Monday, March 25, 2019

Twenty-Eight Things You Didn’t Know About Dances With Wolves

It was on this date twenty-eight years ago, March 25th, 1991, that Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 63rd Academy Award ceremonies, becoming only the second western film to earn that honor - the first being Cimarron (1931), directed by Wesley Ruggles. To honor the occasion, here are twenty-eight things that you didn’t know about Dances with Wolves:

  • Author, Michael Blake, wrote Dances with Wolves as a novel after Kevin Costner convinced him to do so. Blake originally tried to sell the idea as a screenplay, but Costner believed that it would generate more studio interest as a novel.
  • Three other prominent directors were offered the project, but each one turned it down. Finally, Costner decided to direct the film himself in his directorial debut.
  • The scene involving the buffalo hunt utilized an amazing 3,500 buffalo and took two weeks to shoot. Only one take could be made each day for the scene because the buffalo would run up to ten miles and had to be rounded up for each take.
  • Two-Socks, the wolf in the film, was actually played by two different wolves – Buck and Teddy.
  • Costner’s six-year-old daughter, Annie, appeared in the film, playing Stands-With-a-Fist as a child.
  • The novel upon which the film was based was rejected by over thirty different publishers before it was picked-up by Fawcett Books.
  • Dances with Wolves was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, winning seven including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Score. 

Kevin Costner and Michael Blake - Photo credit Ron Galella WireImage
  • Although Dances with Wolves has earned over 424 million dollars and is the top-grossing western in movie history, it never topped the box office charts while in theaters.
  • In 2007, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.
  • The buffalo liver that Wind-in-His-Hair offers to Dunbar after the buffalo hunt is actually made of cranberry Jell-O.
  • One of the doctors who is preparing to amputate Dunbar’s (Costner’s) leg in the opening scene is actually played by Costner. His face is never seen and his voice is dubbed over.
  • Blake based the character of Stands-with-a-Fist on Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped and adopted by the Comanche at age ten in 1836. Her story was the basis of another Western classic, The Searchers (1956). 
  • To add authenticity to the film, a Lakota language tutor was brought in to teach the cast how to speak the Lakota Sioux language. The gendered aspect of the Lakota language made the male language much harder to learn than the female language, so all of the Sioux in the film are speaking the female gendered Lakota, even the men.
  • Because of the films sympathetic depiction of the Indians, the Sioux Nation made Kevin Costner an honorary member.
  • The buffalo hunt scene made use of a specially built animatronic buffalo that cost a quarter of a million dollars.
  • During the buffalo hunt scene, a buffalo charges a young brave named Smiles-a-Lot who had fallen off of his horse. The charging animal is really Cody, a domesticated buffalo. In order to get Cody to charge toward the camera, his handler enticed him with his favorite treat – Oreo cookies.
  • Another domesticated buffalo was used for close-up shots. His name was Mammoth, and he belonged to singer Neil Young.
  • The film had an initial budget of fifteen million dollars. It ran over budget, so Costner put in three million dollars of his own money. This investment earned Costner an estimated forty million.
  • Graham Green played Kicking-Bird, a Sioux holy man. In order to best portray an older man with poor posture, Green put a slice of bologna in each of his moccasins, believing that the slimy sensation would help him to project the proper bearing.
  • There is a sequel to the book. It is titled The Holy Road. It is in development for a movie and is rumored to have Viggo Mortensen playing the part of John Dunbar. Viggo was originally considered for the part of John Dunbar in Dances with Wolves.
  • Tom Berenger was also considered for the part of John Dunbar.
  • The first cut of the film ended up being five and a half hours long.
  • The producers had a “garage sale” where props and costumes were sold off in order to raise money for the two-month long post-production.
  • John Dunbar’s jacket has yellow epaulets signifying the cavalry. He gives his jacket to Wind-in-his-Hair. Later in the movie, after the battle with the Pawnee, the epaulets have changed to blue, signifying the infantry.
  • The Lakota language tutor who taught the cast the Lakota language was named Doris Leader Charge. She was given a speaking role in the film as Chief Ten Bears’ wife, Pretty Shield.
  • Dunbar reports to Fort Hays (which is misspelled “Hayes”) sometime in 1863-64. However, Fort Hays did not exist until 1865 and was not named “Fort Hays” until 1866.
  • The films beautiful symphonic score (especially the John Dunbar Theme), composed by John Barry, was a personal favorite of Pope John Paul II. Barry won his fifth Oscar and his fourth Grammy for Dances with Wolves.

  • For a while, Michael Blake, the author of Dances with Wolves, slept on Kevin Costner’s couch while working on his manuscript. He later moved to Arizona to continue his writing and supported himself by washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant for $3.35 an hour.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


Vonn has been traveling for a few weeks and hopes you'll enjoy this reposting of THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND, first published on the blog site in November, 2014.

