Wednesday, June 20, 2018


What a great question! I came upon this one when I was answering a questionnaire for another blog and thought it would be a fantastic question to expand on all by itself. Because who among us—writers, readers, or both—DOESN’T have a favorite fictional character?

And it changes, doesn’t it? When I was a little girl, I remember being enthralled with stories of the Color Kittens, Pippi Longstocking, and finally Nancy Drew. Later, heroines such as Kit Tyler—Elizabeth George Speare’s unforgettable character in THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND held my interest.

But I also loved the heroes, too—Hugh O’Donnell, THE FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL, and Robin Hood, fighting their way to freedom and justice for the people they served! And of course, I was a western lover even then. I was spellbound by Travis and Arliss, the brothers in Fred Gipson’s OLD YELLER, and the sequel, SAVAGE SAM.

Davy Crockett and Mike Fink were favorites, for a while, with books complete with pictures from the Disney series. I couldn’t find an image of the actual books I had, but I did find this one of the “stamp” book—which I also had!

GONE WITH THE WIND was my first “adult” book and I’d seen that movie, so I was enraptured by Scarlett O’Hara. Even at a young
age, the facets of her personality both on the screen and in the book fascinated me. How could she be “all” bad? She gave up so much to save her family…or did she? I still love to think about what a wonderful character Margaret Mitchell gave us to ponder.

The first romance book I ever read was SWEET SAVAGE LOVE by Rosemary Rogers. I can’t tell you how that book changed my life in so many ways. I had never read a book that made me feel as if I was right there in the main character’s skin like I did with Ginny, the heroine. As soon as I finished that book, I turned around and read it again, and it’s on my keeper shelf to this day.
The hero of that book, Steve Morgan, is as hard as they come. But there is a place in his heart for Ginny that no other can fill, and she feels the same for him. I read this book close to 40 years ago, and those characters are still memorable today.

As far as characters I’ve written…all writers know that is nearly an impossible choice. Of course, the first book you ever wrote probably contains your favorite character(s)—even if that wasn’t the first book you ever published! They are your first loves, the reason you started writing in the first place.

The first book an author publishes holds an unforgettable place in their hearts, as well. Those characters were the ones that people were able to read about, to relate to, and to give the author feedback on.

The current book is one that is full of hopes, dreams, and promise—just like the ones before. Will people love your characters as much as you do, or will it flop?

Then there are the books that are “experiments”—maybe shorter, longer, or a different genre. How did others like those characters…but moreover, how did YOU like the characters you created?

My favorite male character I’ve created is one that was the “star” of my first book—the one that has never seen the light of day. I still have hopes and plans to rework it and get it out there, but it’s LONNNNNG. But Johnny Brandon is a man’s man, and he’s going to have his vengeance no matter what. Still…there’s room for love—though he is an unwilling participant in the beginning. As always, things have a way of working out for the best, but he kept me on my toes the entire time I was working on that manuscript, and he’s utterly unforgettable.

Probably the couple that were “the odd couple” for me were U.S. Deputy Marshal Jaxson McCall and runaway debutante, Callie Buchanan in THE HALF-BREED’S WOMAN. Jax is hired “on the side” to go after Callie who has run away from her stepfather, a prominent socialite in Washington, D.C. She is headed west, into his familiar territory. He tracks her easily enough, but when he catches up with her, he realizes that his instincts were right—there’s something terribly wrong with her stepfather’s “worry” about her disappearance. Their relationship becomes something neither of them expected, and when Callie’s stepfather comes after them both, Jax realizes he’s got to pull out all the stops to keep Callie safe from the man who is evil to the core.

But Callie has lost so much in her life, she’s determined she’s not going to lose Jax—or her life. She surprised me several times, and I loved the way she grew as a character and found her own strength and bravery as time went by.
What’s your favorite fictional character you’ve read, or one you’ve created?

Here's the buy link at AMAZON for THE HALF-BREED'S WOMAN!

Here's an excerpt from THE HALF-BREED'S WOMAN:

The set up: U.S. Deputy Marshal Jaxson McCall has tracked down debutante Callie Buchanan in her flight across the country to get away from her powerful stepfather. Now, because of an overzealous cavalry commander, they have been forced to marry to save Callie’s reputation and Captain Tolbert’s military career from question. It’s their wedding night, but Jax is still uncertain that he’s the best thing for Callie—he wants her to have choices, not something forced on her. But Callie knows what she wants…in her heart, she will forever be THE HALF-BREED’S WOMAN…

Jesus. A king’s ransom in rubies. But more important, the love of the woman kneeling beside him, offering him, truly, the only valuable she had left. The only thing that stood between her and destitution. She was handing him her future, and he held it in his hands, glittering in the lamplight.

“Callie.” His voice was husky, rough, but infinitely tender. “You trust me so much, sweetheart? This is everything you own, isn’t it?”

As Callie lay her head beside him, Jax laced his hands through her hair, thoughtfully fingering the silken mass of burnished copper. She nodded, not answering.

