Monday, August 20, 2018

Western Fictioneers Presents — THE UNTAMED WEST (A Classic Western Anthology With 29 Stories)

A collection of twenty-nine tales of the Old West featuring previously unpublished stories by such classic Western writers as James Reasoner, Douglas Hirt, McKendree Long, and Michael R. Ritt. Edited by award winning author, L. J. Washburn. Western Fictioneers is the only writers’ organization devoted solely to traditional Western fiction, and this huge collection will take readers from the dusty plains of Texas to the sweeping vistas of Montana and beyond.

Western Fictioneers was founded in 2010 to promote the oldest genuine American art form, the Western story. Its worldwide membership includes best-selling, award-winning authors of Western fiction, as well as the brightest up-and-coming new stars in the Western field. The organization*s third anthology features original stories by Big Jim Williams, Easy Jackson, Jeffrey J. Mariotte, McKendree Long, Michael R. Ritt, S. D. Parker, James Reasoner, J. L. Guin, J.E.S. Hays, James J. Griffin, Jesse J Elliot, Ben Goheen, Barbara Shepherd, Nik Morton, S. L. Matthews, James Clay, Keith Souter, Tom Rizzo, Matthew P. Mayo, Dorothy A. Bell, L.J. Washburn, Angela Raines, Gordon L. Rottman, Charlie Steel, Douglas Hirt, Dennis Doty, and Cheryl Pierson.

THE UNTAMED WEST is more than 150,000 words of action packed classic Western fiction.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The 9th Annual Peacemaker Awards Now Open for Submissions

Submissions for the 9th Annual WF Peacemaker Awards are now being accepted for works originally published in the year 2018.


First time in print must be between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2018, no reprints or revisions.  Limit of 2 entries per category.

Books and short stories may be published in any country in the world (submissions must be in English) in print or electronic format. Electronic submissions must be made with Kindle/mobi, PDF, or Word/text files. WF reserves the right to decline any submission for consideration of an Award.

Authors, agents, or publishers may submit a work for consideration of an Award.

At least three entrants in a category must be received during the submission period for an Award to be presented.

Novels and short stories must be set in the time period between 1830-1920 to be considered Westerns under WF guidelines. Time periods beyond the 1830-1920 traditional western focus may be included in submissions as long as the periods outside of the 1830-1920 span constitute no more than 50% of the story. At least 50% of the story MUST TAKE PLACE in the 1830-1920 period. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Nominees for the WF Peacemaker Award will be announced on 05/15/2019 and the winners will be announced on 06/15/2019.

The WF Peacemaker Award will be awarded in four categories:

Best Western Novel – Any novel published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 30,000 words and higher. There are no format requirements. The novel may be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook.

Best Western YA/Children Fiction– Any fiction written for ages 1-17 published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920). May be a hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or eBook.

Best Western Short Fiction – Any short story, novelette, or novella published during the award year set in the appropriate time period (1830-1920), 500 words to 29,999 words. There are no format requirements. The short story may be published in any publication, print or electronic.

Best Western First Novel – Must meet the same requirements as Best Novel, and must be the author’s first published Western novel. If the author has published novels in any other genre they will not disqualify the author from the Best Western First Novel Award competition. Submissions for Best Western First Novel may also be submitted in the Best Novel category in the same year.


If sending print form, one copy of the work must be sent to each judge (3 per category), and the Awards Chair for a total of four, accompanied with the appropriate form.

Electronic versions should be emailed to the Awards Chair, James Reasoner with the appropriate submission form. The electronic submissions will be distributed to the judges by the Awards Chair. All entries must be postmarked or received via email by midnight, CST, January 15, 2019. Judges should not be contacted by any entrant concerning their entry during the consideration period. Doing so may result in disqualification of eligibility for the WF Peacemaker Award. Works submitted will not be returned after the awards have been announced. There is no fee to enter. There will be no exceptions made to the submission procedures, for any reason.

Links to forms to include are at the bottom of the list of judges. You will need 4 copies for each printed entry, one for each judge and one for the Awards Chair.

