Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Are you an expert in your field?

You may not think so, however, others may disagree with you.

I checked Webster. Expert: one who is very skillful or well-informed in some special field.

I then borrowed, in part, from Wikipedia: An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique, or skill, whose facility for judging or deciding rightly, is accorded authority in a particular field of study.

What they are saying, in short, is that some achieve expert status academically or through service, sometimes lifelong, in a chosen field.

Recently, a down-the-street neighbor and another gentleman stopped me out by my gate.

“Are you that mushroom guru?” he asked.

In an attempt to be friendly but humble, I answered, “Well, I know a little about some mushrooms but mostly just about the ones that pay money.” That part was true.

Why be so humble one might ask? Hey, for those in the know, there are over 3000 varieties of mushrooms that grow within the North American continent. I have learned, through extensive research and fielding, about quite a few with an emphasis on those that can be sold to dealers.

What the neighbor was referring to was the fact that I wrote my first book, titled Matsutake Mushroom, published by Naturegraph publishers in 1997. The name of the book is deceptive because, though it is about Matsutake mushrooms, the story I wrote is about harvesting, selling and buying a very perishable product at unheard of high prices in a capricious market. Generally, $16.00 a pound--average--is the going rate paid to pickers, whom are mostly locals or large numbers of itinerant, out of the area, predominately Asian pickers.


Some said it was a modern-day gold rush, a race for the riches. The story tells of the radical pricing of over $200.00 per pound offered to pickers in the 1994 annual harvest, and the race to capitalize while the season lasted.
I won’t go into specifics, what the heck, that would be retelling of the story.

Most people never heard of Matsutake mushrooms, which is harvested, in volume, from mostly national forest lands in the Pacific northwestern U.S., in the fall of each year, for export to Japan.

I learned of the practice back in 1993, then I spent that four-month season and the following year’s season harvesting, selling and eventually operating as a buyer, for the Matsutake. I kept a journal, then later wrote the book about my experiences.

In a review for Mushroom, The Journal of Wild Mushroom, a critic wrote, “Writing books may pay better than toiling up steep hill sides to find mushrooms but I had to pay my dues first.” Whatever that meant.

I never professed to know that much about mushrooms. The scientific qualities of the Matsutake, I leave up to mycology professors such as David Arora, author of All That The Rain Promises and More.

Twenty-one years later, my book still sells a few copies each year.

I never thought of myself as an expert on anything; just as others have often referred to themselves--a jack of all trades, master of none.

I will admit to the fact that I do have more knowledge on mushrooms than most folks, and in particular, about Matsutake mushrooms, so if some folks want to call me an authority or expert on the subject, then I am okay with that and appreciative.

How about you? Do you know more about a given subject than several others combined? If so, you are most likely considered to be an expert.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


Once again, it’s time to stuff the saddlebags, shine up your boots and point your trusty cow pony toward the Great Southwest for the 2018 WESTERN FICTIONEERS CONVENTION! We’re headed “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain,” to the town known as “The Big Friendly.” That would be Oklahoma City!

It’s been THREE YEARS since the Western Fictioneers inaugural convention and it’s high time for another gathering. You’ll enjoy catching up with old pals and making new ones, not to mention joining fascinating discussions led by some of western literature’s most respected authors and historians.

We’ll hang our hats at the BEST WESTERN SADDLEBACK INN, conveniently located near Interstate 40, visit the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and feast on fine chuck wagon-style meals.

More details on the schedule will be released as they are finalized. But . . . you can get yourself registered for this incredible event and reserve your hotel room NOW!


SEPTEMBER 14-16, 2018


4300 SW 3rd STREET 


You may reserve rooms at our special convention rate by calling BEST WESTERN SADDLEBACK INN at 800-228-3903. Be sure to mention that you are with WESTERN FICTIONEERS.

REGISTRATION includes admission to all discussions and panels, Friday and Saturday night banquets, and a group ticket to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

                                          Through 7/15   After 7/15
WF Member Individual          $125             $150
WF Member + Spouse Pkg.    $225             $275
Non-member Individual          $150             $175
Non-member + Spouse Pkg.    $250             $275
(Single day attendance is $80)

First, visit the Western Fictioneers WEBSITE and fill out a registration form. There are TWO WAYS to pay registration fees.

1. ONLINE VIA PAYPAL (choose “Send Money” option and enter this email address: mfmilom@comcast.net (Account is named "Great Planet Enterprises")

2. MAIL CHECK PAYABLE TO: Great Planet Enterprises  P.O. Box 59463   Nashville, TN 37205

You’ll be hearing more about the convention between now and September. For now, RESERVE your room and REGISTER for a special time for informative discussion, food and fun, and camaraderie with some of Western literature’s greats. Oklahoma City, here we come!

See you there, saddle pals!

Thursday, May 24, 2018


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

It is a dangerous business being a character in a western novel. You can get shot at, tossed off a horse, hurled through a saloon window or be pushed over a ravine. You have seen it on the movies, read it in the novels or written about it yourself. Any of them can have fatal consequences, but more often than not in this fictional world that we love so much the result is a broken bone somewhere. And then the Doc comes along just in time to hear that speculative diagnosis - "I think it's busted, Doc!"

Aiding a comrade by Frederic Remington

And of course, an examination reveals all, a splint is manufactured, a snort of whiskey or a dose or two of laudanum and "You'll be up and about in no time at all."

But in real life it is often more complex than that.

The birth of orthopaedics
We know that doctors have been setting bones since the days of the ancient Egyptians. We have surgical papyri outlining treatments and mummies have been found with splints made of bamboo, reeds, wood or bark, padded with linen.

The roman physician Galen (129-199 AD) treated gladiators and recorded his treatments in his medical and surgical encyclopedias. His treatments were used as the basis for treatments all the way up the the Renaissance.

The name orthopaedics was first used in 1741 in France, when Nicholas Andry, a professor of medicine at the University of Paris coined it from the Green words 'orthos,' meaning 'bone' and 'paideia' meaning 'rearing of children'. His book Orthop├ędie was about the prevention and correction of musculoskeletal deformities in children. There was a real need for this since there were many diseases that could cause problems like scoliosis (curvature of the spine), abnormalities in the growth of bones (e.g., tuberculosis), various infections (osteomyelitis), vitamin disorders (e.g. vitamin D deficiency causing rickets or bowed legs), and conditions that could cause paralysis, such as poliomyelitis.

So, the specialty of orthopaedics was originally all about treating children to prevent problems. The treatment of fractures became added along the way.

The frontispiece for his book showed a sapling supported by a staff. This has been taken as the logo of orthopaedic institutions and organizations across the world ever since.

In   Jean-Andre Venel established the first orthopaedic institute in 1781 for the treatment of children.

Splints and supports
As mentioned above, splints of various forms have been used from the times of antiquity. The purpose of them is simply to support the leg and prevent movement of the broken ends of the broken bone.

In medieval times surgeons knew that fractures bones had to be kept in place. One method of doing this was to soak bandages in horses' urine. As the bandage dried it would stiffen into a splint.

                  The Hodgen splint was invented in 1863 by John T Hodgen, a surgeon from St Louis. It was a suspension leg splint for fractures of the middle or lower femur.

Plaster of Paris casts
This was a fantastic addition to the surgeon's armamentarium of treatments. It was the invention of Antonius Mathijsen, a Dutch military surgeon in 1851. Essentially, a continuous bandage is wound round and round the limb then soaked in Plaster of Paris. It is called this because it was first used extensively in Paris in medicine and in building.


Essentially, it is made from gypsum, which is heated to produce anhydrous calcium sulphate. When water is added to this it forms gypsum again and hardens.  Hardening takes place very quickly, but it has to dry out. The larger the cast, the longer it takes. An arm cast will dry out in 3-6 hours and a leg cast may take up to 6 hours.Yet full drying may not be complete for 72 hours.
                  Nikolai Pirogov is credited as the first surgeon to use them to treat casualties in the Crimean War in the1850s, so of course, Dr Logan Munro was aware of the method and would use it in his practice in Wolf Creek!

Diagnosis of fractures
Nowadays we are very dependent on x-rays, but in the old West there was no such thing. William Roentgen discovered them in 1895. Only a year later, Dr John Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England started to use the so-called X-rays in medical diagnosis.

In the Old West doctors relied on physical examination to diagnose fractures. Then, and now fractures would be divided into two broad types:

Closed or simple fractures - when the skin is intact.
Open or compound fractures - when the broken bone protrudes through the skin.

The type of fracture can vary immensely. We talk about a 'clean break' meaning a simple transverse fracture. But it can also be oblique, as can happen with a torsion or twisting  injury. Or it can be comminuted, meaning fragmented. It can be complicated by causing blood vessel or nerve damage. And it can be a 'greenstick' (as happens in youngsters, when a bone gets bent and only partially fractures).

The principles of treatment of fractures was relatively simple then. If moving the part of the body distal to (furthest away from the site of the pain) caused extreme pain or if  grating could be felt, then a fracture would be diagnosed. 

The bone had to be set. That is, the limb had to be stretched in order to make sure it was the same length as the other. This would give the best chance to get the two broken ends in position against one another to allow healing to take place.

Without the use of x-rays it is very likely that all manner of injuries would end up being diagnosed as a fracture. The treatment would involve immobilizing the part and hopefully, the injured part would just 'knit together' and be whole again after a few weeks. Remember, that nature actually does the healing, not the doctor, surgeon or nurse. All that they do is create the best circumstances for nature to do its job.

And of course if the 'broken bone' healed up all right, it would bring nothing but kudos to the doctor, whether it actually had been a fracture or not.

Bone healing
What actually happens when the bone ends are back in opposition is that a large haematoma, or blood clot forms around the ends. This is rather like jelly. After a few days blood vessels grow into it and cells called phagocytes start digesting any debris and tissue that won't heal. Then other cells called fibroblasts start to lay down collagen, that forms a framework around the bone ends. This secures the  one ends and new bone is laid down. As a rule of thumb, most bones will have knitted in about 6 weeks.

Some fractures worth knowing about
There are lots of different fractures, many of which are named after the doctors or surgeons who first described them. Some of the ones which our western doctors would have known about are as follows:

Colles fracture
A fracture of the distal radius one inch (2.5 cm) above the wrist. It was described by Abraham Colles an Irish professor of anatomy in 1814. It is sustained by falling on the outstretched hand as when you try to break your fall. The problem is that the broken bone gets displaced and causes a dinner-form abnormality if it is not replaced in posit and immobilized. It takes 4- 6 weeks to heal. 

Smith's fracture
By contrast, a Smith's fracture, also known as a Groyland-Smith fracture is a 'reverse' Colles fracture. It was described by the Irish orthopaedic surgeon Robert Smith in his 1847 book,  Treatise on Fractures in the Vicinity of Joints, and on certain forms of Accidents and Congenital Dislocations.  

 It is a fracture  of the distal (bottommost) part of the radius, caused by a blow to the back of the forearm, or a fall on the flex wrist. 

Thus, a Colles fracture is an extension injury and the Smith's fracture is a flexion injury. 

Bennett's fracture 
This is one that could occur in saloon brawls, or whenever a really hard surface was punched. If you swing at someone and they duck, causing you to punch the wall, you may end up with a Bennett's fracture.
Bennett's fracture

It can also occur if someone punches someone else's skull! It is a fracture of the first metacarpal, the big bone at the base of the thumb. It is also common in people who have never learned how to punch correctly - which is most people! It was described by Edward Hallaran Bennett, professor of surgery at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland in 1882. It needs immobilization of for 4-6 weeks.

Scaphoid fracture
This is not named after anyone, but is the name of one of the bones of the wrist. It also occurs when you try to break your fall. It causes pain in the 'anatomical snuffbox.'  This is an area at the base of the thumb. It is called this because in days of yore when folk took snuff, they placed a pinch in the little depression on the back of the wrist formed when you elevate the thumb perpendicular to the hand. 

The anatomical snuffbox outlined

The problem with this fracture is that the scaphoid has a variable blood supply and in many people the blood supply comes distally. That is, blood vessels do a U-turn to supply the bone from its far end. If they do not also have a blood supply going directly into the base of the bone (that is, from the top and bottom) then non-union of the bone can occur and the piece without the blood supply can die.

Monteggia fracture
This is a fracture of the proximal third of the ulna (the larger bone in the forearm) with dislocation of the head of the radius (the smaller bone). It was named after Giovanni Monteggi, (1762-1815) an Italian professor of anatomy and surgery. It occurs with a fall and a twist. 

Monteggia fracture, by Jane Agnes

It is a difficult one to treat because the breaks and the two bones are hard to get in the right positions.  Nowadays it may necessitate operation.

Clavicle fracture
The collar bone is commonly injured in contact sports and fights. A direct blow to the upper chest can  fracture it, most usually at the junction between the middle and outer thirds. They heal up very well generally. We used to use figure of eight bandages and a sling, but really they generally just heal without any intervention.

Fracture of neck of femur
The femur is the thighbone. The two main parts are the neck of the femur, where it forms the hip joint and the shaft, the main part of the thigh.  This is the sort of fracture that happens in older people who may have osteoporosis, or thinning of the bone. This is nowadays treated by internal reduction and fixation. It is probably not going to occur to your hero or heroine in the western novel, but could to another character. It classically causes a great deal of pain after a fall or twist, and the leg will show external rotation due to the weight of the limb.

Fracture of the shaft of the femur
This can occur with any large trauma, either directly from a blow or from a fall. Depending upon which part of the shaft is affected the muscles will move the two parts ion different directions. The first aid treatment would be to strap the two legs together, so that the good leg acts as a splint.

Skull fracture
The big thing here is the possibility of a hemorrhage inside the skull or into the brain. In terms of the novel, the big question would be whether to trephine or not. That is, whether to make a hole in the skull to release blood.

This just happens to be one of the questions that Doc Logan Munro is forced to consider in Wolf Creek 8: Night of the Assassins. But you will find no spoilers here!


If you are interested in reading more about medicine and surgery in the frontier days, then you may find The Doctor's bag useful. It is a collection of my blog posts, published by Sundown Press.

The novel about Dr George Goodfellow, the Tombstone surgeon to the gunfighters

The novel about Ned Buntline, the King of the Dime Novelists

The Dime Novelist