“Think long and hard about what you’re saying, Callie. I’m…not your only choice. Once we’re out of here, we can get this marriage annulled—if you want—”

Her head came up swiftly. “Is that what you want, Jaxson? Truly? To walk away and pretend we never knew each other, never made love together—”

“Shh, no, baby, it’s not what I want.” He put a roughened finger against her lips.

“Then, what? Is it the idea of marriage itself that repels you—or marriage to me?”

“Dammit, Callie, you’re young, you’re beautiful—educated—”

“A fugitive.”

“We’ll get that set straight, sweetheart, and then your whole life will be open to all kinds of possibilities—not just marriage to a—a half-breed U.S. deputy marshal, for God’s sake!”

“I happen to be in love with a half-breed U.S. deputy marshal! One that I want to spend my life with! Remember, Jax? Remember? ‘Laugh with me, love with me, have babies with me—’ Remember?” She moistened her lips, her voice carrying the husky edge of tears, her emotions raw.

Roughly, with a muttered curse, he dropped the case on the bed and pulled her to him. He held her tightly as she scrambled to move herself away from him. He speared his fingers through her soft, tumbling hair, loving the feel of it against his fingertips and across the bare skin of his neck and shoulder.

“Jax! Stop it! I don’t want to hurt—”

“You aren’t going to hurt me, Callie. Not like you mean. Physical pain, I can deal with. Emotional pain, that’s a little harder.” He pulled her back against him, but she resisted, turning her head as he tried to kiss her. He shifted to his left side, throwing a bare leg across her, forcing her head around to look at him.

“Can I trust you, Callie?” His eyes were hot, burning into hers. “If I give you my heart, can I trust you?”

“Jax—” Callie murmured, stopping her thrashing at the hoarse, raw emotion in his voice, the intensity in his eyes. He held her arms tightly in his hands. “I will never, hurt you, Jaxson. Never.” Their lips were only a hairsbreadth apart, her voice a soft whisper, gliding across his skin. “I love you, Jax.” She moistened her lips. “I love y-”

His lips slanted across hers, cutting off the rest of her words. She opened her mouth for him, and his tongue entered her in a promise of what he planned to do to her body in a few short minutes. Boldly, she touched his tongue with hers, and his fingers tensed against her scalp. He had turned until his body almost completely covered hers, pinning her beneath him. Finally, he lifted his head. “I’ll never let you go, girl. That’s one thing you better know. If we make love tonight, you’re mine, Callie. Forever.”

Friday, June 15, 2018

Western Fictioneers Announces the 8th Annual Peacemaker Award Winners

(For Westerns Published in 2017)


GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE by Howard Weinstein (Five Star Publishing)

THE BLOODLETTING, Greg Barth (Greg Barth)
EL RENO, Kevin L. Evans (Kevin L. Evans)
COYOTE COURAGE, Scott Harris (Scott Harris)
THE OPEN ROAD, M.M. Holaday (Five Star Publishing)

THE PECOS UNDERTAKER by Mel Odom writing as Colby Jackson (Mel Odom)

BILL RILEY’S HEAD, Douglas Hirt (Five Star Publishing)
OUT OF THE DARKNESS, Robert D. McKee (Five Star Publishing)
HARD TO QUIT, Mark Mitten (Milford House Press)
DESTINY AT DRY CAMP, John D. Nesbitt (Five Star Publishing)

STRANDED by Matthew P. Mayo (Five Star Publishing) 

WEST FROM THE CRADLE, Brigid Amos (Clean Reads)
A RANGER RETURNS, James J. Griffin (Painted Pony Books)
THE CRY NOT HEARD, Cliff Hudgins (Wolfpack Publishing)
CLOAKED, Rachel Kovaciny (White Rook Press)


(tie) “The Armadillo’s Hole Saloon” by Mel Odom writing as Colby Jackson (Mel Odom), and “Train Robbery” by Mel Odom (BASS REEVES, FRONTIER MARSHAL, VOLUME 2, Airship 27 Productions)

“Tibby’s Hideout” by Frank Kelso (THE POSSE, Intellect Publishing, LLC)
“Firewater” by Olivia Norem (Olivia Norem)
“The Society of the Friends of Lester McGurk” by Richard Prosch (BEST OF THE WEST, Sundown Press)

Western Fictioneers would like to thank the judges for the excellent job they did and the long hours they devoted to reading the submissions.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Remembering the John Wayne of my childhood by Kaye Spencer #johnwayne #westernfictioneers #oldwest

(1) John Wayne: May 26, 1907 to June 11, 1979

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, John Wayne was an important part of my life. His name was synonymous with cowboys, the Old West, and America. He WAS the Old West. He was my superhero before I knew what that word meant. I idolized him whether he played a gunfighter (Stagecoach), a sheriff who faced down the bad guys (Rio Bravo, El Dorado), an almost villain (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers), or a gold prospecting, reluctant groom (North to Alaska).

He was ‘a man’s man’ from his walk to his talk. You knew where you stood with him. He was straight-forward, self-sufficient, rugged, and dependable. His signature steely-eyed expression when his eyes narrowed to slits with the warning he’d taken all he was going to take would send me scooting to the edge of my seat in anticipation of the bad guys getting what was coming to them.