Much has been written about the Range Wars of the American West. The premise of cattlemen and farmers in conflict, sometimes violently, over grazing and water rights found its way into iconic books and movies such as To the Last Man (Z.Grey), The Virginian (O. Wister), Shane, Oklahoma!, and Chisum.

The invention of barbed wire served only to exacerbate the range wars for the next several years. Farmers built fences to keep open range cattle out of their crops, but that meant they also cut off access to water sources for the roaming herds. Not until the late 1880’s were laws passed that required, among other things, the addition of gates for every three miles of fencing.
To complicate matters, the western states and territories employed prior appropriation water rights, described as “first in time, first in rights.” The earliest landowner in the region held superior rights to waterways running through his property. Throw in a few irrigation ditches or a dam, and he could have some very disgruntled neighbors.

There were few water wells in the Old West, and for good reason. They had to be hand dug or drilled and the water table in those arid regions could be several hundred feet below grade.

Even as the fur and bullets flew over the right to water access, the solution to the problem was being devised in a New England machine shop. In the small town of Ellington, Connecticut, a mechanic named Daniel Halladay was tinkering with water pumps. His pump relied on steam engine power, which most everything did in those days.
Daniel Halladay
John Burnham, Jr.
He crossed paths with a visionary named John Burnham, Jr., who was fascinated with the use of wind power to run hydraulic machines. Halladay hired Burnham and, together, they invented the first wind engine that could pivot with directional wind changes by use of a tail vane. (Old European windmills were fixed, with enormous sails that required considerable winds to operate.)

Halladay’s first wind engine design, The Halladay Standard, utilized four paddle-like blades made of wood or sailcloth. This evolved into the self-regulating wind engine, which featured sections of narrow blades that could fold back in high winds, much like the action of an umbrella.

The Halladay Standard
(Original Patent)

Self-regulating Wind Engine
(shown with sections folded

The biggest problem facing Halladay and Burnham was that their wonderful invention was just not selling…at least not in Connecticut. Burnham suggested that they expand to the Midwest. While most of the manufacturing operations remained in Connecticut, they opened a shop in Batavia, Illinois. The move was a fortuitous one. Sales took off in America’s breadbasket and Halladay moved the rest of his company to Batavia.

Salesmen traversed the western states by train and wagons, carrying samples of windmills to farmers and ranchers on the parched plains. To say that the wind-powered water pumps all but ended the range wars would not be an exaggeration. More manufacturers entered the market and Batavia, Illinois, would become known as “Windmill City.”

Thomas O. Perry, an engineer who worked for Daniel Halladay, experimented with new, more efficient blade designs and lighter assemblies. He needed to test his new ideas and outfitted one of the factory’s buildings into a primitive wind tunnel, effectively producing two inventions that would revolutionize American industry.

Aermotor Windmill
Curiously, Halladay was not interested in the new design and Thomas Perry went on to work for the Aermotor Windmill Company. Perry’s cupped steel blade design became the standard for windmills. Ironically, the Aermotor Company is the only U.S. manufacturer of windmills still in business. They are based in San Angelo, Texas.

Great engineering marvels always come down to simplicity, elegance and functionality. Certainly, the humble windmill qualifies. Day after day, year after year, they catch the wind and turn it into power. They work when it’s raining, snowing…when the sun is high or the moon is dim…when it’s Christmas or just another Tuesday. What would the American West be without them?

For you road trippers, there are a number of windmill museums located across the U.S. (Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Mexico) The state of Texas is especially known for its ubiquitous windmills. Here's a little story from the early Panhandle days:

"When one of the first windmills in the Texas Panhandle was installed and put into operation, the owner took his crew of riders out to see how it worked before acceptin' it from the contractor. When he saw the little trickle of water flowin' out he was as tickled as a cub bear with a honeycomb, and declared that the windmill would revolutionize the cow business. One skeptical cowhand eyed the small stream, and said, "Hell, Boss, I could get behind a bush and do a better job than that." ---- Ramon F. Adams, THE OLD-TIME COWHAND, 1948.

All the best,


Short stories

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Are you the kind of reader who likes to have a detailed description of the hero or heroine in romance books? What about other secondary characters? And do you feel the same way about characters in books of genres other than western historical romance, or romance in general?

To me, there is a big difference in how much character description is needed in romance novels versus other genres, and here’s why.

When we read romance, we put ourselves in the story, empathizing with both the heroine and the hero. Of course, we need enough description to let us be familiar with them both, but this might be a case of “less” being “more.”

