Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Back in the day, a man usually tried to avoid a fight. Remember that easy access to firearms we discussed in a previous column. However, humans being human, arguments occurred. Here are some of the terms you’d have heard in such a situation.

Argufy - to argue, have weight as an argument; one of those pseudo-Latinate terms that sounded more educated than the original “argue”

Bad Box – a bad predicament, as in being caught inside a box with no way out

Blow: to taunt or ridicule; the image is of one person blowing hot words onto the other

Bobbery: a squabble, argument; possibly Anglo-Indian, from the Hindu “bap re” (a very disrespectful address, “Oh thou father!”)

Brush: a skirmish or fight; brush as in to brush past or touch up against

Bulldoze: to bully, threaten or coerce, thus a bulldozer is a large person who bulldozes; from the tendency of a bull to shove its enemies around with its horns

Bushwhack: a cowardly attack or ambush; the image is of hiding in the bushes to strike (“whack”) a person

Crawl his hump: to start a fight; the image is of a person crawling up a bull’s hump to irritate the animal

Cross-grained: troublesome, perverse; wood that is cross-grained is notoriously hard to work with

Cross-patch: ill tempered person; from “cross” meaning ill-tempered and “patch” meaning a fool

Crotchecal, crotchety: Cross, perverse, peevish; the etymology is unclear (“crotchet” meant a whim or fancy in the early 1800s)

Curly wolf: a rough, dangerous fellow; it is unclear why being curly would make a wolf more dangerous

Curmudgeon: an avaricious, churlish fellow; possibly from the Gaelic “muigean” meaning a disagreeable person, with “cur” meaning a dog

Dander: ire, irritation, temper, emotion; possibly from Spanish “redundar” meaning to overflow

Dry gulch: to ambush; the image is of laying in wait in a ravine and pouncing on someone

By the ears: in a quarrel or fight; as in holding someone by the ears and making them face off with you

Fight like Kilkenny cats: these were the famous mythical cats which fought until they were all torn into tiny scraps of fur

Fling: a sneer or contemptuous remark; the image is of flinging or tossing such remarks

Flunk out: to retire through fear, to back out; possibly from British slang “to funk” with the same meaning and based on the noun “funk” meaning distress

Frump: to mock or insult, can also mean a bad temper; possibly an imitation of a contemptuous snort

Get your back up: get angry; when an animal is ready to fight, it bows up its back to look larger

Hammer and tongs: went at it in a noisy, furious manner, as in a blacksmith using his tools on the anvil

High binder: dangerous and vicious man or horse; origins unclear

Kick up a row: a row is a disturbance

Knock galley west: to beat senseless; probably a sailing term meaning that something has been tossed quite a distance
Lacing, lashing: a beating, as in striking with a lash

Lambaste, lambasting: beat, a beating; from Scandinavian “lemja” meaning to beat and “baste” meaning to thrash

Lather: to beat, as beating a horse until sweat forms a lather

Let drive: let loose, discharge, as in a blow with a fist or a bullet from a gun

Lick: a blow, usually from the fist, thus a licking is a beating

Loo'd, looed: beaten or defeated; possibly from the name of a card game

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Western Comics Focus: PETER BRANDVOLD

This month we turn our Western Comics Focus on someone who is well known to us all, as a longtime member of our group -but who  most of us would associate more with prose than with sequential art (which is a fancy word for funny books.)

In addition to the many westerns PETER BRANDVOLD has written, under his own and various pen names, in 2008 he ventured into the four-color world, scripting a miniseries for DC Comics... Bat Lash: Guns and Roses, with art by the legendary John Severin and covers by Walt Simonson and sharing writing duties with Sergio Aragones. I know I'm not the only one who was envious!

Bat Lash- aka Bartolomew Alouysius Lash -is one of DC's most famous western characters. He first appeared in the late 1960s... the first ad for his new book asked "Will he save the West, or ruin it?" Lash was a gambler and ladies' man, who went to great lengths to avoid violence (and wore a flower in his hat-band.) In some ways he was a more flamboyant version of Bret Maverick. The publishers' initial view of the character was that he was a loner whose family had been wiped out by thugs, but his series turned out to be pretty lighthearted -albeit short-lived. Bat Lash became a frequent guest star in other western books... it was always fun to see him team up with the gritty antihero Jonah Hex.

The 2008 miniseries, though, aimed at fully telling Lash's origin story and getting back to his grittier roots. They could have chosen no one better than Pete Brandvold, whose work is as gritty as it comes.

Pete agreed to answer a few questions about the experience.

1. You were one of our judges for the Top Ten Western Comics feature... can you tell us what some of your favorite western comics are?

Blueberry by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean 'Moebius' Geraud

Desperadoes by Jeff Marriott and John Severin

Jonax Hex (I like them all but while I'm usually partial to original stuff I have to say that Jimmy Palmiotto and Justin Grey did incredible work in the later stuff and I wish to hell they were still writing and publishing those.  Those were the only contemporary comics I was reading.  Now I'm not reading anything though I know there's a lot of good stuff out there.  I'm miffed they took away Jonah!  (Don't talk to me about the short stories they're putting out now, mingling Hex with superheroes.  That's not MY Jonah!)

Bat Lash (the original series, of course, since I penned the latest one with Sergio Aragones, John Severin drawing, which I don't think is half bad though I agree it didn't have the romantic, 60's hippy-goofiness of the originals, which are classics)
2. How did you end up writing the Bat Lash miniseries, and what was it like? How did it differ from writing novels? What was your favorite part of the experience?

I can't remember how it all went but I wrote to Michael Wright and he put me in touch with another editor, Rachel Gluckstern, there, and they liked my idea for an "origin" mini-series showing how Bat Lash became that crazy feller with the flower in his hat.  It wasn't at all like writing novels, and that's frankly what I don't like about writing comics.  It's more technical, like writing screenplays, and I have trouble disappearing into the experience the way I do in prose novels.  Writing comics, I found I had to be too conscious--I had to be thinking about how much I could get into one panel, and one word balloon, and it stifled me.  I could never write comics full-time.  When I write novels, its like I'm half asleep, dreaming.

