Friday, July 13, 2018

Bighorn Sheep

If your characters lived anywhere near the Rocky Mountains, they would have encountered the Bighorn Sheep. Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) are the largest wild sheep in North America. Males, or rams, can weigh over 300 pounds and stand over three feet tall at the shoulder, while females, or ewes, are roughly half this size.

Bighorn sheep are grayish brown to dark brown with white patches on their rump, muzzle, and the backs of their legs. They have fur rather than the thick wool present in domesticated sheep. In the Winter they grow a thick, double-layered coat that may be lighter in color. 

Wide-set eyes give the bighorn sheep a large angle of vision. They also have sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell. This means a bighorn sheep can sense danger at a long distance. They have specialized hooves and rough soles which provide a natural grip on the steep rocky slopes and ledges where they make their homes.

As the name suggests, the sheep grow true horns that they retain throughout their life. Rams have large horns that can weigh up to thirty pounds, which is the average weight of all the bones in the ram’s body. These horns tart curling around the ram’s face by the age of eight years and eventually forms a spiral. Ewes have smaller horns that only curve slightly, starting at around four years of age.

Bighorn sheep feed on lower elevation grasses, clovers and sedges in Spring and Summer, and browse on mountain shrubs in Fall and Winter. They have a complex, four-part stomach that allows them to gain nutrients from hard, dry forage. The sheep will eat large amounts of food very quickly, then retreat to the cliffs and ledges to thoroughly re-chew and digest the food away from any predators. In Spring and early Summer, they descend to lower elevations to eat tender grasses and eat the rich soil to obtain minerals not found at higher elevations. These minerals are essential in restoring nutrients depleted by lambing and by the poor Winter diet.

Bighorn sheep live in social groups, with the rams forming bachelor herds of two to five animals and the ewes and lambs forming another herd of up to fifteen. In the Winter, ewe herds will sometimes combine into mega-herds of up to 100 strong. Lambs are born in the Spring and can walk soon after birth. They nurse for about six months. Young rams will leave their mother’s herd between two to four years of age, while young ewes remain with the herd for life. They live around ten years in the wild.

Mating occurs in the Fall, when the rams rejoin the ewes and fight each other for dominance. They use their huge horns in this battle, with males actually ramming head-on to determine which is the stronger. The combatants rear up on their hind legs and pitch towards each other at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. The resulting crash can be heard a mile away. The ritual is repeated until one ram gives up and walks away.

The history of the sheep is similar to that of the Native Americans who encountered our European ancestors. As ranchers and homesteaders began to move into the mountain valleys, they brought with them domestic sheep – and their diseases, to which the Bighorn Sheep had no natural immunity. They also fell victim to hunters, who received high pay for their prized meat and horns. By the mid-1880s and early 1900s, the population was declining rapidly, and continued to do so until the mid-20thCentury. Your character might notice the decline, or he or she might be among those causing it. Either way, it would be an interesting historic tidbit to include in a story.

J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for July

I'm going to wander away from my usual topics for this month's posting. Instead, I'll be talking about my recent road trip to the convention of the other western writers' group that shall not be named, or more specifically, my visit to the Battle of the Little Bighorn battlefield, and the reenactment of the battle, put on every year over three days of the weekend in June closest to the 25th, the date of the actual fight. The reenactment is organized by the Real Bird family, members of the Crow tribe.

First, the battlefield. It covers a much larger area than I expected. I also visited on a gray, rainy day, which lent itself well to the location.Except for its size, it's pretty much what you've seen in photographs, the rolling hills, the monuments marking where fallen soldiers were found, and the large monument on the hill where Custer allegedly fell. I say allegedly with a reason, which I'll get to in a moment.

Sadly, even on a miserable day, the battlefield is really overrun with visitors. Unlike Gettysburg,  the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and other battlefields I have visited, Little Big Horn did not have the atmosphere of dignity and respect I have felt at those locations. It seemed more like an exhibit at a theme park, which is too bad.

Now, the reenactment. As expected, the Indians have a different take on the battle than what most of us have learned in the history books. The program itself was kind of a Reader's Digest condensed version, most of it dealing with events that led up to Little Big Horn. The only part of the battle that was reenacted was Custer and his remaining men's final moments, told from how the Indians say the fight ended. Interestingly enough, the great-grandson of Major Reno was one of the reenactors playing a soldier this year, so he "died", unlike his great-grandfather.

