Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Writing About Indians When You're Not One: Words

Troy D. Smith

Not long ago I was asked to look over a manuscript that was set among Dakota Sioux Indians before white contact. One thing that jumped out at me was the usage of certain words: papoose, squaw, wigwam. These are all words we tend to associate with Native Americans -in fact, no matter our generation, most Americans were taught in elementary school that "this is the Native American/Indian word for fill-in-the-blank." So on one hand it seems perfectly natural that a non-indigenous writer would put these "Indian" words into the mouths of their Indian characters. But for me, it immediately jumped right out.

What makes these words the "Indian" words?

First, you have to realize (and we all do) that there are hundreds of different languages and dialects that have been spoken by native peoples in North America; some of those languages have died out, but many others have been preserved. The study of those languages is fascinating, and sometimes surprising: for example, did you know that the Athabaskan language group is spoken by tribes in three regions -Alaska and the Yukon, Oregon and Northern California, and the Navajos and Apaches of the Southwest? They don't all speak the same language, of course, but their languages are similar -just as Spanish and Italian are similar as Romance languages, and distantly related to other Indo-European languages like German and English. This tells us that once, a very long time ago, they were the same group of people, and their languages grew apart as some groups migrated southward.

If we are writing fiction set among indigenous tribes, unless we are literally writing in the actual language they spoke, our dialogue is implicitly the English translation of what the characters are actually saying. So then, what is it that makes us want to have an Apache or a Modoc saying "squaw" instead of woman, or "papoose" instead of baby?

Well, let's take a look at the origins of some of the words we associate with Indians.

TOMAHAWK- Powhatan, meaning "hatchet"
PAPOOSE - Narragansett, meaning "child"
WIGWAM -Algonquin, probably Abenaki and/or Penobscot, meaning "dwelling"
SQUAW- Narragansett and/or Massachusett, meaning "woman." Some say it comes from the Mohawk word ojiskwa, meaning slit or vagina, which is why many modern Indian women find it extremely offensive.
WAMPUM- Narragansett and/or Massachusett, meaning "shell beads"
TIPI- Lakota (Sioux), meaning "dwelling"

The last term, tipi, is a structure that was used by Plains Indians. Like a lot of things Americans have tended to regard as quintessentially Indian (the feathered warbonnet being another), this is  a relatively new (or newish) addition to the English lexicon, in large part because the U.S. Army's struggles with those tribes is among the most recent in our memory.

But those other terms in the above list are a lot older.

Also, apart from the possible Mohawk (an Iroquoian language) etymology of squaw, they all come from tribes who spoke/speak languages in the Algonquin family.

Who are the Powhatans? As you probably know, those were the Indians encountered by English colonists in Virginia in 1607.

Want to guess what part of the country the Narragansett, Massachusett, and Penobscot tribes are from? Yes, New England- along with Wampanoags and Pequots, these were the tribes encountered by the English colonists known as Pilgrims in the 1620s.

So then, many if not most of the words we think of as "Indian" terms came from the very first tribes the English colonists met in the New World. "Oh, so this is the Indian word for baby," one can imagine them saying -and since so many of the tribes in the region spoke Algonquin dialects, the words may have even been very similar in many languages. They were then absorbed into the colonial vocabulary, particularly associated with Indians. So far so good.

But two hundred years later, those colonists's descendants were on the Great Plains, expecting Lakota and Arapaho people to call their babies papooses, since after all that is the "Indian word."

Did Sioux Indians ever use the word "papoose"? I'm willing to bet they did. And I'm willing to bet it was because Americans used that word with them, thinking it was their word, and as a consequence our conjectural Sioux probably assumed "papoose" was the white people's word for baby, so he used it when speaking with them.

But if you are writing a story about Cheyenne Indians, or Pueblos -especially if it is set before contact with English-speaking peoples -and you have them saying papoose, or wigwam, you are being very inaccurate.

"But what should I say instead of 'papoose'?" you may ask. How about either finding out what that tribe's word for baby actually is... or just say baby.

On the one hand it seems very ironic -and on the other hand it is totally unsurprising -that Europeans formed opinions about what Indians were "supposed" to be, and applied it generally to every Indian tribe, then started projecting what they saw as authenticity onto Indians without ever thinking to ask them if it was right.