As Rooster Cogburn, he metaphorically tackled Hell with a bucket of ice water when he clamped the bridle reins between his teeth and took off down that mountain slope rifle in one hand and a six-shooter in the other. What an iconic scene. (True Grit)

When Big Jake came to my hometown theater, I took my then five-year-old brother to see it. He loved it so much we went back every day for the week it played.

The night my mom took us to the drive-in to see Hatari!, my dad couldn’t go with us, because one of our cantankerous Angus cows was in the corn field and he was out chasing her around on a little Ford tractor to get her back where she belonged. The irony of the plot of the movie and my dad with his tractor that night still gives me a chuckle.
(2) One of the many cover versions for the dvd

Back then, I didn’t know what onscreen chemistry meant. I just knew that John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara were the greatest movie couple. I was convinced they were married. You can imagine my shock and disappointment when I learned this wasn't the case. They were so perfect together, that this crushing reality was inconceivable to my 10 (ish)-year-old mind. When I was a little older, though, I wasn't quite so disappointed they weren't married, because I had a teenage crush on him when I better appreciated his masculine appeal.

(3) The Quiet Man

But age and experience changes a person’s perspective. When I re-watch McLintock! or The Quiet Man I cringe at the way the male/female relationships were portrayed. I also struggle with Hatari!, although I loved this movie when my child’s eyes saw it simply as an exciting cowboy adventure in Africa. The romance between John Wayne’s and Elsa Martinelli’s characters was so much fun. But as an adult, the running down and capturing wild animals to relocate them to zoos is problematic for me.

Still, I occasionally watch these movies, because I remind myself I shouldn’t judge movies (or books for that matter) by contemporary standards, expectations, and mores. They are to be taken for the entertainment they provide and for the glimpse at a different historical and cultural time period and what I can learn from it.

It would be easy to reminisce about all of the John Wayne movies that have stayed with me through the years and also talk about how his characters influenced, in some way, every male protagonist I write: The Sons of Katie Elder, The War Wagon, Hondo, Three Godfathers, The Comancheros, Alamo

(4) Rio Bravo
But I won’t. Instead, I’ll end with a scene from my favorite of his movies, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

On this 39th anniversary of his death, what are your memories of John Wayne?

Until next month,

Kaye Spencer

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Image References:
(1) 20th Century Fox, John Wayne - 1961, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons.2018.06-09.

(2) Hatari! (from Kaye Spencer’s movie collection)
(3) The Quiet Man movie still. Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne.  Saved by Mary Kate Knoll. 2018.06-09.
(4) Howard_Hawks' Rio_Bravo_trailer_(26).jpg: Trailer screenshot derivative work: Liorek (talk), John Wayne portrait, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons. 2018.06-09

Friday, June 8, 2018

Bears of the American West

There are two species of bear found in the American West. Both species would have been very common when your characters were roaming the wilds (and not-so-wilds).

The black bear (Ursus americanus) is the most common bear in North America, found in 40 of the 50 states. If you see a bear, this is the one you’re probably looking at. Black bears can actually be many colors, from true black to dark brown, cinnamon, and even white. They might be smaller than a grizzly – but then again, they might not. Male black bears can reach up to 800 pounds in the Fall.

Black bears have a distinctive “Roman” nose profile, with the snout curving slightly downward toward the nose. They have larger, taller ears than a grizzly, and they lack the shoulder hump that the latter animal shows. Their claws are also smaller.

Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) are also known as brown bears and are currently found only in the states of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington (as well as the wilder portions of Canada’s British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and Northwest territories). 

Grizzlies have a pronounced shoulder hump, smaller ears and a dished or concave snout. They also have larger claws than the black bear.

Bears are highly evolved, social animals with an intelligence similar to that of the great apes. They often share resources with one another, and form hierarchies with structured kinship relationships. They are highly predictable animals (despite what Hollywood would have us believe) and your character could easily survive a “close encounter” if he or she kept their wits about them.

Bears depend on their acute sense of smell for information about the world around them. They have a well-developed social structure that depends on scent markings. Their sense of hearing is also quite developed and, like dogs, they hear higher frequencies than humans can.

Bears can see in color and their vision is similar to our own. 

Bears are also fast. They can run more than 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour), faster than an Olympic sprinter. In fact, a bear could outdistance a race horse over a short distance, but it has little endurance. 

They are very strong animals. Bears have been known to bend open car doors and pry off car windshields in their search for food. They routinely turn over large rocks and logs in search of food, and a grizzly’s large claws help it to dig for roots, bulbs and rodents (as well as to dig large dens in the mountainsides).

So what about that predictable bear behavior? Bears, like humans, have a “personal space” that it is unwise to violate. Unfortunately, the size of that personal space varies between bear species and individual. The best way to treat a bear is to stay as far away as you can.

However, bears are curious animals. They will inspect odors, noises and objects to see if they might be edible or “playable.” A bear on its hind legs is trying to investigate its surroundings, not getting ready to charge. They can see and hear better when they stand up that way.

If your character ventures too close to a bear and decides to climb a tree, remember that black bears are excellent climbers. In fact, one of a black bear’s first lines of retreat is up a tree, especially if it is a young bear. Grizzlies evolved in a more treeless habitat, so their first response to danger is to become aggressive, especially if you’re facing a sow with her cubs.