3. Are there any characters you'd like to write for, if you had the chance?

Jonah Hex is the only one I could think of but I'd rather write a series of prose novels about him, frankly.  I don't like collaborating.
4. Tell us about the Rogue Lawman comic.

That was so damn long ago I can't even remember why in the hell I did that!  I think Michael Wood, the editor of the OUTLAW TERRITORY compilation emailed me and asked if I wanted to contribute and I said yes.  That was before the first one was even out.  We had trouble getting an illustrator for my story, "The Girl From Screaming Squaw," because the character and thus the rights to the story had to remain all mine.  But we finally got Andrew Maclean and he's truly outstanding.  So is the colorist, Christiane Peter. 

5. Any other upcoming projects, in any medium, you'd like to tell us about?

I have a brand new adult western series out called THE REVENGER.  The first book is "A Bullet for Sartain."  That's an ebook original published by my own Mean Pete Press.  And I have a plethora and cornucopia of other Mean Pete press reprints of original print novels as well as completely new and original ebooks.  You can check them out at my website:, and my blog, which I keep a little better updated:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Western Fictioneers Presents West of the Big River: The Ranger

Acclaimed author James J. Griffin, noted for his fine stories of the Texas Rangers, joins the West of the Big River stable with THE RANGER, a short novel featuring real-life Ranger Sergeant J.S. Turnbo. Tangling with rustlers, bank robbers, and road agents is all in a day's work for Turnbo as he fights to bring law and order to the area around Abilene and San Angelo, Texas, but solving a deadly mystery will put Turnbo's life in more danger than ever before. It'll take all of the Ranger's wits and gun-handling skills to keep him alive as he untangles the strands of a lethal conspiracy!

THE RANGER is a novel based on historical characters and situations in the bestselling West of the Big River series from Western Fictioneers. Don't miss any of these action-packed tales!


    "Travelin' by overnight stagecoach is sure blasted uncomfortable, ain't it, Ranger?" Las Cruces, New Mexico Deputy Sheriff W.L. Jerrell said. He shifted around in his seat, trying to ease the pain in his butt, and then settled deeper into his coat in an attempt to ward off the early February cold. "No heat, cramped and smelly, and this road's sure rough. I don't think our driver's missed a chuckhole yet. Too bad the rails don't run to San Angelo."
    "I'd rather be ridin' my horse," Texas Ranger Sergeant J.S. Turnbo answered. "When all's said and done, though, don't much matter to me how I travel, long as I get where I'm goin'. Besides, it's not all that far to San Angelo. We'll be there before sun-up. For now, I'm gonna try and get some more shut-eye before we reach town."
    Turnbo leaned back in his seat and pulled his hat down over his eyes. He'd prefer to be back in Abilene, having a beer at John Billings' saloon rather than taking a ninety mile ride in a jouncing stagecoach. Even more appealing was the thought of returning home and to Company A in El Paso, but that wasn't about to happen until most of the rustlers and robbers plaguing the Abilene area had been run to ground. He'd been sent to Abilene to solve those problems, but this assignment was taking him away from doing just that.
     Jerrell had taken a Texas and Pacific train from Las Cruces to Abilene, the closest point the T & P tracks came to San Angelo. He had a warrant for a man wanted for armed robbery back in Las Cruces, and needed a Texas lawman's authority to serve it. Turnbo had been given the chore of accompanying the New Mexico deputy to San Angelo. Ordinarily a Ranger wouldn't have drawn the menial job of serving a warrant on a penny-ante out of state criminal, but Jerrell's brother-in-law was El Paso County Sheriff James White. When White wired Austin asking for Ranger assistance, his request was promptly granted. 
    Besides Turnbo and Jerrell, there were four other passengers inside the coach: Corporal Adam McGee, a cavalryman on his way to Fort Concho, Sam P. Cochran, a Dallas businessman, rancher John Reed, and a dry goods drummer named Paul Dunham. In addition, one other man, Wade Thurston, a Kansas City cattle buyer, had decided to ride alongside the driver in the shotgun seat. He wanted to take advantage of the relatively cool night air and breeze, as opposed to being crammed in the stuffy coach along with six other men.
    Despite the rough ride Turnbo dozed off, for a Ranger grabbed sleep whenever and wherever he could. However, when the stage slowed he was instantly alert.
    "Hey, driver! What're you slowin' for?" he called as he eased his six-gun from its holster.
    "Eastbound stage's comin'," the driver answered. "Wavin' for me to stop. Looks like trouble."
    He pulled the horses to a halt. A moment later, the Abilene-bound stage rolled up and stopped.
    "Hey, Albie, what's wrong?" the westbound driver shouted.
    "Robbers! Bandits! That's what's wrong, Jake. Sons of bitches hit us about a mile back," the eastbound driver answered. "Warned me not to turn back to San Angelo but to keep headin' east."
    Turnbo and Jerrell, along with the other passengers, had climbed out of the coach.
    "They shoot anyone?" Turnbo asked.
    "Nah," Albie answered. "Robbed the passengers of some cash and valuables and rifled through the mail. Jake, I'd bet my hat they're waitin' on you to do the same thing."
    "They ain't gonna get the chance," Jake said. "I'm turnin' around right here. We'll head back to the last way station, spend the night there, then head for San Angelo come daylight."
    "No, you're not, driver," Turnbo said. "You'll get back in your seat and start this stage movin' for San Angelo again."
    "You can't give me orders like that, Mister," Jake snapped.
    "This says I can." Turnbo dug in his shirt pocket and pulled out his badge. "I'm Texas Ranger Sergeant J. S. Turnbo of Company A in El Paso."

