Friday, May 31, 2013

Review Roundup: Oh, Canada!

High Stakes
By Chad Strong
Clio, May 2012
$4.99 Kindle, ASIN B00826OAGE
230 pages

What’s a professional gambler to do when the new preacher's wife forms a high-handed morality committee to run all the brothels, saloons, and gambling dens out of town? Fight back by infiltrating the preacher's family and compromising the reputation of his innocent daughter, that’s what. But deceit carries a tremendous price…especially when both sides of the cat-and-mouse game are running their own covert ops.

Chad Strong’s High Stakes, nominated for the 2013 Best Western First Novel Peacemaker Award, stands out among the nominees for two reasons: It’s set in a town, and that town is in Canada — Victoria, British Columbia, to be exact.

The author does a number of things well in his debut novel. Characterization is his strong suit, along with an ability to incorporate mountains of detail without annoying readers or slowing the story’s pace to a crawl. A few anachronisms in exposition and dialogue (“uptight,” an Americanism dating to the 1960s, for example) may jangle some readers, but overall Strong does an excellent job of capturing a time (1877), place, and society largely overlooked in the western genre.

The author also blends elements from several subgenres extremely well. Strong language and marginally explicit sexual content prevent an “inspirational” label, though much of the story focuses on the preacher’s earnest attempts to turn the protagonist away from a life of sin. The interactions between the two characters skirt the edge of proselytizing, but not closely enough to annoy readers who avoid the inspirational category. The novel meets all the qualifications to bear the label “western historical romance” quite well, but romance traditionalists may object to the love triangle that forms the fulcrum of the plot, since a certain amount of bed-hopping is involved. (Men, by the way, can read this one without endangering their man cards. Did I mention the gunfights, knife fights, and fistfights?)

Even at 230 pages, High Stakes is a quick read. And it’s fun. The ending, balanced on a thin line between expectation and surprise, shines.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received a review copy of High Stakes from the author. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review Roundup: Grave Dealings

Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave
By Mark Mitten
Sunbury Press, November 2012
$16.95 paperback, ISBN 1620061465
$4.99 Kindle, ASIN B00A62VXYY
338 pages

As the brutal winter of 1887 descends upon Colorado’s high country, cowhands, miners, townsfolk, lawmen, and even outlaws go about their daily routine, never suspecting their disparate lives are about to intersect in a freakish, though inevitable, series of events that will change them all forever. Metaphorically speaking, no one escapes this tale alive.

Mark Mitten’s debut novel is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. The landscape is harsh; some of the people even harsher. From the outset, Mitten pulls no punches in depicting death, destruction, and a hollowness of the soul that is difficult to confront. Perhaps that’s the essence of the book, though: By forcing readers up close with both the innocent and the twisted, he forces them to consider the dichotomies inherent in being human.

Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave, nominated for the 2013 Best Western First Novel Peacemaker Award, is not an easy, recreational read. That is a warning, not criticism. Mitten’s voice is distinctive; his characterizations are fresh, engaging, and genuine. Dialogue and actions resonate with authenticity. The cast list is extensive, though, and the novel’s uncommon format frequently leaps between locations, subplots, and character subsets without a hint of segue. Everything ties together in the end, but keeping track of the various threads and players may be a bigger challenge than casual readers feel comfortable undertaking. This book requires a commitment — not that commitment is a bad thing.

Ultimately, Sipping Whiskey is a story of perseverance and survival; of redemption and damnation. As his style matures, Mitten will be an author to watch … if only to ensure one of his characters doesn't sneak up behind you with a weapon.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received a review copy of Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave from the publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

West of the Big River: The Avenging Angel by Michael Newton

Orrin Porter Rockwell is more than just a deputy United States marshal and a deadly gunfighter. He's a member of the Mormon Danites, the group of enforcers known as the Avenging Angels, and he's the personal troubleshooter for Governor Brigham Young. And when Young sends Rockwell to the rough-and-tumble mining town of Tartarus, there'll be plenty of trouble for him to shoot. A group of Mormon miners has vanished, and before Rockwell uncovers the secret of their disappearance he'll face deadly danger from all sides. What his adversaries don't know is just how dangerous the Avenging Angel is . . .

Award-winning author Michael Newton spins an action-packed, historically accurate yarn in THE AVENGING ANGEL, another exciting adventure west of the big river.

nook $2.99   Kindle $2.99   Large Print Trade Paperback $9.99  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Western Comics Focus: Tony Isabella

By Troy D. Smith

If you haven't figured it out yet, I am a major league comic book geek. It started before I even learned to read, as  my older cousin (and my mom when I could draft her) would read them to me. I actually learned to read at an accelerated pace- because I didn't wnat to have to rely on someone else to tell me what the characters were saying.

NOTE: this helped my vocabulary as the years went by, as I often went to the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words. To this day, when I hear the word implacable I think of Galactus, and ubiquitous evokes an image of Doctor Doom's robots.

By the mid-70s I had advanced to the point that I not only could read the books, I was becoming familiar with the writers and artists. A name I saw a lot during that period (and later) was Tony Isabella. He must have made quite an impression on me, because the first things I tend to associate with his name are his short run on CAPTAIN AMERICA and the sadly short-lived BLACK GOLIATH. He wrote for a lot of  my favorite characters through the years, including a memorable run on GHOST RIDER; he also created the first major black DC Comics hero, BLACK LIGHTNING. He has also become well-known as an industry columnist and critic.