While bears are usually more active from dawn to dusk, in some populated areas the bears have become more nocturnal to avoid running into those pesky humans as much. They can actually be seen at virtually any time of day. They are also not territorial, however. This means that bears won’t drive other bears away from “their” hunting range. This mutual use of land and resources forms a basis for bear social behavior.

Bears can be very social, though they don’t live in packs or groups like wolves or primates. They can coexist in close proximity to one another and form alliances and friendships. Some older bears have been seen to “mentor” younger, unrelated bears and sub-adult bears often hang around in pairs or small groups. They have a dominance hierarchy based on age, size and temperament. Mature males are at the top of the hierarchy and cubs and sub-adults are at the bottom. Bears establish and maintain their social standing by aggressive behavior toward one another, but once dominance has been shown, they can become friendly with one another within the hierarchy.

Bears can become accustomed to things very easily. This means they get used to humans being around and no longer see us as a threat. This can be startling to a human wandering down a game trail looking for dinner, or picking berries in the woods. However, bears also have a “startle” response with new objects. They initially flee from something unfamiliar, but often return to investigate it more closely. This should not be seen as an aggressive behavior, but as curiosity. 

Finally, remember that bears, like humans, are not always as aware of their surroundings as they should be. A bear on the trail of something yummy might literally not be paying attention to anything beyond their nose. Surrounding noises like running water or rushing wind might cover up the soft footsteps of your hero or heroine, resulting in a surprise meeting. Hopefully your character knows enough about bear behavior to survive.

J.E.S. Hays

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Home Tiny Home

Tiny homes. It’s the latest craze to hit the housing industry--though families have been kiting around the country in “mobile homes” since the pioneer days. 

A recent family discussion about the need for growing boys to have their own bedroom reminded me of a recent trip with my dh to explore and photograph an ancestral cabin in northern Arkansas.

James Garfield Finis & Phoebe Trimble built their first cabin on their farmland in Izard County, near Dolph, Arkansas, in 1815-1816. The exterior of the cabin measure 20x20’—so the inside would be 19x19’--and they raised ten (yes, TEN) children in the space.

The cabin is built without nails, the boards dovetailed to stay put and the cracks stuffed full of chinking. The cabin in these pictures is actually the second one built, though they made it exactly the same size. Don’t ask me why. 

The main floor had the single fireplace, a table used for dining, repairs, school work, cooking, sewing…  A spinning wheel probably held a permanent place near a window, too, as might a desk, a piano or a rocking chair. 

Mr. & Mrs. Trimble probably had their bed in a corner of the room, too, away from the fireplace and windows. And up those stairs in the back of the room was the loft, where all of the children would sleep. No kid had their own room in this cabin! In fact, looking at it, I had to wonder how on earth they managed to find the privacy to conceive ten kids in there.

In my novel, TEXAS GOLD, my heroine lives in a cabin about the size of the Trimble cabin. When the hero literally trips over it, the cabin is inhabited by Rachel, her brother Nathan, and a goat and a few chickens are sheltering inside against a freak snow storm.


Where am I? Jake lay still and took stock of his surroundings. He was definitely inside a structure. Though the air was ripe with the scent of animals, he didn’t think he was in a barn.

Something lay across his body, holding him in place. He listened for the sounds of people, footsteps, whispered words. Nothing. The silence was broken only by the shifting of a log in the fire. If anyone stood watch, he couldn’t hear them.

Taking care not to give away the fact he was awake, he opened his eyes a slit. He could see out of the right one, but the left eye was blurry and swollen nearly shut, thanks to a lucky punch from that murdering pack of thieves that jumped him.

How had he gotten here? The last thing he remembered was dragging himself through a raging blizzard after Harrison and his men had beaten the holy hell out of him. Now the scents of animals, wood smoke, and lavender surrounded him.

Glancing down, he found the source of the lavender. A woman lay stretched out on top of him. Silky blond hair the color of the summer sun ran in a river across her shoulder and onto his bare chest. Her forehead was smooth and she had a small nose that turned up a little at the end. Long lashes a little darker than her hair fanned across the milky skin of her cheeks. In spite of his battered body, he had a sudden strong desire to taste that skin.

He shook his head to clear it and bit back a curse as the movement shot pain through his skull. In a rush, the memories of the previous day returned. And so did the agony. Besides his head and face, they must have landed a few boots to his ribs. His side burned like hell-on-fire.

Taking shallow breaths to ease the pain, he looked around. The rising sun glowed around the edges of the window shutters. He couldn’t see a guard, but he hadn’t really expected to find one. If Harrison was around, a half-dozen guns would have finished the job they’d started last night.

He turned his head a little to one side and located the source of the smoke. A poorly built red-stone chimney staggered in drunken lines all the way to the whitewashed ceiling. Whoever had built it must have been working his way through a jug of moonshine at the same time. The floor was probably plank since he didn’t smell dust, but all he felt beneath his fingers was wool and the give of a straw mattress.