This is the 4th West of the Big River novel, fictional tales starring historical characters. Below are some links where you can find this book.

Trade Paperback  Kindle           nook    Smashwords

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Do you like short stories? I love them, both as a writer and as a reader. I’m so thrilled that they’re making a comeback in today’s world! I remember as a teenager in high school English class, some of the short stories that were taught at the time. You can probably recall these classes, too—we read many short stories and novels that couldn’t reach into our world and touch us, not at that age.

It’s odd to me that had some of the selections been different, or more age-appropriate, this might have fostered a love of reading the short story rather than dread for so many. The essay questions at the end of the story seemed hard for many of the students to understand, much less formulate answers to in order to show what they learned from the story. As high school freshmen in the 14-15 year-old age range, and with our limited knowledge of the world, it was difficult for some to be able to grasp symbolism or foreshadowing among other story elements. I realized later on that some people never grasp it, no matter how old they are. Reading with that kind of intuitive understanding is not something everyone is able to do.

Being forced to read something for a grade rather than enjoyment is something I didn’t understand. For one thing, I enjoyed reading. As with any kid, some things held my interest more than others. But I never could fathom some of my classmates who actually said, “I hate to read.”

I had some favorite short stories, even out of the ones we were forced to read. Who could forget Whitney and Rainsford in Richard Connell’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME? Frank Stockton’s THE LADY OR THE TIGER? Or, TO BUILD A FIRE, by Jack London?

Those stories were what inspired me to want to write “like that” and I often wondered in later years, seeing my kids’ English books and the stories they contained, where our next generation of writers would come from? There was certainly nothing “inspiring” in those stories. I was wishing there were some of the stories from “the good ol’ days” in their books, even though at the time I had been their age, many of my classmates had detested those same stories that I loved so much.

But one day, my daughter came home from school and said, “Mom, we read a story today that was so good! It’s about a guy who is trying to survive in the cold and he tries to build a fire…” And a few years later, my son couldn’t wait to tell me about a story they’d read about an island, where men were hunted…

Not everyone who loves to read wants to become a writer. So I’m wondering…was there a particular short story that you read when you were younger that made you want to write? Or even just made you become an avid reader? Since so many of us write westerns, was there a western short story that influenced you when you were younger? The one that I loved was not really a short story, but a short novel, Fred Gipson’s OLD YELLER. In later years, another one that stood out was Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY.

Today is my birthday, so I’m giving away a free copy of one of my short stories, THE GUNFIGHTER’S GIRL. All you have to do is comment, and check back later this evening after 9:00 to see if you won!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


What made a frontier town grow into a city?

Bet most people would answer, “churches and schools, banks and newspapers.” Oh, and commerce, of course. It does take those things, but that’s not the complete picture. According to local historians in my neck of the woods, a town was just a town until it had a staffed hospital. At that point, the frontier town became a metropolis--a real city, and a real point of pride. After all, every new town’s aim was to grow and prosper and become the next San Francisco or Denver.

Medical care has been on my mind lately, partly because of a recent surgical procedure of my own. The bill for the out-patient operating room nearly put me into intensive care with a heart attack! (Not really. Just a simple case of sticker shock.) How, I wondered, did people in the the 1880’s cope, which is when Spokane, Washington got its first hospital and became, in the resident’s eyes, a metropolis? A small metropolis, at least. More, what kind of care did they receive? And what did it cost? This first hospital, by the way, evolved into the same one where I received care last month.

As was often the case, especially in the west, this hospital was first opened by two Sisters of Providence nuns. It began in a shed while the hospital building was being built. Can’t you just see it? A brick edifice rising out of dusty and rocky open land? When the city burned in 1889, the hospital was spared, helped out by its brick exterior and landscaped grounds.

In 1887, the first year Sacred Heart hospital was open, 354 patients were treated. The first patient, a transient found sick and alone in a shack down by the railroad tracks, died.

Ladies in the throes of bearing a child usually avoided the hospital, preferring to give birth at home with a midwife in attendance. Hospitals, after all, were mostly utilized only in desperate circumstances. They were known as place to go to die, perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, in this hospital, even in those times, the doctors preformed surgeries not only for severed limbs and bullet wounds, but for appendicitis, and even cosmetic type surgery, for instance, creating and appending a prosthetic ear onto a small boy. History tells us the latter was a great success. Hospital care, complete with skilled nursing, ran about $4.00 a day. I expect those patients thought it horribly expensive.

This is not to say doctors saw patients only in the hospital or their offices. Even in the metropolis they made house calls, just as when the town had been wide open and wild and woolly--on the other hand, by most accounts it still was wild and woolly. One doctor’s horse knew the streets so well the doctor slept on the way home.

As an item of interest--or maybe curiosity--I don’t remember ever reading a Western novel that included any of this sort of information. There’s tons of stuff written about the worn old frontier doctor with a heart of gold who takes chickens in trade for childbirthing, and digs out bullets with utter aplomb while the outlaw holds a six-shooter on him. Mostly he goes days without sleep and drives his horse through rain and blizzards and blazing sun far distances to serve his fellow man. The hospital is usually one room in his own house.

If anyone knows of a Western novel that includes a real hospital in the plot, please let me know. I want to read it. Just think, Coma or Contagion, set in the old West.

Alternate care came not only from mid-wives, but druggists who prescribed medicines for maladies that today would require a whole team of doctors. Further on the fringes were traveling medicine shows, where anyone who wanted could put “Doctor” in front of his name. In a word, the quacks. The self-proclaimed doctor’s stock in trade were balms and elixirs made up of who knows what. Often they contained opium or other dangerous and habit-forming drugs, which was good business for the quack, insuring repeat customers.