In our personal lives, we have preferences in how our romantic “leading men” look, speak, behave, and so on. If our preferences are toward the tall, dark, and handsome hero, it will be hard for us to be vested in a story with a hero who’s short, fair, and ugly. Or one who has habits we personally don’t find attractive.

I knew a woman who didn’t like blond heroes. If he had blond hair on the cover, she’d color it brown or black with a marker. In the book, if “blond” was mentioned, she’d mark through it and write whatever color of hair she’d decided he needed. I asked her about the heroines. “They’re all me,” she answered. “I don’t pay attention to their descriptions.”

It made me wonder how many others felt this way.

Stephen King had mentioned at one time in his book ON WRITING that “description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

And in genres other than romance, character description is different and maybe more important, because the reader doesn’t have any preconceived expectations of the story, such as romance readers do.

When I taught creative writing classes, this description was one I used to illustrate how so much could be packed in to a short amount of words without being an info dump.
This is the beginning of St. Agnes’ Stand, by Thomas Eidson, who also wrote The Missing. Take a look:

He was hurt and riding cautiously. Thoughts not quite grasped made him uneasy, and he listened for an errant sound in the hot wind. His eyes were narrowed—searching for a broken leaf, a freshly turned rock, anything from which he could make some sense of his vague uneasiness. Nothing. The desert seemed right, but wasn’t somehow. He turned in the saddle and looked behind him. A tumbleweed was bouncing in front of the wild assaults from the wind. But the trail was empty. He turned back and sat, listening.

Over six feet and carrying two hundred pounds, Nat Swanson didn’t disturb easy, but this morning he was edgy. His hat brim was pulled low, casting his face in shadow. The intense heat and the wind were playing with the air, making it warp and shimmer over the land. He forced himself to peer through it, knowing he wouldn’t get a second chance if he missed a sheen off sweating skin or the straight line of a gun barrel among branches.

And then this, a couple of paragraphs down:

He had been running for a week, and he was light on sleep and heavy on dust and too ready for trouble. He’d killed a man in a West Texas town he’d forgotten the name of—over a woman whose name he’d never known. He hadn’t wanted the woman or the killing. Nor had he wanted the hole in his thigh. What he did want was to get to California, and that’s where he was headed. Buttoned in his shirt pocket was a deed for a Santa Barbara ranch. Perhaps a younger man would have run longer and harder before turning to fight and maybe die; but Nat Swanson was thirty-five years that summer, old for the trail, and he had run as far as he was going to run.

I absolutely love this. Can you feel that you’re right there with Nat Swanson as he’s riding? There are no wasted words, and this is just such an eloquent, masterful description of not only Nat, but the situation and the physical place he’s in as well as the dilemma he’s faced with.

Another excellent way of describing a character and setting the scene at the same time is from another character’s POV. This passage is from Jack Schaefer’s iconic classic, Shane—from the eyes of Bobby Starrett—when Shane first rides into his life.

This is just the very beginning of the book—there is more physical description of Shane a few paragraphs later, but I chose this passage because it lets us know what’s going on in a few short sentences—and that is real talent.

He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father’s old chuck-wagon. I was on the upper rail of our small corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond.

In that clear Wyoming air I could see him plainly, though he was still several miles away. There seemed nothing remarkable about him, just another stray horseman riding up the road toward the cluster of frame buildings that was our town. Then I saw a pair of cowhands, loping past him, stop and stare after him with a curious intentness.

He came steadily on, straight through the town without slackening pace, until he reached the fork a half-mile below our place. One branch turned left across the river ford and on to Luke Fletcher’s big spread. The other bore ahead along the right bank where we homesteaders had pegged our claims in a row up the valley. He hesitated briefly, studying the choice, and moved again steadily on our side.

This is tough, because we’re seeing it through two “lenses”—Bobby is nine years old, and this is what he sees, but it’s filtered by the adult Bobby who’s now telling the story of what happened all those years ago.

In writing the story this way, the reader gets the full impact of experiencing the fears, the situation brings, the joy of having Shane there, and the anguish of his leaving all through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, with the adult overview that lets us know that Shane was not a hero—but he was to Bobby and those small time settlers who needed one so desperately. Yet, leaving was the only thing he could have done and kept Bobby’s view of him untarnished and intact.

Because we don’t know how the story will end, and we don’t know what to expect, we are learning about Shane’s character right along with Bobby so we are actively looking for details and descriptors the author might give us along the way—it will affect our opinion of Shane and let us know if Bobby is a reliable narrator, and it affects the outcome of the story.

I bring this up because in romance, seldom does the description have such a direct effect on the story itself, unless our main characters have scars, afflictions, or disabilities that might have some direct bearing on the story and its outcome.
So what do you think? Do you like a lot of description and detail about the WHR heroes you read about, or would you rather “fill in the blanks” for yourself?