According to the Indians, Custer never made it to the top of the hill where his supposed "last stand" took place. Instead, he was wounded and disabled on the bank of the river, where he was then speared through the heart, then his heart cut out. After that, a Sioux woman stabbed him in the ear with a knife, so he "could hear better in the next world." The Indians also claim, when survivors from the battle were interviewed by historians in 1908, their version of how Custer met his fate was dismissed because "it didn't fit the timeline." Of course by then, Custer's legend was already well fixed in place, mostly due to the efforts of his widow, Libby, who was determined to make him a hero, and to heck with facts.

Also, the reenactment was kind of like a Hollywood B movie western, where everyone just falls down dead, no bloodshed. According to Jim Real Bird, who I spoke with, they had to water down the reenactment because people thought it was too bloody. For example, in the past the used a pig's heart to simulate Custer's heart being cut out, but people complained. What did they think, that no blood was shed? So, they had to tone the reenactment down.

I leave it to you, the reader , to decide whose version of the events at the Little Bighorn are closer to the truth. Obviously, we'll never know.

Next month, Cody, Wyoming, and the Buffalo Bill Western Heritage Center.

Ranger Jim

Monday, July 9, 2018

A brief history of the corncob pipe by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #AmericanHistory

On July 9, 1878, Henry Tibbe, a Dutch immigrant woodworker, received a patent for an improved corncob pipe (also spelled 'corn cob')..

According to legend, the corncob pipe was invented in 1869 when a farmer-neighbor where Tibbe lived near Washington, Missouri...

...whittled a pipe out of corn cob and liked it so much he asked Henry Tibbe to try turning some on his lathe. Because the farmer was well-pleased with the results, Henry made and sold a few more in his woodworking shop. Tibbe's pipes proved to be such a fast selling item, he soon spent more time making pipes for customers than working with wood, and began full time production of corn cob pipes1...

Collection of corn cob tobacco pipes (not Tibbe's) 
from Science Museum Group (credit below)
Hence, Washington, Missouri eventually became known as the "Corn Cob Pipe Capital of the World". The Missouri Meerschaum Company - the world's oldest and largest manufacturer of cool, sweet-smoking corn cob pipes - began the tradition for which Washington became famous2. Tibbe became so successful that in 1907, his company became the Missouri Meerschaum Company. explains meerschaum as: a mineral, hydrous magnesium silicate, occurring in white, claylike masses, used for ornamental carvings, for pipe bowls, etc. The original of the word is German c. 1775-1785 and it literally translates to 'sea foam' (frothy appearance).

You're wondering how we went from corncobs to meerschaum. Well, Henry Tibbe's corncob pipes were light-weight and porous and the cool smoke that emanated from them reminded him of the more expensive meerschaum pipes, so he came up with the name "Missouri Meerschaum".

Tibbe and a friend who was a chemist created a plaster-based substance (similar to plaster of paris) to coat the outside of the corncob bowls, and in 1878 Tibbe patented the process3. The reason he invented this process was out of necessity as corncob pipes burned out easily, and this plaster coating fireproofed the bowl and also made sanding the bowl smooth once it dried, which made the lathe work possible4.

Henry Tibbe's patent for improved corncob pipe
(credit below)

To read more about the Missouri Meerschaum Company and to view images, click HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Corn-cob pipe - public domain image (credit below)
Corn Cob Smoking Pipe photo by TJSweden (credit below)
From the 1920s through the 1940s "...when corncob pipes were very popular, Missouri Meerschaum shipped about 25 million pipes each year. Pipe smoking decreased in popularity during the latter part of the 1950s, but today the company still produces well more than a half-million pipes per year5."

General Douglas MacArthur and his
custom-made Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipe
(credit below)

Popeye and his signature corncob pipe
(credit below)

My maternal grandfather (b. 1899) smoked a pipe, but I don't remember much about his pipe(s). It seems to me they were a dark, rusty-red-brown with slightly curved black stems and quite polished and shiny from being handled. I doubt they were meerschaum corncob pipes.

I'd enjoy reading your corncob pipe stories and anecdotes. I hope you'll share them.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer - Lasterday Stories

YouTube Channel

References and Resources:
1. “The Meerschaum Company.” Missouri Meerschaum Company, 2017, Accessed 07 July 2018.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. arno665. “Another Dutch Invention: the Modern Corncob Pipe.” Dutch Pipe Smoker, 13 May 2013, Accessed 07 July 2018.