Patent medicines were freely advertised in every newspaper and magazine. Lydia Pinkhams for women’s ailments is a well-known example. It was after the turn of the twentieth century before that changed. On the other hand, look in any magazine or newspaper today. Chances are you’ll see medicines, both patent and prescription, advertised as widely, if not as colorfully, today.

Lifestyle advice, although doctors of the day didn’t use that term, might seem very modern to us today. Local doctors shared their recommendations for a long life with the local newspaper:
•Take pride in your hair and dress
•Think pleasant thoughts
•Take regular exercise, especially for “stiff” portions of the body (go ahead, laugh)
•Avoid overeating and careless living
•Mix regularly with the young
•Exercise sanity with regard to tobacco

What I find most interesting about the towns scattered across the west is that so few of the then acquired metropolis status, regardless of their high hopes. And sadly, I believe there are fewer all the time as the West disappears into urban sprawl.

Born and raised in North Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington. She is a member of Western Writers of America and reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup magazine.

Imbued with an abiding love of western traditions and wide-open spaces, Ms. Crigger writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. In her books, whether westerns, mysteries, or fantasy, the locales are real places. All of her books are set the Inland Northwest, the westerns with a historical background. Her short story, Aldy Neal’s Ghost, was a 2007 Spur finalist. Her western novel, Black Crossing, won the 2008 Eppie. Letter of the Law was a 2009 Spur finalist in the audio category.

Friday, July 26, 2013


I've been mulling over all month about a topic. Western weather, and how brutal cattle drives and prairie farming must have been. Another real life western hero, or heroine... or a plug about my re-release of the Spur-Award winning Double Crossing (trust me, it's at the end of this post.) But then I thought about one of the most popular Western Fictioneer members, Dr. Keith Souter (w/a Clay More) and thought, "hey, he's a doctor. I have some questions about stuff I see in movies or books."

So that's what we're chatting about today, western wounds. The image to the left is an antique medical bag. Cool, huh? I love including photos on my blog posts. Okay, back to three types of common western wounds. Recovering, surviving, should-this-be-used-in-your-next-book kind of thing, which is called a genre trope. I call it a "how come they did that instead of ... " type of thing. I have a few beefs (or is that beeves?) about what I've read or seen in westerns.

We'll start with something simple and work our way up.

MEG:  Hey, howdy, Dr. Keith! Many thanks for agreeing to participate in "Ask the Expert" today. I've seen a few movies where either the western hero or an Indian *cuts palm* and then waits for the other guy to do the same so they can make a blood bond ... another friend HATES that and claims that injury is too severe, especially in a medieval when they'd pick up their sword or bow and arrow and try to use the weapon. So, maybe they should use their thumb instead?

Dr. Keith Souter:  Cutting the palm will produce a lot of blood, as anyone will know if they have cut themselves with a knife. A very superficial cut would be enough to allow for symbolic mixing of the blood. Of course, with our knowledge about communicable blood-borne diseases nowadays, one would realize that to become a blood-brother in such a ceremony, where severed surface was placed against severed surface, would have a very good chance of transmitting infection. But back then HIV had not developed.

A deep cut would endanger the superficial palmar arch, a ring of arteries formed from branches of the radial artery and the ulnar artery. I have attached a plate from Gray's Anatomy, which has been one the main textbooks of anatomy used by medical students and doctors since it was first published in 1859, by Henry Gray, of St George's Hospital in London. (There is a TV show called Grey's Anatomy, that is a play on the name - note the different spelling). A deep cut would risk arterial damage, which would cause spurting of blood. That would be a significant wound. There would also be significant danger of nerve damage. A superficial hand wound takes a week or so to heal. Deep wound could take weeks and even months, if there was a lot of damage.

However, nature is not so dumb, and we have a protective tissue called the palmar aponeurosis, which protects those deeper structures. That is important considering all the potential trauma that could happen to the palm. It is an extension of the palmaris longus muscle. It can be seen when you flex your hand, as the single tendon in the middle of the wrist. 

14 % of people do not have that single tendon, but they will still have an aponeurosis. I have attached another of Gray's illustrations of the palmar aponeurosis and you can see how it protects the arterial ring.

So, although nicking the thumb would seem adequate for the purpose, cutting the palm superficially would work. The depth of the palm wound would determine whether it could be used. For a simple superficial one, then yes you could use a sword, fire a gun and hold a bow. Wrap it up and grip. It would hurt, but it could be used. A deep wound with a sword or dagger could damage an artery or a nerve. That would not be so usable. And of course, if you breach the palmar aponeurosis and you cut through the muscles that operate the fingers and thumb, the hand will be useless.

Meg:  Wow, this is fabulous. Okay, question number two. In Hell on Wheels, the widowed wife of the surveyor is shot in the shoulder with an arrow. I've read tons of books where heroes are shot in the shoulder, too. I have a problem with them using that arm afterward, or staunching the bleeding and going on about their business. Just how credible is that?

Dr. Keith Souter:  You are quite correct. A shoulder wound is an awful thing to receive. You would have a large chance of smashing the humerus, or worse, damaging the joint itself. And then there is a huge chance of catastrophic bleeding and nerve damage. I have attached another of Gray's illustrations of the arteries and the nerves in the shoulder. This does not include the veins, of course, but they are in close proximity. The artery is in red and the nerves are in yellow. 

The nerve supply is called the brachial plexus. It is the M shaped grouping that you see. Essentially, nerve roots from the cervical part of the spine amalgamate to form the brachial plexus. The three branches of the M are respectively, the radial nerve, the median nerve and the ulnar nerve. Hit or damage any of them and you will produce paralysis of those parts of the arm and hand that they supply.  

Shoulder gunshot wounds are horrific and if you want  a wound that you can carry on with, it should be a flesh wound to the upper arm. Even that will be incapacitating, but it is more plausible.

Having said that, human beings are capable of amazing feats of endurance when they are in danger. But as for fighting with a shoulder wound? Not easy!