As far as heroines go, most people I’ve talked to are not as concerned wither physical description (maybe because each person sees herself in the heroine?) but are more concerned with her personality traits—is she likable? Is she determined?

If she is not a fierce match for the hero, the story line is doomed.

And what about our hero? Though he can get away with more “questionable” traits, he has to be endowed with almost superhuman strength to overcome everything that’s thrown his way, and that is description that must be thoroughly detailed—not left to the reader’s interpretation.
(I apologize for the Amazon links being all over the place--I could not get them to "stick" under the book covers.)

Monday, March 11, 2019

March Old West Trivia by Kaye Spencer #WesternFictioneers #trivia #OldWestHistory

Just for fun, here are twenty tidbits of Old West history trivia for the month of March.

March 2, 1836 - Texas Independence Day

March 6, 1836 - Battle of the Alamo

Ballad of the Alamo, Marty Robbins

March 2, 1861 - John Butterfield's Overland Mail Company received a government contract for daily mail service to the west coast.

March 6, 1887 - Southern-Pacific Railroad offered a new one-way, $12 fare from Missouri to California. Price wars soon drove the fare down to $1.

March 7, 1885 - Kansas law made it illegal to drive Texas cattle into the state from March 1 to December 1 in an effort to stop hoof-and-mouth disease epidemic

March 9, 1916 - Revolutionary leader Pancho Villa attacked the border town of Columbus, New Mexico.
Pancho Villa
Unknown, Pancho villa horseback, marked as public domain,
more details on Wikimedia Commons

March 10, 1871 - Construction began on the Denver and Rio Grande Railway

March 11, 1867 - A pony express-type route was established between Helen, Montana Territory and Minneapolis, Minnesota

March 13, 1878 - Fire destroyed part of Abilene, Kansas

March 15, 1881 - Abilene, Texas was officially established by the Texas & Pacific Railroad along with west Texas cattlemen.

March 15, 1883 - Cheyenne, Wyoming: Lillie Langtry (Judge Roy Bean idolized her) played at the Cheyenne Opera House
Lillie Langtry
Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, As in a Looking-Glass 1887,
marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
March 16, 1903 - Judge Roy Bean died in Langry, Texas. He was 78. He called himself the "law west of the Pecos".
Judge Phantly Roy Bean, Jr.
Unknown, Phantly Roy Bean, Jr. ,
marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
March 16, 1874 - In Missouri, Pinkerton Detective Agengy lost two agents in a shoot-out with the Younger Brothers. John Younger died.

March 18, 1880 - Arizona Territory: Southern Pacific Railroad of Arizona and New Mexico was completed to Tucson, which connected to the San Francisco & Pacific Railroad lines

March 18, 1852 - Wells, Fargo & Company was established in response to the California gold rush. Wells Fargo eventually becomes the leading freight and banking company in the west

March 19, 1848 - Born: Wyatt Earp in Monmouth, Illinois
Wyatt Earp (left) with friend John Clum (right) 1900 Nome, Alaska
Unknown, EarpinNome, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
March 19-1916 - Eight American planes take off in pursuit of Pancho Villa. This became the first United States air-combat mission.

March 20, 1880 - Tucson, Arizona Territory: The first Southern Pacific train arrived in town. The event caused quite a celebration.

March 22, 1886 - Seattle, Washington and Abilene, Kansas get electricity. An Abilene newspaper reporter wrote that he doubted the citizenry had a serious interest in using electric lights.

And a day of venerated observance in my family—

March 22, 1908 - Born: Western writer Louis L'Amour.

Louis L'Amour
By Source, Fair use,
 My top ten favorite Louis L'Amour books are:

1. The Man Called Noon.
2. The Keylock Man
3. How the West was Won
4. Down the Long Hills
5. Last Stand at Papago Wells
6. Conagher
7. The Shadow Riders
8. Sitka
9. Dark Canyon
10. Haunted Mesa

What is your favorite Louis L'Amour story?

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

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Friday, March 8, 2019

Old West Recipes: Desserts

And for our final post, let’s look at some dessert recipes from the Old West. 

Black Pudding

6 eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup sweet milk
1 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix well. Pour into a 1-pound can and steam for two to three hours by placing into a kettle of boiling water. Keep covered.

This is to be served with a vinegar sauce:

1 cup sugar
1 tbsp flour
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vinegar
2 slightly beaten eggs

Add enough boiling water to sugar, flour, nutmeg, butter and vinegar to make the amount of sauce desired. Add eggs and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce reaches the desired consistency.

Potato Pie

¼ pound of potatoes
1 quart milk
3 tsp butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
Sugar and nutmeg to taste

Boil potatoes until tender, then peel and rub them through a sieve. Add the rest of the ingredients and bake as you would a custart pie.

