Thursday, June 28, 2018


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

Dr George Goodfellow, the famed surgeon to the gunfighters, was an innovator, a scientist, mining engineer, geologist and in his youth, a champion boxer. During his time in Tombstone he performed many post mortem examinations and reported on them, sometimes in straightforward clinical terms and sometimes with a wry sense of humour. His summation after the post mortem examination of a gambler by the name of McIntyre, who had been shot after an argument over the card table is an example of his wit:

'I performed the necessary assessment work and found the body full of lead, but not too badly punctured to hold whiskey."

Dr George Goodfellow

Lead poisoning indeed!

Plumbism and Saturnism
The medical name for lead poisoning is plumbism, from the Latin 'plumbum' for lead. Thus, in chemistry its symbol is Pb. 

Interestingly, it's archaic name is 'saturnism,' because lead was associated with the planet Saturn according to the alchemists. It is the heaviest of the base metals, which the alchemists sought to transmute into gold. 

The alchemist's goal of transmuting lead into gold

Lead poisoning can be devastating an individual. It can affect people of all ages, although children can be highly susceptible, as their organs are still developing. Lead is toxic to virtually every organ of the body and gradual exposure can result in a slow build up within the body.

It can cause acute or chronic poisoning. Acute is due to sudden accumulation and exposure. It can cause vomiting, weakness, tingling, diarrhea and weight loss. 

Chronic poisoning, as the name implies, is slow and takes a long time. It can cause colic, or severe abdominal pains. This is why it was sometimes called 'painter's colic,' as exposure to lead paint could produce it, without the individual being aware of it. It also caused kidney problems and, most alarmingly, profound damage to the brain and nervous system.

The Ancient Romans had an expression, 'as crazy as a painter.' This seems to have come from the erratic behaviour of artists, and it is possible that many had excessive exposure to lead based paints, especially if they sucked or moistened brushes dipped in lead paint. 

The Romans also essentially invented plumbing, again from plumbum, the Latin  word for lead. They used malleable lead piping. So, drinking water that travelled in lead pipes may have been a problem for the Ancient Romans. They also used lead acetate as a sweetener for food and wine, so that could be another source.

Interestingly, an analysis of ancient Roman cook-books finds that many writers, such as Marcus Gabius Apicius, a gourmand who lived in the first century during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, wrote the first great cookbook 'On the Art of Cooking.' He used vast amounts of spices and honey. It is thought that this was to disguise sometimes rancid meat, but also to give taste to the food of people who may have been suffering from chronic lea poisoning. Loss of taste is one of the symptoms of chronic plumbism.

Copy of Apicius' cook-book, 1541

During the middle ages wealthy people ate and drank from glazed earthenware dishes and analysis of skeletal remains in Denmark compared those living in rural areas and compared them with urban dwellers. They found a significantly higher amount of lead in the skeletons of city dwellers. The glaze would contain lead.

The Renaissance artist Caravaggio (1571-1610) is thought to have gone mad and possibly died from lead poisoning. Indeed, analysis of his bones showed that he had significant levels of lead in them, consistent with chronic plumbism.

Salome with the head of john the Baptist, by Carravagio, circa 1610

Caravaggio is a real example of the tortured genius.

Those at risk
Anyone exposed to lead paint, involved in the lead mining industry, or in the making of lead based medication or tonics. Also anyone drinking water from lead piping

The medical literature mentions people who had retained lead bullets in their bodies, could rarely develop lead poisoning.  As writers of western novels you might consider that as a cause of erratic behaviour or memory difficulty. 

Indeed, last year  the Centers for Disease Control and retention, CDC produced a report that suggested if anyone has a retained bullet or bullet fragments, then they could be at risk of lead poisoning effects. Memory loss would be very significant and lead blood levels should be tested and extraction of the lead should be considered. 

If you are interested in reading further, follow the link in one of my replies below!

Symptoms of lead poisoning
As mentioned above, lead poisoning can either acute or chronic.