Now an arrowhead is a filthy thing. The arrowhead must be removed, but the yanking out that you see and read about will not work. It simply leaves the arrowhead in where it will fester. That could then develop into septicaemia and result in death. I have researched this and will quote Dr J.H. Bill from the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 1862, a surgeon with real and extensive experience of treating arrow wounds. "An arrow is designed so that its head will detach. Generally, when an arrow is fired it is designed to kill, not to maim." Read my April blog post, The Doctor's Bag, along with a few comments about poisoned arrow tips and how they made the poison.

Pistol balls would not travel as fast and made less of a mess than the Minie ball/bullet, which was used in the Civil War. It expanded and traveled faster and made more mess. But the thing about bullets is that they travel and get so hot they burn off microbes, so they are less liable to get infected than are arrow wounds. Shoulder gunshot depends on weapon caliber and if anatomical structures are damaged. If the bone is injured or nerves are damaged then it is useless and can't be used for a month or more and gradual recovery.

MEG:  Thanks for verifying, wow. I'll just grit my teeth if I see or read that kind of thing again. Since I'm fairly new to the western genre, I've been reading a lot of books where a character is "gut shot." I did not want to include a gut wound picture, because they are SOO GROSS! This will have to do, LOL. So does that mean - "you're dead?" How bad is being gut-shot? Can anyone survive or walk around with a wound in the gut?

Dr. Keith Souter:  Gut shots were always regarded as potentially fatal, but Dr George Goodfellow became the gunshot expert. I have talked about bullet wounds in my last blog. You had a chance of survival if it was a lower calibre weapon .32 or less, in the lower abdomen (below the umbilicus). Upper abdomen, or high calibre, very little chance. Check out the blog, Dig it Out, Doc - Part 2, Bullets, by clicking the link. Abdominal gunshots again depend on weapon caliber and site plus how much internal damage, depending on its direction - you could hit several vital organs, which could prove fatal. You would not be capable of fighting. Recovery would necessitate surgery and several months of healing. 

MEG:  Got it. Think LOWER when writing gunshot battles. Too much stuff in the upper area, I suppose, with the stomach, liver, spleen, etc...  Here's an encore question -- just because it's one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies: How did good ole Clint survive the hanging in Hang 'Em High? I mean, he did survive and I believed it and figured it was accurate. But why? Just curious as to anatomy.

Dr. Keith Souter:  Hanging produces death either from breaking the neck, such as occurs on a gallows and there is a sudden drop, or from blockage of the airways, obstruction of the venous drainage in the brain by pressure on the jugular veins in the neck, or by obstruction of the arterial flow to the brain by pressure on the carotid arteries. It is also likely that the heart can suddenly stop as the result of vasovagal inhibition. 

In judicial hangings with a drop of six feet there is likely to be fracture dislocation at the level of the 2nd and 3rd cervical vertebrae or the 3rd and 4th vertebrae. This would tear the cord from the medulla of the brain. 

If someone is hoisted up from the ground, then the cervical fracture and dislocation and sudden death is less likely. The other causes mentioned above are likely eventually. In England in medieval days, the crime of treason was death by being hanged, drawn and quartered. The victim was hanged until he passed out, then he was cut down, revived and then the rest of the execution proceeded. Horrifically grisly, but they developed torture and execution into a fine art.

When people commit suicide by standing on a chair and then toppling it over, they usually do not break their neck (because the drop is not long enough) but will succumb by the other methods mentioned.

In a matter of life or death, people are able to do remarkable things - drag themselves around, stagger to safety. The fight or flight reaction comes into action and you pump up so much adrenaline that you can get extra strength to override the pain matrix. In addition, in battle - from studies in world War II - wounded soldiers often felt remarkably little pain even in the face of quite major trauma. According to the Gate Control theory of Melzack and Wall, put forward in 1965,  it is possible to close one or more of the gates in the transmission of pain from the site up to the brain. 

Meg: Interesting! Odd how that illustration shows the men with their mouths closed and eyes shut, where I would think they'd be gasping for breath. Hm. I'm so grateful to you, Doc, for chatting about such great western stuff! Thanks again. Readers can find Clay More's books here.

Meg Mims is an Award-winning author and artist -- her first published book, DOUBLE CROSSING, won the WWA Spur Award for Best First Novel in 2012. A blend of True Grit and Murder on the Orient Express, it has over 30 five-star reviews on Amazon. The sequel, DOUBLE or NOTHING, is also available and continues the story of heroine Lily Granville and hero Ace Diamond.

Thursday, July 25, 2013



Venereal Disease in the Old West - Part 1: Syphilis - The Great Pretender

By Keith Souter, aka CLAY MORE




Hurdy-Gurdy Girls and good times
Saloons, cat-houses, brothels, they all feature in the novels and movies about the Old West.

The girls who worked in the saloons and dance-halls were employed to entertain the clientele, to sit and chat, bring good luck and generally enhance the time spent there. Sometimes they were called hurdy-gurdy girls, because of the hurdy-gurdy organs that were often used. In their brightly colored ruffled dresses they would sing or dance with customers. They earned commissions and they would stay sober despite all of the drinks they were bought, by the expedient move of actually just drinking cold tea or some other disguised, but non-alcoholic drink. Although they were usually talked about disparagingly, they usually made good money and were treated with respect. They were not by and large prostitutes. At least, not in the up market saloons.

Yet 'soiled doves', as prostitutes were called plied their trade in less salubrious establishments, or in brothels, so called cat-houses, or in their own cabins and cribs in downtown 'entertainment' parts of the camps, towns or cities. It was a dangerous way to make a living.

Julia Bulette, (known as Jule) Virginia City's  legendary prostitute 'with a heart of gold' was one such soiled dove who met a tragic end. She was born in London in 1832, of French ancestry and emigrated to New Orleans, where she married. Her marriage did not last and she travelled, eventually arriving in Nevada.  There she set herself up as a high class courtesan in Virginia City, earning a substantial amount of money from her services, sufficient to set up an impressive brothel which she called Julia's Palace. She became a madam and employed girls from San Francisco, all of whom were expensively dressed in Paris fashions. Food and wine were available. She became a local celebrity (for she did many good works in the city) and she was made an honorary member of Virginia Engine Number 1. Her photograph above shows her with  the fireman's helmet at her side.

Yet she died tragically, brutally murdered and robbed. A French drifter called John Millain was hanged for her murder in 1868. One of those who witnessed the execution was Mark Twain.

Venereal disease - the other great danger
 In the old West there was a sort of chivalry in that women working as prostitutes were still accorded respect by their customers, as exemplified by Julia Bulette. Yet  danger was always (and still is) a potential problem for anyone working in the sex trade. More dangerous, of course were the venereal infections. And one of the main problems was that their nature was not understood. Prostitutes risked contracting venereal disease from their clients, just as their clients risked contracting it after a visit.

There are several types of venereal disease, but the two most common are syphilis and gonorrhoea. Both have been around for millennia and have caused much morbidity and mortality. In this blog we shall look at Syphilis. Another time we will

Syphilis - the great pretender
Apart from HIV, which is a real problem today, syphilis is a potentially devastating illness to contract. At least it was in days before we developed antibiotics. Even now, unless it is detected and diagnosed it can go underground and cause significant health problems years later.

It has had various common names over the years, like 'the pox,' 'syph,' 'the French Disease' or 'bad blood.' It has also been called 'Cupid's disease.' In bygone days doctors made reputations for themselves by curing cases and by writing learned tomes, such as the above one of  1739.

There are two theories about the origin of syphilis. The first is called the Columbian Hypothesis, which suggests that syphilis existed in the Americas and was brought back to Europe and thence to the rest of the world by the crew of Christopher Columbas. The second is the Pre-Columbian hypothesis that suggests it already existed, but was not recognised.

It was first described when it became rife in the French army in the fifteenth century, hence its name as the French Disease.

The earliest known illustration of syphilis, from Vienna, 1496

The thing about this condition is that when it becomes clinically manifest, it can mimic many other diseases. It was called the Great Pox to differentiate it from smallpox.

It has three main  stages, although the secondary and tertiary stage s are separated by a latent phase.

Primary syphilis 
One or more chancres (an ulcer or a swelling or sore) appears at the site of the infection, either the genitals or in or around the mouth. This occurs between 10 and 90 days after sexual contact with an infected person. It may look horrific, yet can be surprisingly painless. It lasts for about a two to six weeks and then just disappears. It is highly infectious at this stage.

Secondary syphilis

This phase starts anywhere between a few weeks and six months of exposure and lasts for up to three months. It includes fever, lymph gland swelling, mainly in the groins, but also under the arms and in the neck. There may be skin rashes which can mimic virtually any skin condition. Classically there is a rosy rash on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. There may also be weight loss, general malaise, nausea, joint pains and so on. You can see why it was called 'the great pretender,' because it pretends to be other conditions and it fooled many doctors. This is also a highly infectious period.

Latent phase
After the secondary phase, the condition mysteriously disappears. Or rather - it doesn't always! It just seems to have gone - no thanks to the treatments that were given in days gone by, although the doctors  would probably have claimed success and enhanced their reputations.  This latent period could last for  few months or anything up to fifty years! Following this, if one is unlucky, it enters its most dangerous stage. The good thing is that it becomes non-infective.

Tertiary syphilis

This is when syphilis again pretends to be other conditions, all of them serious. About a third of people who contract syphilis will develop these complications.

 There are  several main syndromes of tertiary syphilis:

  • General paresis of the insane - essentially this is a disorder of the nervous system leading to dementia and paralysis. It comes on 10 -30 years after infection. It is thought that Guy de Maupassant, Friedrich Nietzsche had it, and possibly also Vincent Van Gogh and Flaubert. Sadly, it was the ultimate fate of many soiled doves and a good number of their clientele.

  • Tabes Dorsalis - another neurological problem. The posterior or dorsal columns of the spinal cord get damaged, leading to imbalance, an ataxic gait (a movement disorder), shooting pains in the limbs. It can develop into paralysis and dementia also.

  • Gummatous disease - here large tumour-like (not malignant) lesions grow on any part of the body

  • Cardiovascular syphilis - all manner of degenerative heart problems can occur leading to heart failure 
Congenital syphilis
Unfortunately, syphilis can be passed on in pregnancy if the mother has secondary syphilis. It could go on to cause problems for the child. It could affect the liver and spleen, or go on to affect other organs, the skeleton and the teeth. The classic appearance is of a saddle nose deformity, cleft palate, deafness, blunted front teeth and several other potential problems. Of course, stillbirth would also be possible. 

Gerard de Lairesse (1606-1669), by Rembrandt. He was an artist who suffered from congenital syphilis, causing classic facial deformities, including the saddle nose. He went blind as a result of the condition. 

A lifetime of mercury
And here we come to the treatment of this awful condition. 

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries various herbal preparations were advocated. Guaiacum was used as was heartsease, or wild pansy. The main treatment, however, was mercury. The most usual way of using it was by using an ointment of calomel, which was rubbed on the chancres or ulcers.

Calomel is a powder of mercurous chloride. It certainly does have anti-inflammatory properties and may have helped, but the main disappearance of the lesions would be down to the natural history of the condition as I have outlined above. The lifetime of mercury could relate t people going back for more and more of it when different manifestations occurred.

Calomel could also be taken internally. It would produce what seemed to be a detoxification reaction. That is, the patient would salivate, perspire, feel dry, want to vomit and purge their bowels. Of course, they were not detoxifying at all, they were experiencing a reaction to the calomel. Yet there would be some anti-inflammation and that might shorten the stage that they were in, but it would not get rid of it. Nor would it stop them from being infective in either the primary or secondary stages.

Of course, since it was realised that sexual contact was the cause, although the way in which the disease was transferred from person to person was not realised, here was a tendency to treat the genital area itself. For men this might include having some mercuric compounds syringed up the urethra of the penis. This was certainly done in the treatment of gonorrhoea - of which we shall speak in a later article.

Following on from the idea of getting rid of a toxin it was also thought that you could sweat it out. People would be swaddled in a hot room to induce a high temperature and a perspiration reaction. Adding mercury to the equation, by heating it in the room to produce some mercury vapour for the patient to inhale and be bathed in.

Decades later, doctors even started to infect patients with malaria because the high fevers were found to benefit those patients with tertiary syphilis. There was a significant risk in this, of course, since malaria is a dangerous condition. The justification was that by then it had been discovered that quinine could counter malarial symptoms.

Later in the nineteenth century it was discovered that other metals and their salts also had anti-inflammatory actions. Interestingly, arsenic was used in small doses in syphilis and in many other conditions. Indeed, in 1908 the  first truly effective drug against syphilis was an an organo-arsenical salt, called Salvarsan.

The causative organism
The germ theory that developed in the closing decades of the nineteenth century was followed by discoveries of the infecting organism in many conditions. In 1905 Fritz Schaudinn and Erich Hoffman discovered that a microscopic organism called Treponema pallidum caused syphilis. It is a spirochete, which is a type of spiral shaped bacterium. Then in 1906 August Paul von Wassermann developed his test, the Wasserman Reaction, or WR, which gave doctors a means of testing for the condition. It is still in use today.

Treponema pallidum - the spiral shaped organisms that cause syphilis

In 1908 Salvarsan was developed by Sahachiro Hata and patients suffering from this horrid condition had some hope of cure.

Syphilis today
It remains to be said that syphilis is still a threat to the health of many millions of people throughout the world, although some 90 per cent occur in the developing world. Prevention is still the best answer, which means people practising safe sex, or abstaining.

To be continued......

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Civil War Reenacting: Camp Life

By Matthew Pizzolato

The typical day for a soldier during the War began at 5 A.M when the bugler played Reveille. If you've never heard the tune, it's not something that can be slept through.

Soldiers actually spent very little of their time fighting.  The primary activity for a soldier was drilling. They would drill as many as five times a day, often for an hour or two at a time.  One soldier described his day in the following manner. "The first thing in the morning is drill. Then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill."

Of course, there was the normal activity of camp life, such as cooking and chopping firewood and other routine tasks.

When they weren't drilling, they had to find ways to entertain themselves and for young men who were restricted to a military camp, there wasn't much to do.  Therefore, they had to find ways to alleviate their boredom. 

The number one activity was writing letters to their loved ones at home or reading letters they had received.  Sometimes they found distraction from their boredom by playing card games, mostly whist or euchre, or even having boxing matches.  One activity involved staging races between lice or cock roaches across a strip of canvas.

Alcohol was forbidden, but many managed to smuggle it past the guards.   If they couldn't buy liquor, they made their own.  Sometimes men would seek "horizontal refreshments." By the second year of the War, Washington, D.C. had 450 bordellos and more than 7,500 full time prostitutes. Venereal disease was a common ailment among soldiers. 

A lot of soldiers suffered from homesickness and many of them left their regiments, a crime that was severely frowned upon.  During the War, the Union Army executed 141 men for desertion.  

On the other hand, camp life for a reactor involves a lot less drilling.  We drill on occasion, practice different marching commands or go through the manual of arms to keep ourselves sharp, but we don't do it nearly on the scale the soldiers did.   

During the day and evening when we are not on the battlefield, we tend to relax as much as possible.  We cook our meals and tell stories around the campfire.  We will leave camp for a while to visit the sutlers for supplies to augment our reenacting gear. On Saturday nights, dances are held where we put on our best bib and tucker and the ladies wear ball gowns and hoop skirts. 

Sometimes during the afternoons, I have been known to take a nap because when we march to battle, it tends to be uphill both ways.  

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He writes Western fiction featuring his antihero character, Wesley Quaid, that can be found in his story collection, The Wanted Man and the novella Outlaw

Matthew is the editor and webmaster of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western and can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter @mattpizzolato

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I love books about writing. That includes writing guides, style manuals, biographies, memoirs, craft guides, and how to write books. Anything about writing or writers. Hundreds of these books line my shelves and piles of them teeter precariously on my office floor.

For many years, before the Internet made communicating with other writers so much easier, I depended on books about writing for companionship, camaraderie, and conversations on lonely road that is writing.

I really got hooked between college and graduate school, when I was starved for craft talk. Fortunately, I was savvy enough not to believe everything I read and greedy enough to buy three and four books at a time, so that I became immediately aware that no single book or individual author had the final word on any one subject.

During the summer of 2001 while helping my father recover from a traumatic brain injury, I gorged myself on just about every title published by Writer's Digest Books. I crammed book after book onto my shelves, under-lined furiously, and day-dreamed for hours, weighing Bradbury against Maas, Kress against Bell.

At first, I bought books by writers I admired. Then I bought books by topic--character, plot, dialogue--and then by genre--fiction, poetry, and drama, as well as mystery, romance, fantasy and sci fi. Soon, I acquired indiscriminately any book about any aspect of writing. And they kept me company, inspired and informed me.

But something was missing.

I wanted to read about writing Westerns.

There are, are, very few books on how to write a Western novel, especially compared to the number of books on writing mysteries, thrillers, or romances. Sure, back then, there was Matt Braun’s How to Write Western Novels (Writer’s Digest Books, 1988) but that had already fallen out of print. (Braun has since repackaged it as How to Write Novels that $ell, stripping away the Western focus.)

