Monday, April 30, 2018

Now Available -- West of the Big River: The Dime Novelist by Clay More

Adventurer, showman, charlatan, best-selling author, Ned Buntline was all of these things and more, including one of the most colorful characters in American history. Buntline, whose real name was Edward Zane Carroll Judson (he called himself Colonel Judson, but the rank was as fictional as the pseudonym), produced hundreds of dime novels during the second half of the 19th Century and was the leading author of popular fiction during this period. He was also a womanizer, a liar, and a self-promoter who made heroes out of Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok but never missed a chance to build his own name and legend. Acclaimed Western author Clay More has painted a vivid portrait of this larger than life figure in THE DIME NOVELIST, the latest historical novel in the popular West of the Big River series from Western Fictioneers. It’s a tale filled with adventure, fantastic characters, and the raw enthusiasm of a young, expanding country.

“Ned Buntline is sometimes credited with creating the mythic version of the Wild West. THE DIME NOVELIST is a fascinating exploration of that legend and a brilliant portrayal of a largely forgotten but hugely influential figure in American popular culture.” – James Reasoner, best-selling author of THE LAWMAN


Nashville, Tennessee

March 14, 1846

     The judge rapped his gavel on his desk and called for order.
     “I will have silence in this court! Now pipe down all of you or I’ll have the marshal and his deputies begin arresting folk.”
     He grunted, pushed his wire-framed spectacles further up his aquiline nose and turned his attention to the defendant sitting nonchalantly as he wrote in a small notebook at the table by the window.
     “You, Mister Edward Judson, have stirred up a dust storm of trouble for yourself. If you haven’t already, I would suggest you start praying that Robert Porterfield makes a full recovery, instead of scribbling away. Now put that book away and have some respect for this hearing.”


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Pioneer Food: Cooking Coons, Possums, and Armadillos by Vicky J. Rose, aka Easy Jackson

Although the thrust of my research has been in the Republic of Texas era, I think the following can be of use to anyone writing about frontier life.

Pioneers on the way to Texas loaded their wagons with hard tack, a flat bread lasting a long time.

Hard Tack Biscuits

2 pounds (8 cups) flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ pound butter or lard ( ½ cup ) cut up
3 gills ( ¾  pint) milk.

Mix flour and salt, mix in lard. Add milk and knead dough for ½ hour. Cut into cakes about the size of a small teacup and ½ inch thick. Prick with a fork and bake in a moderate oven until they are a delicate brown.

At night, women would wait until the campfires died down before burying potatoes in the warm ashes to be eaten the next morning. White potatoes were commonly called “Irish potatoes,” as opposed to sweet potatoes which were sometimes referred to as “yams.” Sweet potatoes were much more common in Texas because they were easier to grow than Irish potatoes.

At first, cattle were used mostly for oxen or milk, not to be slaughtered. Cheese, usually a soft version, was often made every day when there was excess milk. Chickens were for eggs and usually only slaughtered when they could no longer lay.

Because of the amount of meat one got for the least amount of effort, pork reined as king. Pigs could be turned out to forage for themselves in the summer and butchered in the fall. The meat, when smoked and cured, kept well. Hams hung in smokehouses, while bacon might be covered with a cloth and thrown on a shelf. The saying was they used “everything but the squeal.”

Sausages and any cooked meat could be preserved by drying or placing in a stone crock and covering with lard.

Poor sanitation caused raw vegetables to be looked upon in disfavor as something that could cause disease, and the vegetables pioneers ate were consequently cooked much longer than we do today. The abundance of wildlife made it difficult in the first few years of settling a new land to be able to have a garden. If pork was king in the meat department, corn ruled in the vegetable world. Cornbread was often served at every meal, as corn was much easier to grow than wheat.

Dewberries - a wilder, smaller version of blackberries
Because oven temperatures were difficult to regulate, cakes often turned out dry and unappetizing. The pioneer woman counteracted this by making heavy cakes filled with dried fruits and nuts. Pies were much more forgiving, and they became the dessert of choice. The pioneer woman used whatever she had on hand for pies: wild fruits, buttermilk, sweet potatoes, vinegar, and even the ubiquitous cornmeal.

Wild Mustang Grapes

Mustang grapes are distinguished by the white velvety underside of their leaves. The fruit when ripe is dark purple with a bitter, acid taste. With enough sugar added, they are fine for making jellies, wines, and grape juice. When mixed with molasses and allowed to ferment, mustang grapes made a homemade wine referred to as “Busthead Whiskey.”
Mustang Grapes Growing Wild in the Trees on a Country Lane

Mustang Green Grape Pie

3 cups green mustang grapes
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
Unbaked pastry for two 9-inch pie crusts
Melted butter and sugar for sprinkling over top crust

Pick the grapes when they are still a beautiful green color, just before the seed is formed. Wash them and put in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil.
Mix the sugar and flour together, add to the grapes when they begin to boil. Add butter and cook over medium heat. Stir, and when mixture begins to thicken, pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Add top crust or lattice crust. If desired, brush the top crust with melted butter and sprinkle sugar on top.
Bake at 400° for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325° and continue baking for 20-30 minutes.