He's also author of 1,000 Comic Books You Must Read...

A couple of years ago Tony was gracious enough to serve on our panel of judges for our feature on the Top Ten Greatest Western Comics .  Turns out Tony is a big fan of western comics, particularly the Rawhide Kid- for some time now he has been writing a blog called "Rawhide Wednesdays."

Tony has agreed to be our guest today and share his perspective on western comics...

 1. From your own work, whatever the genre, what are you proudest of?

 ANSWER: Black Lightning. I wanted to create a positive role model
 who was also an interesting character. As I saw it, there weren't
 enough characters of color or diverse backgrounds in comics. That
 offended my sense of fairness. I wanted Jefferson Pierce to be a
 hero who readers young and old could relate to, could understand,
 could admire. Despite an uneven publishing history, my version of
 Black Lightning was and remains the hero I wanted him to be. The
 readers still consider my version to be the definitive take on the
 character. Especially on my second series, published in the 1990s, I
 think I did my best work on Black Lightning.

 2. Do you think westerns are different from other comics genres,
 other than setting?

 ANSWER: Yes and no. Obviously, the setting and the time make them
 somewhat different from other genres. But the best western comics
 are like the best comics of any genre...with intriguing characters
 and situations. That said, it should be noted there are very few
 "pure" western comics today. They are usually mixed with horror or
 other genres to increase their marketability. I'm surprised that we
 haven't already seen Kid Zombie, Outlaw or the Two-Gun Zombie.

 3. You've written a lot about western comics; in your career, have
 you had the opportunity to write any, or at least include some
 western elements?

 ANSWER: I've never had an opportunity to write western comics per se, but I wrote "Bounty for a Vampire" for Marvel's Dracula Lives! It was pitched as "Jonah Hex versus Dracula," changed a bit in the actual writing and drawn by Tony DeZuniga. For Marvel's Tales of the Zombie, I wrote "Voodoo War." That one was drawn by western comics legend Dick Ayers. And there was always a bit of cowboy in my version of Johnny Blaze in the modern Ghost Rider series.

 4. Are there any western characters you think you'd especially enjoy writing?

 ANSWER: I would have loved to have written several Marvel westerns. The Rawhide Kid was my favorite, but I also enjoyed Kid Colt, Two-Gun Kid and the company's version of ME's Ghost Rider. On my long bucket list of things I'd like to write before I kick the bucket is a western series that's not really a western series.

 5. You've said the Rawhide Kid is your favorite western comic
 character; in your eyes, what sets the Kid apart from other four-color cowboys?

 ANSWER: I relate to him better than the others. He's a short and feisty guy, not unlike myself. He's a loner, though not by choice. He's young enough that the reader wants to believe he can find the happy ending, the peace and quiet, the freedom from being hunted he seeks.

 6. Do you have any recent or upcoming projects you'd like to make our followers aware of?

 ANSWER: I try not to promote projects until they are getting close to realization. One of my main sources of income these days comes from assisting various comic-strip creators anonymously. I'll be asked to write a few weeks of a strip, plot out an extended story, come up with gags or just take a creator's ideas and put them into a more workable fashion.

 Online, I write the daily "Tony Isabella's Bloggy Thing" and often write about western comics, especially the Rawhide Kid, there. I also write a weekly "Tony's Tips" for the Tales of Wonder website.


Many thanks to Tony for talking with us!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review Roundup: Pursuing Justice

Both books reviewed for this edition are Peacemaker Award nominees in the 2013 Best Western Novel category.

City of Rocks
By Michael Zimmer
Five Star Publishing, March 2012
$25.95 hardcover, ISBN 1432825577
200 pages

Joseph Roper was barely 17 when Ian McCandles and his gang of cutthroats rode into Coalville, Idaho, in November 1879. A few hours later, part of the town and Roper’s childhood lie in ruins. While the rest of Coalville’s citizens cower in fear, the untested boy sets out alone and only marginally armed to rescue a kidnapped prostitute and bring the sheriff’s killers to justice.

Decades later, nearing the end of his days and haunted by a legend he never intended to incite, Roper uses a series of interviews with the Works Progress Administration’s Folklore Project to set the record straight. He wasn’t a hero, he maintains — just a naïve cowpuncher flush with the reckless passion of youth. Looking back with insight gained from time and distance, he’s amazed he survived.

Fast-paced, compelling throughout, and emotionally savage in spots, City of Rocks spins a Homerian epic in the first person. Gritty, violent, and intensely personal, the book wrenches readers through a coming-of-age story that leaves even casual bystanders immutably changed at the end.

Author Michael Zimmer’s evocative prose envelops the tale like the frigid winter blankets the Idaho mountains, jerking readers out of the experience only in the spots where profanity is cropped (“h___,” for example). In a frontnote, Zimmer writes that City of Rocks is based on actual Folklore Project transcripts, which may explain the elisions but hardly seems necessary in a modern novel. In the main, though, the author’s use of newspaper clippings and asides from the narrator to begin many chapters is wholly engrossing, both adding to and temporarily rescuing readers from the nearly non-stop tension.

The story comprises an unforgettable "thinking man's western."