He rolled his head to the other side, stretching aching muscles. The room wasn’t large, but it was well kept. There was a curtained doorway behind him and stairs in the far corner led to an attic or second floor. Plenty of places for someone to hide. He’d check them out, as soon as he could coax his battered body to move.

A sturdy rocker was pulled up close to the warmth of the fire. There weren’t any fancy things lying around. A small plank table with benches down both sides separated the kitchen from this side of the room, but the table was bare except for a couple of books and a guttered candle. Nothing to give a hint of where he was or who’d taken him in.

He looked to the other side of the room and blinked his good eye to clear his vision. It didn’t help. In the far corner, he thought he saw two goats, four chickens in dilapidated cages, and his horse. There were animals inside the house.

Where was he? If Harrison or his men had found him, he’d be toes down in the snow. He must have stumbled on this place and whoever lived here had taken him in. By the feel of it, he’d been stripped down to what God gave him. His gaze returned to the woman lying across him.

A smile curved one corner of his mouth. Wherever here was, he liked the company. He reached for her, but his left arm wouldn’t move. Concerned, he tried again. If he could only draw one weapon, he needed to know. Of course, since he was stark naked on the floor, it didn’t matter a whole hell of a lot at the moment.

Giving up, he used only his right hand. Careful not to wake her, Jake searched for more of her softness and found cotton. She had a sweetly feminine shape buried under layers of cloth. Running his hand down the silken hair, he found her rounded bottom exactly where he’d hoped. He pressed her center to his rapidly hardening one, and couldn’t resist shifting his hips a little.

The groan of pain slipped out before he could stop it. Everything hurt, even his skin. A tiny sound brought his gaze back to the woman. Brilliant blue, the color of a clear mountain lake reflecting the sky, stared back at him.

TEXAS GOLD ~ Available now from Amazon

Saturday, June 2, 2018


Most people like ghost stories. I’m guessing among those reading this post are some who have their own ghost stories to tell. I’ve probably encountered a ghost or two without knowing it. In fact, a long time ago I experienced what I thought was a ghostly sighting—or something unexplainable...

Sheets of rain slammed against the windshield making driving difficult and treacherous while I navigated the narrow back roads of southwestern England. I had been trying to find refuge on what had been a sunny day turned gray and gloomy by heavy dark clouds. Between the hypnotic schwump shwump schwump shwump of the windshield wipers, I spotted the glow of stained glass off to my right and turned into the parking lot of a church.

Despite the heavy downpour, I grabbed my travel day bag, left the car, and ran to the front door and went in. I sat in the back alone and saw no one else. The church was small and quiet. Ten rows of pews bordered each side of the aisle.

 Minutes later, I took my camera out snapped a few photos of the altar and stained glass windows. Days later, I had the film developed (yep, way back then). When I reviewed them, one stopped me cold.

(Cue opening theme music from The Twilight Zone)

In front of the altar, an amorphous, somewhat transparent image, looked as if it was floating above the communion rail. Only one of the photographs revealed the apparition. 

I slipped the photograph into an envelope and carried it around with my other belongings during various relocations over the years. After I became a reporter, I was assigned to write a story on the paranormal and retrieved the yellowing envelope. The altar appeared as I remembered it.

The ghostly image, however, was gone. 
Like ghosts often do. 

Ghost stories aren’t confined to any particular time period. People have shared them for years—at least the ones willing to confront skeptical listeners. The Old West was no different. Phantoms and legends and ghosts populated the frontier as much as any other time in history. Ghost towns, ghost camels, ghost trails. And, I’ve posted blogs about a few of these incidents.

Click here to read about the Ship of Death.

Click here to read about The Ghost of White Woman Creek

Click here to read about the Dance of Death

One of my favorite ghost story of the Old West is The Legend of El Muerto: The Dead One.

This story features a large black mustang that thundered across the brush country of south Texas holding a headless rider, upright and rigid, with a sombrero rocking back and forth on the saddle pommel. The cowboys who witnessed the ride of this headless horseman knew instinctively that the broad-brimmed hat covered the head that once belonged to the body.

The animal would often slow to a canter, buck, and stomp and snort before a gathering of stunned cowhands. Head lowered, it would rise up, give a mournful whinny and gallop away, horse and rider outlined against a bluish-gray sky.

The 19th-century legend of the headless horseman of South Texas dates back to the 1850s when a notorious Mexican bandit named Vidal began stealing horses from a rancher by the name of Creed Taylor, a Texas Ranger.

Vidal and his gang also stole horses from a Mexican rancher by the name of Flores, a neighbor of Taylor's. The two men decided to recruit a third and pursue the horse thieves to enforce justice in a way never to be forgotten.

William Bigfoot Wallace, also a Texas Ranger, despised horse thieves and wasn't about to pass up the chance for retribution. After the trio discovered Vidal's camp, they waited until nightfall and launched a surprise raid, killing Vidal and the rest of the gang.

But, as someone once said, vengeance knows no bounds. Wallace wanted to make an example of Vidal and send a clear and chilling warning that livestock rustlers would face harshest of consequences. 

Working together, Wallace and his companions severed Vidal's head from his body. They selected the wildest mustang amid the ranks of the stolen horses, tied it between two trees to steady it, and slung a saddle across its back.