These days, there just aren’t that many books on writing Westerns. There are books by writers known for their Westerns who also sling ink in other genres, such Terry Burns’ A Writer's Survival Guide To Publication (Port Yonder Press, 2010), Loren D. Estleman's now out-of-print Writing the Popular Novel: A Comprehensive Guide to Crafting Fiction That Sells (F+W Media, 2004), L. J. Martin’s Write Compelling Fiction: Tricks to the Writing Trade (Wolfpack Publishing, 2011), and Jory Sherman’s Master Course in Writing (High Hill Press, 2011).

You also can bulk up the numbers a little by including manuals for writing historical fiction. James Alexander Thom’s exceptional The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction (F+W Media, 2010) comes readily to mind.

But, right now, in the heat of an e-book boom that has been very kind to the Western, there are three guides explicitly about (as Dusty Richards puts it) “writing the West”:

• Write a Western in 30 Days, by Nik Morton (Compass Books, 2013)
• Writing Westerns: How to Craft a Novel that Evokes the Spirit of the West, by Michael Newton (F+W Media, 2012)
• Writing the West with Dusty Richards, by Dusty Richards (High Hill Press, 2010)

Morton, Newton, and Richards take different approaches. Richards’ book is a collection of essays written by him and six other writers. He reveals the “little details that make the difference and bring your book to life.” Newton “examines what a Western is, while teaching you how to “research and write on.” Accordingly, he adds that research, talent, and imagination are the keys to writing a successful novel.” Morton emphasizes a “plot-plan” and adds a time limit of 30 days. By days, he means eight not necessarily continuous hours of work time.

Individually or added up, these three how to guides could serve not so much as a road map to writing a novel but as a conversation that might lead to your writing a Western.

Each of these authors agrees, explicitly or implicitly, that his way of writing a western isn’t the only way.

Or as Morton puts it, “There’s no right way to write a novel. There are plenty of wrong ways, of course.”

There’s no right way to write a novel. There are many.

How to books offer advice which, ultimately, is about timing, about re-considering your own perspective and being open to another writer's point of view.

As I read about writing, each bit of advice or statement about craft forces me to respond—to carry on a conversation in my head, to engage in a dialogue with the author of the book. I must choose to accept, to ignore, and to evaluate in some way or another.

Just as no two of my friends see the world in the same way, no two writers see the craft of writing in the same way. Agreement can be dull. Talking to yourself in the echo chamber of your mind can be doubly dull. Discussion, ambivalence, disagreement are far more interesting than everyone nodding and saying, "Yes, yes, that is the way, the only way."

I've learned to weigh each bit of advice or method, to experiment with and tweak various approaches. And, in my humble opinion, the best books on writing explicitly encourage you to take everything with a grain of salt.

If Mike Newton contradicts Nik Morton or Dusty Richards contradicts Jory Sherman, I'm not confused, I'm excited. Hot dang!

If Jory Sherman tells me to close my eyes, imagine a scene, and then just write it without worrying where I am headed, then I'm going to do it.

If Nik Morton warns me to sketch out a plot-plan before I start actually writing that first chapter, then I'm going to do that, too.

If Dusty Richards tells me to think of the Western in quarters--“your main POV character is lost,” “your hero is an orphan,” “he becomes an emerging hero,” and “he becomes a hero/martyr”--guess what? I'm going to try that, too.

Why wouldn't I? I respect these writers. I love their fiction. Why wouldn't I try to learn as much as I can from them?

At times in my life it has been easier to sit alone in a room and not write—to stare at a blank screen or blank page and not get started. It’s been easier to put off the novel, to toss out the half-written short story, to give up. My antidote for that has been to read books about writing.

“Strive for the best,” says Richards, “and you will find publication—if you persist like a brush-eating Billy goat.”

The first time I read those lines from Richards, I moved forward. I wrote. I persisted. I researched and outlined a novel. Richards pointed me in the direction of the brush and encouraged me to eat.

In Master Course in Writing, the great Jory Sherman calls writing “a disease,” a “magical journey,” and an addiction. These metaphors force me--and, perhaps, you--to reevaluate my chosen path, to reconsider the act of writing.

“I know that my words will open doors into your own imagination and that you will never again fear the sight of a blank sheet of paper,” writes Sherman. “You will want to fill it with words, words that come from your own heart and mind.”

Sherman promises doors swinging wide as I follow his writing exercises, and behind many of those doors I know that I will find more questions than answers. I want to open those doors. I want to find more questions, not answers.

I know a lot of writers who despise books about writing. I’ve heard people say that it’s better to write than talk or read about writing.

Me? I love the companionship, the camaraderie, the inspiration, and perhaps most of all I love the questions I am forced to ask of myself. Small questions. Big questions. Huge questions.

Questions like: Am I goat enough? Do I have the self-discipline to be a fearless, disease-ridden Billy goat on a magical, brush-eating journey? Do you? Do any of us?

Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and lecturer living in his wife's hometown in South Carolina. He teaches part-time at Wofford College, volunteers at the Carolina Poodle Rescue's dog sanctuary, and sends Troy D. Smith regular (and often impatient) e-mails asking when the next Ford Fargo book will be available for Nook. The son of a son of a son of teachers, Jones is the founder of Living Words, a creative writing programs for seniors with dementia, and of Shared Worlds, a writing and world-building camp for teenagers. If he can ever get Ford Fargo on the phone, he's going to pitch a Western writing program. When he met Robert Randisi for the first time he "drooled on his sleeve," as Marthayn put it, and he still tells people he ate a steak with the Gunsmith. He is currently working on a series of stories for High Noon Press about a character created by one of his literary heroes, Frank Roderus. Over the coming months Jones will review books on writing written by members of the Western Fictioneers, starting with Nik Morton's Write a Western in 30 Days.