Apache Lawman (U.S. Marshal Piedmont Kelly #4)
By Phil Dunlap
Amazon Encore, November 2012
$14.95 paperback, ISBN 1612186653
$9.99 Kindle, ASIN B008MBWYCG
241 pages

A murderous prison break, a sheriff kidnapped on the eve of a local election, a stand-in deputy who clearly is not who he claims to be, a marriage-minded army belle, and racial mistrust combine to give U.S. Deputy Marshal Piedmont Kelly a weeks-long headache in Phil Dunlap’s Apache Lawman.

At the same time Kelly is uncovering machinations that tie a ruthless outlaw gang to the army and a large payroll shipment, he’s also fending off unwanted attention from a colonel’s head-in-the-clouds daughter while romancing a down-to-earth café owner. On top of that, when Kelly defiantly hands a badge to “the enemy” — an aging Apache who once saved Kelly’s life — he puts both of them at odds with every bigot in the territory.

Readers probably will figure out the mystery well before Kelly puts all the pieces together, but that doesn’t compromise the fun of watching the marshal dangle at the end of several strings. Unlike Kelly, readers are privy to the thoughts of almost every character in the book: Kelly, the sheriff, both women, the titular Apache lawman, and most members of the outlaw gang (both overt and covert). A very traditional western, Apache Lawman is liberally sprinkled with humor and just enough misdirection to keep readers moving until the good are rewarded and the bad get their just desserts.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received review copies of both books in this post from the author or publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


I know we’ve talked before about Dorothy M. Johnson, the iconic western short story writer who penned such classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Hanging Tree, and A Man Called Horse; but today, I wanted to tell you about another short story of hers that I read a few days ago. Quite possibly, the best short story –in any genre—that I’ve ever read.

You may never have heard of it. It wasn’t made into a movie, because it too closely mirrored the true life of a real person, Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah Parker. The story is called Lost Sister.

I’d heard this story mentioned before by a couple of friends, and thought, “I need to read that—I’ve never read much of Mrs. Johnson’s work but the movies have all been good.” I know. I hate it when people say that, too. Anyhow, I bought a collection from Amazon that contained the three stories I mentioned in the first paragraph and Lost Sister as the fourth. Of course, I had to read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, since that’s tied for my all-time favorite western movie, along with Shane. I was so disappointed. The characters in the short story were not the same as my beloved Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne! Hmmm. Well, even though I was disappointed, I decided to give Lost Sister a shot.

It more than made up for my lukewarm feelings for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Lost Sister is the story of a woman who has been kidnapped as a young child by “the hostiles”. She has an older sister, who remembers her well from childhood, and loves her with the devotion that most older sisters have for a younger sister. Through the forty years she has been gone, the oldest sister, Mary, has cherished memories of her younger sibling.

There are three younger sisters, as well, who have no recollection of the Lost Sister, Bessie. The older sister doesn’t live with them, but in a different town a thousand miles away. The three sisters are notified that their sister, Bessie, has been “rescued” and is being brought back to them. The story is told from the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, whose mother lives with the sisters. She is the widow of their brother, who was killed by the Indians. The boy has dreams of growing up and avenging his father’s death, but something changes once his Aunt Bessie comes back to live with them.

Up until Bessie is returned to them, they have gotten much attention from the neighbors, and have been pitied as being the family who had a sister stolen by the savages so many years ago. Once Bessie is returned, their standing in the community takes a subtle twist. The other sisters don’t know how to handle Bessie’s homecoming. They make plans to go into her room and “visit” with her every day. One of them decides to read to Bessie from the Bible for thirty minutes each day. The others come up with similar plans, none of which include trying to understand Bessie’s feelings at being ripped away from her Indian family.

The oldest sister, Mary, comes to visit. What’s different? Mary loves Bessie, and accepts her; and Bessie loves her—they both remember their childhood time together. The language of love overcomes the barriers of the spoken language that neither of them can understand, for Bessie has forgotten English, and Mary doesn’t know Bessie’s Indian dialect. But Bessie has a picture of her son, and Mary admires it, and by the time Mary is to go home, she has made arrangements for Bessie to come live with her—a huge relief to the other pious sisters who had made such sympathetic noises about her being reunited with them in the beginning.

In a fateful twist, Bessie makes her own decision about what she will do, taking her own life back, and helping her son avoid capture. This is one story you will not forget. Once you read it, it will stay with you and you’ll find yourself thinking about it again and again. It doesn’t fit the mold of a romance story, except for the fact that I think of Bessie being in love with her husband, having children with him, and then being “rescued” and forced to live in a society she had no ties with any longer…except one—the love and understanding of her older sister, Mary.

No specific Indian tribe is mentioned in the story, probably for a purpose. I think, one of the main reasons is to show us the cultural differences and how, in this case, the “civilized” world that Bessie had come from and been returned to was not as civilized as the “savages” who had kidnapped her. Also, as I say, Cynthia Ann Parker’s story, at the time this story was published, was not that old. There were still raw feelings and rough relations between whites and Indians. But by leaving the particular tribe out of the story, it provides a broader base for humanity to examine the motives for “rescue” and the outcome for all concerned, of a situation such as this in which it would have been better to have let Bessie (Cynthia Ann) remain “lost.”

I’ve posted the link below for the story as it was printed in Collier’s Weekly on March 30, 1956. It’s also available on Amazon in several collections.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

SATURDAY MATINEE with Jacquie Rogers

Jacquie Rogers
Movie time!