5. “Missouri is the Home of the Famous Corn Cob Pipe.” Buffalo, Home of the Buffalo Reflex, 27 June 2018, Accessed 07 July 2018.

**Science Museum Group. Collection of six corn cob tobacco pipe, pipe bowls and stems. A12213. Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed July 7, 2018.
**Frotz at English Wikipedia, Corncob-pipe, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons.
**"Henry Tibbe's Improved Corncob Pipe Patent." Patent Images. 09  July 1878. Accessed 07 July 2018. 11 July 2015. Accessed 07 July 2018.
**Corn Cob Smoking pipe photograph by TJSweden, Corn Cob Smoking Pipe, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Wikimedia, 19 April 2007. Accessed 07 July 2018.
**Author Unknown. Douglas MacArthur smoking his corncob pipe, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons, 15 September 2017. Accessed 07 July 2018.
**Author Unknown. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, distributed under a CC BY 2.5 license. More details on Wikimedia Commons, 1 September 2013. Accessed 07 July 2018

Saturday, July 7, 2018


Writers and illustrators, especially those new to the craft, found plenty of work between 1920 and 1950 when hundreds of inexpensive fiction publications—commonly referred to as "Dime Westerns"— flooded the American market.

To satisfy the appetite for these magazines, covers and thousands of inside pages needed art and written storylines produced in assembly-line fashion on a weekly or monthly basis. 

The pulp magazines, which sold for between a dime and 25 cents, measured six-by-nine-inches and were made of cheap wood pulp paper, which made the manufacturing process economical. The 32-page Dime Western novels were so popular, distribution averaged in the tens of millions. 

The pulps featured a broad range of genres: detective stories, science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, gangster, war, mysteries, and sports—all usually featuring memorable main characters.

The most popular pulp themes centered around cowboys and Indians and the Wild West.

According to The Pulp Magazine Project, the inaugural issue of the first all-western pulp appeared on newsstands on July 12, 1919—Street and Smith's Western Story Magazine.

Hundreds of writers wrote for the magazine, which enjoyed thirty straight years of publication promising "Big Clean Stories of Outdoor Life." 

Pulps attracted prolific writers who sometimes two or more stories for the same issue.

Frederick Faust, also known as Max Brand, ranked among the most versatile of the writers. He sometimes wrote as many as three stories for a single issue but under different pen names.

Others included Paul S. Powers, who wrote for a variety of magazines, including Wild West Weekly, Thrilling Ranch Stories, Exciting Western, and others.

Laurie Powers, his granddaughter, discovered six stories never before published and included them in a book she edited, called Riding the Pulp Trail, Altus Press (2011) and consists of twelve Paul Powers stories.

Several legendary literary figures got their start and polished their writing craft in pulp magazines. Among them: Louis L'Amour, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Mary Rinehart.

At the same time, plenty of no-name writers logged grueling hours for paltry wages—no more than a penny a word—to meet the production demands of pulp magazines. 

John Dinan, who authored, The Pulp Western: A Popular History of the Western Fiction Magazine of America, wrote, "The art of the ballyhoo may not have been invented by dime-novel writers, but they certainly raised it to new heights."

Among the hundreds of publications, Western pulp fiction appeared in such magazines as: 

Lariat Story Magazine
    • The Black Mask
    • Crackshot Western
    • Argosy Weekly
    • Dime Western Magazine
    • Indian Stories
    • Masked Rider Western
    • Outlaws West
    • Quick Trigger Western
    • Spicy Western Stories

Changing market factors accelerated the decline of pulp fiction magazines.

By the 1930s, more than a thousand different pulp titles were in circulation. With the need to print so many publications, the industry got hit hard by paper shortages after World War II.

To trim expenses and keep pace, some publishers switched to digest-size formats that were cheaper to produce.

Declining popularity, however, proved insurmountable.  The public began turning from pulp to other forms of entertainment, such as comic books, paperbacks, and radio.

Television drove the deepest nail in the pulp fiction coffin. Post-war sales of RCA television sets skyrocketed and helped accelerate the demise of the pulps.

At the same time, talented writers discovered they could make much more money by writing novels and having them serialized. 

Pulp westerns proved an entertaining channel of storytelling while it lasted, and gave new writers and artists an unparalleled training ground.