For a complete archive of the entries in this blog series, GO HERE

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review Roundup: Short Reads, Big Stories

Publishing Christmas-themed stories in July seems a bit…well, non-traditional. Then again, not much about new publisher Prairie Rose Publications is traditional. Founded in August 2013 by long-time Western Fictioneers members Livia J. Washburn and Cheryl Pierson, PRP staked a claim to territory almost all other publishers declined to touch, saying the genre “didn’t sell”: western historical romance. Since then, PRP has been busily engaged in proving naysayers wrong. Within the past few weeks PRP has released eleven short stories, two novels, a boxed set, and a single-author anthology—all historical, all western, and all written by women.

Below are brief reviews of several of the short stories. (I reviewed the novels and one of the short stories earlier. Those reviews are here, here, and here.)

By Tanya Hanson
Prairie Rose Publications, July 2014
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00M2A98JU
$0.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781311063656
45 pages

A mail-order bride and the man she traveled west to marry mourn the death of the man’s young daughter death in different ways. Carsten abandons his new wife to make peace with inner demons. Alone on Carsten’s homestead in the dead of winter, Ella blames herself for the accident that claimed the child’s life.

In very few pages, author Tanya Hanson does a remarkable job of portraying the grief-sparked misunderstandings and personal suffering that often drive couples apart even in the modern world. The story’s happy ending is all the more touching for the author’s ability to present realistic emotion to which even non-parents can relate.

Her Christmas Wish
By Tracy Garrett
Prairie Rose Publications, July 2014
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00M2829GQ
$0.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781310552885
47 pages

Author Tracy Garrett’s Old West twist on the enduring star-crossed lovers plot gives Romeo and Juliet the happy ending they deserved but were denied. Parental disapproval separated Kathryn and Will as young adults, before they could marry. A decade later, widowed Kathryn mourns the loss of her youth while honoring her late husband’s dream by tending his stagecoach stop in the middle of nowhere. An unexpected reunion with the man she never forgot—and his explanation for his sudden disappearance on the eve of their elopement—leaves her confused and angry.

Author Tracy Garrett weaves freshness onto a well-worn framework. Plausible situations, behaviors, and emotions create very real doubt the characters will work out their differences and find the happily-ever-after ending romance stories require.

A Christmas Miracle
By Phyllis Miranda
Prairie Rose Publications, July 2014
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00M27PDD8
$0.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781310972737
48 pages

Outcast by the local townsfolk because of her late father’s reputation as an outlaw, destitute Mattie Jo is barely able to feed and clothe her orphaned younger siblings even though she works long hours at a shameful job. When her baby sister takes ill with a life-threatening illness, Mattie Jo swallows her pride and turns to the new doctor in town for help. Snowed in at Maggie’s remote cabin on Christmas Eve, two vastly different people discover a remedy to mend both their wounds.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyllis Miranda is known for bringing the most unlikely couples together through the power of love. In “A Christmas Miracle,” Miranda’s typical voice and style turn what could have been a pile of trite into a much more satisfying tale of forgiveness and acceptance.

A Husband for Christmas
By Sarah J. McNeal
Prairie Rose Publications, July 2014
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00M282QV4
$0.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781310904981
42 pages

Jane and her young son Robin survived the sinking of the Titanic, but their husband and father went down with the ship. Grief and survivor’s guilt keep both mired in the past even as they attempt to convince one another to face the future. Long after his people were assimilated, Lakota Teekonka still occasionally struggles for acceptance in the white man’s world. His native spirituality sustains him and provides a bulwark behind which Jane and Robin begin to heal.

“A Husband for Christmas” represents a branch of author Sarah J. McNeal’s heartwarming Wildings series. This is a “quiet” story made all the more enchanting by its focus on a small, rural town and its very genuine inhabitants.

Outlaw’s Kiss
By Cheryl Pierson
Prairie Rose Publications, July 2014
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00M27PX9M
$0.99 most other e-formats, ISBN 9781310400353
46 pages

Months after he shamed Talia before the entire town during a community picnic, her childhood friend Jake shows up on her doorstep bleeding from a gunshot wound. Though she’d rather let him die in the snow, Talia takes in the outlaw-on-the-run and nurses him back to health. Trapped in Talia’s cabin during a December blizzard, Talia, Jake, and Talia’s little brother learn home is more than a physical place.

