Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Are you a reader who loves descriptions and details of settings? Glittering ballrooms, the bone-chilling cold of a winter in the Rockies…or maybe the oppressive, killing heat of the desert? What about something idyllic, like a river or creek babbling through the woods? A beautiful rose garden, or even the ugly side of description—such as barren prison walls, or a Civil War battlefield?
It depends on the story, doesn’t it, and again, how much importance those descriptions have on the impact of the action, and the outcome of the story.

Let’s use a ball as our example.
If you’ve never been to an 1800’s ball—and none of us have—we need to know at least the barest details.

Five basic things we need to know are:
What is a ball?
Why is the ball being given?
Who will be invited?
When will the ball be given?
Where will it be held?

That’s enough for some stories. But the main question is—how important is the ball to the plot?

This is where layering comes in—and this one scene, and the details it contains—can be vital to what comes next, or even many scenes later.
So many things can happen at a ball!

Guests can meet for the first time, uninvited guests can show up, clothing can have significance, music can bring back memories, the food can even be poisoned!

Or, the ball can just be a ball, like the old saying attributed to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…” –and if that’s the case, then tedious description and intricate detail is wasted because the ball is just a vehicle to get from one scene in the story to the next, and has no real underlying importance.

Describing the details of the clothing worn is sometimes distracting as it pulls us away from the action. We may be reading about a blue satin gown when we need to be concentrating on the man who lurks in the shadows. Too much description can bog down the reader and deaden the story rather than bring it to life.

Why? Because deep description of the things such as d├ęcor, clothing, and meals stop the action of the characters. The plot “takes a break” while our minds process all of the description of the scenery, the meals, the clothing. In this case, again, sometimes, “less is more” and we need to let the reader’s mind fill in much of that kind of detail.

Consider this: We know certain facts—a ball costs a lot of money to host. So we already understand that those who are invited are most likely people who move in the same upper crust social circles. Therefore, we know they, too, have money, so are appropriately dressed, arrive in style, and are schooled in proper societal customs. One excellent way to cut through the “red tape” of description (of things we already know) is to describe something that is out of place, or “not right” as this reminds us of what should be—and those details of descriptions we’re already aware of.

Perhaps an imposter at the ball commits a social faux pas without realizing it, alerting others to the fact she isn’t who she pretends to be. Maybe an unlikely hero comes to her aid quickly, offering an excuse, or correcting the mistake before others notice.
This scenario does several things for the story that simple description can’t achieve.

1. Points out the discrepancy in what should be and what is.
2. Allows our characters interaction, and possibly dialogue and observation, rather than the author filling the page with scenic description.
3. Allows the reader the opportunity to learn more about the characters and their personalities through this interaction, and can be a vehicle to reveal something of importance.
4. Can possibly further the action during such a scene rather than slowing it by miles of scenic description.

This is not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for detailed descriptions of settings! We can’t call ourselves authors and take the “easy” way out by saying, “It was a ball like any other” by way of description, unless—we put it in the right context.

How about this:
Jake looked around at the opulent ballroom –the surroundings were familiar in a tiresome, cloying way. Or…maybe was jaded. It was a ball like any other—except for one thing. Something that made him catch his breath and inwardly let go a streak of curses he’d love to shout to the skies. She was here. The woman he’d thought he’d never see again…

Well, anything can happen now, can’t it? Maybe she’s wearing an inappropriate shade of red amidst a sea of violet and blue. There are so many ways to make setting come alive without endless description that many readers become bored with and skim over.
If you read my last installment of this blog series about main characters, the examples I used from Shane (Jack Schaefer) and St. Agnes’ Stand (Tom Eidson) are also prime examples of description of setting as well as character.

But here’s another good one I really think is wonderful from Conagher, by Louis L’Amour. In this story, Evie from “back East” has come out west to marry a man with two children. Evie tries to make the best of things, but she lives in fear at first. The land is so different, After she’s been there a while, she finds there is a beauty in her surroundings she had to grow to love, in time.

As L’Amour describes the heroine's (Evie) dismal hopelessness at the land her husband (Jacob) has brought her to, we wonder how she will survive. Yet, Jacob has plans, sees the possibilities that Evie cannot, or will not see. The underlying message is, "The land is what we make of it."