Game was plentiful. Buffalo tongue was considered a special treat. Bear grease is sweeter and much better tasting than pork lard, but it turns rancid quickly.


Mature bear is usually too tough to eat and should only be used in long cooking stews. However, some cooks believe all bear, except for perhaps black bear, is edible as long as it is soaked in an oil-based marinade for at least 24 hours before cooking. The fat must be removed immediately, as it turns rancid quickly. Cook after marinating as you would beef pot roast or stew. Bear, like pork, can carry trichinosis, so be sure the meat is always well cooked through.

Other wild game was consumed with relish, as it was free and only had to be caught. Mexicans living in Texas also ate armadillo, although I do not think this was common among the Anglos. Armadillo is supposedly a very light, tender and tasty meat.
Hondo peers into an armadillo hole.


½ cup vinegar
1 cup water
Black Pepper

Lay armadillo on back. With a sharp knife, slit from throat to tail and then across from shoulder to shoulder. Skin leg and shoulder close to the shell. Keep working close to the shell until the whole armadillo is out of shell. Then, being careful not to break the intestines, gut the armadillo. Wash well and cut in half. Place armadillo in a pan, cover with water. Stir in ½ cup of vinegar and about that much salt to make a brine. Soak overnight, drain and rinse. Place in roasting pan and sprinkle with black pepper. Add about 1 cup of water, cover and bake as you would a roast. Add more water as needed until done.

Raccoon & Muskrat

Raccoon and muskrat are both dark meat, and like bear, every bit of the fat must be removed after skinning. Also, like bear, they should be thoroughly cooked to prevent infections by worms. There are several small scent glands that must also be removed before cooking—under the armpits of the front legs, on either side of the spine, and in the small of the back.
Raccoon can be simmered, roasted, fried, or barbequed.  

1 raccoon
Cayenne pepper—to taste
Salt and pepper—to taste
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
Cooking oil
6 sweet potatoes, peeled

Dress the raccoon and soak it for 1 hour in a mild vinegar and water solution. Drain and cut into pieces. Cover with water. Add salt, peppers, and chopped vegetables. Under medium heat, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook until tender. Drain, pat dry, and brown in a small amount of cooking. Place in a roaster.  Prepare a brown gravy with flour and drippings; pour over the raccoon, placing the sweet potatoes around it. Bake at 350° until potatoes are done, 30 to 40 minutes.

Opossum (Almost always referred to as “Possum”)

Cooks prepare possum in various ways. The fat is not objectionable in taste or odor and does not have to be removed. The meat is light-colored and tender. 

Method One:
Drain the blood, remove the entrails and wipe clean. Hang for 48 hours. Skin and cook. Roasting is the preferred method. The liver may be chopped up and added to the gravy.

Method Two:
Trap the possum and feed it for 10 days on cereal and milk. Clean but do not skin. Immerse into water just below the boiling point. Pluck the hair, when it slips out readily, remove the possum and scrape the hair off. While scraping, occasionally pour cool water over the surface of the animal. (Much like you would a hog.) Remove the small red glands in the small of the back, and under each foreleg between the shoulder and rib. Parboil for 1 hour. Cook like you would a pork roast.


A young rabbit has a narrow cleft in the lip and smooth, sharp claws. The ears will be soft and bend easily.

After the kill, drain the blood and remove entrails immediately. Leave the skin on if not cooked immediately. The body cavity can be cleaned with a cloth or dry grass. To ensure tender meat, hang by the feet for 1 to 4 days. They can be eaten immediately if not stiff. Once stiffened, they can still be edible as long as the hind legs are rigid.

Many people like to soak rabbit in either vinegar, wine, or salted water before cooking. Soaking or not is a matter of taste. Brining in salt water is a popular way to keep meat juicy.
Rabbit can be prepared in much the same way as chicken—fricasseed, baked, roasted, or boiled and diced to serve in a salad. For a unique and special sauce, the blood can be used as a thickener.

Squirrels might not be the easiest things to shoot, but they
were highly favored. 

Gray squirrels are preferred; red squirrels are small and gamey in flavor.

Squirrel is one of the finest and tenderest of all game meat. Only the oldest and toughest need to be parboiled. Clean as soon as possible, wipe the body cavity with grass, cloth or paper. Let the body heat dissipate. As with rabbit, it doesn’t have to be skinned until it is ready to be cooked. Squirrels are commonly fried like chicken or put into stews like Brunswick Stew. However, they are delicious broiled, baked, and cooked with dumplings.

My son’s grandfather told him that as a boy, he would kill squirrels and share them with an old black gentleman he knew. He would get angry at him and tell him not to shoot the squirrels in the head—the brains were the best part. (When I repeated this in a speech to a Daughters of the Republic of Texas chapter, several women nodded their heads, saying their grandparents had loved squirrel brains.)