We've had some interesting and outstanding movies featured here at the Western Fictioneers' Saturday Matinee — dramatic, violent, angst-filled westerns. The hero seeks justice and upholds the code of the west despite all odds. Most of these pictures rank in my favorites, too. But there's room for everything, and we can't watch the same type of film all the time. Right?

When I need a pick-me-up, there's a western movie that will do it every time. It's ...

The Apple Dumpling Gang

It’s a film adaptation of a book of the same title written by the esteemed writing teacher, Jack Bickham, who also wrote a writing craft book still in use today (and on my bookshelf) Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure. Bickham was a student of Dwight Swain, who wrote Techniques of the Selling Writer, also on my bookshelf.

Bill Bixby and
Susan Clark
The lead characters are a strong heroine, Magnolia "Dusty" Clydesdale played by Susan Clark, and Bill Bixby as Russell Donovan, a gambler with an inconvenient compassionate streak. Bixby and Clark were excellent in this film, but the glory goes to Harry Morgan who played Sheriff (also Quake City’s judge and barber) Homer McCoy, and two outlaws, Theodore and Amos played by Don Knotts and Tim Conway. This film has another outstanding villain, too—Frank Stillwell played by Slim Pickens.

Right from the get-go, we’re introduced to the ineptness of the Hash Knife Outfit, Theodore and Amos. Then we go to the saloon for a lucrative game of poker. As Donovan says, “Well, there's one good thing about luck—it always changes. And I got a feeling mine is just around the corner.”

Gambler Russell Donovan makes a deal to pick up "valuables" in exchange for a poker stake, then tries to renege when he discovers that the precious cargo is actually three children. He argues with the stage driver, Dusty Clydesdale, who happens to be a woman dressed in men’s clothes. She doesn’t relent, and Homer McCoy’s on her side, too:

Donovan, this is just a half portion of a town, but we do have certain what you might call rules to live by. You don't jump another man's claim; you don't steal his wife, woman or whiskey; you don't strike a bargain and then entertain second thoughts about the matter. Any one of these offenses could make you the exalted guest of honor at a hemp party.

Harry Morgan as
Sheriff Homer McCoy
So now Donovan has three children on his hands. He’s directed to a grimy, leaky shack, where he does his best to settle the kids. He makes a mess of supper and the cabin’s filled with smoke when Dusty arrives with a bucket of sonuvagun stew. She puts out the fire, gets the place under control, and after Donovan turns on the charm to get her to take the children, leaves, completely unswayed. The romance subplot has begun.

As in many westerns, gold plays an important part of the story. The children’s father has a mine, and they’re determined to find the gold that their pa promised was there. Donovan tells them there’s no gold but they don’t believe him. He tries to convince or coerce the townspeople to take the children but no one wants to be burdened.

The first major fiasco happens when the kids find an ore cart. They end up taking a wild ride down the mountain and through the Chinese section of town, upsetting the water tank and making a mess of the laundry, and playing havoc in the town proper. Donovan walks out of the saloon counting the money he’s won and the townspeople take it to pay expenses. So now Donovan is still broke and still has three children he doesn’t want.

Of course, the kids do find a huge gold nugget and now all those townspeople who didn’t want the children before want them now. Donovan is still trying to pawn them off on Dusty, and she’s still not buying. Donovan won’t turn them over to just anyone, and the sheriff tries to convince him to marry Dusty to protect the kids. “Dusty's a fine specimen of womanhood! I seen her get caught in a cloudburst once, and I wanna to tell you!”

And no western is complete without a bank robbery. Both the Hash Knife Outfit and the Frank Stillwell and his gang are after the gold. Stillwell isn’t too happy with Amos because Amos shot him in the knee and now he has to wear a brace. “If I ever get within shootin' distance of that doggone Amos Tucker, he's gonna have winders where his ears was.”

Here’s Theodore and Amos as they’re planning to rob the bank.

Don't work up a toot about historical accuracy because there is none in this film.  Gold, gambling, a bank heist, a saloon brawl, and a ladder scene like no other — that's what you'll get.  So grab some popcorn and a cold one.  It's time to for a belly laugh!
May your saddle never slip.

Jacquie Rogers 
Romancing The West
Hearts of Owyhee series
#1: Much Ado About Marshals
#2: Much Ado About Madams
#3: Much Ado About Mavericks

Friday, May 24, 2013

Writing About Indians When You're Not One

Writing western fiction often means writing about cowboys and Indians. Now, some of us have direct ranching experience and others do not. For those of us whose ranch experience is limited, there is clearly a need to do a lot of research so we at least have some idea what we're talking about. And that does require a good bit of effort. But at least, for most of us, it is only a specific profession and lifestyle, and subculture, we have to learn, not an entire culture that is foreign to us.

Not so with Indians, unless we happen to be one. It is possible to do a large amount of reading and research, and get many technical details right, and still misinterpret or incorrectly characterize some very basic cultural elements of how Indians think and act. Some western/historical fiction authors, nonetheless, have done an excellent job of writing "from the outside" about indigenous peoples. It's a very long list, and includes people like Don Coldsmith, Win Blevins (who, if I recall, does have some Cherokee heritage), Lucia St. Clair Robson, Terry Johnston, Michael Blake, Douglas Jones, and many others -including several of our WF members.