They placed Vidal's headless body in the saddle, roped in a way to make it sit upright. The trio then lashed the bandit's hands to the saddle horn and legs to the stirrups. For the last step, they wrapped a length of rawhide through the jaws of the severed head and tied it to the saddle, the sombrero still atop his head.

They cut the ropes and released the mustang, sending it galloping into the land of legend and lore. The gruesome display seemed to resonate, and the number of horse stealing and cattle rustling attempts decreased. Taylor, Wallace, and Flores shared a laugh whenever they heard stories of a wild horse crisscrossing the Texas hills carrying a headless rider.

A group of cowboys finally corralled the mustang at a watering hole near Bent Bolt, Texas, and found the corpse riddled with dozens of bullet holes and arrow wounds. Beneath the sombrero was a small skull, dried up from too long in the unforgiving Texas sun.

Vidal's body lies in a small cemetery on the La Trinidad Ranch in Ben Bolt. The burial, however, didn't end the sightings—at least not for a while. In fact, people still tell stories of spotting a headless horseman racing across the South Texas plains on an untamed black mustang.

Got a ghost story of your own? 

You're invited to share it below. 



Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Are you an expert in your field?

You may not think so, however, others may disagree with you.

I checked Webster. Expert: one who is very skillful or well-informed in some special field.

I then borrowed, in part, from Wikipedia: An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique, or skill, whose facility for judging or deciding rightly, is accorded authority in a particular field of study.

What they are saying, in short, is that some achieve expert status academically or through service, sometimes lifelong, in a chosen field.

Recently, a down-the-street neighbor and another gentleman stopped me out by my gate.

“Are you that mushroom guru?” he asked.

In an attempt to be friendly but humble, I answered, “Well, I know a little about some mushrooms but mostly just about the ones that pay money.” That part was true.

Why be so humble one might ask? Hey, for those in the know, there are over 3000 varieties of mushrooms that grow within the North American continent. I have learned, through extensive research and fielding, about quite a few with an emphasis on those that can be sold to dealers.

What the neighbor was referring to was the fact that I wrote my first book, titled Matsutake Mushroom, published by Naturegraph publishers in 1997. The name of the book is deceptive because, though it is about Matsutake mushrooms, the story I wrote is about harvesting, selling and buying a very perishable product at unheard of high prices in a capricious market. Generally, $16.00 a pound--average--is the going rate paid to pickers, whom are mostly locals or large numbers of itinerant, out of the area, predominately Asian pickers.

Some said it was a modern-day gold rush, a race for the riches. The story tells of the radical pricing of over $200.00 per pound offered to pickers in the 1994 annual harvest, and the race to capitalize while the season lasted.
I won’t go into specifics, what the heck, that would be retelling of the story.

Most people never heard of Matsutake mushrooms, which is harvested, in volume, from mostly national forest lands in the Pacific northwestern U.S., in the fall of each year, for export to Japan.

I learned of the practice back in 1993, then I spent that four-month season and the following year’s season harvesting, selling and eventually operating as a buyer, for the Matsutake. I kept a journal, then later wrote the book about my experiences.

In a review for Mushroom, The Journal of Wild Mushroom, a critic wrote, “Writing books may pay better than toiling up steep hill sides to find mushrooms but I had to pay my dues first.” Whatever that meant.

I never professed to know that much about mushrooms. The scientific qualities of the Matsutake, I leave up to mycology professors such as David Arora, author of All That The Rain Promises and More.

Twenty-one years later, my book still sells a few copies each year.

I never thought of myself as an expert on anything; just as others have often referred to themselves--a jack of all trades, master of none.

I will admit to the fact that I do have more knowledge on mushrooms than most folks, and in particular, about Matsutake mushrooms, so if some folks want to call me an authority or expert on the subject, then I am okay with that and appreciative.

How about you? Do you know more about a given subject than several others combined? If so, you are most likely considered to be an expert.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


Once again, it’s time to stuff the saddlebags, shine up your boots and point your trusty cow pony toward the Great Southwest for the 2018 WESTERN FICTIONEERS CONVENTION! We’re headed “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain,” to the town known as “The Big Friendly.” That would be Oklahoma City!

It’s been THREE YEARS since the Western Fictioneers inaugural convention and it’s high time for another gathering. You’ll enjoy catching up with old pals and making new ones, not to mention joining fascinating discussions led by some of western literature’s most respected authors and historians.

We’ll hang our hats at the BEST WESTERN SADDLEBACK INN, conveniently located near Interstate 40, visit the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and feast on fine chuck wagon-style meals.

More details on the schedule will be released as they are finalized. But . . . you can get yourself registered for this incredible event and reserve your hotel room NOW!


SEPTEMBER 14-16, 2018


4300 SW 3rd STREET 


You may reserve rooms at our special convention rate by calling BEST WESTERN SADDLEBACK INN at 800-228-3903. Be sure to mention that you are with WESTERN FICTIONEERS.

REGISTRATION includes admission to all discussions and panels, Friday and Saturday night banquets, and a group ticket to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

                                          Through 7/15   After 7/15
WF Member Individual          $125             $150
WF Member + Spouse Pkg.    $225             $275
Non-member Individual          $150             $175
Non-member + Spouse Pkg.    $250             $275
(Single day attendance is $80)

First, visit the Western Fictioneers WEBSITE and fill out a registration form. There are TWO WAYS to pay registration fees.

1. ONLINE VIA PAYPAL (choose “Send Money” option and enter this email address: (Account is named "Great Planet Enterprises")

2. MAIL CHECK PAYABLE TO: Great Planet Enterprises  P.O. Box 59463   Nashville, TN 37205

You’ll be hearing more about the convention between now and September. For now, RESERVE your room and REGISTER for a special time for informative discussion, food and fun, and camaraderie with some of Western literature’s greats. Oklahoma City, here we come!

See you there, saddle pals!

Thursday, May 24, 2018


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

It is a dangerous business being a character in a western novel. You can get shot at, tossed off a horse, hurled through a saloon window or be pushed over a ravine. You have seen it on the movies, read it in the novels or written about it yourself. Any of them can have fatal consequences, but more often than not in this fictional world that we love so much the result is a broken bone somewhere. And then the Doc comes along just in time to hear that speculative diagnosis - "I think it's busted, Doc!"

Aiding a comrade by Frederic Remington

And of course, an examination reveals all, a splint is manufactured, a snort of whiskey or a dose or two of laudanum and "You'll be up and about in no time at all."

But in real life it is often more complex than that.

The birth of orthopaedics
We know that doctors have been setting bones since the days of the ancient Egyptians. We have surgical papyri outlining treatments and mummies have been found with splints made of bamboo, reeds, wood or bark, padded with linen.

The roman physician Galen (129-199 AD) treated gladiators and recorded his treatments in his medical and surgical encyclopedias. His treatments were used as the basis for treatments all the way up the the Renaissance.

The name orthopaedics was first used in 1741 in France, when Nicholas Andry, a professor of medicine at the University of Paris coined it from the Green words 'orthos,' meaning 'bone' and 'paideia' meaning 'rearing of children'. His book Orthop├ędie was about the prevention and correction of musculoskeletal deformities in children. There was a real need for this since there were many diseases that could cause problems like scoliosis (curvature of the spine), abnormalities in the growth of bones (e.g., tuberculosis), various infections (osteomyelitis), vitamin disorders (e.g. vitamin D deficiency causing rickets or bowed legs), and conditions that could cause paralysis, such as poliomyelitis.

So, the specialty of orthopaedics was originally all about treating children to prevent problems. The treatment of fractures became added along the way.

The frontispiece for his book showed a sapling supported by a staff. This has been taken as the logo of orthopaedic institutions and organizations across the world ever since.

In   Jean-Andre Venel established the first orthopaedic institute in 1781 for the treatment of children.

Splints and supports
As mentioned above, splints of various forms have been used from the times of antiquity. The purpose of them is simply to support the leg and prevent movement of the broken ends of the broken bone.

In medieval times surgeons knew that fractures bones had to be kept in place. One method of doing this was to soak bandages in horses' urine. As the bandage dried it would stiffen into a splint.

                  The Hodgen splint was invented in 1863 by John T Hodgen, a surgeon from St Louis. It was a suspension leg splint for fractures of the middle or lower femur.

Plaster of Paris casts
This was a fantastic addition to the surgeon's armamentarium of treatments. It was the invention of Antonius Mathijsen, a Dutch military surgeon in 1851. Essentially, a continuous bandage is wound round and round the limb then soaked in Plaster of Paris. It is called this because it was first used extensively in Paris in medicine and in building.


Essentially, it is made from gypsum, which is heated to produce anhydrous calcium sulphate. When water is added to this it forms gypsum again and hardens.  Hardening takes place very quickly, but it has to dry out. The larger the cast, the longer it takes. An arm cast will dry out in 3-6 hours and a leg cast may take up to 6 hours.Yet full drying may not be complete for 72 hours.
                  Nikolai Pirogov is credited as the first surgeon to use them to treat casualties in the Crimean War in the1850s, so of course, Dr Logan Munro was aware of the method and would use it in his practice in Wolf Creek!

Diagnosis of fractures
Nowadays we are very dependent on x-rays, but in the old West there was no such thing. William Roentgen discovered them in 1895. Only a year later, Dr John Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England started to use the so-called X-rays in medical diagnosis.

In the Old West doctors relied on physical examination to diagnose fractures. Then, and now fractures would be divided into two broad types:

Closed or simple fractures - when the skin is intact.
Open or compound fractures - when the broken bone protrudes through the skin.

The type of fracture can vary immensely. We talk about a 'clean break' meaning a simple transverse fracture. But it can also be oblique, as can happen with a torsion or twisting  injury. Or it can be comminuted, meaning fragmented. It can be complicated by causing blood vessel or nerve damage. And it can be a 'greenstick' (as happens in youngsters, when a bone gets bent and only partially fractures).

The principles of treatment of fractures was relatively simple then. If moving the part of the body distal to (furthest away from the site of the pain) caused extreme pain or if  grating could be felt, then a fracture would be diagnosed. 