Frank Munsey, an American newspaper and magazine publisher who launched the first ten-cent periodical in 1889, once wrote:

"The story is worth more than the paper it is printed on."



Thursday, July 5, 2018

Who Knew There Were Stock Detectives?

I love research. Story ideas, setting, even characters can come from one of those tidbits I discover when I fall down the rabbit hole of research.

The other day I was reading an article by Dennis Adler in Guns of the Old West magazine. The article talked about a revolver that is engraved with more than 50 cattle brands. A line in the article mentioned stock detectives, men who were employed by ranchers to sort out an “discussions” that came up about which cattle belonged to which rancher.

I’ve never heard of a stock detective. So, of course, I started digging through cattlemen’s association articles, the Anti Horse-Thief Association website (that’s another blog, right there), books and some Oklahoma history publications. Fascinating stuff.

When the problem of cattle rustling grew bigger than a town’s law could handle, ranchers often hired their own enforcers. Retired lawmen, like Retired Special Texas Ranger Augustus Judson Votaw, became livestock inspectors. They had to recognize the dozens of brands at a glance and ensure the men in possession of the stock were actually the legal owners. 

I can already imagine a hero whose job was to ride into danger with nothing but his wits and weapons, can’t you?

Until next time,


Thursday, June 28, 2018


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

Dr George Goodfellow, the famed surgeon to the gunfighters, was an innovator, a scientist, mining engineer, geologist and in his youth, a champion boxer. During his time in Tombstone he performed many post mortem examinations and reported on them, sometimes in straightforward clinical terms and sometimes with a wry sense of humour. His summation after the post mortem examination of a gambler by the name of McIntyre, who had been shot after an argument over the card table is an example of his wit:

'I performed the necessary assessment work and found the body full of lead, but not too badly punctured to hold whiskey."

Dr George Goodfellow

Lead poisoning indeed!

Plumbism and Saturnism
The medical name for lead poisoning is plumbism, from the Latin 'plumbum' for lead. Thus, in chemistry its symbol is Pb. 

Interestingly, it's archaic name is 'saturnism,' because lead was associated with the planet Saturn according to the alchemists. It is the heaviest of the base metals, which the alchemists sought to transmute into gold. 

The alchemist's goal of transmuting lead into gold

Lead poisoning can be devastating an individual. It can affect people of all ages, although children can be highly susceptible, as their organs are still developing. Lead is toxic to virtually every organ of the body and gradual exposure can result in a slow build up within the body.

It can cause acute or chronic poisoning. Acute is due to sudden accumulation and exposure. It can cause vomiting, weakness, tingling, diarrhea and weight loss. 

Chronic poisoning, as the name implies, is slow and takes a long time. It can cause colic, or severe abdominal pains. This is why it was sometimes called 'painter's colic,' as exposure to lead paint could produce it, without the individual being aware of it. It also caused kidney problems and, most alarmingly, profound damage to the brain and nervous system.

The Ancient Romans had an expression, 'as crazy as a painter.' This seems to have come from the erratic behaviour of artists, and it is possible that many had excessive exposure to lead based paints, especially if they sucked or moistened brushes dipped in lead paint. 

The Romans also essentially invented plumbing, again from plumbum, the Latin  word for lead. They used malleable lead piping. So, drinking water that travelled in lead pipes may have been a problem for the Ancient Romans. They also used lead acetate as a sweetener for food and wine, so that could be another source.

Interestingly, an analysis of ancient Roman cook-books finds that many writers, such as Marcus Gabius Apicius, a gourmand who lived in the first century during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, wrote the first great cookbook 'On the Art of Cooking.' He used vast amounts of spices and honey. It is thought that this was to disguise sometimes rancid meat, but also to give taste to the food of people who may have been suffering from chronic lea poisoning. Loss of taste is one of the symptoms of chronic plumbism.

Copy of Apicius' cook-book, 1541

During the middle ages wealthy people ate and drank from glazed earthenware dishes and analysis of skeletal remains in Denmark compared those living in rural areas and compared them with urban dwellers. They found a significantly higher amount of lead in the skeletons of city dwellers. The glaze would contain lead.

The Renaissance artist Caravaggio (1571-1610) is thought to have gone mad and possibly died from lead poisoning. Indeed, analysis of his bones showed that he had significant levels of lead in them, consistent with chronic plumbism.

Salome with the head of john the Baptist, by Carravagio, circa 1610

Caravaggio is a real example of the tortured genius.

Those at risk
Anyone exposed to lead paint, involved in the lead mining industry, or in the making of lead based medication or tonics. Also anyone drinking water from lead piping

The medical literature mentions people who had retained lead bullets in their bodies, could rarely develop lead poisoning.  As writers of western novels you might consider that as a cause of erratic behaviour or memory difficulty. 

Indeed, last year  the Centers for Disease Control and retention, CDC produced a report that suggested if anyone has a retained bullet or bullet fragments, then they could be at risk of lead poisoning effects. Memory loss would be very significant and lead blood levels should be tested and extraction of the lead should be considered. 

If you are interested in reading further, follow the link in one of my replies below!

Symptoms of lead poisoning
As mentioned above, lead poisoning can either acute or chronic.

Acute poisoning
  • Abdominal pain - moderate-to-severe, usually diffuse but may be colicky.
  • Vomiting.
  • Encephalopathy or inflammation of the brain. This would be more common in children, characterized by seizures, mania, delirium and coma, death.
  • Jaundice (due to hepatitis or inflammation of the liver).
  • Lethargy (due to  anemia).
  • Black diarrhea.
Chronic poisoning
  • Mild abdominal pain.
  • Constipation.
  • Weight loss.
  • Aggression.
  • Antisocial behaviour.
  • Headaches.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Foot drop.
  • Wrist drop. 

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Gradually developing paralysis
  • Neuritis.
  • Gout.
  • Increased perspiration and sleep disturbances

The Burton Line
Chronic lead poisoning is associated with a classic blue line on the gums. This is called the Burton Line, named after Dr Henry Burton (1799-1849), and English physician who first described it and deduced it was due to lead poisoning.  A blue line is seen when the lips are pulled back, just at the margin of the gums and the teeth.

I confess to having used lead poisoning in one of my short western crime stories, although I will not say which one!

Dr George Goodfellow (1855-1910)
I began this post with an anecdote about Doctor George Goodfellow. Undoubtedly, the surgeon to the gunfighters was a truly remarkable man. He was a  pioneering surgeon. Throughout his career he established a reputation as the foremost expert on gunshot wounds, as well as being the first surgeon to perform a perineal prostatectomy along with other ‘first’ operations. For example, he improvised and performed brain surgery when it was needed and he rebuilt a friend's nose in an early plastic surgery operation. 

In addition, he wrote and published many medical papers in the journals of the day. His work on the impenetrability of silk would lead to the actual bulletproof vests of the future.

He was also a scientist, an expert in mining and geology. His research into Gila Monsters was published in The Scientific American. And in his youth he had been the boxing champion at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

In March, 1910, while in  Mexico he developed an illness, although the details about it seem to be sketchy. Over several months he became more unwell and was unable to perform surgery.  He developed wrist-drop. It seems that he developed paralysis of both arms, the right worse than the left, as well as generalized weakness. He therefore made his way to Los Angeles to let his brother-in-law investigate and look after him. Apparently, he joked that people would say he was suffering from alcoholic neuritis. He said that "some would say this because they did not like him and others because  they did not know."

His brother-in-law, Dr Charles Fish treated him in Angelus Hospital in Los Angeles for several weeks. Several specialists were consulted, but no agreement was reached on the diagnosis. 

One source suggested that he had developed 'multiple neuritis,' which is a non-specific diagnostic term meaning that several peripheral nerves seem to be affected. It was speculated that it was due to an old attack of beri-beri, that he had suffered from during the Spanish-American War. Nowadays we know that this condition is caused by a deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1. 

He died at 7am on the morning of December 7, 1910, having previously stated that if he could not perform surgery, he had no wish to live. 

Alcoholic neuritis is a possibility, as Doctor Goodfellow himself joked, but so too is chronic lead poisoning. 

I must emphasize that I make no claim that this actually was the cause of his illness or of his death. I have no evidence and have not researched this. I think, however,  that with his wry sense of humour, as described in the anecdote that I started this post with, he may have been amused by the irony of being poisoned by the substance that he had spent a good deal of his life digging out of his patients. 


If you are interested in reading more about medicine and surgery in the frontier days, including the work of Doctor George Goodfellow, then you may find The Doctor's bag useful. It is a collection of my 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

Buy The Dime Novelist