Acute poisoning
  • Abdominal pain - moderate-to-severe, usually diffuse but may be colicky.
  • Vomiting.
  • Encephalopathy or inflammation of the brain. This would be more common in children, characterized by seizures, mania, delirium and coma, death.
  • Jaundice (due to hepatitis or inflammation of the liver).
  • Lethargy (due to  anemia).
  • Black diarrhea.
Chronic poisoning
  • Mild abdominal pain.
  • Constipation.
  • Weight loss.
  • Aggression.
  • Antisocial behaviour.
  • Headaches.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Foot drop.
  • Wrist drop. 

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Gradually developing paralysis
  • Neuritis.
  • Gout.
  • Increased perspiration and sleep disturbances

The Burton Line
Chronic lead poisoning is associated with a classic blue line on the gums. This is called the Burton Line, named after Dr Henry Burton (1799-1849), and English physician who first described it and deduced it was due to lead poisoning.  A blue line is seen when the lips are pulled back, just at the margin of the gums and the teeth.

I confess to having used lead poisoning in one of my short western crime stories, although I will not say which one!

Dr George Goodfellow (1855-1910)
I began this post with an anecdote about Doctor George Goodfellow. Undoubtedly, the surgeon to the gunfighters was a truly remarkable man. He was a  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 along with other ‘first’ operations. For example, he improvised and performed brain surgery when it was needed and he rebuilt a friend's nose in an early plastic surgery operation. 

In addition, 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.

He was also a scientist, an expert in mining and geology. His research into Gila Monsters was published in The Scientific American. And in his youth he had been the boxing champion at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

In March, 1910, while in  Mexico he developed an illness, although the details about it seem to be sketchy. Over several months he became more unwell and was unable to perform surgery.  He developed wrist-drop. It seems that he developed paralysis of both arms, the right worse than the left, as well as generalized weakness. He therefore made his way to Los Angeles to let his brother-in-law investigate and look after him. Apparently, he joked that people would say he was suffering from alcoholic neuritis. He said that "some would say this because they did not like him and others because  they did not know."

His brother-in-law, Dr Charles Fish treated him in Angelus Hospital in Los Angeles for several weeks. Several specialists were consulted, but no agreement was reached on the diagnosis. 

One source suggested that he had developed 'multiple neuritis,' which is a non-specific diagnostic term meaning that several peripheral nerves seem to be affected. It was speculated that it was due to an old attack of beri-beri, that he had suffered from during the Spanish-American War. Nowadays we know that this condition is caused by a deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1. 

He died at 7am on the morning of December 7, 1910, having previously stated that if he could not perform surgery, he had no wish to live. 

Alcoholic neuritis is a possibility, as Doctor Goodfellow himself joked, but so too is chronic lead poisoning. 

I must emphasize that I make no claim that this actually was the cause of his illness or of his death. I have no evidence and have not researched this. I think, however,  that with his wry sense of humour, as described in the anecdote that I started this post with, he may have been amused by the irony of being poisoned by the substance that he had spent a good deal of his life digging out of his patients. 


If you are interested in reading more about medicine and surgery in the frontier days, including the work of Doctor George Goodfellow, 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

Buy The Dime Novelist

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

BACKSTORY AND CONTEXT #WesternFictioneers #Writing #history @renawomyn1

I've found, for me, the two pieces that fit both my fiction and non-fiction writing are the need for backstory and context. Whether I'm writing a historical piece of fiction or filling in pieces of history about an area, these two always play into the words on the page.

Some may wonder why backstory and context? Coming from a performance and sociology background it just made sense to me. When I am preparing for a performance, whether in a play or one of the historical characters I portray, I need to know where they come from, what made them do what they did.

Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO Photo (c) by the author
When I began preparing to portray Helen (Hunt) Jackson, I obviously needed to know who she was, where she came from and how she ended up being the writer and activist she was. This involved reading her works, which fortunately are many, and biographies. That built the foundation, but then to get a full picture, I needed to find out who those around her thought of her and her actions. There, letters and stories others told were invaluable. Many might think that would suffice, but time was different in the 1800s, so it became important to fit her life in the context of what was happening while she was alive. We tend to put history in the context of what we are dealing with in the present. While a worthwhile endeavor, the picture becomes less tainted when looked at through the lens of the time it was painted.

 Then of course you get those times when the person you're researching has little left of who they were, other than a few news reports. That has been the case with Ward, the man I've been 'hunting' for almost ten years. What makes his story interesting? There are more than a few Ward's with the same or similar name showing up in the same general area. I do feel by studying the time and events occurring in the numerous places he was or could have been, gives me a better understanding of what could have driven him to do the things he was accused of, whether verifiable or not.

Pikes Peak behind the clouds. Photo (c) by the author
The same holds true for my fiction writing. I research the area and people of the place I am writing about. Then I create the backstory for my main characters. Even if it never shows up in the story, the backstory gives me the parameters of what the characters would and wouldn't do in certain situations. Believe me, the let me know if I try to have them do something counter to who they are and what they believe.

Additionally, have a context of where they are and what is happening allows for a greater authenticity to their words and actions. I think the hardest thing for me as a reader is the disbelief of some action or event that doesn't fit the story. For me, having the backstories and context for the events helps me avoid those discordant notes a bit easier. Still, I am a modern person, writing in a time I didn't live in, so mistakes are made. I just try to set the stage so they aren't as likely to happen.

So for now, I'm finishing up the paper on Ward for the PPLD Symposium book based on the presentations of June 9, and a short story for WF submission about an incident in Colorado in the 'early' days. Lastly, I'm bound to finish the novel with the backdrop of the first Labor War in the Cripple Creek district.

Abandoned building in the Cripple Creek, CO area. Photo (c) by the author
Until the next fourth Tuesday of the month, happy reading and writing.

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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

CUSTER RIDES AGAIN (Reenactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn) by Vonn McKee

Even after 142 years, the Battle of the Little Bighorn—or the the Battle of the Greasy Grass, or Custer's Last Stand—remains a frequent topic of discussion among western historians and favored subject matter of both fiction and nonfiction works. Historian Paul Hutton called it "the most important battle in the history of the American West." The engagement between General George Custer's 7th Cavalry Regiment and the combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes has been examined from every angle. No white survivors lived to tell the tale, and many accounts of the Natives have been discounted over the years. Archeological digs at the battlefield continue to reveal new details surrounding the bloody conflict, which occurred on Sunday, June 25, 1876.
Gen. George Custer
Chief Sitting Bull

As it happens, this weekend marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Reenactments are scheduled for June 22-24 at 1:00 PM each day. (I plan to attend the final reenactment on Sunday.) The "battle" will take place at the location of Chief Sitting Bull's camp along the banks of the Little Bighorn River, between Crow Agency and Garryowen (the latter was the actual site of the battle).

If you find yourself in the region this weekend, here are links detailing the history of the battle and information regarding the reenactment.
Reenactment Video Promo

Historical reenactments are wonderful resources for authors and history buffs alike. They also present the opportunity to thank the dedicated volunteer reenactors who invest heavily (both in terms of money and time) so that viewers can get an authentic picture of period dress, customs, and details of historical events.

Also, search this blogsite for excellent posts on Custer and the battle by Western Fictioneers members Steve Kohlhagen and Tom Rizzo.

All the best,
Vonn McKee
"Writing the Range"

2015 Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Finalist (Short Fiction)
2015 Western Writers of America Spur Finalist (Short Fiction)

Visit Vonn on Facebook!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


What a great question! I came upon this one when I was answering a questionnaire for another blog and thought it would be a fantastic question to expand on all by itself. Because who among us—writers, readers, or both—DOESN’T have a favorite fictional character?

And it changes, doesn’t it? When I was a little girl, I remember being enthralled with stories of the Color Kittens, Pippi Longstocking, and finally Nancy Drew. Later, heroines such as Kit Tyler—Elizabeth George Speare’s unforgettable character in THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND held my interest.

But I also loved the heroes, too—Hugh O’Donnell, THE FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL, and Robin Hood, fighting their way to freedom and justice for the people they served! And of course, I was a western lover even then. I was spellbound by Travis and Arliss, the brothers in Fred Gipson’s OLD YELLER, and the sequel, SAVAGE SAM.

Davy Crockett and Mike Fink were favorites, for a while, with books complete with pictures from the Disney series. I couldn’t find an image of the actual books I had, but I did find this one of the “stamp” book—which I also had!