Almost all the blacks living in Texas during the early 19th century were slaves, and they were given the ears, feet, neck bones, and intestines of the hog to eat. Chitterlings (pronounced “chit-lins”) were made with the intestines. They have a strong aroma when cooked that many people find objectionable.


After slaughtering a young pig, empty the large intestines while still warm by turning them inside out and scraping as clean as possible. Cover with salted water, keep cool for 24 hours. Drain and wash in 5 or 6 waters. Any excess fat can be removed but leave some for flavor.

            10 pounds chitterlings
            1 garlic clove or 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
            1 onion sliced or coarsely chopped  
            ½ teaspoon salt
            ½ teaspoon pepper
            Enough cold water to cover

Optional ingredients:
 ½ sliced lemon
½ teaspoon each: thyme, clove, mace, and allspice
            1 bay leaf       
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
            2 tablespoons fresh parsley
            2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Cut chitterlings up in 2-inch lengths. Bring slowly to a boil, add other ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer for about 3 hours. A half a cup of catsup can be added the last thirty minutes of cooking time if desired. Most people like to douse their chitterlings with vinegar or hot sauce.

When ranger companies were formed in Texas, they would live for weeks at a time on nothing but wild game, honey if they could find it, and coffee “the favorite drink of Texans.”

People living near the coast of Texas not only feasted on wild game, but fish, shellfish, and oysters as big as your hand. The wealthy planters living near the port cities had access to a wide variety of food, including coffee, London ale, and champagne. It seems strange to us thinking about the frontier days, but where it was available, champagne was a popular drink.

Almost all the stagecoach stops in Texas served much the same food, salt pork and cornbread. The
The Nicholson Hotel in Bastrop near the river burned down in
the late 1800s, but the Old Stagecoach Inn by the El Camino
Real in Bastrop still stands. Davy Crockett and Sam Houston
were visitors.
Tremont House in Galveston was known for its good food. Nevertheless, one Frenchman coming to the New World ate one meal there, turned around and went back to France. A few others, such as the Nicholson Hotel in Bastrop, became renowned for exceptionally good fare. They all served alcohol, and although the bar was a good source of revenue for innkeepers, murders and fights were not uncommon, much to the dismay of many of the innkeepers’ wives.

Tableware could vary widely from place to place. Some people ate off tin plates using utensils made from cane. In other places, people used fine china and silver cutlery. Most people had steel utensils with wooden handles. Pearlware and creamware, types of decorated pottery, were not uncommon, and shards of pearlware believed to have come from a kiln in Mexico have been found at Presidio La Bahía, a Spanish fort in Goliad.

 Although forks were on the table, knifes were often used to pick up food. It wasn’t considered rude to pour coffee from a cup into a saucer and drink it from the saucer.

Although eastern travelers may have complained about the monotony and unpretentiousness of corn pone, greens flavored with side meat, and bacon, they remarked there always seemed to be an abundance of it. And that, I think, speaks well for the old pioneers of Texas.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, District VIII:  A Pinch of This and a Handful of That, Historic Recipes of Texas 1830-1900, Eakin Press, Austin, 1988

Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, 1962 edition

Recipe Roundup—Compiled by the Whitehead Memorial Museum, Del Rio, TX

Cooking Texas Style, Candy Wagner & Sandra Marquez, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1993

Stagecoach Inns of Texas, Kathryn Turner Carter, Waco, Texian Press, 1972

Mary Austin Holley: The Texas Diary, 1835

Mrs. Blackwell’s Heart of Texas Cookbook, Louise B. Dillow & Deenie B. Carver, Corona Publishing, San Antonio, 1980

Wild Game Cookbook, Edited by L.W. “Bill” Johnson, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, New York, 1968

Coming in November, 2018, Pinnacle Books

A Bad Place to Die by Easy Jackson 

Saturday, April 28, 2018


Don’t get caught short on words.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that a story shouldn’t be all dialogue without a sense of where it is taking place. To me, the location should be as descriptive as possible in order to have the reader get a picture in his/her mind of what it would feel like to be right there alongside whomever I am talking about.

Let's suppose a scene whereby a fictitious Marshal named Jed Crane, is on the hunt for a well-known criminal named Wickes.

The Tell
Crane rode his horse down the only street of East Ridge. He guided his horse to a hitch pole in front of The Saucy Lady Saloon. He slid from the saddle, spun his reins, then stepped into the saloon.

Okay, now what picture have I just laid out for the reader? Not much.

The Show
So now let's show what came to Jed Crane’s eyes and what he did. (Remember, you are right there too.)