Sorghum Cake

2 tbsp butter
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sorghum molasses
½ cup water
½ tsp baking soda
2 cups flour

Mix butter and sugar then add eggs. In a separate bowl mix molasses, water and baking soda. Combine all ingredients together. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Sweet Potato Pie

Boil sweet potatoes until well done. Peel and slice them very thin. Line a deep pie pan with good, plain pastry and arrange the sliced potatoes in layers, dotting with butter and sprinkling sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg over each layer, using at least ½ cup of sugar. Pour over 3 tablespoons of whiskey and about ½ cup of water. Cover with pastry and bake. Serve warm.

Plum Pudding Sauce

Glass of brandy
2 oz. of fresh butter
Glass of Madeira*
Pounded sugar to taste

Mix sugar with part of the brandy and the butter. Warm until butter and sugar are dissolved, then add the rest of the brandy. Either pour it over the pudding or serve it in a tureen.

*The recipe makes no further mention of the Madeira. I don’t know if you add it to the mixture or simply drink the glassful!

Spotted Pup Pudding

Take whatever amount needed for hungry cowboys of fluffy, cooked rice. Put in a Dutch oven and cover with milk and well-beaten eggs. Add a dash of salt, raisins and a little nutmeg and vanilla. Sweeten well with sugar. Bake in a slow oven until egg mixture is done and raisins are soft. 

Red Bean Pie

1 cup cooked and mashed pinto beans
1 cup sugar
3 beaten egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp nutmeg

Place combined ingredients in an uncooked pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Make a meringue with leftover egg whites. Spread over baked pie and return to oven to brown.

Chocolate Caramels
(from a recipe in the Albuquerque Evening Citizen, Oct. 23, 1893)

Boil together a pound of white sugar, a quarter of a pound of chocolate, four tablespoons of molasses, a cup of sweet milk, and a piece of butter as big as a walnut. When it will harden in water, flavor with vanilla and pour on a buttered slab. When nearly cold, cut in squares.

Pie Plant (Rhubarb) Pie

3 cups pie plant (rhubarb)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp full flour
1 tsp full butter
Pie crust for top and bottom

Wash pie plant. Do not skin. Cut into small pieces. Mix sugar and flour well with pie plant. Place in crust and dot with butter. Cover with upper crust and bake.

J.E.S. Hays

Thursday, February 28, 2019


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

The health of President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most revered leaders in history, has attracted much attention and speculation over the years.  During the Civil War a reporter described him as 'a tall, lank, lean man considerably over six feet in height with stooping shoulders, long pendulous arms terminating in hands of extraordinary dimensions which, however, were far exceeded by his feet.' 

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States

His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln (1784-1818),  had a similar build and was tall and slender. It was said that Abraham Lincoln inherited his build from her. Only portraits of her exist.

Abraham Lincoln is sad to have suffered from bouts of depression, but otherwise he is said to have had great energy and generally good health. 

One of the great debates about President' Lincoln's health is whether or not he had Marfan syndrome. Interestingly, some of the evidence comes from photographs. Not just the ones that give a clear image, but also those where his feet or his head seemed blurred. 

The Marfan Syndrome debate
In 1962 a Cincinnati physician, Dr A.M. Gordon suggested that the president's appearance was suggestive of Marfan syndrome. 

Marfan syndrome is a disorder of the body's connective tissues, a group of tissues that maintain the structure of the body and support internal organs and other tissues. it was first described by Dr Antoine-Bernard Marfan in 1896.

Typical characteristics of Marfan syndrome include:
  • being tall 
  • abnormally long and slender limbs, fingers and toes (arachnodactyly) 
  • heart defects 
  • lens dislocation – where the lens of the eye falls into an abnormal position 
Marfan syndrome is hereditary, which means it can be passed to a child from a parent who's affected.

The gene defect leads to abnormal production of a protein called fibrillin, resulting in parts of the body being able to stretch abnormally when placed under any kind of stress.

The defective fibrillin gene also causes some bones to grow longer than they should. A person with Marfan syndrome may grow tall because their arms and legs grow for longer than normal.

In 1964 a Californian cardiologist, Dr Harold Schwartz described the case of a 7 year old child that he had diagnosed with Marfan syndrome. Her ancestry could be traced back to Lincoln's great, great grandfather, Mordecai Lincoln ll.

Drs Gordon and Schwarz supported the view that Abraham Lincoln probably did have Marfan syndrome. However, this was debated against by Dr J Willard Montgomery, on the grounds that his health was so good and it was unlikely that he had any heart problems, as are common in Marfan syndrome. 