Awards Chair: James Reasoner
P.O. Box 931
Azle, TX 76098-0931

Monday, August 13, 2018

Remembering Neville Brand - television and movie actor by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #westerns #goldenageofhollywood

I'm turning once again to the Golden Age of Hollywood for the topic of this month's article. (Read my John  Wayne article HERE).

Lawrence "Neville" Brand, a familiar face in movies and on television from 1949 through the early 1980s, was born on August 13, 1920 in Griswold, Iowa. He died in Sacramento, California on April 16, 1992.

Neville Brand was one of seven siblings in a family that moved several times before he ended up in high school in Kewanee, Illinois. In 1939, he joined the Illinois Army National Guard as a private then enlisted in the US Army as a corporal (infantryman) on March 5, 1941 and was discharged in 1945.

During his military service, he rose to rank of sergeant and platoon leader. He was wounded in action in 1945. Of his many military awards, he received the Silver Star (gallantry in combat) and a Purple Heart (wounded in combat).

According to his IMDb bio, "It was while he was in the army that he made his acting debut, in Army training films, and this experience apparently changed the direction of his life. Once a civilian again, he used his GI Bill education assistance to study drama with the American Theater Wing and then appeared in several Broadway plays. His film debut was in Port of New York (1949). Among his earliest films was the Oscar-winning Stalag 17 (1953)."

He reportedly once said of himself in an interview, "With this kisser, I knew early in the game I wasn't going to make the world forget Clark Gable."

Neville Brand as Al Capone
(attribution below)
Two quotes about Brand's acting from Wikipedia:

Early roles: "His hulking physique, rough-hewn, craggy-faced looks and gravelly voice lead to him largely playing gangsters, western outlaws, and other screen 'heavies', cops, and other tough-guy roles throughout his career."

(Doesn't this also remind you of Charles Bronson?)

"He had the distinction of being the first actor to portray outlaw Butch Cassidy in the film The Three Outlaws opposite Alan Hale, Jr. as the Sundance Kid."

Brand rose quickly as a bankable actor in other movies: Halls of Montezuma (1950), Man Crazy (1953), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), Return from the Sea (1954), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). 

He played a tough guy in the Elvis Presley movie Love Me Tender (1956). He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Willie Stark in Kraft Theater's All the King's Men (1958). He portrayed Al Capone on television and film. His first film role was as a sadistic hoodlum opposite Edmond O'Brien in D.O.A (1950).

D.O.A. (attribution below)
Television acting offered countless opportunities. He took on a variety of characters, and it wasn't long before his career balanced on the edge of being typecast as a villain. He managed to sidestep the typical-for-the-time Hollywood character typecasting and created a unique persona through his diverse roles from comedy to drama to out-and-out villainous characters whether it was television, stage, or big screen.

The New York Times wrote in his obituary,

His looks helped him get parts but also tended to stereotype his career. A sympathetic news article in 1963 said that 'in 50 screen roles he has never been without a gun and has consistently been cast as a soldier or a gangster,' a pattern that was being broken then with a new role as a spear-brandishing Viking.

This is a quote from his Bio on the IMDb website. He said of himself about playing villains:

"...I don't go in thinking he's a villain. The audience might, but the villain doesn't think he's a villain. Even a killer condones what he's done. I just create this human being under the circumstances that are given. I don't think he's a villain. Everybody just condones his own actions."

When you look at his list of acting credits on the website IMDb, you can follow his career through his early uncredited performances to his plethora of bit parts to his recurring television roles to his movies.

His television credits are impressive. In the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed he showed up in just about every popular television series: Fantasy Island, Baretta, McCloud, Kojak, Police Woman, Bonanza, Marcus Welby, M.D., Alias Smith and Jones, The Virginian, Daniel Boone, Tarzan, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Death Valley Days... The list goes on and on.

I remember him most for his recurring character Texas Ranger Reese Bennett in the television western Laredo (56 episodes from 1965-1967) and Disney's That Darn Cat! (1965). [What can I say? I was a kid, and I had two Siamese cats.]