As the story continues, she begins to appreciate the beauty of the prairie, while acknowledging the solitary loneliness of her existence. She plants a garden, nurturing the plants, and gradually she sees the farm being shaped into a good home from the ramshackle place she'd first laid eyes on.

The land is beautiful, but unforgiving. Her husband is killed in a freak accident, and for months she doesn't know what has happened to him. She faces the responsibility of raising his two children from a previous marriage alone.

In her loneliness, she begins to write notes describing her feelings and ties them to tumbleweeds. The wind scatters the notes and tumbleweeds across the prairie. Conagher, a loner, begins to wonder who could be writing them, and slowly comes to believe that whomever it is, these notes are meant for him.

At one point, visitors come from back East. One of them says to Evie something to the effect of "I don't know how you can stand it here."
This is Evie's response to her:

"I love it here," she said suddenly. "I think there is something here, something more than all you see and feel…it's in the wind.

"Oh, it is very hard!" she went on. "I miss women to talk to, I miss the things we had back East–the band concerts, the dances. The only time when we see anyone is like now, when the stage comes. But you do not know what music is until you have heard the wind in the cedars, or the far-off wind in the pines. Someday I am going to get on a horse and ride out there"–she pointed toward the wide grass before them–"until I can see the other side…if there is another side."

The land, at first her nemesis, has become not only a friend, but a soulmate. L’Amour gives us this description through Evie’s eyes and feelings, not in writing about it from his perspective as the author.

Think of your own writing projects, and books you've read. What importance do you give setting in description, plot, even characterization? Within 40 pages of 'Conagher', we understand that the land, with all its wild beauty and dangers has become enmeshed in Evie's character. She can't leave it, and it will never leave her.

Endless, detailed description can’t do what L’Amour does through Evie’s eyes in a very few sentences. Do you have a favorite description of a setting you've read about or written about?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

 Ranger Jim's Ramblings for April

Howdy, all. This moth's post is a video. I was interviewed by Audrey Cox of WMUR Channel 9 out of Manchester, New Hampshire back in February, about my books and my therapy work with Yankee.
The episode aired February 27th. If you go to the link below, and seaech for that date, or "Jim Griffin, Yankee Cowboy, you should be able to see it. If that doesn't work, it's on  my Facebook page.

Happy Spring.

"Ranger" Jim

Monday, April 8, 2019

A small tribute to country music legend Merle Haggard by Kaye Spencer #classiccountry #countrymusic #westernfictioneers

April 6, 1937 and April 6, 2016 are significant dates for those of us whose country music roots are in what I call 'classic country'...

Merle Haggard was born on this day, and he died on the same day 82 years later.

Merle Haggard - 1971
Country Music Association, Merle Haggard in 1971,
marked as public domain, more details on
Wikimedia Commons

I'm not going to talk about Merle's life in this article, as it is easy enough to do an Internet search and read more in depth biographies of his life than I need to synthesize and summarize here.

Merle Haggard - 2010
U.S. federal government, Merle Haggard 2010, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

What I am going to share is a comparison of his song Mama Tried to Johnny Paycheck's song of similar theme, The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised.

Both songs are iconic of each artist and each song tells the lamentable story of grown men (or women) looking back on the bad choices they made in their younger lives despite the best guiding efforts of their mothers to raise them right and keep them on the 'straight and narrow'.
Both narrators have gotten sideways of the law and, while it seems what they are sorriest about is getting caught, there is a hint of guilt that they cause their mothers sadness and grief. But the dirty deeds they've done in their lives can't be undone so Que Sera Sera.

Mama Tried was released in July 1968 as the first single and title track from Merle Haggard's album, Mama Tried, and it became one of the cornerstone songs of his career.* The song entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Two weeks before Merle died in 2016, the song was preserved in the National Recording Registry due to it's 'cultural, historic, and/or artistic significance"*.

While this song is not autobiographical, Merle did serve time in San Quentin and he did lament the pain it caused his mother. Merle was among the "Outlaw Movement" artists of the 1970s. The song was his fifth Number 1 hit on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Single chart in August 1968.