Th debate continues, as other medical possibilities, which are outside the scope of this post (otherwise it would extend to several posts) have been considered. But it is interesting to follow this first possibility further

The matter of the pulse

The pulse has been recognised as being a fundamental and measurable sign of health or illness by every culture in the world. The earliest references to it are to be found in the Ebers papyrus and the Edwin Smith papyrus, two texts on medicine and surgery from Ancient Egypt. There are specific hieroglyphs for measuring the pulse at the wrist, and instructions on assessing it by using a water clock made from an earthenware vessel with a hole in the bottom through which water escaped drop by drop.

The hieroglyph in the Edwin Smith papyrus, showing the image on the right, counting seeds from a container

The Egyptian clock. the pulse was counted by correlating it with the drops escaping from the bottom

Although the Egyptians used a water clock and the Romans developed hour-glasses to try to measure the pulse, it was not until the Renaissance that a more practical method was developed. Interestingly, this came about through the work of the genius, Galileo Galilei, who designed a clock with a pendulum. He called this a ‘pulsogium.’ He developed the idea from a principle he discovered in 1583 by timing the oscillations of a chandelier on the altar of the Cathedral of Pisa against his own pulse.

Over the next century pulse clocks of greater sophistication were developed by Santorio Santorio and Christian Huygen, but it was not until the eighteenth century that watches capable of measuring minutes and seconds could be adapted to the purpose. In 1707 Sir John Floyer, a Staffordsire physician invented a small pulse watch and published a landmark book entitled ‘The Physician’s Pulse Watch.’We still use that technique to feel the pulse of life.

Abnormalities of the pulse
 Physicians over the centuries worked out that differences in rate, rhythm and character of the pulse were indicative of various anomalies of the heart. 

One very specific heart anomaly, which is commonly  in Marfan syndrome is called aortic insufficiency. It occurs when the aortic valve in the heart, one of four heart valves, does not close completely during heart beats. It effectively leaks. Over time, this can lead impaired circulation of blood and the person may get breathless on exertion and when  lying down. 

There are many, many signs that have been associated with the curious pulse that occurs in aortic insufficiency. In the past it was considered a significant contribution to medicine if a doctor had a sign named after him. Aortic insufficiency had an unusually large number of such signs.

Corrigan's pulse
This was the name of the 'collapsing pulse' that characterises aortic insufficiency. It was named after Sir Dominic Corrigan (1802-1880), a Dublin born physician. It was also called the cannonball, collapsing, pistol-shot, trip-hammer or water-hammer pulse - or most poetically,  the vascular dance. A visibly pulsation can be seen in the carotid arteries in the neck.
Sir Dominic Corrigan (1802-1880)

The vascular dance and President Lincoln

A manifestation of the vascular dance of aortic insufficiency is the way that the user leg bounces when the legs are crossed at the knee. 

In 1972 Dr Harold Schwartz published  an article about an anecdote about a photograph in the possession of the National Library of Medicine.  Lincoln said when it was taken that his left foot  seemed blurry in the photograph. Noah Brooks, a  journalist who was interviewing him suggested it was because the president was seeing his arteries pulse when the legs were crossed.  Lincoln tested it and exclaimed "That's it! That's it! No that's curious, isn't it?"

The long exposure of the camera, due to the increased shutter time, would catch the leg movements and blur the image of the foot.

Schwartz suggested that this should be called the Lincoln-Brook sign, an indicator of aortic insufficiency. 

Interestingly, in later life Lincoln was noted to nod his head-on every heartbeat and on some photographs with the  increased shutter time, his head appeared blurred. This phenomenon is  actually called de Musset's sign.  It was named not after a doctor, but a patient, the French  poet Alfred de Musset, who died from syphilitic aortic insufficiency. 

Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)

Without testing Abraham Lincoln's DNA the debate will go on. Blood-stained artefacts from the president might give sufficient DNA to determine whether or not he had a gene that could give rise to Marfan syndrome, or to one of the other possibilities. That, of course, raises many questions (some ethical) as to whether such analysis should be done. Until then, the blurred photograph phenomenon is interesting. 


If you are interested in reading more about medicine and surgery in the frontier days,  then you may find The Doctor's bag useful. It is a collection of my past blog posts, published by Sundown Press.

The novel about Dr George Goodfellow, the Tombstone surgeon to the gunfighters

The novel about Ned Buntline, the King of the Dime Novelists

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

IT'S MINING TIME #history #ColoradoHistory

post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

Pikes Peak - photo property of author
The 'Pike's Peak or Bust' gold rush began one hundred sixty years ago, when gold was found near Cherry Creek, in the now Denver Metro area. (Actually the gold was found in 1858, but the rush began in 1859). Now for those unfamiliar with Colorado's topography, Pikes Peak is actually around seventy miles south of the area where the gold was found.