I am not an American Indian, but I have done a lot of research on the subject, including writing a dissertation and earning a Ph.D in it. I teach American Indian history at Tennessee Tech University. I also know a lot of Indians, some of 'em pretty well -some of them also academics, but many of them not. Which is all just a way of getting at the subject of this blog: my goal today is to share with you some basic facts about Indianness that a lot of us wasicu writers miss when we write about them.

I'm going to start with the term "Indian." Sometimes people hear me talking about Indians, and feel the need to correct me- "You mean Native Americans! They are not from India!"

Well, no, they are not from India, and they are native Americans. Since about 1970, Americans have been taught -initially by anthropologists -that calling indigenous peoples "Indians" was both insulting and inaccurate, and we should call them "Native Americans" instead. So, for the most part, we have learned to do just that.

Thing is, around 1995, a poll was taken of people who had self-identified as indigenous on the census, asking which term they preferred. 37% said Native American, but 50% said American Indian (the remainder had no preference.) From what I've seen, I'd say the tilt toward "Indian" has become even more pronounced since then. Since that is the case, scholars who study indigenous peoples have begun using Indian much more than Native American, as a reflection of the actual desires of the people in question. Most Indians, of course, prefer to be called by the name of their tribe or nation; but sometimes, especially for legal purposes, there is a need for a term describing them as a larger group. Why on earth, one might wonder, would they object to "Native American"? The most common reason I've heard is that none of the well-meaning white folks who decided their name should be changed ever bothered to ask them what they thought about it, so Native American is every bit as much an externally imposed generalization as Indian -at least, some say, they were used to the first one. So now academics have the well-deserved task of convincing people it's okay to switch back to a terminology they only dropped in the first place because academics told them to.

Now, on to some things that are more likely to come up in our western fiction.

It is difficult for us non-Indians to understand just how important tribe is to tribal members, in the past and in the present as well.

What is a tribe? It is, essentially, a group of related people. More specifically, a group of clans. In fact, most Indian tribes traditionally placed a great taboo on marrying within your own clan, as a way of keeping the gene pool sufficiently broad. It is KINSHIP, then, that defined (and continues to define) Indians. That kinship was usually literal -even if very extended -but it could also be fictive. That is, a person could enter into your kinship circle without being literally related to you -usually by an adoption ceremony.

In many tribes, only the people within your kinship circle were actually people, or at the very least, it was possible to have peaceful dealings with someone only if they were within your kinship circle (this is why many tribes gave themselves names that translated as The People, The Real People, or The Human Beings.)

Sometimes captives could be adopted into the tribe. At any rate, in order to have diplomatic or trade dealings with outsiders, they had to become insiders somehow.

Let us consider Pocahontas and Captain John Smith.

We all know John Smith's side of the story. He was captured by Powhatan Indians, and their chief was all set to have him executed... but then the chief's daughter, clearly smitten with the dashing English captain, begged for his life and her wish was granted (remember, we know this story because Smith recorded it. Modesty was not his strong suit.)

But let's try to look at it from the Indian perspective.

Chief Powhatan had been working at establishing hegemony in the tidewater region. Along come these new folks, the English... they might be a serious threat. On the other hand, they might be potential allies or at the very least trade partners. But they are outsiders and thus enemies. How to rectify that?

Captives are often adopted as members of the tribe. It is the women of the tribe, not the men, who decide which captives would live and which would die. Sometimes elaborate rituals were acted out, in which potential trade or diplomatic partners were symbolically adopted and brought INTO the kinship circle.

That interpretation actually makes more sense than the one John Smith believed, and which has been passed down to all of us... because of some very basic cultural misunderstandings.

Another important factor to consider is that about three-quarters of North American tribes were matrilineal, not patrilineal like Europeans. That is to say, their lineage was traced through the mother, not the father. When a couple got married, the husband left his clan or tribe and joined that of his wife. Of course, the other one-quarter of tribes WERE patrilineal. For example: Creek Indians were matrilineal, and Shawnees were patrilineal. If your mother were Creek and your father were Shawnee, you would actually have a valid claim of membership in both tribes. But if your mother were Creek and your father were Cherokee (another matrilineal tribe), then you were Creek. Not half-Creek... there was no such thing. Because it's all about the kinship circle. Either you are IN it, or you are NOT, you cannot be halfway.

I like to explain it this way. Let's say you are a Creek man in the 1700s, and you have two sisters. A runaway slave comes to your village, and your people decide to welcome him in... and he marries your sister. He is now a member of your tribe. Then later a white trapper comes into the village, perhaps a man who is unhappy with life in the settlements and prefers to live on the frontier- and he marries your other sister, thus also becoming a member of your tribe.

Now, to a European/American colonist, there would be three men: a red man, a black man, and a white man. But to the Creek Indians, there would simply be three Creek Indians. They look different from one another, but they are all inside the kinship circle, so they are all Creeks and so are their children.

This would change by the mid-19th century, as Southern tribes became "civilized", and terms like mixed-bloods and full-bloods would come into play. But that was not those tribes' traditional way of looking at things. Nor was it the way Plains tribes looked at things, until well after they were forced onto reservations.

Here's another historical example: the first French colonists who dealt with the Choctaws (like all those nations later called the Five Civilized Tribes, they were matrilineal.)

"We come to you from your Great White Father across the waters," the French said, because to them a father was the ultimate authority figure. "We give you these gifts." The gifts were to prove how wealthy and powerful the Great Father was, and instill both a sense of fear and a sense of obligation in the Choctaws. "We gave you this stuff and you accepted it, so we expect you to do what we tell you."

The Choctaws happily took their gifts, and didn't do a single thing the French told them to.

Because in the Choctaw worldview, the greatest male authority figure in your life was either your mother's eldest brother or your maternal grandfather. You're in THEIR clan/tribe, not your father's. (Ever notice how many stories have Indians being taught by their maternal grandfather? This is why.) Your father, on the other hand, was this guy who came around now and then and gave you presents and was your buddy, not the guy who laid down rules and punished you if you disobeyed them. The French are from the Great Father? Then of course they are giving us presents, that is a father's job. It's not his job to tell us what to do -so take the gifts, smile politely, then ignore him. But if the French had said they were from the Great Uncle across the water, there might have been a clearer understanding on the Choctaws' part of what the French were trying to do.

Now, here's something that bothers me sometimes. When discussing Cherokee leader John Ross, textbooks always say things like "Even though John Ross was only 1/8 Cherokee, he was accepted as their leader." That simple statement displays a basic lack of understanding about how Indian tribes worked at the time being discussed. Especially that "even though" part... and the "only"...because adding those words makes it seem very extraordinary indeed that such a man would become the leader of the Cherokee Nation. In fact, some people in the 19th century (and since) have believed that Ross's "white" blood gave him an intrinsic superiority that allowed him to rise to the top- the same thing was said of other Southern Indians, including the Creek leader Alexander McGillivray.

So let me tell you a little bit about John Ross's ancestry.

In 1740, a 20-year-old Scottish fur trader named William Shorey married a 15-year-old Cherokee girl named Ghigooie, from the Red-Tail Hawk Clan. It was common for Cherokees to marry their daughters to fur traders, because that brought the trader into the kinship circle and made it permissible to have dealings with him. Well, that couple had a daughter, and later she was married to another Scottish fur trader. THAT couple had a daughter, and SHE was married to yet another Scottish trader. And that couple had a son that the mother called Guwisguwi, which was the name of a mythical bird, but that the father called John Ross.

Now, the average American at the time looked at John Ross and said "how is this guy chief of the Cherokees? He's actually 7/8 Scottish!" And, in fact, Americans STILL say that, whether in history books or in the classroom.

But here's how the Cherokees saw it.

Ghigooie of the Red-Tail Hawk Clan of Cherokees had a daughter, Anna. Since the Cherokees are matrilineal, Anna was... Cherokee. Anna had a daughter named Mollie. Since Anna was a member of the Red-Tail Hawk Clan, so was her daughter. Not a 1/4 member; you were either a member, or you were not. Mollie had a son named John Ross; his mother was a Cherokee of the Red-Tail Hawk Clan, and therefore so was he. In fact, it was some of the most traditionalist members of the Cherokee leadership that endorsed Ross for Principal Chief... because he, like they, was Cherokee.

This was not just a Southeastern Indian phenomenon. Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche man and a white woman who had been captured and adopted as Comanche when she was a child. Quanah's followers did not consider him "half-Comanche," but Comanche,  like them. The list could go on.

My point is this. RACE WAS NOT AN INDIAN CONCEPT. It was a white concept. Race only became an Indian concept after any given tribe/nation started adopting the white man's way of thinking about things.

Consider the Lakota word for white people: wasicu. It literally meant "grabs the fat", as in someone who comes into your camp and with whom you are therefore obligated to share your food, but who rudely immediately grabs the very best for themselves. The word had nothing to do with skin color, and everything to do with perceived cultural attributes.

There has been a long tradition in western fiction and drama of portraying the "half-breed" as someone who was part-white and part-Indian, but accepted by neither, because he was not fully one or the other. This IS how white people would have considered him, because they had such an investment in the idea (especially in the 19th century) of "purity" of race. But it is unlikely that his own tribe would have considered him that way, especially if it were a matrilineal tribe and his mother was Indian, or if his white parent of either sex had been adopted into the tribe. It would be very non-Indian for a writer to assume that Indians would feel the same way about racial purity that white people of the time did. That's just the sort of cultural misunderstanding I was thinking of when I mentioned how easy it is for us non-Indians to make mistakes; heck, western writers have been making that mistake for generations.

As an example of how we can try to be more aware, I offer my Wolf Creek character Charley Blackfeather (Plug!! Book 5 is due out very soon!) Charley's father was a runaway slave who married a Seminole woman in Florida. This makes Charley, to his own people, a Seminole, since his mother was one. But to the average American he encounters in and around Wolf Creek, he is a "half-breed." In fact, he confuses some of them, because they're not sure whether he's a black man or an Indian. He is both -but culturally, he is Seminole.

Note: Of all the "civilized tribes", the Seminoles were the most reluctant to develop a racialized hierarchy that debased blacks. Why? Because they were the least "civilized" (mostly because their swampy homeland enabled them to resist domination by whites for the longest of any Southern tribe.) Nineteenth century reality: being "civilized" meant learning to treat blacks as inferiors, thus the more "traditional" a tribe was, the less likely they were to pay much attention to wasicu ideas about race.