Jed Crane halted his horse on the edge of town, his eyes were active, searching for any movement by man or beast. There didn't appear to be anyone walking about. He didn't blame them, it was over 90 degrees out and seemed a lot hotter. He could see three horses, two sorrels and a bay, tied to a hitch pole in front of a shabby saloon. Two of the horses stood with heads down, dozing. The other one stood hip shot. All three lazed in their misery while awaiting their master's return. He tapped a heel to side of his sorrel to move forward on the dusty street of East Ridge. Both Jed and his horse were hot, sweaty, and tired from their all-day ride through the dry flat lands that stretched out twenty miles west of the one-street town.

Crane figured Wickes had not arrived yet, but he slipped the keeper thong off the hammer of his .45 single action Colt, just in case. He guided his horse to stand beside the other three. Crane slipped out of his saddle then spun the reins around the hitch pole, which leaned awkwardly to the left. He stood there for a moment taking in the Saucy Lady Saloon sign that hung above the doorway. The painted letters on the sign were faded and peeling but still readable. Over to his right, a big, yellow, shaggy dog lay stretched out in the scant shade of a bench that fronted the saloon. The dog eyed the man but did not bother to move. After Crane had stepped up two steps to the boardwalk, the dog closed his eyes. The saloon’s left swinging door stood open at an odd angle, the top rusty hinge having come loose. Crane, with one hand near the butt of his holstered .45, used his other hand he pushed the remaining door open, then stepped into the semi-darkened interior of the saloon.

Okay, a lot has been shown. Crane is hot and tired after a long ride. There are three horses, two sorrels and one bay, tied to a leaning hitch pole in front of a saloon. The street is dusty. The saloon’s sign has peeling paint. Did you see that lazy yellow dog? One of the saloon’s swinging doors is in disrepair. The inside of the saloon is in semi-darkness.

What do you think? Do you favor the tell or the show?

The show, at least, put a picture in my mind as to what the place looks like. Now is a good time for a convenient dialogue to begin between Crane and the bartender.

I am still learning and hope, in the future, to do a better job of sentence structure and punctuation. For now though, hang the word count, I do not want to be accused of being stingy with words when giving descriptions of a location.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

We'd Better Open his Head!


The blog about 19th Century Medicine and Surgery

By Keith Souter aka Clay More


Last week, knowing my interest in the history of medicine, Jacquie Rogers drew my attention to a post on Facebook about a 5,000 year old cow's skull from an excavation in France. It had a surgically created hole in the right side. No bone healing had taken place, so it was suggested that this was either an early attempt at veterinary surgery, or it was a practice attempt by an ancient surgeon before attempting a trephination on a human, possibly after a head injury.

Head injuries are common in tales about the Old West. That is not surprising, considering all those gunfights, fist-fights and falls from horses. The town doctor on the frontier would probably have to be adept at treating them. That could include trephining the skull - effectively, opening the head.

Treatment of a skull injury from Fieldbook of Medicine 1517

Nowadays we have CT and MRI scans which can give us sophisticated images of the body. A CT scan stands for Computerised Tomography, which involves taking x-rays of the brain from various angles, which are analysed by a computer to build a 3-d image of the brain. This will show any fracture or haemorrhage. A MRI scan stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It uses magnetism, ultrasound and computerised technology to build up images of the inside of the body.  These can show the tissues and any abnormalities in surprising detail.

Back in the Old West there were no such luxuries. X-rays were only discovered by William Roentgen in 1895. The first use of them diagnostically only started the year after when Dr John Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England started to use the technique. The town doctor had to use his clinical skills.

The unconscious patient
The doctor would assess the patient, by examining the scalp for a wound or local bruising. He would examine the ears and nostrils for bleeding, both of which could indicate a significant head injury, with fracture of skull bones.

Coma is the state of absolute unconsciousness when the patient does not respond to any stimulus. Squeezing the ear lobe or using the knuckles of the hand to rub over the sternum (breast bone) are extremely painful and usually will evoke a response in someone who is in a semi-coma. This means that they only respond to painful stimuli. A full coma patient will not even respond to pain.

The pulse would be taken frequently, say every 15 minutes in an unconscious patient. A slowing of the pulse is called bradycardia and may indicate internal hemorrhage somewhere, possibly inside the skull.

The semi-conscious patient
The patient may well be confused, so the level of confuse would be assessed. A rule of thumb gives mild, moderate or severe states of confusion.

Mild - some coherent conversation  is possible
Moderate - out of touch generally, but will answer with name or occupation
Severe - no sensible answers given, but will respond to simple commands such as hold my hand.

Deepening confusion may indicate hemorrhage. Sudden vomiting may also be highly significant.

Examination of the cranial nerves
There are twelve paired nerves which come directly out of the brain to supply the head and neck and some of the internal organs. These are separate from most other nerves, which come out from the spinal cord.

1st nerve - olfactory nerve - sense of smell
2nd nerve - optic nerve - vision
3rd, fourth and sixth nerves - occuolomotor, trochlear and abducent nerves move the eye and operate the pupils - get the patient to follow the finger and also shine a light in the eyes - the pupils should constrict
5th nerve - trigeminal nerve - sensory to the face and operates the masseter muscles, the large muscle that moves the jaw - tested by asking to clench the jaw
7th, facial nerve - movements of the face - ester by asking to see the teeth
8th, acoustic nerve - for hearing. Can he hear?
9th glossopharyngeal nerve - to the pharynx - cannot be tested
10th vagus nerve - multiple internal functions, but also moves the palate - tested by asking the patient to say 'Ah.' The palate should move when he does
11th nerve - accessory nerve - tested by asking to shrug the shoulders
12th nerve - hypoglossal nerve - moves the tongue.

Significantly the movements should be equal on both sides. One sided results could indicate a problem with one side of the brain.

Hutchinson's pupils
These are a set of guidelines devised by Sir Jonathan Hutchinson (1823-1913), a professor of Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of London. He wrote a ten volume  Archives of Surgery between 1885 and 1899.

Hutchinson's pupil, described by him indicates that an intracranial mass (a tumour or blood clot) will result in a fixed (meaning it will not change size even when light is shone on the eye) and  dilated pupil on the same side. This is very significant, since it would indicate where to make the trephination.

Racoon eyes and Battle's sign
Basal skull fractures, that is, fractures of the bones that make up the base of the skull, including the temporal bone, occipital bone, ethmoid and sphenoid bones, can be associated with particular bruising.

Racoon eyes

Racoon eyes, also known in the UK as Panda eyes, can occur several hours after a basal skull fracture. they look like black eyes from direct trauma, but the bruising is limited to the orbit. There are other causes, but in the context of head injuries in your fiction writing, be aware of this sign.

 Battle's sign, named after the English surgeon William Henry Battle (1855-1936) is bruising that occur can  behind the ear, again some hours after a basal fracture. Like the racoon eyes it is not necessarily a sign of trauma where it appears, but a sign of a basal skull fracture.

Battle's sign  

Your frontier doctor might not have known of them by those names, but he may well have known from past experience, or war service, that they could be of significance.

General physical examination
Here the focus is on assessing the power of each limb and comparing one see of the body with the other. Disparity between the sides could indicate developing or developed paralysis.

Also testing the reflexes with a 'patella or tendon hammer.' The following reflexes are tested:

Biceps tendon by tapping the tendon in the hollow of the elbow.
Triceps tendon by tapping the tendon on the back of the elbow when the elbow is flexed.
Patella tendon by tapping underneath the stella (kneecap) with the leg flexed.
Achilles tendon  by tapping the tendon at the back of the ankle.

Lack of reflexes on one side would be significant.

The words trephination and trepanation are used interchangeably, since both come from the Greek trypanon, meaning 'to bore.' Archaeological evidence shows that trephination, the boring of a hole in the skull was used in early tribal societies. It was presumably thought that this would let out evil spirits. Examination of many skulls which have been trepanned in this way shows that healing of bone around the site of the boring took place, indicating that in many cases the operation was a success. Incredibly, they used three methods - cutting, scraping and drilling.

The oldest trepanned skull was found at a neolithic burial site at Ensisheim in France. It has been dated to 7,000 years ago.

The reason that it could have helped is by releasing the pressure upon the brain, which would follow a hemorrhage. Unfortunately, in those people who were not suffering from a rise in pressure it may have done actual harm.

The ancient Egyptians had actually developed a quite sophisticated system of medicine and surgery with doctors who specialised in one area of the body. thus they had eye doctors, stomach doctors and head surgeons.

The Edwin Smith papyrus, written in about 1500 BC, is essentially an ancient Egyptian textbook of surgery. It describes surgical instruments and techniques and discusses 48 cases of injuries, including head injuries.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus c 1500 BC - an ancient Egyptian textbook of surgery

A beautiful description of ancient Egyptian surgery is given in the 1945 historical novel The Egyptian by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari, which became an international bestseller and later a Hollywood blockbuster in 1954. In the novel the main character Sinuhe, who became royal physician to Pharaoh Akhenaten (father of Tutankhamen), is apprenticed to Ptahor, the 'opener of head.' He shows him how to examine a patient and diagnose where there may have been a problem in the head from an assessment of the state of consciousness and the use of the limbs. He then shows him how to remove a piece of skull and replace it with a silver plate which is bound with bandages while they await recovery. 

Ancient Greek surgical instruments. Note the trephine in diagram 'a' with a central pin

The technique of trephination was also used by the Greeks and the Romans. The instruments required became increasingly sophisticated.

We're going to have to open his head
The experience of British surgeons with  gunshot winds to the head during the the Crimean War (1853-1856) was not promising. Trephination was associated with an extremely high mortality of over 95 per cent. George H B Macleod, the chief surgeon of the British Expeditionary Force advise against the operation.

During the American Civil War the operation was performed with better results. The survival rate improved to more than 20 per cent. Then after Lister's aseptic techniques were accepted, recovery rates continued to improve.

In 1882 Samuel W Gross wrote a textbook A System of Surgery, in which he quoted a 41 per cent recovery rate after gunshot trephination. 

The trephination operation
The instruments needed:

Trephine - a cutting instrument with a cylindrical blade - usually with a cutting circle of one inch

An antique trephine with horn handle

Chisel and mallet

Rongeur - a strong forceps for grasping bone

Also needed would be a scalpel and various forceps for holding tissues, a gouge for smoothing roughed or fractured bone edges and an elevator to lift the bone disc that was cut.

The operation
The patient's head would be shaved and washed. After Lister this would have been with carbolic soap and then it would be scrubbed and washed with a 1 in 20 solution of carbolic acid in alcohol. 

The head would be supported on a sandbag and sterilised towels applied around the site to open the skull. In the earlier frontier days, this would not have been thought necessary.

When a wound already exists and a fractured spicule was apparent, the cite would be exposed by enlarging the wound. When the scalp was not wounded, as in a clubbing head injury or from a fall, then a semilunar flap of skin would be cut and raised. It would be cut so that the free end would point downwards. It would be a shallow curve, carefully made to avoid the main scalp arteries.

Alternatively, a V-shaped incision could be made, again with the V pointing downwards. It should be so arranged as to allow free-draining of blood. 

The incision should be carried down to the bone and the tissues helped with forceps. Then the flap would be turned upwards. A suture would be placed through it so that the flap could be held out of the operative territory.

Any bleeding vessels would be secured with pressure forceps to close the vessels off. 

Any spicules of fractured bone could be chiseled off with the chisel and mallet. 

If there is no fracture, then the circular trephine is applied. The central pin could be bored into the bone, then the trephine is made to cut into the skull by light, sharp movements from left to right and from right to left.

At first bone dust is dry, but it soon becomes soft and bloody. Once through the bone, the pressure changes dramatically. 

The area must be kept free of bone dust by irrigation with saline. 

The trephine is then gently rocked back and forth to allow it to move, then the elevator is inserted. The  ronguer forceps can then be applied carefully to remove the disc. 

The blood  or the blood clot can then be removed. It may well express itself. The area needs to be irrigated and any bone spicules or bone dust removed. 

The bone disc is placed in a china cup and soaked with warm (sterilised) water, ready to be replaced.

Once replaced the skin flap is brought back into place with silkworm-gut sutures.

In later years a spiral rubber tube could be used to drain between the sutures. 

It wasn't always a head injury
Abscesses could also cause raised intracranial pressure and need trephination.  

Choosing the site of trephination was important, since you need to avoid the middle meningeal artery.  The diagram shows the areas that were commonly used. They would avoid the area between A and B, since the artery runs underneath the cranium. Points A and B would be used if a middle meningeal artery haemorrhage was suspected.

This sort of hemorrhage can cause an epidural haematoma. This is a blood clot forming between the dura mater (the thick outer layer of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain) and the cranium. Rupture of the middle meningeal artery is often the cause.  It comes on after a head injury when someone is knocked unconscious. They then recover, seem to regain lucidity and even go off and resume normal activities. Later on they very quickly go drowsy and lose into unconsciousness s the clot forms. It is a life-threatening event and the trephination could be life-saving.

Finally, a case!
Report of a Case of Fracture of the Skull treated by trephining - by Ira Perry, Assistant Surgeon, US Army 

Jesus Soldaeo, a Mexican, while at a drunken revel in Brownsville, Texas, June 1, 1866, was struck wit the stock of a gun, which used extensive contusion and fracture of the skull from the external angle of the orbit of the left eye toward the occiput. the fracture could be traced through the scalp  distance of six inches........The patient as admitted to the post hospital totally unconscious, with slow pulse and very feeble. The case being considered hopeless, water dressings only were applied....on the third day, the patient being still alive, the trephine was applied, and fragments of bone elevated; three days later the patient was slightly conscious....Until the tenth day the patient had taken nothing but cold water, and now was given some gruel; bowels were opened for the first time.....On June 25th consciousness returned completely and a gradual improvement took place.  July 17th the wound was almost healed, and the patient was removed fro the hospital by his friends. 

Be bold!
I have used trephination in some of my western stories. It is tough surgery performed in life and death situations, so the operator has to be bold. Which of course, all of us as western writers have to be.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018


When gold was found on Cherry Creek, in what is now the Denver area, the 'Pikes Peak or Bust' rush was on. I've always found that funny, because Pikes Peak is seventy miles away. Still, with the influx of people, you get crime. Added to that is the clash of cultures.

Pikes Peak from the East - Photo (c) Doris McCraw
Southern Colorado was originally settled by men and families from what is now New Mexico. Of course you had the Bent brothers and St. Vrain who had their fort along the Arkansas River, on the Mountain Trail portion of the Santa Fe Trail. But they were here for business, not to necessarily make their permanent home here. There were also other business forts, a topic to be covered in later posts.