Wounded heroes are a staple of author Cheryl Pierson’s work, perhaps because breaking down a strong man’s external defenses provides symbolic resonance for the internal struggles that form the backbone of all romance stories. Pierson never disappoints, and this story is no exception. The little boy is particularly charming.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and an author. She received review copies of all the stories in this post from the publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization. Links in the review are for convenience only; they do not produce affiliate revenue.

Full disclosure: Rice Adams’ fiction is published by Prairie Rose Publications.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


In August, 2013, my business partner, Livia Reasoner and I decided to take the plunge and open our own publishing house. So many little companies were bursting on the scene that we wondered if we would be able to make much of a difference in the publishing world. Less than a year later, I want to share with you all what we’ve done.

To start with, I better talk a little about why we wanted to start Prairie Rose Publications to begin with. Livia and I both belong to a professional western writing group, the WESTERN FICTIONEERS, of which we are both very proud to be members. I am currently acting as President of the Western Fictioneers until 2016. We had both noticed that there were many women writers—good women writers—who were having trouble “breaking in” to the western genre. Many of these women wrote “gritty” western stories—not so heavy on the romance as on the “western” aspect; many of them wrote shorter stories than the normal popular length for a novel, or novella; and many were having trouble just because they were women—with the name to prove it.

Lots of publishers don’t like taking a chance on westerns anymore, written by man or woman—but when they have a choice, they’ll be publishing the ones by men—since men are more apt to buy western and science fiction works by another man than by a woman.

Livia and I agreed that one of the submissions requirements for our publishing house would be first and foremost, to submit, you had to be a woman. We have not been sorry, and have had more business than we can handle at times.

Another thing we wanted to do was encourage new writers as well as seasoned ones. We’ve got a fantastic mix of both, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with them all. Our royalty rate is one of the best anywhere, paying 80% net to the authors, who work so hard to write these wonderful tales and hope with everything in them to find a home for their stories. After years of being offered the traditional meager 35% for e-books and 7% for print, our authors are extremely happy with the royalty payments, and so are we.

We can do this because we don’t accept anything that requires heavy editing, so we are able to produce more quality stories and novels in a shorter time span.

It wasn’t long after we opened Prairie Rose Publications that we were asked if we published children’s westerns. And what about contemporary and science fiction? Well, did we also have an imprint for youngsters’ contemporary or fantasy stories? The answer became YES very quickly. Painted Pony Books is our imprint for Middle Grade, YA and New Adult western fare; Tornado Alley Publications is the sister imprint for Middle Grade, YA, and New Adult contemporary stories, and Fire Star Press satisfies contemporary, science fiction and fantasy categories for adults.

All of our imprints except Prairie Rose Publications are open to ANYONE to submit to—men and women, alike; newbies and experienced writers.

Since opening our doors, we have published many anthologies at PRP—Wishing For a Cowboy (Christmas 2013), Hearts and Spurs (Valentine’s Day 2014), Lassoing a Bride, Lassoing a Groom, Lassoing a Mail Order Bride, and Cowboy Cravings (Summer stories, 2014).

We’ve also put out 14 novels in the PRP line, as well as 6 novellas.

In the Painted Pony Books imprint, we’ve published 9 books, some for all three of our age groups.
In the Tornado Alley Publications imprint, we published our first anthology, THIS SUMMER STORM, for YA readers just a few weeks ago in time for summer reading for ages 13-17. We also released a “retro” novel about the Viet Nam era, Echoes in the Night, and will be releasing two more about that era in the next couple of months.

Fire Star Press has seen the release of one novella and one novel, with many more on the way.
Part of what we want to do with our company is to inspire people in many ways, and one of these ways is by helping others. We have partnered with some charities that are so rewarding and exciting to work with. One of them, The Lighthouse For Recovery Ministries, has many branches that reach out to all segments of the Birmingham, Alabama community—the homeless, abused animals, addiction programs, and programs for veterans who need help.

Another of our “pet projects” has been helping with Westie rescue expenses by donating books to the Westie Rescue Missouri Fundraising Auction (here is the Facebook page for their event, for anyone who might be interested):

What do we have coming up in the next year? More of the same! Prairie Rose Publications will have its first Halloween anthology, Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico making a debut in late September. But there’ll also be an anthology from Tornado Alley Publications for Middle Grade Readers this fall called My Dog Can Do Magic! For New Adult readers, we’ll have an anthology just in time for Halloween—It Could Happen—stories that have a love story with a Halloween twist. We have submission calls open for all three of these anthologies, if you have a story you think might meet the requirements!

Christmas will see two anthologies, Present for a Cowboy and Present for a Cowgirl in our PRP line.
And Valentine’s Day will be marked by another new anthology to be released in the middle part of January.

But even more immediately, we have a special CHRISTMAS IN JULY event coming up from July 25-Aug. 1! During that time period, we’ll have many new Christmas-themed novellas and short stories available for purchase at our brand new website!

We’ll have a lot of giveaways going on, too! We hope you’ll come join us during National Week of the Cowboy, the week we’ve chosen for our Christmas in July event—and get to know our authors. But don’t wait until then—here’s the link, come on over and join us now!


PRP blog:

Questions? Ideas? Thoughts? Please leave a comment with your contact information! I will be drawing the names of 3 lucky winners today!

Here’s what’s up for grabs from the PRP goodie bag!
1 signed print copy of GABRIEL'S LAW
1 digital copy of COWBOY CRAVINGS
Winners will be announced tonight! Thanks so much for stopping by and celebrating with me!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Historical Railroad Resources by Kaye Spencer

Whether I’m writing a story set in 1880 Texas or turn-of-the-century Chicago, more often than not, mode of transportation pops up and gives me fits, since it's important to me to depict any method of travel with historical accuracy.

For instance, when it comes to stagecoach travel, I can describe it in general terms of the characters stopping, roughly, every 15-25 miles for meals and swapping out the tired team for a fresh team, and I don’t necessarily have research the actual routes, since a stage could go, theoretically, wherever there was a passable road. That makes my writing life a lot easier.

However, incorporating railroad travel into a story presents challenges of knowing where the tracks were and at what time in history they were used. Since I strive for historical accuracy in my writing or, at the very least, historical accuracy with a hint of poetic license, I look deeper into the details when my characters travel by rail.

While it's convenient to put my heroine on a train in Laredo, Texas in September of 1880, have her stay on the train as it follows the Rio Grande all the way to El Paso, and then have her continue by rail north to her destination in Denver, Colorado, it isn’t historically correct for the year, and I won't write that into my story. In the American west of 1880, railroad lines were expanding, but it was a slow process, and there were gaps between towns or the railroads bypassed towns completely.

When I move forward in history, and my characters in Chicago need to ride the night train to New York, it’s important to get as many facts as correct as I can. For me to feel right about the story, I have to know departure and arrival times, duration  of travel time between towns, train names, and station names, etc.

It can be a daunting research challenge for the writer to locate reliable transportation information so, over the years, I’ve collected many resources. I have of list of bookmarked Internet sites that I refer to for all modes of historical transportation.

For a web-based railroad source, I recommend the railroad map collection at the Library of Congress:

For book resources, here is a collage of books in my personal library, with the pertinent information listed below the picture.

Illustrated Book of Steam and Rail
The history and development of the train and an evocative guide to the world’s great railway journeys.
©2003 ISBN: 0-7607-4952-3
504 pages plus Index

The Cars of Pullman
©2010 ISBN: 978-0-7603-3587-1
171 pages plus Index

Night Trains
The Pullman System in the Golden Years of American Rail Travel
©1989 ISBN: 0-8018-4503-3
405 pages plus Index

Santa Fe Railway
©1997 ISBN: 978-0-7603-0380-1
126 pages plus Index

Santa Fe’s Raton Pass
©2010 ISBN: 978-1-933587-23-3
158 pages

Denver’s Railroads
The Story of Union Station and the Railroads of Denver
©1981 ISBN: 0-918654-31-9
240 pages plus Index and additional maps

Great American Rail Journeys
The Companion to the Public Television Programs
©2000 ISBN: 0-7627-0614-7
190 pages plus Index

Railways Then and Now
A World History
©1975 ISBN: 0-517-520-36-2

Photo credits: Fotolia (train on bridge)and Wikipedia (vintage advertisement)

Until next month,


Fall in love…faster, harder, deeper with Kaye Spencer romances
Twitter - @kayespencer

Friday, July 25, 2014


I can hear it now... "but Star Wars is sci-fi." "It's set in fictional worlds of outer space." "Star Wars, a western? BUNKO!" Aha. You may not agree, but I'll try to convince you that this classic American film is indeed a disguised "western" in "a galaxy far, far away."

