Sunday, May 28, 2017


The rental car agent was not talking me out of my six-dollar-a-day Tahoe.

“How about upgrading to that Camaro out by the curb?” He chin-pointed to a spot beyond the window. “Pretty day for a convertible.”

I don't think so...
I glanced at the chrome yellow muscle car, complete with a Transformer Bumblebee stripe on its rakish hood. “No, thanks.” I was smug in the knowledge that the ridiculously low rate I’d scored on a discount travel site was actually for real.

Focused on the add-on sale, he threw out more bait. “You’ll need GPS, right? And the insurance?”

I felt a crack in my smugness. “Um, no insurance. But…how much is the GPS?”

“Fifteen a day.”

“Nope.” Whew. He almost had me. “I’ll just keep what I’ve got.” Meaning, my smart phone and a file folder stuffed with maps and notes I’d printed at home. Grudgingly, he slid the key across the counter.

“Gold Tahoe. Space 441.”

No “have a nice day, thanks for choosing us,” no “take a left outside the lot to get to I-25,” no nothing.

Fifteen minutes later, I was hopelessly lost in a shadowy Denver warehouse district, looking for a place to turn a Tahoe around. By the time, I surfaced into sunshine on an interstate ramp and shoehorned into the northbound stream of traffic, I was running an hour behind my projected schedule. But what's a little lost time and traffic, when there's a meander along a two-lane, mountain highway on the agenda?

I planned to drive the 101-mile Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway from east to west via Highway 14, which hugs the river from the foothills near Ft. Collins to the North Park region of Colorado. The Cache la Poudre has been designated as Colorado’s only National Wild and Scenic River and its name translates roughly to “hide the powder,” possibly in reference to early fur traders who stashed their gunpowder along its banks. Brown and rainbow trout are plentiful, making it a popular spot for anglers. Rafting enthusiasts enjoy the Poudre’s thrilling rapids and there are outfitters located along the route.

That's why we call them the Rockies.
Highway 14, west of Ft. Collins

For the first several miles, the river burbled amiably to my left – then the gentle shale outcroppings along the highway merged into sheer granite walls as the road began to climb toward the river’s headwaters in the Rockies. The vertical slabs were only a few feet from the road’s edge. This was where the Cache la Poudre began to tout its “wild and scenic” status. High and fast with June snowmelt, the river roiled and tumbled over boulders. I lowered my windows to better hear the roar of the rapids.
Peaceful Poudre
Picking up the pace

The striking thing about this byway is the way the terrain changes every few miles. I drove out of the rocky pass into a wide valley, rimmed by peaks still glistening with snow. The river ran flat and broad. Brown-vested fishermen stood knee-deep, casting fly lines into long, high spirals. I passed numerous cottonwood-shaded campgrounds, scattered with tents and travel trailers.
Fly fishing heaven

Beyond the valley, the highway snaked up into the peaks of the beautifully named Never Summer Mountains. Patches of snow lay in the shadows of evergreens. The Poudre was back to whitewater, pounding against the sides of the canyon and constantly switching from one side of the highway to the other. I stopped on one of the bridges to take photos, aware of the incredible force of the rapids below me.

Eventually, the highway straightened onto a high basin 8,800 feet above sea level. Just before I reached Chambers Lake, the Poudre veered off to the south and the road curved into the billowing North Park grasslands. I spotted herds of antelope grazing alongside cattle. The plains encompass over 1,600 square miles and are rimmed by the Rabbit Ears and Medicine Bow mountain ranges. From those distant peaks flow the headwaters of several rivers of Western lore: the North Platte, the Michigan, the Illinois, the Canadian.
North Park plains

I ended my Cache la Poudre adventure with an Angus burger at River Rock CafĂ© in Walden, the “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado.” I took a stroll through the delightful North Park Pioneer Museum – three floors and twenty-seven rooms packed with incredible artifacts and memorabilia donated by the area’s first settlers. The curator was a native son and seemed glad to field my many questions. (I sheepishly revealed that my curiosity was part and parcel of being a writer.)