GONE WITH THE WIND was my first “adult” book and I’d seen that movie, so I was enraptured by Scarlett O’Hara. Even at a young
age, the facets of her personality both on the screen and in the book fascinated me. How could she be “all” bad? She gave up so much to save her family…or did she? I still love to think about what a wonderful character Margaret Mitchell gave us to ponder.

The first romance book I ever read was SWEET SAVAGE LOVE by Rosemary Rogers. I can’t tell you how that book changed my life in so many ways. I had never read a book that made me feel as if I was right there in the main character’s skin like I did with Ginny, the heroine. As soon as I finished that book, I turned around and read it again, and it’s on my keeper shelf to this day.
The hero of that book, Steve Morgan, is as hard as they come. But there is a place in his heart for Ginny that no other can fill, and she feels the same for him. I read this book close to 40 years ago, and those characters are still memorable today.

As far as characters I’ve written…all writers know that is nearly an impossible choice. Of course, the first book you ever wrote probably contains your favorite character(s)—even if that wasn’t the first book you ever published! They are your first loves, the reason you started writing in the first place.

The first book an author publishes holds an unforgettable place in their hearts, as well. Those characters were the ones that people were able to read about, to relate to, and to give the author feedback on.

The current book is one that is full of hopes, dreams, and promise—just like the ones before. Will people love your characters as much as you do, or will it flop?

Then there are the books that are “experiments”—maybe shorter, longer, or a different genre. How did others like those characters…but moreover, how did YOU like the characters you created?

My favorite male character I’ve created is one that was the “star” of my first book—the one that has never seen the light of day. I still have hopes and plans to rework it and get it out there, but it’s LONNNNNG. But Johnny Brandon is a man’s man, and he’s going to have his vengeance no matter what. Still…there’s room for love—though he is an unwilling participant in the beginning. As always, things have a way of working out for the best, but he kept me on my toes the entire time I was working on that manuscript, and he’s utterly unforgettable.

Probably the couple that were “the odd couple” for me were U.S. Deputy Marshal Jaxson McCall and runaway debutante, Callie Buchanan in THE HALF-BREED’S WOMAN. Jax is hired “on the side” to go after Callie who has run away from her stepfather, a prominent socialite in Washington, D.C. She is headed west, into his familiar territory. He tracks her easily enough, but when he catches up with her, he realizes that his instincts were right—there’s something terribly wrong with her stepfather’s “worry” about her disappearance. Their relationship becomes something neither of them expected, and when Callie’s stepfather comes after them both, Jax realizes he’s got to pull out all the stops to keep Callie safe from the man who is evil to the core.

But Callie has lost so much in her life, she’s determined she’s not going to lose Jax—or her life. She surprised me several times, and I loved the way she grew as a character and found her own strength and bravery as time went by.
What’s your favorite fictional character you’ve read, or one you’ve created?

Here's the buy link at AMAZON for THE HALF-BREED'S WOMAN!

Here's an excerpt from THE HALF-BREED'S WOMAN:

The set up: U.S. Deputy Marshal Jaxson McCall has tracked down debutante Callie Buchanan in her flight across the country to get away from her powerful stepfather. Now, because of an overzealous cavalry commander, they have been forced to marry to save Callie’s reputation and Captain Tolbert’s military career from question. It’s their wedding night, but Jax is still uncertain that he’s the best thing for Callie—he wants her to have choices, not something forced on her. But Callie knows what she wants…in her heart, she will forever be THE HALF-BREED’S WOMAN…

Jesus. A king’s ransom in rubies. But more important, the love of the woman kneeling beside him, offering him, truly, the only valuable she had left. The only thing that stood between her and destitution. She was handing him her future, and he held it in his hands, glittering in the lamplight.

“Callie.” His voice was husky, rough, but infinitely tender. “You trust me so much, sweetheart? This is everything you own, isn’t it?”

As Callie lay her head beside him, Jax laced his hands through her hair, thoughtfully fingering the silken mass of burnished copper. She nodded, not answering.

“Think long and hard about what you’re saying, Callie. I’m…not your only choice. Once we’re out of here, we can get this marriage annulled—if you want—”

Her head came up swiftly. “Is that what you want, Jaxson? Truly? To walk away and pretend we never knew each other, never made love together—”

“Shh, no, baby, it’s not what I want.” He put a roughened finger against her lips.