The bone had to be set. That is, the limb had to be stretched in order to make sure it was the same length as the other. This would give the best chance to get the two broken ends in position against one another to allow healing to take place.

Without the use of x-rays it is very likely that all manner of injuries would end up being diagnosed as a fracture. The treatment would involve immobilizing the part and hopefully, the injured part would just 'knit together' and be whole again after a few weeks. Remember, that nature actually does the healing, not the doctor, surgeon or nurse. All that they do is create the best circumstances for nature to do its job.

And of course if the 'broken bone' healed up all right, it would bring nothing but kudos to the doctor, whether it actually had been a fracture or not.

Bone healing
What actually happens when the bone ends are back in opposition is that a large haematoma, or blood clot forms around the ends. This is rather like jelly. After a few days blood vessels grow into it and cells called phagocytes start digesting any debris and tissue that won't heal. Then other cells called fibroblasts start to lay down collagen, that forms a framework around the bone ends. This secures the  one ends and new bone is laid down. As a rule of thumb, most bones will have knitted in about 6 weeks.

Some fractures worth knowing about
There are lots of different fractures, many of which are named after the doctors or surgeons who first described them. Some of the ones which our western doctors would have known about are as follows:

Colles fracture
A fracture of the distal radius one inch (2.5 cm) above the wrist. It was described by Abraham Colles an Irish professor of anatomy in 1814. It is sustained by falling on the outstretched hand as when you try to break your fall. The problem is that the broken bone gets displaced and causes a dinner-form abnormality if it is not replaced in posit and immobilized. It takes 4- 6 weeks to heal. 

Smith's fracture
By contrast, a Smith's fracture, also known as a Groyland-Smith fracture is a 'reverse' Colles fracture. It was described by the Irish orthopaedic surgeon Robert Smith in his 1847 book,  Treatise on Fractures in the Vicinity of Joints, and on certain forms of Accidents and Congenital Dislocations.  

 It is a fracture  of the distal (bottommost) part of the radius, caused by a blow to the back of the forearm, or a fall on the flex wrist. 

Thus, a Colles fracture is an extension injury and the Smith's fracture is a flexion injury. 

Bennett's fracture 
This is one that could occur in saloon brawls, or whenever a really hard surface was punched. If you swing at someone and they duck, causing you to punch the wall, you may end up with a Bennett's fracture.
Bennett's fracture

It can also occur if someone punches someone else's skull! It is a fracture of the first metacarpal, the big bone at the base of the thumb. It is also common in people who have never learned how to punch correctly - which is most people! It was described by Edward Hallaran Bennett, professor of surgery at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland in 1882. It needs immobilization of for 4-6 weeks.

Scaphoid fracture
This is not named after anyone, but is the name of one of the bones of the wrist. It also occurs when you try to break your fall. It causes pain in the 'anatomical snuffbox.'  This is an area at the base of the thumb. It is called this because in days of yore when folk took snuff, they placed a pinch in the little depression on the back of the wrist formed when you elevate the thumb perpendicular to the hand. 

The anatomical snuffbox outlined

The problem with this fracture is that the scaphoid has a variable blood supply and in many people the blood supply comes distally. That is, blood vessels do a U-turn to supply the bone from its far end. If they do not also have a blood supply going directly into the base of the bone (that is, from the top and bottom) then non-union of the bone can occur and the piece without the blood supply can die.

Monteggia fracture
This is a fracture of the proximal third of the ulna (the larger bone in the forearm) with dislocation of the head of the radius (the smaller bone). It was named after Giovanni Monteggi, (1762-1815) an Italian professor of anatomy and surgery. It occurs with a fall and a twist. 

Monteggia fracture, by Jane Agnes

It is a difficult one to treat because the breaks and the two bones are hard to get in the right positions.  Nowadays it may necessitate operation.

Clavicle fracture
The collar bone is commonly injured in contact sports and fights. A direct blow to the upper chest can  fracture it, most usually at the junction between the middle and outer thirds. They heal up very well generally. We used to use figure of eight bandages and a sling, but really they generally just heal without any intervention.

Fracture of neck of femur
The femur is the thighbone. The two main parts are the neck of the femur, where it forms the hip joint and the shaft, the main part of the thigh.  This is the sort of fracture that happens in older people who may have osteoporosis, or thinning of the bone. This is nowadays treated by internal reduction and fixation. It is probably not going to occur to your hero or heroine in the western novel, but could to another character. It classically causes a great deal of pain after a fall or twist, and the leg will show external rotation due to the weight of the limb.

Fracture of the shaft of the femur
This can occur with any large trauma, either directly from a blow or from a fall. Depending upon which part of the shaft is affected the muscles will move the two parts ion different directions. The first aid treatment would be to strap the two legs together, so that the good leg acts as a splint.

Skull fracture
The big thing here is the possibility of a hemorrhage inside the skull or into the brain. In terms of the novel, the big question would be whether to trephine or not. That is, whether to make a hole in the skull to release blood.

This just happens to be one of the questions that Doc Logan Munro is forced to consider in Wolf Creek 8: Night of the Assassins. But you will find no spoilers here!


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 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

The Dime Novelist