After my tour, he followed me outside to point me toward my next stop, Wyoming. I waved farewell and started the engine. The Tahoe picked a sure footing through the potholes and sharp rocks of the parking lot, and nosed onto the road to Cheyenne.

Nope. We wild-hearted mountain explorers don’t drive no stinking yellow Camaros.

Click here for more information on the Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway.

All the best,

Vonn McKee
“Writing the Range”

2015 WWA Spur Finalist (Short Fiction)
2015 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Finalist (Short Fiction)
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My trusty Tahoe...
The best six dollars a day I ever spent.

Thursday, May 25, 2017



the blog about the medicine and surgery of yesteryear

Keith Souter aka Clay More

You may think that Plastic Surgery only started in the twentieth century. Well, it is true that it advanced dramatically, but its origins go back to antiquity and surgeons over the centuries gradually pushed back its frontiers.

Ancient Egypt
The Ebers papyrus, which was reputedly written by a physician called Hesy-Ra in about 1550 BC, contains 110 pages about diseases and treatments known to the Egyptians.

 The Ebers papyrus

It contains methods for removing wrinkles and correcting squints.

Ancient India
In 600BC the Indian surgeon Sushruta wrote his book the Samhita, which describes the operation of nasal reconstruction, using the 'forehead method.'

Sushruta - father of plastic surgery

Cutting off the nose  was the official punishment for adultery and other transgressions and crimes. It was because of this that Indian surgeons developed the technique.

The forehead method of nasal reconstruction

In Susruta's operation a flap of skin from the forehead was made and brought down to cover the deficit. Nostril tubes were left in place until the skin flap healed.

He also described a method of repairing torn ears by rotating a cheek flap of skin.

The first actual rhinoplasty
In Italy in the early 15th century Antonio Branca developed the first real nasal reconstruction rhinoplasty). The method was described in a book by Heinrich von Pfolspeundt, 'Buch der Bundth-Ertznei,' published in 1460.

He used several stages:

1) A model of the nose was constructed from parchment of leather.

2) This model is laid on the forearm and a line drawn around it.

3) The marked area is then cut and separated from the underlying tissues in such a way that the bottom of the nose flap remains attached to the arm.

4) The arm is raised to the head with the nose flap positioned on the face and is then stitched in place.

5) The arm is bound to the head .

6) After 8-10 days when the skin has healed to the defect, the lower part of the skin flap is cut, freeing the arm and allowing for the reconstruction of the nostrils.

Although Antonio Branca had developed it, in the 15th century, it was not until Gasparo Tagliacozzi published his book De Curatorum Chirurgia in 1583 that the method was picked up and used by surgeons throughout Europe.  The reason for the operations were mainly injury, but also the ravages of diseases like syphilis or cancers.

The Old West
We come now to Tombstone and my surgical hero,  Dr George Goodyear, thee renowned 'physician to the gunfighters.' One of his best friends was George Whitwell Parsons, a licensed attorney who kept a diary from 1869 until 1929. It gives a detailed picture of life during the Earp era.

George Whitwell Parsons

On June 22, 1885 a fire erupted at the Arcade Saloon, which spread until half of Tombstone's business district was on fire. Fortunately no-one lost their life in the blaze, but George Parsons was badly injured. While trying to fight the fire he was on a balcony that collapsed when the beams fell. He sustained injury to his head, nose and jaw.

Over a period of several months Dr George Goodfellow performed a series of innovative operations to rebuilt his smashed nose.

He describes it himself in his diary:

"I was knocked senseless by a dislodged beam and a large splinter had entered just under the skin glancing upward and just missing the eye, face quite flattened and nose all over it. Dr Goodfellow made a plaster cast, cut away the deformity in the cast and then cut my nose loose from the bone and tacked it up in place so that the case, with the aide of a wire run through my nose, held it in place. I eventually recovered emerging with a fine Roman nose, free from disfigurement."

Dr George Emory Goodfellow

Dr George Goodfellow was a truly pioneering surgeon. Throughout his career he established a reputation as the foremost expert on gunshot wounds, as well as being the first surgeon to perform a perineal prostatectomy (he actually performed 78  prostatectomies and compiled statistics about them), along with other 'first' operations. His work on George Parson's nose fits in there.

He wrote and published many medical papers in the journals of the day. His work on the impenetrability of silk would lead to the actual bulletproof vests of the future.

It probably took a special sort of man to be a physician-surgeon in the Old West. Goodfellow seems to have been a very complex man. Apart from being a doctor, he was a scientist, geologist, rancher and gambler. He was pugnacious, short- tempered, but also exceedingly kind. He also had a wry western sense of humour, as evidenced by his autopsy report on a gambler who was shot during a card game. He reported that he had 'done the necessary assessment and found the body so full of lead, but too badly punctured to hold whiskey.'


THE DOCTOR'S BAG - MEDICINE AND SURGERY OF YESTERYEAR has been published by Sundown Press, available in ebook or paperback.

Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Unit Designations in the Army in the Old West by Gordon Rottman

Occasionally in Western novels and more often in Western history books we come across US Army unit designations. To the uninitiated this can be confusing. Indeed, it was even confusing to soldiers owing to a degree of non-standardization.
This will no doubt be quite tedious to many. Granted, novels seldom mention more than the most elementary identifications of units. This article is provided as an aid to better understand unit designations in the post-Civil War army. If you are anal enough you might love it. We’ll talk a little about Civil War unit designations as that figures into many novels and histories. It is also beneficial to be familiar with the system if using military records for genealogical research. If nothing else, it provides some background to improve your depth of knowledge.
To help you keep unit designations straight, below is a listing of the different unit echelons from smallest to largest. Generally it can be said that there were three subunits in anyone unit, that is, three platoons in a company, three companies in a battalion, etc. However, there could be anywhere from two to six subunits in a given unit. Exceptions to the rule were widespread. The typical commander’s rank is provided. Note that a commander could be a rank higher or lower, even two ranks in some instances.

Unit Echelon                           Commander                Remarks
Platoon                                    lieutenant                    Consisted of 2-4 squads or sections.
Company                                 captain                         Troop in cavalry. Battery in artillery.
Battalion                                 major or lt colonel       Squadron in cavalry.
Regiment                                 colonel
Brigade                                   brigadier general
Division                                   major general
Corps                                       lieutenant general

In the post-war army there were no corps, divisions, or brigades as formed in the Civil War, unless temporarily formed for exercises or campaigning such as the 1898 Spanish-American War. Divisions and brigades were usually numbered, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, for example. Generally there were three to six brigades to a division with three to six regiments to a brigade. The division might have a small cavalry unit attached for reconnaissance and some artillery units varying widely in numbers. There was no set standard of how many soldiers were assigned to divisions and brigades. Corps were even larger commands with two to four divisions. By the way, “corps” is spelled with an “s” whether singular or multiple. Either way, it is pronounced “core.”
During the Civil War each of the named armies—usually named after a river or region—Army of the Cumberland or Army of the Potomac—might have several corps, each with several divisions or a smaller army might consist of divisions only, all numbered in sequence at each echelon. This means there were numerous divisions designated the “1st” as were 1st Brigades. Corps were designated by Roman numbers, but are often seen in books with Arabic numbers. To fully identify a unit, all the higher units it was assigned to have to be included in the designation, for example, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, III Corps, Army of the Tennessee. To prevent confusion it was required for the commander’s name to follow the unit’s designation, for example, “2nd Division (Richards)” or “Smith’s Corps.” This also served to remind higher commanders who their subordinates were. One brigade might be chosen to lead the attack because it commander was notoriously aggressive, while a less aggressive commander’s brigade might be ordered to protect the attacking brigade’s flank.
As mentioned earlier, there were no corps, divisions, or brigades fielded in the Old West era. One will encounter the term “department” though as a regional administrative command, “Department of Texas,” for example.
In peacetime the largest serving units of the infantry and cavalry were “regiments” commanded by colonels. An infantry regiment had ten nominal 100-man companies: A to H and J and K. There was no Company I as “I” and “J” were handwritten the same in the 1800s. Only “J” was used to prevent confusion. There is a rumor that there is no Company J because an unidentified Company J once lost its guidon in some unnamed conflict. That story is not true. Companies can be called “Company A” or “A Company.” There was no standard, but the former preferred.
It did not take long for a 1,000-man regiment to become drastically understrength as 100-man companies dwindled to 40 to 60 men or fewer lost to combat deaths and wounds, captured, died or injured in accidents, died from disease or illness, hospitalized for the same, confined, on leave, deserted, or detailed to special duties. It was not uncommon for regiments in the field to number just 200 to 300 men with a corresponding number of companies or the authorized ten companies, but very small.
In some instances not all of a given regiment’s companies might be active. They were also dispersed widely between different posts. There might be only two companies at some posts and maybe six at another. They could be separated from one another for years. These detachments might be commanded by the regiment’s second-in-command, a lieutenant colonel, or the regimental major, or simply the senior company commander, a captain or lieutenant. I mention this in my sequel to The Hardest Ride, Ride Harder. The lieutenant commanding a detachment of Troop A, 8th Cavalry at Camp Del Rio, Texas plays an important role in the story. While Western novels and movies often highlight the cavalry, infantry was very much present way out West. Their utility was limited though because of their 10 to 12-mile a day rate of march, about the same as a cattle drive.
As an aside, there is a difference between camps and forts. Camps were temporary posts, although some were essentially permanent after years of existence and some were upgraded to forts. Forts were permanent posts. By the way, most forts and camps in the Southern states established since the Civil War were named after Confederate generals—Camp Polk established in 1941 was named after General Leonidas Polk, a minister and Confederate lieutenant general. In 1955 it was renamed Fort Polk.
In the Old West there were no permanent battalions within regiments—From World War I regiments were organized into three battalions with four companies each. It was different earlier on. If fighting as a regiment, which seldom occurred in the Old West, the regiment’s companies in the frontline were called the “battalion.” sometimes two battalions were organized, one under the regiment’s second-in-command, a lieutenant colonel, and the other under the regiment’s major. The number of companies varied. “Reno’s Battalion” is an example. During the pre-battle reconnaissance it consisted of six companies and three weeks later during the battle he was detailed three companies.
Regular Army regiments were designated, for example, 5th US infantry Regiment or 7th US Cavalry Regiment. Often “Regiment” was not included in the designation—simply 18th Infantry, for example. Militia regiments were designated in numerical sequence as raised within their state and designated, for example, 5th Texas Infantry Regiment. The state militias were renamed the National Guard in 1903. The practice of including the state name in National Guard regimental designations ceased in 1917 when the Army and the National Guard were reorganized for World War I with regiments numbered in sequence whether they were Regular Army, National Army (conscripts and volunteers), or National Guard. For example, the 3rd Texas Infantry (National Guard) was redesignated the 143rd Infantry.
There was also the Volunteer Army of the United States, a volunteer force outside of the militia organization and separate from the Regular Army, but under Army command. They were only raised in wartime. Probably the best known is the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, the “Rough Riders.”
The US cavalry regiment was of the same echelon as an infantry regiment, although the number of battalions/squadrons and companies/troops actually assigned or authorized to be manned varied over the years. Full-strength cavalry regiments were typically authorized 10 or 12 companies. The term “troop” was occasionally used to identify companies, but “company” was the more common designation for the 40-100-man units commanded by captains. After the Civil War the cavalry regiment was standardized with 12 companies, although peacetime regiments may have been authorized as few as four. Battalions and squadrons were not standing units, but temporary groupings of companies. Some cavalry regiments during the Civil War formed squadrons of two companies—commanded by the senior company commander—and two to three battalions of two squadrons commanded by majors or captains. Others used battalion and squadron terms interchangeably with two to four companies each.
From 1873, only the term “troop” was used in documents, but “company” remained in common use. Even after 1883 when “troop” was specifically directed, “company” remained in use by the cavalry until around the turn of the century. Some regiments even mixed both terms. Remember the TV comedy, “F Troop”? Eventually “troop” and “squadron” were the only terms used for company and battalion equivalent cavalry units.
While there were artillery regiments, they normally operated as battalions with three batteries—equivalent to a company or troop. A battery usually consisted of four guns, but could have only two if heavy artillery or even up to 12 in some instances.
I apologize if you found this boring and your head now hurts. If you have any questions, just email me back-channel.
Next month we’ll look at army rank titles and insignia of the Old West era and how the titles originated.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Nominees for the 7th Annual Peacemaker Awards for Westerns Published in 2016

 Western Fictioneers (WF) is pleased to announce the Nominees for the seventh annual Peacemaker Awards for Western fiction published in 2016.

The Lifetime Achievement Peacemaker will be presented to Robert Vardeman.

** Nominees are in alphabetical order.


Echoes of Massacre Canyon by Ben Goheen aka Ben Tyler (Five Star Publishing)
Silence Rides Alone by Ian Charles Millsted (Sundown Press)
The River of Cattle by Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)
The Silver Baron’s Wife by Danna Baier Stein (Serving House Books)
The Wanted Lawman by A.C. Smith (Gray Ghost Publishing)

Dead Man’s Boot by Patrick Dearen (Five Star Publishing)
Far West: The Diary of Eleanor Higgins by Linell Jeppsen (Wolfpack Publishing)
Gun Devils of the Rio Grande by James Reasoner (Rough Edges Press)
Killing Blood by Robert D. McKee (Five Star Publishing)

Calamity Jane: How the West Began by Bryan Ney (Dragon Tree Books)
Good Water by John Nesbitt (Five Star Publishing)
Grandpa and the Kid by Cliff Hudgins (Wolfpack Publishing)
Lone Star Ranger 7: A Ranger Redeemed by James J. Griffin (Painted Pony Books)
The River of Cattle by Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)

Jake Silvershorn's Revenge - Vol. 10 Final Showdown by Big Jim Williams (High Noon Press)
Museum Piece by Brian Koukol (The Missing Slate)
Odell's Bones by Troy Smith (Cane Hollow Press)
Widelooping a Christmas Cowboy by Livia J. Washburn (A Cowboy under the Mistletoe, Prairie Rose Publications)

Winners will be announced June 15, 2017 on the WF website ( and on this blog.

Western Fictioneers (WF) was formed in 2010 by professional Western writers, to preserve, honor, and promote traditional Western writing in the 21st century. Entries were accepted in both print and electronic forms.

The Peacemaker Awards are given annually. Submissions for the Peacemaker Awards for books published in 2017 will be open in July, 2017. Submission guidelines will be posted on the WF web site. For more information about Western Fictioneers (WF) please visit:

Western Fictioneers would like to thank Kathleen Rice Adams for being Awards Chair and for the excellent job she has done.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Free Lunch

            Think there's no such thing as a free lunch? You'd be wrong. Salty snacks, fancy European preserved meats & other gustatory enticements featured regularly in 19th American saloons -- free (up to a point).
            Why? Because hungry men need food and thirsty men drink. Simple as that. A man chose a saloon for what was offered in addition to the alcohol. Some saloons provided hard-to-find newspapers for their patrons. Most served some sort of free, or nearly free, meal.
            What was served?
 "After Prohibition had killed the saloons, old timers waxed lyrical describing the free lunches of the grand old palaces, or rather the gourmet buffet dinners of tiny, savoury meatballs, French Gruyere cheese, hickory-cured ham, and other dainties." Narrow, twenty-foot-long tables in these establishments would be covered with "spotless white linen and plates of delicacies to please the most discerning tastes."
            The more plain saloon would serve cold cuts, or yellow cheese; beans, stalks of celery -- whatever was easy to procure and inexpensive to serve. Above all, the free lunch featured salted food: pretzels, rye bread, smoked herring, salted peanuts, potato chips, and dill pickles. The theory behind all this, and it was a good theory, was that a couple of shot glasses or steins produced appetite -- and the salty goodies, in turn, produced a mighty thirst. The chain-reaction process of drinking and nibbling, nibbling and drinking could go on for hours, during which time the customers spent a lot on booze.  

            Free lunches varied, of course. If the barkeep was German, there might be slices of blutwurst, zervelatwurst, and landjaegers to tempt the patrons. Italian saloon owners might serve calzone and pepperoni, though seldom west of the Mississippi. Two places in Chicago gave away thick, creamy pies to old customers. In the Southwest the faithful helped themselves from a bowl of chili con carne, or nibbled on nachos -- small, salty squares of crisp tortillas covered with frijoles and melted cheese...
            Some bars had their daily free lunch specialties -- franks on Monday, roast beef on Saturday, baked fish on Friday, and so on. And some saloons were more generous than others. Many advertised, "A fried oyster, a clam, or a hard-boiled egg with every drink."
            The word "lunch" should not be take literally. It often blended into free breakfast and free dinner. The same salted goods waited patiently on their fly-speckled plates morning, noon, and night. But the free lunch posed problems for many bartenders. The institution rested on the honor system. Supposedly no creature walking on two legs would be so low as to approach the free lunch table without having first consumed, and paid for, at least two drinks. "But there were many human skunks -- sad to say, great numbers of them -- who were not honorable."
            Source: Saloons of the Old West, Richard Erdoes [Alfred A. Knopf: New York] 1979 (p. 110-114)

            Teddy Blue, a Montana cowboy during the 1880s when the cattle trade flourished, wrote: "talking about food, do you know what was the first thing a cowpuncher ordered to eat when he got to town? Oysters and celery. And eggs. Those things were what he didn't get and what he was crazy for."

            In Wyatt Earp's and Doc Holliday's Tombstone, the Occidental Saloon served a Sunday dinner to tickle "Doc's" fashionable palate:

Chicken Giblet and Consumme, with Egg
Columbia River Salmon, au Beurre Noir
Filet a Boeuf, a la Financier
Leg of Lamb, Sauce, Oysters
Cold Meats
Loin of Beef, Loin of Ham, Loin of Pork, Westphalia Ham, Corned Beef, Imported Lunches
Boiled Meats
Leg of Mutton, Ribs of Beef, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Russian River Bacon
Pinons a Poulett, aux Champignons
Cream Fricasse of Chicken, Asparagus Points
 Lapine Domestique, a la Matire d'Hote
Casserole d'Ritz aux Oeufs, a la Chinoise
Ducks of Mutton, Braze, with Chipoluta Ragout
California Fresh Peach, a la Conde
Loin of Beef, Loin of Mutton, Leg of Pork
Apple Sauce, Suckling Pig, with Jelly, Chicken Stuffed Veal
Peach, Apple, Plum, and Custard Pies
English Plum Pudding, Hard Sauce, Lemon Flavor
"And we will have it or perish.
This dinner will be served for 50 cents."

         from "The Restaurants of San Francisco," Charles S. Greene, Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, December 1892 (p. 8+):
            "The cheapest places for men are supposed to be the so-called free lunches, though this is probably a mistake; for these free lunches are attached to bars, and it is expected that their guests shall patronize the bar sufficiently to pay all favors they get in the way of free food. In the cheapest of these places a glass of beer at five cents entitles a man to help himself to sundry pretzels, crackers, bits of cheese and sausage, and a salt pickle or a radish: a repast intended to provoke thirst rather than to satisfy hunger.
            A few places give crab salad, also bouillon or clam chowder. In most of the 'bit' saloons, the fifteen cents paid for a single drink or the twenty-five cents, 'two bits.' paid if you had a companion, gives free access to a counter supplied with a considerable display of eatables in addition to those mentioned. Cold roast beef, corned beef, sardines, olives, sandwiches of various kinds, bread and butter, clams, clam-juice, bouillon, and similar viands. To these you help yourself, and eat standing.
            At the various hotel bars and saloons of pretension a drink is 25 cents, and at these a regular meal is served to patrons sitting at tables; soup, fish, entree, roast, and dessert. But the trail of the serpent of all over these places. They do much to promote drinking habits. True, the drink ordered may be only one glass of lemonade, mineral water, or ginger ale, strictly non-alcoholic, and not even the barkeepers will sneer at you, unless he suspects you of doing it as a regular thing. Nevertheless the tendency is not to be content with such simple drinks, and that best there is the patronage and countenance given an unholy business."

J.E.S. Hays