“Then, what? Is it the idea of marriage itself that repels you—or marriage to me?”

“Dammit, Callie, you’re young, you’re beautiful—educated—”

“A fugitive.”

“We’ll get that set straight, sweetheart, and then your whole life will be open to all kinds of possibilities—not just marriage to a—a half-breed U.S. deputy marshal, for God’s sake!”

“I happen to be in love with a half-breed U.S. deputy marshal! One that I want to spend my life with! Remember, Jax? Remember? ‘Laugh with me, love with me, have babies with me—’ Remember?” She moistened her lips, her voice carrying the husky edge of tears, her emotions raw.

Roughly, with a muttered curse, he dropped the case on the bed and pulled her to him. He held her tightly as she scrambled to move herself away from him. He speared his fingers through her soft, tumbling hair, loving the feel of it against his fingertips and across the bare skin of his neck and shoulder.

“Jax! Stop it! I don’t want to hurt—”

“You aren’t going to hurt me, Callie. Not like you mean. Physical pain, I can deal with. Emotional pain, that’s a little harder.” He pulled her back against him, but she resisted, turning her head as he tried to kiss her. He shifted to his left side, throwing a bare leg across her, forcing her head around to look at him.

“Can I trust you, Callie?” His eyes were hot, burning into hers. “If I give you my heart, can I trust you?”

“Jax—” Callie murmured, stopping her thrashing at the hoarse, raw emotion in his voice, the intensity in his eyes. He held her arms tightly in his hands. “I will never, hurt you, Jaxson. Never.” Their lips were only a hairsbreadth apart, her voice a soft whisper, gliding across his skin. “I love you, Jax.” She moistened her lips. “I love y-”

His lips slanted across hers, cutting off the rest of her words. She opened her mouth for him, and his tongue entered her in a promise of what he planned to do to her body in a few short minutes. Boldly, she touched his tongue with hers, and his fingers tensed against her scalp. He had turned until his body almost completely covered hers, pinning her beneath him. Finally, he lifted his head. “I’ll never let you go, girl. That’s one thing you better know. If we make love tonight, you’re mine, Callie. Forever.”

Friday, June 15, 2018

Western Fictioneers Announces the 8th Annual Peacemaker Award Winners

(For Westerns Published in 2017)


GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE by Howard Weinstein (Five Star Publishing)

THE BLOODLETTING, Greg Barth (Greg Barth)
EL RENO, Kevin L. Evans (Kevin L. Evans)
COYOTE COURAGE, Scott Harris (Scott Harris)
THE OPEN ROAD, M.M. Holaday (Five Star Publishing)

THE PECOS UNDERTAKER by Mel Odom writing as Colby Jackson (Mel Odom)

BILL RILEY’S HEAD, Douglas Hirt (Five Star Publishing)
OUT OF THE DARKNESS, Robert D. McKee (Five Star Publishing)
HARD TO QUIT, Mark Mitten (Milford House Press)
DESTINY AT DRY CAMP, John D. Nesbitt (Five Star Publishing)

STRANDED by Matthew P. Mayo (Five Star Publishing) 

WEST FROM THE CRADLE, Brigid Amos (Clean Reads)
A RANGER RETURNS, James J. Griffin (Painted Pony Books)
THE CRY NOT HEARD, Cliff Hudgins (Wolfpack Publishing)
CLOAKED, Rachel Kovaciny (White Rook Press)


(tie) “The Armadillo’s Hole Saloon” by Mel Odom writing as Colby Jackson (Mel Odom), and “Train Robbery” by Mel Odom (BASS REEVES, FRONTIER MARSHAL, VOLUME 2, Airship 27 Productions)

“Tibby’s Hideout” by Frank Kelso (THE POSSE, Intellect Publishing, LLC)
“Firewater” by Olivia Norem (Olivia Norem)
“The Society of the Friends of Lester McGurk” by Richard Prosch (BEST OF THE WEST, Sundown Press)

Western Fictioneers would like to thank the judges for the excellent job they did and the long hours they devoted to reading the submissions.