So why "Pikes Peak or Bust'? Well, the peak sits the eastern most in the mountain chain that runs through Colorado. Additionally, it is a stand alone fourteener peak. The nearest at its elevation or higher is over seventy miles away. In other words, its the landmark you see first as you're heading west.

Mines on Battle Mountain in the Cripple Creek Mining District
USGS photograph
And by 1900 Colorado was providing more gold than any other area, including Alaska, most of it coming from the Cripple Creek/Victor mining district. (They're still pulling gold out of that mountain) But there was/is more than just gold in those mountains and the plains. Colorado, thanks to the area around Leadville, also produced large amounts of silver. The state also has provided the world with marble, zinc, lead, molybdenum, uranium, nahcolite (which produces baking soda and soda ash) in addition to gemstones.

If anyone had watched the weather channel show "Prospectors" you would know about the gemstone mining in the state. Here's a brief look: Prospectors Episode

Colorado also has diamonds, which have been mined up near the Wyoming boarder. Add to this coal mining which has occurred almost since Colorado was settled and you have a wealth of mining and mining history. Colorado Springs in the 1800s had fifty active coal mines in the area. Of course, Fremont county had numerous coal mines as did the southern part of the state where the Ludlow Massacre occurred.

The pulling of  'treasure' from the ground created stories of wealth, life, death, strikes and massacres. These stories are mined by myself and others for the books, papers, and novellas we write. One novella "Never Had a Chance" came from a piece I read in the Sandra Dallas book.

If you wish to discover more, here are some books that have great pieces of information:

Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps - Sandra Dallas
The Portland: Colorado's Richest Gold Mine - Joe Vanderwalker
The Great Pike's Peak Gold Rush - Robert L. Brown
Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War - Thomas G Andrews
Hardrock Man: Whispers from the Cripple Creek Underground - Sylece Andromeda
The Trail of Gold and Silver: Mining in Colorado 1859-2009 - Duane A Smith

So do you want to do some mining?

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


When the cold weather starts up (and seems to continue forever!), I’m all too ready to just hunker down and get out of the Oklahoma wind—the older I get, the more I feel that way. But one thing I’ve discovered: If you have plenty of food (for both humans and the dog), running water, and firewood, it’s not terrible. Well, until you have to go out for MORE food!

In Oklahoma, we don’t normally get a lot of snow, but we do get some. The worst problem is the ice. It seems, here in Oklahoma City, we sit on the very cusp of the jet stream—and I can’t say how many times we’re told, “It COULD be just rain, but if the temps drop even one degree, it’ll be FREEZING rain and ice.”

I can’t even imagine how the men and women we write about in our novels survived those long, cold winters. They must have been chopping firewood every day, year-round, except when the freezing rains hit in the winter. With books so scarce, I’m sure the ones that were available must have been memorized by those who read.

Thank goodness we live in a day and age when we are able to read as much as we want—online (if the electricity stays on!) or the old-fashioned way—a paperback book in hand. I do a lot of reading for my work at Prairie Rose Publications, but I have books I read “for pleasure” when I get a chance—and in the winter months it seems I get a lot more time for that than in the summer. This is how I keep cabin fever at bay when the weather is too awful to venture out.


Here are some of my picks I read while I was waiting for spring to roll around. How about you? What do you do to stave off cabin fever in those winter months? Read any wonderful books lately? Please share! I’m always looking for more reading material!


This revised and updated edition contains the most important writings of Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), the first Native American author to live simultaneously in both the traditional world of the Santee Sioux and the modern civilization of the white man. Dr. Eastman also attended the injured at the Battle of Wounded Knee. Ohiyesa's works represent a complete explanation of the philosophy and moral code of the Plains Indian. Ohiyesa's message speaks to every person who seeks a spiritual way in the midst of a society increasingly dominated by materialism and industrial technology. Sun Dance chief, James Trosper writes, It is a small miracle that these important spiritual teachings have been preserved for us. This new edition contains 10 sepia photographs from Eastman's life and a thought-provoking foreword by Raymond Wilson.

There are a LOT of books of writings by Charles Eastman—very thought provoking and just downright wonderful, in my opinion.

Another excellent book—not really a romance, but a true western, is by my friend Robert Randisi—THE GHOST WITH BLUE EYES. It’s a story of how one mistake can make a person sink to the depths of a whiskey bottle, and what it takes to make him climb back out of it.

HERE’S THE AMAZON BLURB: Lancaster hangs up his six-shooter and grabs a bottle after accidentally killing a young girl in a gunfight, but when another girl needs his help, he will fight to regain his soul and his honor in order to save her.

Okay, not a western, but a ROMANCE-- THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE is book 1 in the "Highland Pleasures" series, or what is known as The Mackenzies. This is an excellent tale by Jennifer Ashley, a shorter piece, and it has a hero you will not likely forget. Ian Mackenzie is afflicted by something—because of the time period this story takes place in, we don’t really know what it is, but it could be autism, could Asperger’s Syndrome—and he is very different. This is the first in a series and I would like to read the others!

I must confess, I did some re-reading of some old favorites, as well. GOLDEN NIGHTS by Christine Monson…speaking of “different” heroes—and heroines—Christine Monson’s characters are always intriguing and no matter how many times you read her stories, the next time you read it again you will find something you didn’t see before.

Here’s the Amazon blurb: Abandoned by her weakling husband on their wedding night, beautiful socialite Suzanne Maintree sets out to track him down in the wilds of Colorado, but is quite distracted by her guide, a handsome English adventurer.

By the way, this blurb doesn’t do this book justice at all. It’s like saying your grandma’s homemade chicken and dumplin’s and cornbread was “good”—there’s so much more to this story!

I could go on and on, but how about a MOVIE to break the cabin fever monotony? Have you ever seen this one? PURGATORY is one you will want to watch. Refuge is a small town in the west where no one carries weapons. There’s no jail, and neither the sheriff nor his deputy even carry a gun. It’s an odd assortment of citizens, who know the rules, and to kill someone else for whatever reason means their mortal soul. It’s not gory, but does have some supernatural elements that are very well done. Stars Sam Shepard, Eric Roberts, Donnie Wahlberg, Randy Quaid, and JD Souther, among others.

I will leave you with an excerpt from FIRE EYES that takes place (appropriately!) in my heroine’s cabin. FIRE EYES is part of a 6-book boxed set, UNDER A WESTERN SKY! I’m so proud to have my story in this set with 6 different authors (Agnes Alexander, Celia Yeary, Kaye Spencer, Patti Sherry-Crews, Tracy Garrett and Cheryl Pierson). The best part is, it’s only .99 right now!

THE SET UP: Jessica Monroe is living alone with her adopted daughter in the eastern part of Indian Territory. Her husband has been murdered by Andrew Fallon’s border raiders. Now, the Choctaws have brought her a U.S. Deputy Marshal who has been badly wounded by the same band of outlaws, in the hope that she will be able to save his life. Here’s what happens:

“You waitin’ on a…invitation?” A faint smile touched his battered mouth. “I’m fresh out.”

Jessica reached for the tin star. Her fingers closed around the uneven edges of it. No. She couldn’t wait any longer. “What’s your name?” Her voice came out jagged, like the metal she touched.

His bruised eyes slitted as he studied her a moment. “Turner. Kaedon Turner.”

Jessica sighed. “Well, Kaedon Turner, you’ve probably been a lot better places in your life than this. Take a deep breath, and try not to move.”

He gave a wry chuckle, letting his eyes drift completely closed. “Do it fast. I’ll be okay.”

She nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Ready?”

“Go ahead.”

Even knowing what was coming, his voice sounded smoother than hers, she thought. She wrapped her hand tightly around the metal and pulled up fast, as he’d asked.

As the metal slid through his flesh, Kaed’s left hand moved convulsively, his fingers gripping the quilt. He was unable to hold back the soft hint of an agonized groan as he turned away from her. He swore as the thick steel pin cleared his skin, freeing the chambray shirt and cotton undershirt beneath it, blood spraying as his teeth closed solidly over his bottom lip.

Jessica lifted the material away, biting back her own curse as she surveyed the damage they’d done to him. His chest was a mass of purple bruises, uneven gashes, and burns. Her stomach turned over. She was not squeamish. But this—

It was just like what they’d done to Billy, before they’d killed him. Billy, the last man the Choctaws had dumped on her porch. Billy Monroe, the man she’d come to loathe during their one brief year of marriage.

She took a washrag from the nightstand and wet it in the nearby basin. Wordlessly, she placed her cool palm against Kaedon Turner’s stubbled, bruised cheek, turning his head toward her so she could clean his face and neck.

She knew instinctively he was the kind of man who would never stand for this if it wasn’t necessary. The kind of man who was unaccustomed to a woman’s comforting caress. The kind of man who would never complain, no matter how badly wounded he was.

“Fallon.” His voice was rough.

Jessica stopped her movements and watched him. “What about him?”

His brows drew together, as if he were trying to formulate what he wanted to say. “Is he…dead?”

What should she tell him?

The truth.

“I—don’t know.”

“Damn it.”

“You were losing a lot of blood out there,” Jessica said, determined to turn his thoughts from Fallon to the present. She ran the wet cloth lightly across the long split in his right cheek.

His breathing was controlled, even. “I took a bullet.” He said it quietly, almost conversationally.

Jessica stopped moving. “Where?”

Here’s the BUY LINK for AMAZON: