Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sisters of Mercy - a brief history by Kaye Spencer


In the summer of 2011, I traveled to Sacramento, California to attend a college graduation. In the few days I was there, I worked in a bit of wandering about town to take in the historical sites and sights. One of the places I visited was the capitol building.

Not far from the front door and just off to the side in the shade is a commemorative area for the a group of Catholic women called the "Sisters of Mercy".

Two bronze plaques accompany the statue.

The first plaque reads:

 During the Gold Rush Days of 1857 the Sisters of Mercy came to Sacramento to care for the children of the miners and to serve the sick and homeless.

In those days, the Sisters of mercy purchased land in the heart of the city to build a school. Passage of the "Capitol Bill" in 1860 resulted in the sale of that property to the State for its original price of $4,850. This is now the site of the State Capitol Building. The Sisters of Mercy have made significant contributions to the history and progress of the State of California. Their mission to care for the sick, the poor, the elderly and the uneducated continues today throughout the world.

Dedicated by Mercy Foundation on December 12, 1986
The second plaque reads:
 This sculpture commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Sisters of Mercy caring for those in need in the greater Sacramento region. Mary Baptist Russell, California Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, is depicted here as a woman of vision, courage and compassion, blazing the trail for her companions and followers as they bring hope and healing to those in need.

The works of the Sisters of Mercy are based on the vision of their foundress, Catherine McAuley, who sought to connect the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick, and the educated to the uninstructed.

Dedicated by Mercy Foundation on September 29, 2007 - Created by artist Ruth Coelho

There is a wealth of information on the Internet about the Sisters of Mercy (not to be confused with the 1980s English rock band).  ;-)

This link tells about the sculpture's dedication ceremony.

Here is a quote about these amazing women:

"...the sisters’ sacrifice is scarcely to be underestimated... They were largely middle-class women embarking on something that had been unimaginable to them even when they entered the convent, where they expected to be serving Ireland’s poor — not the poor of the world.

“…Once they arrived in San Francisco after that arduous journey, they were instantly plunged into ministering to the sick, to the homeless, to prostitutes and to children. No lofty missionaries from enlightened Europe, these women were immigrants serving immigrants, aliens in a strange land.”


The following link offers rich historical information about the Sisters of Mercy and their impact on the early settlers of the Sacramento, California.

Sisters of Mercy website:

The Sisters of Mercy began in Ireland in 1831 as a lay order of Catholic women and in 1857, five Sisters arrived in Sacramento by steamboat from San Francisco to begin their work. Now, let’s put this into historical perspective.
  • Driving the spike at Promontory Point, Utah, which joined the railroads from the east and west coasts was twelve years in the future.
  • Colorado's gold rush was still two years away.
  • Travel on the Oregon Trail was in its height.
  • The American Civil War was looming in the not-so-distant future.
These were trailblazing times, and to say I am in awe of these women is an understatement.

As a western romance writer, I often think about these brave and dedicated women and wonder just how I could turn one of their stories into a good old romance. Hmm…that they were Catholic Sisters might be somewhat of a challenge to overcome. I’ll keep you posted with my progress. ;-)

Until next time,


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

Friday, September 26, 2014



Where have all the cartoons gone? 
Long time passing... 
Where have the west 'toons gone? 
Long time ago... 
Watched by Boomers Saturday morn, 
What did they learn?
What did they learn?*

Maybe we learned how to mourn, given cable TV's Longmire cancellation! We Baby Boomers scrambled out of bed on Saturday mornings to catch a whole slew of our fave cartoons! The western-themed few whetted our young appetites for the afternoon classic western films with the Duke, Jimmy Stewart, Roy Rogers, etc., and evening TV shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Maverick, The Rifleman, Cheyenne, High Chaparral, Lancer, Alias Smith and Jones, even the comical F Troop.

Here are the hilarious and heroic Saturday morning western cartoon characters. If I missed any, let me know.


Who can forget Hanna-Barbara's dim-witted sheriff Quick Draw, his loyal sidekick Baba Looey, El Kabong - the Zorro-like masked and caped good guy (er, horse). I especially enjoyed El Kabong swinging on his rope and bashing the bad guys on the head with his guitar.

But you gotta love Deputy Baba Looey (no doubt a take on Desi Arnaz's popularity at the time), the sweet little -- what was he? Supposedly a Mexican burro, although I never realized that as a kid - hey, I'm a city girl so don't laugh! I'd never seen a real horse until I was a teen. Baba Looey did speak with an accent, calling his boss "Queeks Draw," but that went right over my head too.

I also loved Snuffles, Quick Draw's bloodhound, who would point to his mouth with an "uh-uh-uh," jump up after getting a dog treat and float back down. HA! He'd put his nose on the ground and follow the trail if Quick Draw needed a good tracker - and if he didn't get a reward, he'd shake his head in disgust. I never blamed him.

Quick Draw also appeared as a cereal mascot for Sugar Smacks - lip-smackin' good for kids of my generation hooked on sugar. Gee thanks, Big Biz. No wonder we have weight problems today.


"I'm the roughest, toughest, root'nest, toot'nest, fastest gunslinger west of the Pecos!"

Did this cowboy braggadocio really have something to boast about, with his six-guns, huge mustache and hat? Or was he making up for his small stature? Yosemite Sam claimed to be Bugs Bunny's archenemy, always saying, "Ah hates rabbits." Looney Toons were always fun, with wonderful art work in detail. I'd put Warner Brothers as the best of the best in writing, antics and one-liners, too.

Sam often changed venues to catch Bugs out, appearing as a Confederate general, a captain in the Roman Imperial Legion, a pirate up against Captain Hareblower, the Black Knight against Bugs's White Knight, as well as a Viking, an Indian chief, a mountain climber, a chef, a prison guard, a sailor and an alien in outer space. Sam sure got around!

Yosemite Sam sure had range as an actor, too.  And we kids loved the big-nosed old coot and laughed at his determination to get that rabbit. Bugs, however, never lost his cool.


Lesser known, and of less quality in illustration and writing, the Terrytoon character of Deputy Dawg worked for a human sheriff and tried to keep the "varmints" out of trouble. Most of the time, though, Deputy Dawg preferred "fishin' for catfish" and keeping company with his friends (also the varmints) Muskie Muskrat, Moley Mole, Ty Coon, and Vincent Van Gopher. As a kid, I didn't care for whoever voiced Deputy Dawg. I liked the varmints and their antics best. Call me a rebel at heart.

Once the 70s faded, and the 80s cartoons such as the blue Smurfs, My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started taking over, western cartoons bit the dust.

A sad day, since western television shows soon followed - moseying down the lonesome trail to the forgotten, barren deserts of TV Land. Sigh. Perhaps with the resurgence of western movies, cartoon illustrators of today will find inspiration (God forbid, not Johnny Depp's bird-head Tonto!) and bring about something better than the sharp angles and awful colors on the 21st century cartoon shows. 

Children are in dire need a good hero figure. Come back, El Kabong! Come back!!

*Apologies to Pete Seeger for parodying his "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" song. (I'm no Weird Al Yankovich.)

Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog.Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and 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, September 25, 2014



Keith Souter aka Clay More

Medicine and surgery have always advanced during times of war. Surgical techniques are developed to deal with the wounds and injuries that weaponry cause. And medical  innovations are often also introduced on order to make scant resources stretch further. In the Doctor's Bag this month I am going to focus on a doctor who contributed to medicine and surgery both during and after the Civil War. His invention of the Chisolm inhaler was one of the most significant medical inventions of the 19th century.

Dr Julian John Chisolm (1830-1903)
Julian John Chisolm, often referred to as john Julian Chisolm or as J.J. Chisolm was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1830. He obtained his MD medical degree from the Medical College of South Carolina in 1850 then travelled to Europe to study medicine and surgery in Paris and London.

He returned to Charleston in 1860 and took up the post of Professor of Surgery at the Medical College. He  kept the position throughout the War and in 1861 published the first edition of his textbook A Manual of Military Surgery for the Use of Surgeons in the Confederate States Army.

He was one of the few competent surgeons at the start of the War (it was the steepest of learning curves for surgeons on both sides), but his book gave detailed instructions. His experience was based on personal observations of many wounds  treated in both civilian and military hospitals admitted form the battlefields of Europe. The book was updated twice during the War.

He also indicated his views on the practice of venesection (blood-letting) in chest wounds.

"Where the heart and pulse are both weak--a common condition after severe wounds--in our experience the abstraction of blood will occasion a complete prostration of strength, and may be fatal. There is no reason for changing the plan of treatment already discussed in detail, for combating inflammation following gunshot wounds, and which is equally applicable to chest, wounds. Even when the lung is inflamed, we prefer the mild antiphlogistic and expectant treatment to the spoliative. The large success in the treatment of perforating chest wounds in the Confederate hospitals puts forth, in a strong light, the powers of nature to heal all wounds when least interfered with by meddlesome surgery. Absolute rest, cooling beverages, moderate nourishment, avoiding over stimulation, with small doses of tartar emetic, veratrum, or digitalis, the liberal use of opium, and attention to the intestinal secretions, will be required in all cases, and in most will compose the entire treatment."

The Chisolm Inhaler
During the war chloroform took over from ether as the anaesthetic of choice. It was administered by using a piece of cloth, which was fashioned into a cone, onto which the chloroform was administered. This was found to be wasteful, since much of the chloroform evaporated. Hence it was unscientifically and crudely given and could also affect anyone see in the enclosed space used as an operating theatre. In a field hospital that may have been a tent.

With the Union Naval blockade the supplies of chloroform were drastically reduced. Stimulated by that, and by the wasteful and hazardous way it was traditionally given he invented  his inhaler. It consisted of a flattened cylinder, measuring 2.5  by one inch, with two tubes which could be inserted into the nostrils. The chloroform was dripped into a perforated disc onto a cloth inside the inhaler. It reduced the amount needed to a mere ten per cent.

Surgeon, Scientist and Medical Purveyor
On the September 20, 1861 he was appointed as Surgeon in the Confederate Army and set up a hospital in Manchester, Virginia.  Then in November of that year he was ordered to set up a medical purveyor's office, which received and distributed medical supplies and surgical instruments to surgeons and doctors in the field.

The purveyors office was later moved to Columbia, where he established a laboratory. There he developed medicines that were also in  scarce supply because of the Union Naval blockade. The drugs were made from indigenous plants

Members of the public were asked to help the war effort and grow plants:

In obedience to an order of the Surgeon General, I … request … ladies of the South to extend the sphere of their usefulness, by interesting themselves in the culture of the garden Poppy; by which they will administer to the relief of our sick and wounded soldiers and render essential service to our Confederacy. The seed of the Poppy should be planted in rich ground, and the largest pods or capsules selected for use. To obtain the gun, the pods or capsules – a few days after the (illegible), should be cut longitudinally through the skin. This would be done later in the afternoon, the hardened gum being scraped off in the morning by means of a dull knife, then wrapped up carefully, and should be sent to the nearest Purveyor. Persons having seed of the poppy, will be paid a liberal price for them at this office. R. Kidder Taylor, Surg. And Med. Purveyor, CS Army.

Dr Chisolm had in his laboratory 'a series of copper kettles for evaporating.' He recommended  staffing other laboratories with chemists from Europe, skilled in extracting alkaloids from plants. In particular, he gave the example of finding a substitute for  quinine, which was in extremely short supply and which was needed to treat malaria. The normal source of quinine was the  cinchona trees, which do not grow in  the south.  A tincture could be made of willow, dogwood and poplar bark as a substitute.

With the ultimate Union advance in June 1865, Dr Chisolm turned over to a Union officer 'all machinery, injured by fire formerly used at the Confederate States laboratory & Distillery located at the Fair Grounds on the outskirts of the town of Columbia.' This included about 80 pounds of gum opium and 340 ounces of morphine.

Professor or Eye and Ear Surgery
After the War, Dr Chisolm moved to the University of Maryland in Baltimore  and accepted the chair of Eye and Ear Surgery created for him. Once in post he founded the Baltimore Eye and Ear Hospital and the Presbyterian Charity Eye, Ear and That Hospital.  He is considered to be the founding father of American Ophthalmology.

He wrote over a hundred medical papers and continued to be innovative in his surgery and in his research. In 1888, for example, he grafted a rabbit cornea onto a human. He also made significant advances in cataract surgery.

Helen Keller, Charles Dickens and Alexander Graham Bell
Helen Keller (1880-1968), the famous American activist, author and lecturer had been taken to see Dr Chisolm as a child, after she had gone deaf and blind following a childhood illness. It is possible that the illness was scarlet fever or meningitis.  He advised her to be seen by Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf people at the time. His parents had both been deaf, which had led him to try to develop a range of hearing instruments for the deaf. As a result, in 1876, he had patented the first useable telephone!

Interestingly, Helen Keller's parents had been inspired after reading Charles Dickens American Notes, about his travels in America. In it he mentioned visiting the Perkins School in Boston,where he had been impressed at the work of Dr Stanley Howe, the director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind, with Laura Bridgman, who would become the first blind-deaf person in America to gain a significant education in English. It was Laura Bridgman who advised seeing Dr Chisolm.

Dr Chisolm had a stroke in 1894, from which he made a partial recovery. He died in 1903 in Petersburg, Virginia.
Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Available at

And his collection of short stories about Doc Marcus Quigley is published by High Noon Press

Available at

And his latest western  novel Dry Gulch Revenge was published by Hale on 29th August.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Civil War Reenacting: Enfield Rifle Musket

By Matthew Pizzolato

When the War began, both sides used .69 caliber rifles converted from the old smooth-bore muskets.  A smooth-bore was only accurate at ranges of less than one hundred yards, but with the advent of rifled barrels, accuracy increased to five hundred yards. 

The Model 1861 Springfield in .58 caliber was the most common for the Union forces, while the Confederacy relied on the British made 1853 Enfield. The Enfield became the second mostly widely used weapon of the War. It's estimated that around 900,000 of them were imported between 1861 and 1865.

Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle Musket

The key benefit that the Enfield provided to the Confederate troops was the ability to use the same size ammunition as the Springfield. They could use captured ammunition as well as what they were issued, which sometimes ran short because of limited industry in the South. 

Minie Balls recovered from Civil War battlefields.
The one on the left is unfired,
while the other has been fired.
Unloaded, the weapon weighs 9.5 pounds and has an overall length of 55 inches. It gets quite bulky and cumbersome when you consider the soldiers had to carry with them everywhere they went. 

The Enfield is a three-band, single-shot muzzle loader. The cartridges contained 68 grains of black powder and fired a 530 grain Minie ball.

The number of bands is significant because it determined how the weapon was placed when fired and it holds true even in reenacting.

The soldier in the rear rank placed front rank soldier's head between the second and third bands, the one closest to the hammer, when firing because otherwise, the explosion from the percussion cap would blast ear drum of the soldier in front. Also, the discharge of the weapon would do likewise if the weapon was held too far behind the soldier.

A good soldier could load and fire three times a minute. I don't see how they did it that fast because it's quite a complicated process. First, the stock of the gun was placed on the ground.  Then a cartridge taken from the satchel, the end torn off, usually with the teeth before pouring the powder down the barrel. Then the bullet could be inserted.

Next, the ramrod had to be removed from the underside of the barrel, reversed and inserted down the barrel, ramming the bullet all the way down. Then the ramrod had to be removed and replaced on the bottom of the barrel. Once that was completed, the gun had to be primed by placing a percussion cap on the nipple of the gun. Only then could it be fired.

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He is a 
member of Western Fictioneers and his work can be found in the Wolf Creek series as well as his own publications, THE WANTED MAN, OUTLAW and TWO OF A KIND. 

He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western. He can be contacted through Twitter @mattpizzolato or via his website: