We'll see if Quentin Tarantino can pull off any nominations next January for The Hateful Eight.

Let's hope Best Picture #4 for a western is coming soon.

Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog. Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and Laramie Award winning books - Double Crossing and Double or Nothing - are now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. Wouldn't It Be Deadly, Book 1, has been nominated for a 2014 AGATHA AWARD for Best Historical Mystery! Book 2, Move Your Blooming Corpse, will be released on September 22, 2015. You can find Meg (and D.E. Ireland) on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015





You may think that doctors in the Old West had relatively few drugs at their disposal. In fact, the town doctor who had the time and inclination could compound hundreds of medicines and remedies using the US Pharmacopeia, which was first published in the 1820s. This was a tome containing all of the recognised formulae for compounding the medicines of the day. The year 1875 represented its fifth edition.

Most of the remedies used were botanicals, although many mineral based remedies were also used. And of course, there were many formulae which combined the two.

Heroic medicine 
Medicine in the early19th century was only starting to become scientific. Many doctors practiced heroic medicine, involving bleeding and purgation. This had been a practice extending back to the days of antiquity. It was based on the Doctrine of Humors, the belief that there were four fundamental humours or vital fluids that determined the state of health or illness of a person. These were blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Diagnosis of the imbalance led the doctor to the treatment, which could be to blister, bleed, purge or give an enema.

Dr Benjamin Rush
Then name of Dr Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) is stamped on the early history of the USA. He was one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and was a physician, politician and social reformer. He was a personal friend of Thomas Jefferson and had been the Surgeon General of the Colonial Army. He is considered to be the father of American psychiatry. 

Dr Benjamin Rush (1746-1813)

Without doubt he was the most famous physician of his day. His medical influence was extensive and it is not surprising that Thomas Jefferson asked him to advise Meriweather Lewis and William Clark about medical practice and the medication that they should take with them on their expedition to explore the Great Plains following the Louisiana Purchase. 

Dr Rush was an advocate of heroic medicine, involving bleeding and purgation. Accordingly, he advised them to take copious quantities of calomel in tablets of his own manufacture.

Dr Rush's Bilious Pills
Calomel was one of the most powerful drugs known in the 19th century. It is actually mercurous chloride. It was effective against syphilis and was a powerful 'alterative.' This meant that it affected the patient's constitution. In large doses it was an extremely efficient purgative  (laxative). Unfortunately, it was often prescribed in small doses for long periods, when it would induce what we now know to be mercury poisoning. A consequence of this was that the teeth fell out. Almost certainly George Washington lost his test because of this, as well as his life after heroic medicine physicians treated him for a throat infection by bleeding him and giving him large doses of calomel.

Lewis and Clark

The Lewis and Clark expedition set off from St Louis in 1804 and lasted 2 years, during which they travelled 4,000 miles across the land, during which time they lost only one man, due to appendicitis. It is said that they were both adept wilderness doctors, who treated their men with Dr Rush's Bilious Pills.

Lewis and Clark's expedition 1804-1806

Dr Rush advised that at the first sign of illness they should give one or two of his pills. This meant effectively, at the signs of constipation and abdominal pain, they were to give his calomel-containing laxatives. So effective were they, that they were known as Rush's Thunderbolts!

These pills, which Rush made himself for them contained large amounts of calomel. They purged quickly and furiously, producing a perspiration and an intense salivation reaction that was concluded to be a sure sign that a toxin was being removed from the body. 

The Civil War and the Calomel Rebellion
By the time of the Civil War calomel was immensely popular with doctors. It was not so popular with Dr William Hammond, however. He was a neurologist who was appointed Surgeon General of the Union Army at the age of 34 years, by Abraham Lincoln. He was concerned about the use of calomel and also of 'tarter emetic' (a preparation of antimony and potassium tartrate, which also produced vomiting and a perspiration reaction) and removed them from the Army supplies. He was concerned about the side effects from overuse, including salivation, gum disease, tooth loss and mercurial gangrene. 

Circular Number 6 from him stated that calomel use....'has so frequently been pushed to excess by military surgeons that the only way to deal with it is to banish the drug.'

He went on to say: 'No doubt can exist that more harm has resulted from the misuse of both these agents, in the treatment of disease, than benefit from their administration.' It was his firm belief that they caused more deaths than they apparently saved. 

The medical profession was outraged and led to what has been termed the Calomel Rebellion. To understand this you have to appreciate that there were numerous schools of thought in medicine: Thomsonians, who were against all mineral remedies, hydropaths, who advocated therapeutic bathing, homoeopaths, who used minimum doses of like to deal with like, and Botanics, who prescribed plant remedies. All of these were considered 'faddists,' or quacks by the main medical profession. By removing Calomel and Tarter emetic he was seen as siding with the faddists. He was lampooned as the king of the quacks. 

General William Hammond (1828-1900)

The upshot was that Hammond was effectively framed and had trumped up charges brought against him by a rival. He was court marshalled in 1864.

A watering down
So, calomel and tarter emetic were both reinstated into the Army supplies and continued to be used by both the North and South throughout the war. A sort of concession was made, however, with a reduction in the amount of mercurous chloride used. 

Calomel continued to be used extensively by doctors up until the 1940s, when superior and safer laxative drugs were introduced. 

On the latrine trail of Lewis and Clark
As we know, Lewis and Clark made their way across America from St Louis to Fort Clatsop in Oregon. Interestingly, archaeologists have been able to follow the trail (and their movements) by finding the sites of their latrines, where the heavy metal mercy salts have been detectable in the ground, thanks to the purgative effects of Dr Rush's Bilious Pills.

The formula for watered down Dr Rush Bilious Pills in 1946

Keith's latest health book is available in March 2015 from Summersdale

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

Available at


And his collection of short stories about Doc Marcus Quigley is published by High Noon Press

Available at

And his latest western  novel Dry Gulch Revenge was published by Hale on 29th August.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Western Comics Focus: Django / Zorro

Troy D. Smith

Is the western comic dead? I didn't even know it was sick. The genre is not only alive and kicking, it is expanding in new directions, as evidenced by this very unusual title from Dynamite Comics.

That's right- it's Django meets Zorro.

The Django in question is not only based on the character in Quintin Tarantino's movie, Tarantino supplied the plot for the miniseries, with a script by Matt Wagner and art by Esteve Polls.

Here is the official description:

Set several years after the events of Django Unchained, Django/Zorro #1 finds Django again pursuing the evil that men do in his role as a bounty hunter. Since there's a warrant on his head back east, he's mainly been plying his trade in the western states. After safely settling his wife, Broomhilda, near Chicago, he's again taken to the road, sending her funds whenever he completes a job. It's by sheer chance that he encounters the aged and sophisticated Diego de la Vega - the famed Zorro - and soon finds himself fascinated by this unusual character, the first wealthy white man he's ever met who seems totally unconcerned with the color of Django's skin... and who can hold his own in a fight. He hires on as Diego's "bodyguard" for one adventure and is soon drawn into a fight to free the local indigenous people from a brutal servitude, discovering that slavery isn't exclusive to black folks. In the course of this adventure, he learns much from the older man (much like King Schultz) and, on several occasions, even dons the mask and the whip... of The Fox!

And from Issue #2:

In anticipation of the Transcontinental Railroad, Archduke of Arizona Gorko Langdon has enslaved the natives for labor on a state-wide railway, while he waits for the United States to honor his claim as sovereign of the territory, per the Treaty of Hidalgo-Guadalupe. Learning of the archduke's injustice to the people of Arizona, Don Diego de la Vega enlists the bounty hunter Django as his personal bodyguard as he sets off to undo Langdon's schemes. All too familiar with the cruelties of slavery, Django is eager to assist Diego on this mission, though it is more political than the gunslinger prefers... even so, there seems to be more to the old fox than his fussy millionaire persona lets on.

Here are a few sample pages:


No doubt this story will soon be available in a single trade paperback edition. I for one will be watching for it!

Sunday, February 22, 2015


The daughter’s dog ran off last night. He slipped through a gate left ajar for a moment and vanished. ‘Atticus’ is all Border Collie: he’ll attempt to herd anything that moves and only ponders consequences about a half second before they impact him.

We, along with most of the eastern United States, happened to be under an emergency winter weather warning. Roads were glazed with nearly 2 inches of solid ice, snow pellets were falling and the 13 degree temp was not forecast to rise much for days. Search efforts were called off near midnight since it was too hazardous to drive and my daughter was risking frostbite from slogging through ditches and alleyways.

This morning, I printed flyers, suited up in hiking boots and every woolen garment I could find, pointed my SUV down our long 20-per-cent-grade driveway and jitterbugged toward the stone ‘goal’ posts at the bottom of the hill. Since we were under emergency conditions, I figured I didn’t need to mind the red light at the end of our road. By the time I drove/slid the 3 miles to my daughter’s house, Atticus had managed to find his way home. He was cold, muddy, hungry and was the most embarrassed dog I’ve ever seen.

That’s my ‘Winter of 2015’ story.
Minnesota Historical Society

In October of 1880, a little family named Ingalls in DeSmet, South Dakota, was slammed by a three-day blizzard. Over the next seven months, they were ravaged by dozens of frigid whiteouts. Their cattle’s heads and legs froze to the ground. They ran out of food and were reduced to grinding wheat grains in a coffee mill to make crude bread. They ran out of firewood and kerosene. ‘Pa’ Ingalls braided hay into sticks to burn in the stove. The second oldest daughter, Laura, would later recount that she woke to find “ice crackled on the quilt where leaking rain had fallen.”

The family shivered, sang hymns and tried their best to keep spirits up. No trains would reach their town until the following May. With the food and supplies it brought, they were finally able to celebrate Christmas.

This lighthearted cover design belies the
hardship suffered by the Ingalls
family during the long brutal winter.
In her later years, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote an enchanting series of books based on her youth on the frontier. It was “The Long Winter” that my fourth grade teacher read aloud to my class, igniting in me a love for the pioneer’s life. I could feel the terror and the chill to my bones as Laura and her schoolmates became lost in blinding snow…until they stumbled miraculously into the side of a house. My belly rumbled as Ma Ingalls gave thanks and passed around slices of brown bread for one more meager meal.

Meteorologists have confirmed through records that the merciless winter of 1880-81 was just as Laura described it, down to the dates.

I want to be that kind of writer–who captures details that make readers shiver, who brands a story into their minds, who encourages young ones to grow up and be writers too. That caliber of writing is born of inspiration in the face of extreme hardship. I’m working on that one.

I suggested to Atticus this morning that he might want to chronicle his twelve-hour ordeal in the icy wilds of middle Tennessee. He shuddered and averted his eyes as if to say, I’ve seen things. Things civilized dogs ought not to see…

All the best,


Keep up with Vonn:

P.S.  A tale of winter and mystery: NOAH RAINS. Something is out there in the snow, and it will change Ephraim Teller's life forever.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


I have written before that I've been a professional, card carrying actor for over 40 years. Now, I know that's a creative endeavor and I have repeatedly kicked myself…and that's really hard to do…for not starting my writing career earlier. But, I'm 73—not that makes a big difference—and I've written or co-written twelve full-length novels since I started writing at the age of 69. Currently working on two more. Maybe I'm a bit slow.

The twelfth, Across the Red, we just released and it's number four in The Nations - Bass Reeves saga. It concerns a rustling operation along the Red River in the late 1800s. My writing partner, Buck Stienke, and I write what we call 'faction'. Historical facts blended with fiction…the reader gets to figure out where the facts stop and the fiction begins.

I have two things I'm getting to and neither is to blow my own horn…yeah, right. I constantly either research for little known facts or at least try to stay open to them when they might pop up. Example: Buck and I were working on a SyFy novel one day in his gun shop in Gainesville (Texas). A customer/fan came in and harassed us about only having three westerns. Now we like to write in three genres, Military techno, SyFy and Western and this particular fellow was one of our western fans.

I have lived in Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas for almost thirty-five years and thought I had a pretty good grasp of the history of the area…wrong. This guy asked why we didn't write something about Delaware Bend on the Red River. I had never heard of it and for good reason…it had been underwater since 1944 when they built Lake Texoma. My family didn't move to Gainesville until 1951. He told us that Delaware Bend was a notorious outlaw hang out from the 1870s up through the turn of the century…Who knew?

I started researching that part of northern Cooke County and found that the area between the Indian Nations and Texas on the south side of the Red River—known as Delaware Bend—was once the winter camp for the notorious guerrillas, William Clarke Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson and later, the James Gang.

Then, I was asked by our local museum (The Morton Museum) if I would narrate a video presentation they had complied, entitled, "Cattle, Cowboys and Cooke County". I said sure, like to support my community.

Found out some more stuff about the history of the area, like Cooke County lay smack dab between The Chisholm Trail on the west side and The Shawnee Trail on the east. A man named John Simpson Chisum lived in Cooke County at the time and started the Chisum Cattle Trail—also called the Western Trail—but that's a whole 'nother story. Oh, John Wayne played Chisum after the man moved to New Mexico in the movie—just a side note.

Gainesville was the largest town around, so this is where the cowboys would come to blow off a little steam, if you know what I mean. At one time in this period, there were over ninety-five saloons in Gainesville and close to that number in parlor houses…bordellos. Wow, what a raft of material.
So, I started writing Across the Red, making it part of the Bass Reeves saga and putting one of our new characters, Bodie Hickman, from Hell Hole in Gainesville, as the resident Texas Ranger—He was patterned after long time Gainesville resident, Texas Ranger Tom Hickman. I got to meet Tom back in the '50s just before he passed away.

Buck got interested in the story and wanted to join in, so we both grabbed it and ran. We had the rustlers stealing horses in Cooke County, taking them across the Red in the Delaware Bend area and up into IT, the Chickasaw Nation. They would exchange the stolen horses for stolen cattle west of Ardmore and bring them down the old Chisholm Trail, through Red River Station and Montague County and down to southern Cooke County, just south of Rosston. The old timey way to laundry money.

Knowing that the Butterfield Stage Line also ran through Gainesville, as well as Rosston headed west—we used that little bit of info too. I had found tracks cut into a limestone outcrop—when I was in high school—by the iron wheels of the many stages that passed through there during its operation prior to the War of Northern Aggression…some folks call it the Civil War. Used that too.

Gainesville is also famous or should I say infamous for the Great Hanging. It was in October, 1862—seventeen months after the beginning of  the war that forty Union sympathizers were hanged over a three-week period—often as many as six or seven simultaneously. Known as the Great Gainesville Hanging, all forty were strung up from the same giant elm tree located on the east side of Pecan Creek by a kangaroo court of Confederates—two more men were shot trying to escape during the so-called trials.

Some years after the end of the war—in 1880—there was such growing consternation, guilt and denial throughout the community of Gainesville, that the citizens banded together, cut down and burned the hanging tree—including the stump. They thought that by removing the symbol of their shame, people would forget the tragedy—they didn't. The Great Hanging remained a taboo topic in the area for many generations. It would be called the largest mass lynching in the history of America.
That small area alongside Pecan Creek just east of the downtown area is set aside for a park with a large granite monument in the middle dedicated to those 40 men who were hanged there. Each name is carved on the monument.

We used the story of the hanging as part of our story…one of the faction parts.
One other thing I have discovered is there is a super market for audio books…Who knew? Here I am, a professional actor and voice over artist and I let that sit there until just recently. I guess the impetus was doing that video for the museum and all the folks kept bugging me about recording our novels. Okay, I finally did. Just released the third one last week and now have books one, two and three of The Nations - Bass Reeves Saga available in print, E and Audio. Working on Across the Red. It should be out around the first week of March or so. If you're not doing your novels in audio also, you're missing a bet. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

                      AUDIO SAMPLE FROM ACROSS THE RED

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Welcome to “Part 2” of my “For Indians Only” series. The last time we talked about this topic, we talked about the boarding schools our country set up for Indian children to help “assimilate” them into white American society. It was a huge failure. Part 2, Indian Hospitals, is a true horror story from our nation’s past.

I want to talk a bit about a specific hospital in my state of Oklahoma. I’m sure there were many others like this, scattered around, but this is one I have a little personal knowledge of.
Located in Talihina, Oklahoma, in a secluded area on top of a large hill in the Kiamichi Mountains, the Harper Building is one of several from the former Eastern Oklahoma Tuberculosis Sanitarium. It was built in the early part of the 1900’s, specifically to house Indians (Choctaws and Chickasaws) with tuberculosis.

Here’s a little of the article that appeared at the time in our largest state newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, in explanation of why it was being built. (Rootsweb Ancestry)—partial article

The Daily Oklahoman
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
December 22, 1917 p 4
Sanitarium Is Provided
Six years ago the Choctaws, noting the increase of tuberculosis among them, took the first step toward establishing a tubercular sanitarium, the report says. On Dec. 14, 1911, the last Choctaw council passed an act appropriating $50,000 for such a sanitarium. This act was supplemented by a later act of congress, approving the appropriation, but it was not until the present year that the institution, located near Talihina, was completed. The hospital as established is doing a general hospital work, however, and no special provision has been made for the care of tubercular patients.
Therefore, the following detailed recommendations were made:

First: The Talihina Sanitarium - This sanitarium should be devoted particularly, if not exclusively, to tuberculosis. It offers the principal and immediate remedy for existing conditions. It is centrally located in the home country of the Indians, and if it is properly conducted Indian patients may be induced to reside there, where they will be properly clothed and fed and will receive the medical and surgical attention they need. They can be provided with religious services, and open air classes can be carried on for children so that they may not grow up in ignorance.

Jump to the next century, ca. 2008-2009. I was teaching a novel writing class, a small class with only 8-10 students. One of those students was an incredible Choctaw Indian lady, who I will call Emma. She told the class that she was there to learn how to write her life story. And she proceeded to tell us some of the stories of her life.

She’d gone to an orphanage at a young age, her single mother unable to feed her and her younger brother. When she reached her teen years, perhaps 16 or 17, she was sent from the orphanage to the Talihina Indian Tuberculosis Hospital. Young Emma made friends—most of the patients there were children and teens, but there were some adults. But because of the nature of the illness, Emma lost many of her friends to death.

She told of a particular instance, after the death of one of her good friends, when the janitor, who also helped dig graves, saw her in the hallway. He gave her a slow grin and pointed a bony finger at her. “When will I be coming for YOU?” he asked.

Even worse, experiments were conducted on the patients there at the Indian hospital. Why? Because there was a white tuberculosis hospital in the same area (my dad was a patient there a few years later) and they needed to find out the best treatments to use…so the Indians were the ones they experimented on. Emma told the story of going in and having them collapse her lung—with no anesthesia—when she was around 17 or so.

The hospital still stands, but is said to be haunted by all the children and others who died there. The government now owns the property, and it’s run by Oklahoma Veteran Affairs. These pictures are of the Harper Building where the Indian hospital was, and is being considered for demolition at this time.