The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised by Johnny Paycheck, who was also considered one of the members of the "Outlaw Movement" artists**. He received an Academy of County Music Career Achievement award in 1977**. The song was on is on the album, Slide off of Your Satin Sheets and, as a single, it reached Number 8 on the U.S. Country charts in 1977****.

For your viewing and listening entertainment...

Until next time,

 Kaye Spencer

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Some information in this article relies primarily upon that model of excellence in accuracy itself, Wikipedia.
**Wikipedia: and

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Carved in Stone—or Shell

 I have always loved cameos. I received one as a birthday gift years ago, white carving on a brown background set in an antique gold broach, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. Not because I wear it all the time, but because of the history of the gift. My history.

Recently my mother, sister and I were sorting through my grandmother’s jewelry. Among the dozens of bird and animal pins—she loved wearing them for her kindergarten students—were several cameos. Some were plastic, others looked to be rather old. Since GGG (she signed her cards this way for years—it stands for Great Grandmother Grace) didn’t collect fine jewelry, the old pieces were probably her mother’s. Looking at those wonderful pieces got me thinking about the history of the cameo.

The cameo is much older than I thought. Though the origins are still under dispute, most think the word “Cameo” comes from the Hebrew word KAMEA, meaning a charm or amulet, or from the Latin CAMMAEUS, meaning "engraved gem".

Historians believe this carving tradition came from Alexandria, Egypt, nearly three centuries before the birth of Christ. Early Greek and Roman carvings featured images of gods and goddesses, mythological scenes and biblical events. Some immortalized rulers or heroes. During the era of Helen [323BC – 31/30BC], women wore cameos depicting a dancing Eros as an invitation to perspective lovers.

Queen Victoria popularized the cameos made of sea shells. Napoleon wore a cameo to his own wedding and founded a school in Paris to teach the art of cameo carving to young apprentices.

Stone, shell and coral are the materials most often used for the carvings. In stones, you’ll find agate and less often, turquoise.

Shell is probably the most commonly used material, because of its availability to carvers in all locations and financial situations. Among the shells used are Cornelian, Cassis Madagascariensis, Empire Helmet or Conch, Sardonyx, and Strombus Giga

The cameos we’re most familiar with show a young woman, hair and dress appropriate to the period of the carving, in various colors.

I still don’t know the origin of the lovely pieces in my grandmother’s collection, but that doesn’t matter so much. I appreciate them for their beauty and the history they represent—my history.

Do any of you own cameos? Do you know where they came from?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Barbers and Barbershops in the Old West: Part One by Vicky J. Rose, aka V. J. Rose, Easy Jackson

At the end of his cattle drive, the first thing a cowboy did was to buy new clothes and visit a barbershop. Whether or not the sign said barbershop or tonsorial parlor, because of the distinctive red, white, and blue pole, left over from the days when barbers practiced surgical techniques such as bloodletting, the cowboy would have little trouble finding it regardless of his ability to read. 

Most barbershops were open seven days a week, from about 9 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., closing at noon on Sunday. If the cowboy arrived on Saturday, chances are the barbershop would be packed with waiting people. Women sometimes did go into barbershops to have their hair cut, but because their hair was often thicker and more difficult for the barber, the general rule was no women and children on Saturday.
The rather phallic looking barber pole hanging in
the photo of this San Antonio barbershop
was quite common in the Old West.
The barbershop could be elaborate or small and plain, depending on the size of the town. The barber could be operating in the back of a saloon, especially in the far-flung mining towns where he might have a chair in the rear of a tent. However, using a razor and scissors on men fueled with alcohol is risky business, and most barbers would try to set up in their own shop as soon as possible. This was the Victorian era, and the barber would want to have the most ornate furnishings he could afford, most of which came from specialty mail-order houses. Every barbershop would have one or more spittoons, unless it had dirt flooring.
A barbershop/shoe repair shop near the Texas border.

Elizabeth Street, Brownsville, Texas, c.a. 1865
The barbershop is on the right next to a hotel.
 Inside the barbershop, the cowboy would catch up on all the news on a national, state, and local level. He would be advised on the best place to spend the night, have a meal, or find female companionship. In busy shops, the barber would employ porters to help with the towels, hone razors, refill urns with hot water, along with filling and emptying tubs. If the barber had children, boys as young as seven might be taught to shave customers on busy Saturdays.  