First, I'll confess that my first date with my husband was going to the movies in 1977 to see Star Wars. We'd heard how good it was, yadda yadda. Hey, we like good movies. So why not? Like any newly dating couples, we were cautious (no popcorn, might stick in the teeth... do we hold hands this soon? nah... what else should I say to a guy I don't know well?) Once the film began, with the "backstory" scrolling into the distance, and the small space ship being swallowed up by the huge Imperial cruiser -- we totally forgot each other. The movie was *that* good.

Everyone knows that George Lucas is a western fan. Sure, he loved Flash Gordon and wanted to incorporate those elements, but here's what he also said:

"I liked westerns. Westerns were very big when I was growing up. When we finally got a television there was a whole run of westerns on television. John Wayne films, directed by John Ford, before I knew who John Ford was. I think those were very influential in my enjoyment of movies."  (Click here to read the whole interview) Okay, so he enjoyed westerns. It doesn't prove Star Wars is a western in disguise. This is only my opinion, after all.

Think analogy. Let's consider the setting of Star Wars too. Skip the whole Princess Leia vs. Darth Vader confrontation on his ship and go straight to Tatooine -- a desert planet. Reminds me of New Mexico or west Texas (except it was filmed in the Tunisian desert) -- and the "ranch" Luke Skywalker lives on is actually a moisture farm, scratching out a sparse living (much like any desert area in the old west.) The "droid" robots could be imagined as the "cattle" -- except they help work on the farm tending "vaporators."

Okay, let's go back to Princess Leia, who cannot escape from villainous Darth Vader. Her droid robots C3PO and R2D2 use an escape pod to avoid capture and land on Tatooine, where they are "rustled" by the Jawa creatures to be sold to the highest bidder. And that's how they end up at Uncle Owen's farm. Luke takes on a quest to find the reclusive Obi Wan Kenobi that he knows as Ben Kenobi (consider him to be an old west "sheriff" since the Jedi masters once kept order using the Force and their light sabers).

Luke engages with Tatooine's Tusken Raiders (think native Americans) before Ben Kenobi rescues him. This cements a bond between them, making Luke his mentee, especially after they discover that Darth Vader's "soldier" or Stormtroopers destroyed the Jawa transport as well as killed Luke's aunt and uncle at their farm. Luke has no choice but to join Ben Kenobi -- who gives Luke his father's light saber (as deadly as a Colt or Peacemaker in the old west). The mentee becomes the "deputy" with this weapon and must learn to use it. And while these lessons take place later on on a space ship, Luke and Ben could easily be standing anywhere in the old west shooting tin cans off a fence.

Ben and Luke (and the droids) head to the "den of scum and villainry" called Mos Eisley (which could be Dodge City, Deadwood, Tombstone) to find some way of escaping the villains. Enter Han Solo, mercenary -- think of him as a hired gunslinger -- who makes a deal with Luke and Kenobi at the cantina. But first, Han runs into a bounty hunter -- and ends up killing Greedo first. Harrison Ford was a natural in this film. His first credited role was in the western A Time to Kill before he appeared in GunsmokeThe Virginian and Kung Fu, and after his Star Wars and Indiana Jones series of films, played a villain in Cowboys and Aliens. And after shooting the bounty hunter, Han Solo tosses a coin to the barkeeper and says, "sorry about the mess." Classic! He struts off, his blaster once again holstered and tied to his leg.

Since Princess Leia didn't cooperate with the villainous Darth Vader (the real bad guy), she was sent to "jail" -- and Luke talks Han into rescuing her. She is the love interest, after all, like any western "damsel in distress." Plus Ben Kenobi (the sheriff, remember) must confront the villain Darth Vader -- Ben believes only he can defeat him. Luke and Han (deputy and gunslinger) end up in trouble during the rescue and Leia must save the day (a nice twist), but they end up jumping from the frying pan into the fire. (In case you haven't seen Star Wars, I'll keep the details vague.) And the ultimate showdown between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi (villain and sheriff) sends Luke (deputy) into a further showdown with the enemy.