I had intended to cover several subtopics in this post.... but so far I've only covered my first bullet point. I guess I'll have to make this a series... that being the case, I'll wrap this one up and await your comments.

Thursday, May 23, 2013



Keith Souter aka Clay More

If you had a look at the post DIG IT OUT, DOC! in which we looked at arrow wounds, you may have been expecting Part 2 this month, about bullet wounds. But I thought we'd save that for later and this time cross boundaries and look at dentistry, because your average frontier doctor would very likely have to deal with his fair share of oral and dental problems. In the absence of a qualified dentist  the doctor may have been a preferable option than the blacksmith, or anyone else who could wield a pair of pliers or tongs.

I am actually working on a series of short stories at the moment for High Noon Press, about Doctor Marcus Quigley, a qualified dentist, gambler and occasional bounty hunter, so dentistry is very much on my mind at the present. Each story is from Doc Quigley's casebook, but they are all linked, like the matinee serials of yesteryear  to tell a larger complete story. The first is called DEAD IN THE SADDLE and the second, GUILTY AS SINNED is due out today!

Dentistry in ancient days
Teeth have always been of prime concern to people. The pain of toothache, the agony of gumboils, the smell of halitosis, and the unpleasant appearance of black, yellow or dirty teeth have caused people to seek the ministrations of all manner of practitioner over the centuries.

The ancients believed that dental caries was the result of a toothworm that got inside the tooth and ate it away. The Babylonians attempted to smoke these irritating creatures out by a quite ingenious method. As long ago as 2250 BC they mixed henbane with beeswax and then heated it in order to produce smoke. This smoke was directed into the carious hole, after which the hole was filled with a sort of gum mastic and more henbane.

The Egyptians had specialist physicians who would deal with teeth and gum problems. They seemed to do little in the way of removal, their treatments mainly consisting of magic rituals, charms and sacrifices to appease the gods, then the use of various purgative, enemas and masticatory agents which when chewed would encourage the production of saliva.

The Etruscans in the first millennium BC seem to have been the first people to use false teeth. They even made bridges so that false teeth could be anchored to normal teeth by rings of gold. Archaeologists are unsure, however, whether these were designed for the use of the living, or whether they were made to enhance the look of the body after death.

The Greeks actually recognised that sometimes teeth need to be pulled in order to allow an abscess to be released. The great Hippocrates even invented some crude forceps for the purpose.

The Romans built on the work of the Greeks and developed a series of instruments specifically for work on the teeth. They also worked gold into crowns for the teeth and different types of forceps for tooth pulling. Mostly dental care was restricted to the nobility and caries, gum disease and ultimately toothlessness were the norms for the bulk of the population.

As for mouthwashes, one of the most widely advocated in Roman times was urine, especially the freshly passed urine of young boys.

The middle ages
Although universities were starting to spring up across Europe, at Padua, Salerno, Bologna, Montpellier and Paris, and in Britain at Oxford and Cambridge, yet knowledge about teeth and their care did not really advance from the days of the Romans. Medical texts were reprinted, but the treatments and recommendations were still a mix of magic and multi-ingredient medication, coupled with purgation and emesis.

St Apollonia of Alexandria was the patron saint of toothaches. She had been a deaconess who was martyred by the Romans in 249 AD, after riots inspired by her teachings. When she refused to renounce her religion she had her teeth pulled one by one and her jaw broken. She then threw herself into a fire after saying in her prayer that she hoped no-one would experience her pain and suffering or the agony of toothache. Such was the power of the Church and the belief in the saint that many would probably receive relief from toothache by praying to her. Whether that relief was the result of saintly intervention or the power of the placebo effect is another question.

For the common people recourse was often made to remedies from the old leech books (from the Anglo-Saxon leche, meaning ‘leach’, the sign of a doctor). These would advise that caries could be cleared of our old friend the toothworm by the smoke of henbane, or after being packed with mixtures containing substances like ground beetles and lizards or raven dung.

And of course tooth-pulling would be the most effective way of dealing with agonising toothache. Putting up with the pain of the extraction would for many be preferable to the agony of the underlying abscess or nerve pain. Physicians did not generally like to get their hands dirty, so tooth-pulling was done by barber-surgeons or itinerant tooth-pullers. 

These itinerant tooth-pullers or mountebanks could make a decent living by going from town to town and market to market, setting up their stall with a flag or poster of St Apollonia, a string of wooden teeth or a carved crocodile with sharp teeth. They would climb on their crude box or stage and bring in crowds with their claims of being able to pull teeth without pain, or with such speed that there would be minimal pain. Any teeth that proved difficult to extract would be left alone with the advice that they must not be removed, since the pain they had experienced was because they were ‘eye-teeth.’ This was of course another of the myths that was promulgated, that they were in some way connected to the eyes and that blindness could result if they were pulled.

The favoured instrument was called the Pelican, a large instrument like pliers, which would inspire fear in the mind of the sufferer as a tooth-puller advanced with it poised.

The tooth-pullers also offered their quack remedies or mouth washes that were guaranteed to whiten black teeth and turn them into ivory. Doubtless they had many tricks and ploys up their sleeves or in the mouths of the paid confederates in the audience. By all accounts these mountebanks were great crowd drawers with their teeth-pulling, for such is the darker side of human nature that people often revel in watching the misfortune of others.

The age of enlightenment
A more scientific basis for Medicine and Surgery started to develop in the eighteenth century, but still there were some colorful quacks.  One such person was  the mountebank Martin van Butchall, who rode about London in the 1770s on a large white horse painted with purple spots. He carried a bone before him and declared that he could draw teeth painlessly and also manufacture a set of false teeth and fit them absolutely painlessly.

A natural showman he went beyond the bounds of taste and introduced a macabre reason why clients should go to see him, which they did in droves. When his first wife died he had her embalmed; had glass eyes fitted to the corpse, which he  kept in a glass case in his hall. There he introduced her to all of his guests.

His second wife was not so enamoured by the presence of his first wife in the family home, so reluctantly, van Butchell donated the body to the Royal College of Surgeons, where it was kept until it was destroyed along with many other exhibits when the building was bombed during the Second World War.

Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761) is regarded as the father of modern dentistry. His landmark book Le Chirurgien Dentiste (the Surgeon Dentist) was first published in 1728 and set the standard for the emerging discipline as a specific specialty of surgery. Drawing on his early experience as a ship’s surgeon he wrote about surgical procedures to treat diseased gums and teeth and all manner of injuries to the mouth and jaws. He used silk, linen and metal suture material and taught how to make dentures, bridges and crowns.

He also advocated the use of the toothbrush. It was only at the end of the seventeenth century that people began to use them with any regularity.

Fauchard’s work found its way across the channel and in the 1750s the word ‘dentist’ was adopted into English. An apprenticeship type of profession arose, it taking four or five years to become experienced enough to set up a sign or a brass plate and establish a practice of one’s own.

Waterloo teeth
The craft of dentistry began to develop. Interestingly, as trade increased so too did the importation of sugar from abroad. Many people developed a sweet tooth, which ultimately was followed by rotting teeth. Cause and effect was not apparent and although surgical dentistry was improving, yet many dentists still believed in the mythical toothworm. Their main function was to pull teeth and prepare false ones.

The best false teeth that could be obtained, however, were human ones. Although dentists had experimented with porcelain, ivory and bone, none of these materials was ever as good as the enamel-covered human tooth. This created a huge problem, of course, since they were hard to come by and the law of supply and demand forced the price of dentures ever upward. Some dentists advertised to buy teeth from people willing to sell theirs for a guinea or two a tooth, the highest price going for the incisors.

George Washington, the first President of the USA was reputed to have a wooden set of dentures. In fact this is a myth, since he had a very fine set of dentures consisting of a smoothed plate of hippopotamus ivory into which human, horse and pig teeth were inserted.


                                       George Washington's teeth

Pull that tooth, Doc
The Pelican was the first purpose-made instrument for pulling teeth. early examples date from the 14th Century.

This was succeeded by the tooth key, which saw use throughout the 17th and 18th century, right up to the mid-18th, when it was still being used. Doc Marcus Quigley still occasionally uses one when the situation is right.

Fill that cavity Many dental practitioners did attempt to fill cavities. Indeed Fauchard advocated using tin or gold foil, although he found that tin was more effective. It was not until the 1830s that dentists started to prepare the cavity by removing the caries first. Accordingly they started using a bur and thimble to remove as much carious tissue as possible.

One of the greatest aids was the dental mirror, which allowed dentists to see behind teeth. The image is reversed, of course, so you ave to learn how to use them.

A drill based on the Archimedean screw; essentially a hand-drill was introduced from the 1840s, but it had to be used with both hands and it was limited in accessibility. It was not until 1871 that an American dentist, James Beall Morrison (1829-1919) invented the foot treadle drill that this problem was overcome. It was one of the most important dental inventions ever.

The dental chair had been another advance that almost became a dental icon. Custom-made wooden ones were introduced in 1850 with special curves to allow the patient to get into the best position for the operator. Once again, Dr Morrison was at the forefront of this development and the Morrison chair became popular throughout the USA.

In the early part of the nineteenth century dentists started experimenting with amalgams as filling agents. Generally, however, gold was preferred and although silver-mercury amalgams called succedaneum, meaning ‘artificial substitute’ were introduced, it did not become used generally until towards the close of the century. Indeed, in America its use was banned and a dentist could be struck off their register for using it.

Pain was always a problem and early dentists made their name, as did surgeons, by virtue of their speed. Complex procedures were not feasible, unless the patient was drunk.Then in 1846 in America Dr William T G Morton (1819-1868) introduced ether to permit painless extractions and the field of anaesthesia was born.

Doc Holliday
John Henry Holliday (1851-1887) must be the most famous dentist of the old west. He graduated DDS from the Philadelphia College of Dental Surgery in 1872, after a single year of study. It was not long after he started practice that he developed tuberculosis and moved west for his health. At that time the pathology of the condition was unknown, although its severity was understood. 

Although he practised as a dentist when on his travels, he primarily made his living as a professional gambler. And of course, he soon acquired a reputation as a gunman of prowess. His name is forever linked in history with that of Wyatt Earp and the town of Tombstone, Arizona.


This month the lucky writer of a comment will win a copy of MEDICAL MEDDLERS, MEDIUMS AND MAGICIANS - the Victorian Age of Credulity by Dr Keith Souter. The names will be randomised and the winner 's name will be drawn. Keith will then just need a postal address to send a hardback copy of the book (and it will take a few days, since it will be coming from England)