One of the early pursuit of marauding Indians was De Anza's campaign against the Indian called Cuerno Verde (Green Horn)who had been harassing settlers in New Mexico. De Anza marched up the west side of the Front Range via South Park and down Ute Pass, near where Manitou Springs/Colorado Springs are now located. From there he pursued Cuerno Verde to an area south and west of present day Pueblo where he caught up and killed Cuerno Verde. For more on this story: De Anza campaign

Pikes Peak from the West - Photo (c) Doris McCraw
In the early 1860s the Espinoza brothers were on a revenge/rampage against the whites in Colorado, killing upwards of thirty people. The brothers were eventually killed, after many tried at capturing them, This chapter in the early history of  Colorado ended in 1863. For more on this bloody chapter in history: Espinosa

On the law side of the equation you have Rankin Scott Kelly, the first sheriff of El Paso County Colorado from 1861-1867. His story is the opposite. He fled west from New England to avoid prosecution for murder he thought he'd committed. Kelly was a good sheriff and eventually left the area and moved to California only to return to Colorado. His story is told by another former El Paso County Sheriff, John Anderson in his book "Rankin Scott Kelly". For additional information: Kelly

I'll end this post with Pat Desmond. An Irishman, with a love of fighting and drink, he made a reputation for himself as a lawman in Kit Carson and Pueblo, CO.  There are those who feel he hasn't gotten the respect he deserved as a good lawman. This may be due to his life after his first wife divorced him. He tried his hand at owning a detective agency, and other businesses but failed to succeed at any of them. He remarried and moved to Utah, where he met his demise. More of the story: Pat Desmond

Until next time.  Also, if anyone is in the Colorado Springs CO area on Saturday, June 9 join us for the Pikes Peak Library District Regional History Symposium. (They also stream the program live.) The topic this year is Remarkable Rascals, Despicable Dudes and Hidden Heroes. 2018 History Symposium

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

Monday, April 23, 2018

What Firearms Were Used in Successful and Near-Successful US Assassinations?

Gordon L. Rottman

Today we’ll take a look at the firearms chosen by assassins and would-be assassins to kill presidents, other political notables, or significant public figures were of varied quality (local-level politician assassinations and celebrity murders are not addressed here). We’ll only cover up to 1912 inclusive of the Old West era. This might give you some idea of the effectiveness of close-range gunfire and the effects of bullet hits.
This is an excerpt (which covers up to recent assignations and attempts) of my The Big Book of Gun Trivia: Everything you want to know, don’t want to know, and don’t know you need to know. It’s available from Amazon only on Kindle for $5.38. The 500-page book has hundreds of articles on firearms trivia, facts, and myths ranging from the Old West to the present.

Many of the firearms used in these successful and unsuccessful attempts were actually poor choices, even if they may have killed the intended victim, and were effective only due to the extremely close range or luck. It certainly was not the skill of the shooters, most of who were not known for their shooting abilities or any realistic preparation on their part. In fact, what are considered some of the poorer weapons were the most effective demonstrating the variables of bullet effects and chance.

President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) Washington, DC; shot at twice resulting in two misfires on 30 January 1835 and emerged unharmed. (Jackson is reputed to have been involved in over 100 duels and was wounded several times. It was said he rattled when he walked. Research, however, has found he was in only 14 duels, killed only one man, and was wounded three times in combat and duels.)
Deranged, would-be assassin Richard Lawrence (1800-61) fired two small muzzle-loading, cap-and-ball pistols, one from within 13 feet (4 meters) and the second from pointblank range*—sources are in disagreement of the ranges, of which both misfired with only the percussion caps igniting. Research has not uncovered the caliber and make of the pistols. Lawrence was subsequently subdued by Jackson whaling his cane and aided by bystanders, including Congressman Davy Crockett (1786-1836). The odds of both pistols misfiring are said to be 1 to 125,000. They were test fired in the 1930s and both functioned. However, the odds were actually lower when it is considered that the make of pistols are said to have been vulnerable to moisture and the weather that day was extremely humid and possibly the cold affected the pistols (the actual January temperature is not known).
* Pointblank range is within 3 feet (1 meter)—arm’s length.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) Washington, DC; shot once at point-blank range in the back of his head on 14 April 1865 and died 15 April.
Assassin John Wilkes Booth (1838-65) fired one shot from a .44-caliber Deringer (no model or serial number) cap-and-ball pocket pistol*. He was also armed with a 7-1/4-inch blade hunting knife (often misreported as a “Bowie knife” with differing blade lengths, usually longer) intended for General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85), who was absent. An Army officer was slightly wounded with the knife. (One of Lincoln’s last official acts was to establish the Secret Service, mainly for anti-counterfeiting purposes, but from 1894 it would guard the US president.) Perhaps a score of innocent men throughout the East were lynched or shot in belief they were the fugitive Booth. Others were murdered because they expressed gratification with Lincoln’s death. Ironically, John Wilkes Booth can be seen standing near Lincoln in an 1861 inauguration photograph.
* The ball was actually .41-caliber to allow for a patch.

Secretary of State William H. Seward, Sr. (1801-72) Washington, DC; was slashed multiple times on the face and neck with a knife on 14 April 1865, at the same time Lincoln was assassinated. Seward recovered and is known for the purchase Alaska two years later.
Would-be assassin Lewis T. Powell (aka Lewis Paine or Payne, 1844-65), in league with the Lincoln conspirators, forced his way into Seward’s home, attempted to shoot Seward’s son at pointblank range with a .36-caliber Whitney Navy Model cap-and-ball revolver (six-round), which misfired. He pistol-whipped the son, made his way to the third floor, and attacked the bedridden Seward with a 9-inch blade Bowie knife inflicting several serious wounds. One slash penetrated his right cheek. A jaw splint deflected the knife away from his jugular vein. (Seward was recovering from multiple serious injuries received in a recent carriage accident.) Powell wounded three others in the house with the knife while escaping. He was captured three days later. Fellow conspirator David E. Herold (1842-65) had guided Powell to Seward’s home, but fled when hearing the commotion inside. He was later captured with John Wilkes Booth. Seward’s wife is said to have died the following June from the stress of almost losing her husband. Powell had served as a Confederate infantryman, was captured, escaped, joined the Confederate cavalry, and then did limited secret service work. He could be considered the only “professional” among the Lincoln conspirators and probably the only professional among all the assassins studied here.
Note: George A. Atzerodt (1835-65) was assigned by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808-75) armed with an unidentified revolver and Bowie knife, but he balked when the time came.

President James A. Garfield (1831-81) Washington, DC; shot once in the chest (a second bullet grazed his sleeve) on 2 July 1881 and died 19 September of heart attack, pneumonia, and blood poisoning caused by unsanitary attempts to remove the bullet. (Garfield was the first president to speak on a telephone, his first words being, “Please speak a little more slowly” to Alexander Graham Bell, who later attempted to locate the bullet in Garfield’s body with an electric metal detector.)
Assassin Charles J. Guiteau (1841-82) fired twice with a British .44 Webley & Scott Bulldog snub-nosed revolver (six-round) at pointblank range. Guiteau later claimed he had not killed Garfield, but the president’s bungling doctors did.

Governor of Kentucky William J. Goebel (1856-1900) Louisville, Kentucky; shot once through the chest on 30 January 1900, election day, and died 3 February after being sworn in on his death bed. He is the only serving US governor to be assassinated.
Accounts are convoluted and conflicting with five or six shots fired from a .38-55 Winchester & Ballard Marlin Model 1893 lever-action rifle from a nearby building (range not provided, but less than 100 feet). Sixteen people, including the opposing gubernatorial candidate and the secretary of state, were eventually indicted, a rare instance of an actual conspiracy. It almost resulted in a state civil war. There were multiple trials and retrials with many suspects acquitted or turned state’s evidence. Henry Youtsey (1873-1942) was convicted and sentenced to life for the murder. Later Jim Howard was also convicted, but it has never been determined for certain who the actual assassin was.

President William McKinley, Jr. (1843-1901) Buffalo, NY; shot in the stomach with another shot grazing his shoulder on 5 September 1901 and died 14 September. (He was the first president to ride in a self-propelled vehicle, the electric ambulance carrying him to the hospital that fateful day.)
Assassin Leon Frank Czolgosz (1873-1901) fired two shots from a .32 S&W Iver Johnson Safety Automatic Hammerless revolver* (six-round) at pointblank range. (This assassination resulted in the Secret Service supplying round-the-clock bodyguards to presidents from 1902. From 1894 the Secret Service had provided only part-time security.)
* “Automatic” refers to it being an automatic self-ejector when the cylinder is broken open.

Note: Robert T. Lincoln (1843-1926, President Lincoln’s eldest son) is the only man known to have witnessed the assassinations of three presidents, his father, James Garfield, and William McKinley. After seeing McKinley assassinated he vowed he would never again appear in public with an incumbent president.

Presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919) Milwaukee, WI; shot once and wounded on 14 October 1912. The bullet was slowed by his eyeglasses case and his folded 50-page speech papers. With the bullet lodged three inches in his chest he declined attention and delivered the 90-minute speech first announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose*.” Blood seeped through his shirt during the speech. (T.R., by the way, an avid hunter, was the source of the name “Teddy Bear” as he had refused to shoot an old bear tried to a tree so he could have a “successful” hunt.)
Would-be assassin John F. Schrank (1876-1943) fired one shot with a .38 S&W Colt Police Positive Special revolver (six-round) from 6 feet (2 meters). (This was T.R.’s second presidential bid, which he lost—no sympathy vote was forthcoming.)
* “Bull Moose” refers to the 1912-16 Progressive Party.

Shout if you have any questions or comments.