When it came his turn in the chair, the cowboy would sit in a high chair with a separate footstool. The reclining chair as we know it was not patented until 1881, and then it quickly caught on. If the cowboy had ridden into a place like Dodge City in the latter part of the 1800s, he would have checked in his guns at the sheriff’s or marshal’s office when he came into town. If not, to avoid discomfort, he would remove his pistol from its holster and place it in firing position on his lap, allowing the barber to cover it with his cape.

The cowboy would lean his head back, and hot damp towels would be placed over his face to soften his beard. Ideally, as the towels cooled, twice more warmer ones would take their place. After removing the towels, barbers in rustic areas would use a basin of water and a ball of soap to lather up, using their fingers to apply the lather to the cowboy’s beard. By 1870, most barbers were using shaving mugs with round bars of soap and shaving brushes, preferably made of badger hair. In large towns, there might be an elegant cabinet to hold personalized shaving mugs of regular customers.
San Angelo, Texas
Note the racks of shaving mugs belonging to customers.
Razors from the 1830s onward could have highly etched blades with trademarks, mottos, and ads. During the Civil War, blades with eagles, flags, and “Save the Union” on them were very popular in the North. The handles could be made of ivory, bone, mother of pearl, or gutta-percha. Most, however, were made of black or clear horn. Barbershops used the plainest one, but the barber would often have seven razors lined up in a row, the theory being that it would keep the blade sharper if it was allowed to “rest.” Before beginning, the barber would sharpen his razor, running it up and down the leather strop that would usually be hanging from his chair. A strop made of horsehide was considered the best.

When he finished shaving the cowboy, the barber would wipe his face with a towel that had most likely been used on several previous customers. He would then pat on Bay Rum shaving lotion and use a styptic pencil on any cuts he might have made. Jockey Club fragrance for men was launched in 1840 and became extremely popular.

After the shave, the cowboy would sit up straighter. If the barber was short, and the cowboy was tall, the barber would stand on a wooden box. In the 1800s, there were several popular hairstyles—the Jackson style, combed back and short like Andrew Jackson, or the half-shingle, the quarter shingle, and the pompadour. However, because barbering was unregulated until the beginning of the twentieth century, the cowboy’s barber may have only known one haircut, which he gave to everybody.

While the cowboy was getting his haircut, a dog might wander into the shop and plop down. Someone might start singing or playing a musical instrument, particularly at night, when barbershops often became places for jam sessions. If the barber was tired, he might be so loquacious, it would irritate the cowboy who was used to the quietness of the open plains. Or the barber might be so exhausted, he would be cranky and not inclined to conversation, also possibly aggravating the cowboy who might yearn for human interaction.

When the barber finished with the scissors, he would use the razor to shave the back of the neck. After combing or brushing the head to make sure all the loose hair was removed, he would use a soft brush sprinkled with powder to brush hair from the cowboy’s neck and shoulders. Some barbers were also quite proficient at giving the shoulders and neck a quick massage. If the barbershop was also a bathhouse, the barber would ask the cowboy if he wanted a bath.
A derelict barbershop in Virginia City, Montana
The cowboy could be shaved, have a haircut, and bathe for about 75 cents. Although price wars in places like New York City were common, the phrase “Shave and a Haircut—Two Bits,” is good fit for the time frame of the Old West. For fresh water in his bathtub, the cowboy would probably pay 50 cents, but if he was willing to bathe in used water, the price might drop to 25 cents. On Saturday, however, the price of a bath might rise up to 75 cents. Before the faster manual hair clippers came into use in the latter part of the nineteenth century, a scissor cut and shave would take about 45 minutes.

If the cowboy stayed in town for a while, he would likely visit the barbershop three times a week to be shaved. If he developed an interest in a member of the fairer sex, he would bathe once a week, whether he thought he needed it or not, and get his hair trimmed every two weeks, or possibly every week should he think the situation warranted it.

In The Trail Drivers of Texas, compiled by J. Marvin Hunter, Jack Potter tells of joining a trail drive in 1882 headed for Colorado, near Greeley, as a sixteen-year-old cowboy in San Antonio. His wages were $30 a month and transportation back. On the way home, he stopped in Denver, going into a barbershop near the St. Charles Hotel.