Okay, that's enough proof for one post. I suppose I could go on and talk about the other films in the series, but Star Wars (A New Hope) is enough for now. And check this out! I stumbled over this site when researching about Star Wars' characters -- they "rebooted" them as collectibles. Click here if you're interested in seeing the West Wars figures. Here's a picture of them. Pretty wild.

Oh, my boyfriend back then (now my husband) and I ended up seeing Star Wars at least sixteen times. That movie was far better than anything else released that year -- and we saw more things we missed the first few times. We're still total fans to this day of the original three films, as is our daughter. May the Force be with you! And happy trails to you as well.

Award-winning mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband, a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog. Her sweet Lhasa Apso-mix rescue dog -- the "hero" of her Christmas novella Santa Paws -- will live forever in her heart. Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur Award / Laramie Award winning Double series is now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014



- the blog about Medicine in the 19th Century 


Keith Souter

In he Doctor's Bag this month we shall look at some of the drugs that the town doctor in the Old west could dispense to his or her patients.

In how many movies have you heard a character ask the town doctor for some medicine to cure some complaint or another. Very often  it is a request for  a painkilling drug and more often than not the doctor just happens to have a bottle of laudanum all ready in his bag. When you write a Western novel and have such a scene intended, you may want to stretch the request beyond a need for laudanum. Having your town doctor treat other conditions may make the doctor-patient interaction more realistic.

Doc Adams in Gunsmoke could always make and dispense a remedy. At a recent visit to the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City I sought out Doc Adams and found him with some of the accoutrements of his trade. As I am sure you all know, he was played beautifully by Milburn Stone.

The G stood for Galen. Interestingly, this was a name chosen by Milburn Stone when the show transferred from radio to television.  It was a great choice, since Galen of Pergamum  131-201 AD) was an ancient Greek physician whose teachings dominated medical thought for well over a thousand years. He moved around a lot and at one time was the physician to a gladiator school.

A group of medicines were referred to as Galenicals, after him. Essentially, these were drugs that were used to balance the four vital fluids of the body, or humours as they were referred to. This was an archaic belief that the  body contained these four fluids - blood, black and yellow bile and phlegm - an that imbalance resulted in disease associated with the excess or deficiency of one or other of them. various herbs and minerals were known to have particular effects, so they were given to correct perceived imbalances. The cucumber, for example was used in medicines as a cooling galenical - hence, as cool as a cucumber. There is some rational, actually, since it is rich in natural salicylates, which like aspirin the modern day wonder drug, has anti-inflammatory effect and reduces abnormal temperature. Doctors in the 19th century were still practising the art of medicine rather than the science. It was a mixture of theories, empirical observation and peddling of treatments passed on from one generation to the other.

Just look at the bottom of the picture of Doc Adams and you will see his pestle and mortar. This is something that most doctors would have, for pounding ingredients when making medicines.

Mortar and pestle from author's collection

The mortar is the bowl and the pestle is the club-like implement used to grind and pulverise. They are tools that have been used to compound medicines for millennia.

A brief history of the pill
It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the ancient Egyptians invented the pill as a means of taking medicine. The Ebers papyrus of about 1550 BC outlines different ways of taking medicines, by enema, lozenges or pills. The pills were made of clay reread with the medication mixed through. Often they used the feces of animals as a binder and as a medicine.

The Persian physician Rhazes (865-925 AD) improved it by using a psyllium-seed mucilage that made the pills less bitter and nauseating.

A century later, the Persian polymath Avicenna (980-1037 AD) improved it further by using a fine coating of gold or silver foil.

Over the following centuries, other coatings were used, but they all had a disadvantage in that they allowed for only partial absorption of the active ingredient into the body. The problem was that many coatings were too difficult for the body to digest and much of the medication could simply pass straight through. On the other hand, sometimes too much would be released and absorbed, producing side effects from too much. We refer to a drug's bioavailability. That means the readiness with which it is made available to the body.

In 1834 the French pharmacist Mohes invented the gelatine capsule, which is rapidly digested allowing  good bioavailability. We still use these today, of course.

One of the greatest advances came in 1884 when Dr William Upjohn (1853-1932) patented a 'friable pill,' which was made by compressing powder into a pill shape. This would then dissolve in the stomach and be absorbed quickly. It had good bioavailability. 

Dr Upjohn lived, qualified and practiced in Michigan. He knew that his invention was a winner, the problem being to persuade other doctors to use his friable pills rather than their own hard pellets. He did it by sending thousands of pine boards along with traditionally made pills and his own friable pills to doctors all over the country, inviting them to  try to hammer the traditional pills into the board. They often did so without breaking, showing how hard it was for the body to absorb. In comparison, one of his friable pills could be turned into powder, ready to be absorbed, merely with the pressure of the thumb. It was a brilliant and persuasive image which became the logo of The Upjohn  Pill and Granule Company that he and his brother formed in Kalamazoo in 1886. It was to become one of the pharmaceutical giants of the 20th Century.

It changed the face of medicine.

The town doctor of the Old West had some effective medicines
Nowadays with our modern drugs is is easy to be smug and think that the town doctor on the frontier would have little to offer the patients under his or her care. That actually is not quite true. In fact, there were quite  number of medicines that he was able to obtain or manufacture. Your town doctor in some future novel may lie to use one or two of these.

In preparing drugs he would probably have a copy of the Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America. A Pharmacopoeia is a book of drugs with all their ingredients, actions and side effects.The first London Pharmacopoeia of 1618 contained recipes for 38 pills. In the early 19th century doctors in the USA used the European ones, until the first American one was published by the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1808. Another was published by the New York Hospital in 1816. Then in 1817 it was decided to produce a national one. This went through a lengthy production and was finally published in English and Latin in 1820.The fifth edition was produced in 1873. I use the sixth edition (in writing Western novels) of 1880.

A frontier town doctor could compound his medicines using some rudimentary equipment, a mortar and pestle, some pipettes, flasks etc. He would need a set of balance scales and various measuring devices. And he would need various reagents. All are listed in the Pharmacopoeia.

Apothecaries’ measurement
Weighing out ingredients for remedies was a complex business and a whole system of Apothecaries measures were used.

One pound or one grain
One pound = 12 ounces
One ounce = 8 drachms
One drachm – 3 scruples or 60 grain

An apothecary’s teaspoon was used to measure one fluid drachm.  This was equivalent to a quarter of a tablespoon.
When the household teaspoon size increased it became the equivalent of a third of a tablespoon, which it remains to this day. The Apothecary’s teaspoon, however, remained the same measure.

One could imagine the potential dangers that could ensue with drugs, many of which were extremely toxic, if the wrong spoon was used.

 This is one of the most effective drugs that the doctor would have had. It was used to treat dropsy, or heart failure. We still use it as digoxin. It is one of our oldest effective drugs in cardiology. It is a type of drug called a cardiac glycoside. 

It is  a purified drug that was first extracted from the foxglove plant, Digitalis lanata. It was discovered by William Withering (1741-1799), an English physician in 1785. He had noted that an old woman who practiced herbal medicine used a concoction for treating dropsy, which was the archaic name for heart failure. She achieved dramatic results and he analysed her concoction of twenty ingredients and worked out that the digitalis was the active beneficial agent. Digoxin increases the strength of the heart contractions and slows down the heart. Its effect would have been almost miraculous. 

Dover's Powder
This is a mixture of opium, ipecacuanha and sugar of milk. It was sedative in action, so could calm folk down. It also induces a perspiration reaction. We call these diaphoretic drugs. Back then it was believed that you could sweat an illness out. It was commonly used.

This was made from the fried flowers of the plant, a native of the Old west. Made into a tincture, it dealt with strains and bruises.

Tartar emetic
Rather like giving a diaphoretic to induce sweating, it was thought that making someone sick could get poison out of their system. We cal these drugs emetics. This one was made from crystals of antimony and potassium tartrate. The antimony is emetic and also a diaphoretic.

Ipecacuanha emetic
This is another general purpose emetic. We used it a lot in casualty departments (Emergency Rooms in the USA) in hospital, after someone was brought in having taken a drug overdose or poison.

Of course, this is tincture of opium. It contains about ten per cent opium and it is reddish-brown. It was very bitter. It was an analgesic and sedative. In small doses it is also a cough suppressant. Indeed, the doctor could make up various types of cough remedy, often incorporating this.

Carrying case from the author's collection. It has a spring inside the bottom of the cylinder to cushion the medicine bottle inside. A good idea if it was in the doctor's bag being jostled in a buggy or a special medical saddlebag

This is an extremely old medicine. It was a white powder of mercuric chloride. It had profound laxative qualities and was a mainstay of treatment for infective conditions and syphilis.

Nux vomica
This was another of the multi-use medicines. It is prepared from the beans of an east Indian tree. It contains strychnine, which of course, is a highly poisonous agent. It was used as a stimulant, as indeed other poisonous substances like arsenic were used throughout the 19th century. It was used for digestive problems, heart disorders, depression (referred to as melancholy then), and erectile dysfunction in men.

Here are the Pharmacopeia of the United States of America, 1880 instructions:

Nu x Vomica, in No. 60 powder, two hundred parts...., 200 
•Sugar of Milk, recently dried and in fine powder, 
Water , each, a sufficient quantity, 
To make one hundred parts.... 100 

Mix Alcohol and Water in the proportion of eight (8) parts of Alcohol to> 
one (1) part of Water, and, having moistened the Kux Vomica with one 
hundred (100) parts of the menstruum, pack firmly in a cylindrical perco
lator ; then add enough of the menstruum to saturate the powder and 
leave a stratum above it. When the liquid begins to drop from the per
colator, close the lower orifice, and, having, closely covered the percolator,, 
macerate for forfcy-eight hours. Then allow the percolation to proceed, 
gradually adding menstruum, until the Nux Vomica is exhausted. Be-
serve the first one hundred and seventy (170) parts of the percolate, distil 
off the alcohol from the remainder, and mix the residue with the reserved 
portion. Place the mixture in an evaporating dish, and, having added 
fifty (50) parts of Sugar of Milk, cover it with a piece of thin muslin gauze, 
and set aside in a warm place, where the temperature will not rise above 
50° C. (122° IT.), until the mixture is dry. Lastly, having added enough 
Sugar of Milk to make the mixture weigh one hundred (100) parts, reduce 
it to a fine, uniform powder. 
Preserve the powder in a well-stopped bottle. 

Seidlitz Powder
This was an effective antacid for stomach acidity. It was effervescent when added to water, because it contained an acid and an alkali. They react to produce carbon dioxide.


Bicarbonate of Sodium, infine powder, 

four hundred and eighty grains 

 480  grains

Tartrate of Potassium and Sodium, infine powder, 

fourteen hundred and forty grains 

 1440 grains

Tartari c Acid, in fine powder, 

four hundred and twenty grains 

 420 grains 

Herbal preparations
In addition to the formal medicines of the day, many doctors would also use herbal preparations. remember that frontier doctors were a disparate group, many having had no formal training, or perhaps having simply served as an assistant to a doctor until they acquired sufficient experience and training to go it alone. Some, of course, merely bought a qualification from one of the many diploma mills. If you are interested in what types of doctor practiced back then, you can refer back to my very first Doctor's Bag blog.

Herbal medicines have been used for centuries and there were many such preparations used by Native American medicine men. We shall have a look at some of the herbal remedies used in a later blog.

 Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) the founder of Thomsonian Medicine

My alter ego Clay More has a couple of recent releases.  

The Doctor published by Western Fictioneers in the  West of the Big River series

- my novel based on events in the life of Dr George E. Goodfellow

Redemption Trail published by Western Trail Blazer
- a novelette- novella

Sam Gibson used to be a lawman, until the day he made a terrible mistake that could never be taken back. Since then, he has alternated between wishing there were a way he could redeem himself and believing he deserved punishment. 

He’s about to get both… 

And coming soon from Hale

Fate handed Hank Hawkins the opportunity of achieving his ambition of buying a ranch, and all he has to do to make it happen is to make it easy for a gang to rob the stage in Devil's Bones Canyon. Hank soon realizes, however, that the robbers never had any intention of leaving anyone alive and had planned a dry gulching. He survives but regains consciousness back in Hastings Fork, he vows to track down the murderers who betrayed him and have his revenge. But, when he sets off, he finds he has a companion - Helen Curtis, the fiancee of the messenger whose death lies on his conscience. Hank has many things to figure out, such as why there was one body missing and things are about to get even more complicated with the threat of death for both of them never far away.