Neville Brand as Reese Bennett - Laredo 
(attribution below)

What memories do you have of Neville Brand?

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

Prairie Rose Publications
YouTube Channel

**D.O.A. image attribution: By Film screenshot - D.O.A. film, Public Domain,
**Neville_Brand_1966 image attribution: By NBC Television - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain,
**Neville_Brand_as_Al_Capone_The_Untouchables_1959 image attribution: By NBC Television - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain,

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Elk

During the days of the Wild West, one large mammal roamed throughout most of the country, providing meat and other necessities for your characters. That mammal was the elk, also called the wapiti, a Native American word meaning “white rump.”

The scientific name of the elk is Cervus canadensis, and it is found in the deer family. It is one of the largest deer in the country, second only to the moose. Males, or bulls, grow antlers that may reach up to four feet above their head, so that the animal towers nearly nine feet tall. Females (cows) stand around four feet tall at the shoulder and around seven feet from nose to tail. They weigh on average around 500 pounds. Bulls weigh in at around 700 pounds and are around eight feet long.
A group of elk is called a gang, and elk stay in single-sex groups for most of the year. Females form large herds of up to fifty individuals. During mating season, called the rut (from August to early Winter), mature bulls will join the herd and try to control a harem of cows. Rival bulls challenge their opponents by bellowing or bugling, and by striding back and forth parallel to one another to show off their antlers and bulging muscles. If neither bull backs down, they wrestle with their antlers, which sometimes causes serious injuries.

A bull’s bugle is a loud, distinctive scream most commonly heard early or late in the day, and once heard, is instantly identifiable. Here is a link to a sound file of an elk’s bugle.
Bulls also grow antlers during the spring and shed them each Winter. Large antlers can weigh up to forty pounds. They are made of bone and can grow nearly an inch a day until fully developed. During the growth period, the antlers are covered with a soft layer of skin called velvet, which is shed in strips during the summer. Bulls remain mostly solitary while they have antlers, but form bachelor groups once they shed them, with one or more scouts to watch for predators.
Elk are ruminants, which means they have a four-chambered stomach and chew cud. They are primarily grazers which feed on grasses, but they will browse on leaves and twigs when that is not available. Elk feed most commonly in the mornings and evenings and are especially fond of aspen sprouts, creating a decline in aspen groves in some areas.

Like many deer species, elk migrate into higher altitudes in the Spring, following the retreating snows, and back to the lower altitudes in the Fall. During Winter, they look for wooded areas and sheltered valleys for protection from the wind and availability of tree bark to eat.
Wolf packs and the solitary cougar are the most common predators of the elk, though brown and black bears have been known to take down an elk. Coyote packs mostly prey on calves, though they sometimes take down a winter- or disease-weakened adult. Elk can live around 10-13 years in the wild if they avoid predators.
Your characters would probably be familiar with the elk as a source of food and hide. Native Americans utilized the elk as much or more than the bison. At birth, Lakota boys were given an elk’s tooth to promote long life (since that is usually the last part of an elk to decay). Hides were used as tepee coverings, blankets, clothing and footwear. Antlers were used in artwork, furniture and various utensils.
J.E.S. Hays

Saturday, August 4, 2018


In early 1887, an inmate by the name of Lew P. Shoonmaker of Minnesota State Prison at Stillwater decided to explore the possibility of publishing a newspaper. Schoonmaker, a former bookkeeper from Wisconsin, went to Stillwater in 1886 to serve a two-year sentence for forgery.

Schoonmaker spent several months trying to persuade the warden on the merits of the revolutionary idea of a newspaper funded, written, edited, and published by inmates. When the project was finally approved, Schoonmaker went looking for investors.

The first name on his list: outlaw Cole Younger. He and his brothers Bob and Jim were serving life terms at hard labor for their roles in the botched robbery of First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. 

Shoonmaker figured by enlisting Cole Younger, the publication would enjoy immediate legitimacy and, of course, sell more newspapers. At the time, Cole served as the prison’s librarian. Jim was named the facility’s postmaster. Bob worked as a clerk.  

The Younger brothers came up with $50—a quarter of the required start-up capital. 

Shoonmaker and several other inmates also kicked in some cash.
Schoonmaker became editor and hired Cole as associate editor and printer’s assistant.

Cole liked Shoonmaker’s business model, which called for the money to be earmarked for the prison library once the investors were repaid at the rate of three percent interest a month. When everyone was paid back, the library would own the paper and subsequently pay for new books and other materials.

The new publication—The Prison Mirror—debuted Aug. 10, 1887, and was made available to prisoners and non-prisoners. 

Each issue cost five-cents. Annual subscriptions when for $1. Several local merchants helped the bottom line by buying advertising space in the new paper.

The first issue was four pages long, 14 by 17 inches. The opening article, written by the founders, declared: 

“It is with no little pride and pleasure [that] we present to you, kind reader, this our initiative number of THE PRISON MIRROR, believing as we do, that the introduction of the printing press into the great penal institutions of our land, is the first important step taken toward solving the great problem of true prison reform.”

In addition to prison news and humorous and literary submissions, the paper pledged to “encourage prison literary talent [and] instruct, assist, encourage, and entertain.” It also promised to serve as an independent voice for prisoners and operate without official oversight.

In the same issue, the newly-appointed warden—Halvur Stordock—advised readers he was entirely behind the project. He also emphasized that the Mirror was not funded by taxes.

“If it shall prove a failure, then the blamed must all rest on me,” he said. “It if shall be a success, then all credit must be given to the boys who have done all the work.” 

Shoonmaker resigned when the second issue of the Mirror was published, possibly because of his scheduled release. Younger also decided to hang up his editorial hat. According to some reports, his role at the paper had diverted his time and attention from the prison library.

The Mirror, believed the oldest continuously published prison paper in the U.S., celebrated its 130th anniversary this year. Over 2200 copies are printed each month—most of them for inmates. A couple of hundred copies are distributed to prison advocacy groups, as well as law schools and other organizations.

The Mirror has been ranked several times as the best prison newspaper in the country.

 Unlike the days when Warden Stordock allowed the prison staff to run the show, today’s version of the Mirror is different. Its contents are closely scrutinized by prison officials and the inmates themselves. 

Each issue is now reviewed by several departments before the warden signs off on the material before it goes to print.  

Even with editorial watchdogs in place, the Mirror still manages to publish breakthrough stories now and then. 

In 2012, editor Matt Gretz conducted an investigation that revealed Minnesota lawmakers had taken $1.2 million in profits from Stillwater’s prison canteen to offset budget cuts in 2011. 

Over the years, the paper covered labor strikes of the early 20th Century, women’s suffrage, and the deadly A-Block rampage in 1975.

The Mirror is published monthly at the Minnesota Stillwater Correctional Facility. Subscriptions are $12. The newspaper’s debut edition displayed the motto: “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.”

The motto was changed a few issues later to read: "It’s Never Too Late To Mend.”



Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Crash at Crush

Have you ever heard of the Crash at Crush? It started as a publicity stunt. Crash two locomotives together and sell tickets. They’d done it before to the accolades of  spectators.

William G. Crush, agent for The Missouri-Kansas-Texas “Katy” (MKT) Railroad knew that the public was fascinated by train wrecks. They seem to be the California Police pursuits of the 19th century. People would travel from miles away just to get a look at the twisted metal and destruction, the victims scalded by the explosion of the engine’s boiler.

[This is Mr. Crush as sketched for the Galveston Daily News on September 16, 1896.]

So, William pitched an idea to Katy Railroad officials: intentionally crash two trains in full view of spectators. It had been done successfully a few months earlier in Ohio, to the delight of spectators.

Needless to say, his superiors loved the idea.

The town of Crush, Texas, complete with a depot, was constructed just for the event. A special branch line of tracks was laid about 4 miles outside of the town of West. Wells were dug, water was run, food and drinks were available for purchase, and a huge tent was borrowed from Barnum & Bailey Circus to serve as a grandstand and protect the elite guests from the weather and the common spectators.
Rather than charge admission to the event, the railroad decided to make the event free—and charge $2 round-trip for a ride to site of the crash.

Everything was ready when dawn came on September 15, 1896. The train engines, #999 and #1001, were painted bright green and bright red, respectively. Both had been stripped down to ensure nothing went wrong. Six cars were attached to each engine to enhance the crash.

The organizers expected around 20,000 spectators to show up and planned accordingly. By the time the event started, more than twice that number jammed the small valley. Every inch of ground was jammed with people waiting to see two trains smash each other into scrap metal. A carnival atmosphere prevailed, complete with medicine shows, game booths, politicians and souvenir stands. The men, women and children were given until late afternoon to listen to speeches and spend their money.

At 5pm, the two trains nosed together as if shaking hands and posed for pictures. They then backed up the low hills to opposite ends of the four mile track, and at ten minutes after 5pm, as Mr. Crush sat on horseback and waved a white hat as a signal, the engineers opened the steam to the predetermined setting and put the trains into motion before jumping off.

I’ll let the reporter for The Dallas Morning News describe what happened:

      "The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, but growing nearer and more distinct with each fleeting second, was like the gathering force of a cyclone. Nearer and nearer they came, the whistles of each blowing repeatedly and the torpedoes which had been placed on the track exploding in almost a continuous round like the rattle of musketry. ... They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed to within a quarter of a mile of each other. Nearer and nearer as they approached the fatal meeting place the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder ...

      "Now they were within ten feet of each other, the bright red and green paint on the engines and the gaudy advertisements on the cars showing clear and distinct in the glaring sun.

      "A crash, a sound of timbers rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters.

      "There was just a swift instance of silence, and then as if controlled by a single impulse both boilers exploded simultaneously and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel ...


      "All that remained of the two engines and twelve cars was a smoking mass of fractured metal and kindling wood, except one car on the rear of each train, which had been left untouched. The engines had both been completely telescoped, and contrary to experience in such cases, instead of rising in the air from the force of the blow, were just flattened out. There was nothing about the cars big enough to save except pieces of wood, which were eagerly seized upon and carried home as souvenirs." 

The plan was for the trains to reach approximately 10mph by the time they met in the middle. Instead, they were traveling closer to 45mph. The impact sent shrapnel flying more than 100 feet into the air—and into the crowd. Miraculously, considering the size of the crowd, only three people were killed.

William Crush was fired the evening of the crash, but Katy Railroad officials rehired him the very next day, and he worked for the company until he retired.

The "Crash at Crush" was immortalized by famed Texas ragtime composer Scott Joplin in his march, "The Great Crush Collision March." Click here to listen to the music  – complete with crash and scream:

It was a publicity stunt that will never be attempted again – but the stories remain, told over and over by those who were there for the Crash at Crush.

Tracy Garrett

Sunday, July 29, 2018


I can’t believe that in only SEVEN weeks (September 14-16), we will be gathered in Oklahoma City for the 2018 Western Fictioneers convention! By request, we have more time scheduled for plain old socializing—a great opportunity for catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
Here are a few highlights:


     Enjoy several discussions led by our very own Fictioneers experts! A discussion of horses in western literature, straight from the horseman’s mouth (Jim Griffin). Diane Garland, Jacquie Rogers, and Ron Schwab will advise on keeping your fiction worlds spinning (very helpful when writing a series). We’ll take a look at the role of women lawyers and doctors in the West (Doris McCaw, Ron Schwab).


A LIVING LEGENDS panel, where you’ll hear writing anecdotes from Western literature heavyweights James Reasoner, Robert Vaughan, and Robert Vardeman. Q&A follows.

     Later, we'll be treated to a docent-guided group tour of the NATIONAL COWBOY & WESTERN HERITAGE MUSEUM, followed by a down-home western buffet at our host hotel, Best Western Saddleback Inn. 

Best Western Saddleback Inn - OKC

     Learn about Economics of the Old West from Edward Massey. Robert Vaughan will lead the Custer session (as well he should!). And Westerns can get be weird; just ask Troy Smith, James Reasoner and friends.

     “Legal Labyrinths: The Rights Side of the Law” was so popular at the last convention that we’ve asked Nashville attorney W. Michael Milom to encore. Expect a lively Q&A for this session! Tom Rizzo, JES Hayes, and Cheryl Pierson will reprise the Social Media panel, and Troy Smith will expound on “The Politics of Violence in Indian Territory.” Hopefully, Courtney Joyner will drop in with an update on the Western movie industry. We’ll close with an evening of entertainment and fine food.


     We’ll gather for a Cowboy Church meeting, followed by an optional visit to the H&H Shooting Range.
     So how do you get in on all this fun?

REGISTER HERE AT THE WESTERN FICTIONEERS WEBSITE. Then, pay registration fees either by check or PayPal (instructions are also on the website). Book your hotel room by calling BEST WESTERN SADDLEBACK INN at 800-228-3903 and be sure to mention you are with WESTERN FICTIONEERS. (Unfortunately, hotel rooms for our block cannot be booked via the hotel’s website.)

     As your convention chair, I look forward to seeing you soon in OKC! I know you’ll have an amazing time.

All the best,

Vonn McKee

“Writing the Range”
2015 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Finalist (Short Fiction)
2015 Western Writers of America Spur Finalist (Short Fiction)
Like Vonn on Facebook!

"Fast moving and entertaining..."
"Twists and turns galore."

Thursday, July 26, 2018


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

The thought of a maggot-ridden wound makes most people cringe. Writers often pop such images into their tales for that very reason. The squirm factor can be effective in keeping the  reader reading. After all, a wound that has actual crawling maggots in it just seems so awful. It looks unclean and the reader may suppose that it is a bad sign.

The movies often have maggot-ridden scenes. Take Gladiator, for example. There is an early scene  with Maximus reaching to remove maggots from a gaping arm wound, only to be advised by his (soon to be) friend and fellow gladiator, Juba, to leave it alone. And indeed, the maggots clean the wound and it heals.

Aristotle's doctrine of spontaneous generation 
Maggots have had a bad press since antiquity. Aristotle proposed the theory of spontaneous generation, or abiogenesis. (a-bio, meaning 'without life', and genesis meaning 'origin of'). Essentially, it was a belief that living things grew from non-living matter. Maggots were seen to develop in rotting meat or in carcases. Similarly, the Egyptians had noted that frogs seemed to develop in the Nile mud after the annual inundation. 

Aristotle 384-322 BC

This theory survived for two thousand years until the Italian doctor and 'father of experimental biology,' Francesco Redi challenged the concept of abiogenesis. 

Francesco Redi (1626-1697)

He performed some rather elegant experiments on maggots and flies, which he published in 1688 as Esperienze Intorno alla Generazione degli Insetti (Experiments on the Generation of Insects). He concluded in this series of experiments  that flies laid eggs in decaying matter and that larvae (maggots) hatched from them and ultimately turned into adult flies. He did it using jars into which he put identical quantities of meat or fish. In one group the jars were covered with gauze, which let air in, but secluded entry to flies. The others were left open and exposed to flies. No maggots developed in the fly-excluded jars, but the others produced maggots, then a cocoon stage, from which adult flies emerged.

As you can see from the illustrations he used in his book he accurately described the life cycle of the fly, which undergoes a complete metamorphosis from egg to larva, to pupa, to imago or adult fly. 
Of course, Redi had to be careful about how he described this, because the church was so powerful and several men of science had paid dearly for declaring scientific theories that the church considered to be heresy. 

Biogenic generation
Accordingly, it was another two centuries before Louis Pasteur, a French scientist finally blew a hole in the theory of abiogenesis. 

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

To do this Pasteur prepared some  sterile nutrient broth and placed equal amounts in two flasks with swan shaped necks.  He broke the neck of one flask and left the other. The broth in the broken necked flask quickly became cloudy as micro-organisms grew in it. The other remained sterile, until he eventually broke the neck, when it also eventually became cloudy. The cloudiness was due to the presence of microorganisms. 

One of Pasteur's swan- neck flasks

The S shaped neck had prevented dust particles and microorganisms in the air from reaching the broth, until the neck was broken. 

Instead of the abiogenesis theory of spontaneous generation, we then had the theory of biogenic generation. 

Maggot-ridden wounds 
Although maggots have the association with decay, yet over the centuries it had been observed  that maggot-infested wounds  often did better than expected. 

The Mayans used to cover wounds in cloths soaked in animal blood and dried in the sun. When they started to pulsate, as maggots hatched and moved about, they believed that the wound would heal. Often it would. 

Aborigines in Australia used to actively put maggots into wounds to heal them. 

The french military surgeon, Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), one of the most notable surgeons of the Renaissance described the benefits he had seen in maggot-infested wounds. Similarly, the French surgeon, Baron Dominique-Jean Larry (1766-1842), observed that blue fly maggots seemed to remove necrotic or dead tissue from wounds and speeded up healing. 

During the Civil War maggot-ridden wounds were thought to be a bad sign of infection and soldiers were understandably distressed to see maggots in their wounds. Wars have always been times when medicine and surgery have been given opportunities to make advancements. This happened in a prison stockade in Chattanooga, where Confederate surgeons were not given supplies of bandages and dressings, or adequate amounts of chloroform (which was used to bathe wounds to clean them). Their  patients who had often developed gangrene were forced  to leave the wounds unbound and fly-infested, whereas Union surgeons de-maggoted their patients' wounds. Much to their astonishment  the maggot-ridden Confederate wounds cleared up far quicker and more effectively than the so-called cleaned and dressed wounds. Indeed, death rates were significantly lower in the Confederate patents. 

Dr William Williams Keen (1837-1932), observed that maggots certainly did not hamper recovery in many cases. He said that despite their revolting appearance, they were not detrimental to the healing process. After the war he studied in Paris and London and e would go on to become the first neurosurgeon in the USA.  

Dr William Williams Keen (1837-1932)

Doctors in the Great War also saw the surprising effects of maggot-ridden wounds. Dr William Stephenson Baer (1872-1931) was an American surgeon  serving with the American Expeditionary Force in France. In 1917 he treated two badly wounded  soldiers who had lain injured on the battlefield for seven days. Their wounds were totally maggot-ridden and at first he feared for their lives. Yet on examination and after clearing the maggots away, he found that the underlying tissues were clean, free of pus and that healing with granulation tissue was occurring. He said: " ...the wounds showed the most beautiful pink granulation tissue that one can imagine.” Both soldiers healed  swiftly and recovered completely.

Dr Baer went on to become the founding chairman of orthopaedics at John Hopkins University and a surgical innovator in both hip and spine surgery. He also followed up his work from the Great War and did research on thee use of maggot therapy (Maggot Debridement Therapy, or MDT) in the control of persistent wound and bone infection. In 1931 he wrote a paper, The Treatment of Chronic Osteomyelitis with the Maggot (Larva of the Blow Fly). It is considered one of the classic papers in surgery.

Maggot therapy
Not all maggot-ridden wounds will be clean, though. The problem is that the blow fly that lays the eggs is a vector, that means a carrier of disease. If it has contaminated mouthparts or feet, then it can cause the infection in a wound. If no infection is present, then the lava that hatch may indeed act as scavengers to eat up any necrotic tissue, kill organisms in the wound and absorb pus to allow healing to take place. 

Dr Baer actually grew larvae on a windowsill in the Baltimore Children's Hospital as he researched on the use of maggots in chronically infected wounds. Unfortunately two patients died from tetanus, which made him realise that the maggots had to be sterile. He managed to develop a technique of producing larvae in a sterile environment, after which the 1930s saw a huge rise in the use of maggot therapy. Lederle laboratories in New York  started to produce sterile maggots ands were able to supply hospitals.

Maggot therapy then fell into disuse when the sulpha drugs and then modern antibiotics were discovered and  became an essential part of modern medicine.  However, because of the developing worldwide problem with antibiotic resistance, chronic infections are again a problem and there has been a resurgence of interest and active research into the maggot and its abilities to clean wounds. 


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