“When the barber finished with me, he asked if I wanted a bath, and when I said yes, a negro porter took me down the hallway and into a side room. He turned on the water, tossed me a couple of towels and disappeared.”

Potter removed his clothes, letting the water run until the tub was nearly full. Not realizing the water was coming straight from a hot boiler, he hopped in, screamed “like a Comanche” and jumped out again, slipping and falling on the marble floor. After flopping around, he managed to get up using a chair for a brace. He stood fanning himself with his big Stetson hat and examining his feet to see if he still had toenails.  Like the jokester most cowboys were, he related this scalding incident with a laugh many years later.             

End of Part One of Two
Resources: The Vanishing American Barbershop: An Illustrated History of Tonsorial Art, 1860-1960 by Ronald S. Barlow;;;;;;;;
Papa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald; Barber Instructor and Toilet Manual by Frank C. Bridgeford; Shannon Hartsnagel Interview

Click here to buy A BAD PLACE TO DIE
Click here to buy A SEASON IN HELL
Click here to buy TESTIMONY

And coming soon from Five Star Publishing:


A Frontier Mystery

Thursday, March 28, 2019


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE


People often ask why doctors use Latin. Indeed, there is a perception that we use it to make diagnoses sound scholarly, and that we write prescriptions in an indecipherable Latin scrawl to ensure that no-one except a trained pharmacist can read them.        

The fact is that Latin is the international language of medicine, just as it has been since the days of Ancient Rome. You see, because Latin is a dead language it is unchanging, hence its suitability as an international medical language. Thus, doctors speaking in different languages can communicate their findings to one another using medical Latin.

I find the study of medical Latin fascinating, since it illustrates the way in which medical ideas were transmitted. Although the Romans were never great innovators in the field of medicine, they translated the medical works of their neighbours the Greeks into Latin and then disseminated the texts across their empire. 

About ninety to ninety-five per cent of all medical terms are based on Latin and Greek. Most of the anatomical terms and the scientific names of micro-organisms are of Latin origin, whereas many of the disease names and medical terms come from Greek, or a mixture of the two languages. The Greek terms reflect the knowledge and skills of the early Classical Greek physicians, while the Latin terminology comes both from antiquity and from the Renaissance, when Latin became the language of science and medicine. 

The abdominal cavity
The ‘abdomen’, as most people are aware is the name for the anatomical cavity between the thorax (chest) and pelvis. It contains the liver, kidneys, pancreas, stomach, small and large intestines. The name was first coined by the famous Roman encyclopaedist Pliny in 50AD. It comes from the Latin word - from abdere, meaning ‘to hide’ and omentum, meaning ‘entrails’. It literally means, ‘the cavity that hides the entrails’.

But take care if you are writing about gunshot wounds to  the abdomen. The anatomical texts show where organs are expected to be within  the abdomen, but in life they may be in different positions according to body build. In the two extreme types of build illustrated, just look at the positions of the stomach in each case (it is the shaded organ).

Hypersthenic habitus (large build)

 Asthenic habitus (slim build)

A curious link between medicine and the law
 The testis or testicle is the name for the male genital organ. The name actually comes from the Latin testis, meaning ‘witness’. The connection may seem obscure to us today, but it in fact gives us an insight into Ancient Roman law. In Roman times only a man could ‘testify’ in court, or appear as a ‘witness’. Women and eunuchs were excluded, so the presence of testes(plural of testis) was proof of being a man. So, testicles are man’s ‘little witnesses.’ 

Those strange prescriptions
The word ‘prescription’ comes from the Latin words, prae, meaning ‘before’, and scribere, meaning ‘to write’. When your doctor writes a prescription he or she often writes Rx. This is an abbreviation of the Latin word recipe, meaning ‘take thou’. The word sig is often written. It is short for the Latin signa, meaning ‘mark.’ This indicates the instructions for the pharmacist to write on the instructions. You might see an abbreviation like t.d.s. which is short for ter die sumendus, meaning ‘take three times a day.’ And p.r.n., is short for pro re nata, meaning ‘take as required’. 

Arteries – right name, wrong reason
 Most students know that arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the tissues. The name comes from the Greek aerterion,meaning ‘air-carrier. In fact, the early anatomists thought that the arteries carried air, not blood. The reason they assumed this was because the arteries collapse and empty after death, most of the blood being found in the veins. 

A musical bone
The tibia,meaning ‘flute,’ is the large lower leg bone. In Roman days musicians used the tibias of animals and birds to make pipes and flutes. 

And its partner
The fibula is the smaller lower leg bone. It is called fibula - 'broach-pin.' Fibula itself is derived from

figere - to fasten . If you look at them, the fibula looks like a broach-pin.


If you are intrigued by medical Latin, then you might like to dip into this book, which you can pick up for a cent or two!

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, March 26, 2019


Post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

Part of the Arkansas River, Canon City, CO
photo property of the author
Those who know me, or read my posts, know how much I love history. The history of my adopted state is a constant source of fun and great reading. Since I've been researching for an upcoming novel, I thought I'd share some stories of the places my characters travel.

The journey starts in Canon City, pronounced "Canyon". Founded late in 1859 as a 'way station' to the gold fields to the west. By 1860 the town started to grow and after gold was found in California Gulch, it exploded. (For those who wonder, California Gulch is the Buckskin Joe, Leadville area). According to Rosemae Wells Campbell in her book  From Trappers to Tourist – "that winter Canon City was a wide open, wild town. Every department of pleasure ran at capacity. Saloons became numerous and those who frequented them also found pleasure in ways that did not involve drinking or gambling. General courtesy and basic manners were lax or nonexistent, midnight brawls were commonplace, and gunfights occurred on a regular basis. Men were shot over petty grievances; still others, for less, such as the case of Charles Dodge "shot and killed three men who irked him." 

After that winter, the miners, prospectors and hangers on, returned to the mountains and the town was able to focus on growth. Sitting on the Arkansas River, and the mouth of the Royal Gorge, the town had its excitements. The territorial prison was built there in 1874 before Colorado became a state. In 1880 they were building a military academy. There were also a large number of Confederate soldiers who settled in the area. Of course, who can forget the Royal Gorge War between the Santa Fe and Denver & Rio Grande Railroads. That war, to be the first through the Gorge, was to get to the mines in Leadville to convey the ore out of the mountains.

Journeying onward, you travel that route through South Park, on into the mountains. Cripple Creek is just north of Canon City, although it didn't come into existence until the 1890s. You did have Nathrop and Buena Vista, the region of the Lake County War, which I wrote about some time ago. For those who'd like to read about that, here is the link: Lake County War

There have been many posts about Leadville, that town at 10, 152 feet, and the characters who spent time there. Of course, Horace Tabor, Doc Holiday, Wyatt Early, and possible the James brothers or members of their gang.  What many forget is places like St. Elmo, Como, Breckenridge, Gunnison and Virginia City.

Image result for historic images of tin cup
Tin Cup, 1906 from a photo of the Tin Cup Civic Association
Yes, there was a Virginia City in Colorado. Of course since Montana and Nevada, the name didn't last long. So what was it changed to? Tin Cup. If you wanted a wide open town, this was the one for you in the late 1800s. In its early days, there was no true law. It was said they went through seven marshals in a very short period of time.

Here is a piece from the Gunnison Daily News-Democrat from July 12, 1882

Block image

In his book "Jeep Trails to Colorado Ghost Towns", Robert L. Brown had this to say:
"By 1879... There were plenty of saloons... Tin cup had several hotels, chief among them were the Pacific and the Eagle. … After the summer of 1879, tin cup was rated as the largest town in Gunnison County, next to Gunnison itself.

There were three physicians in town. One of them was Dr. McGowan, who always wore a full beard which resulted in his death while he was smoking in bed.

In the old days, Tin Cup was entered mainly from St. Elmo, over Tin Cup Pass, and frequently by way of Pitkin, Cottonwood, and Aspen. It was a rough trip from Tin Cup over the divide to St. Elmo.

No railroad ever served Tin Cup. In the summer time you rode the stagecoach and in the winter you skied."

So there you have a short trip though history along the Arkansas River and up to Leadville and Tin Cup. There is so much more history, but time and space limit the story.

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

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.