Thursday, April 25, 2019


The Doctor's Bag

The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West 

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

I am sure you will have heard of Gray’s Anatomy. It is the title of one of the most famous medical textbooks in the world. It is probably because of this that the eight longest television medical drama has benefitted from this, albeit in  Grey’s Anatomy, it is spelled with an ‘e’. 

Generations of medical students and aspiring surgeons have poured over its pages since it was written in 1858. It covers in immense detail every structure of the human body, all in glorious medical Latin (which happened to be the topic for last month's blog). I myself have a copy of the 30th edition, published in 1949, which I obtained when I was studying Medicine at the University of Dundee in Scotland in 1971. It is an impressive tome,  of 1533 pages, with 1285 coloured figures, weighing in at an impressive 5lb 5 ounces, or 2.4 kilos.

Henry Gray FRS, FRCS (1827-1861)
Henry Gray the author of the book trained at St George’s Hospital in London and at the early age of twenty-five was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. A talented anatomy demonstrator he wrote his famous book at the age of thirty-one. Sadly, at the age of thirty-four, while looking after a nephew who had smallpox, he contracted confluent smallpox, the most severe form of the disease where there are so many lesions that they become one confluence and inevitably, he died shortly afterward. It is ironic that at the time he was studying the anatomical effects of infectious diseases on various organs of the body.

One of his other great works was a dissertation ‘On the Structure and Use of the Spleen.’ This was an extremely useful paper, since the function of the spleen had been a mystery to doctors. In medieval times it had been thought that the spleen concentrated certain vital body fluids or humours, and that an excess of them could result in various types of mental aberration. Anger was one such emotion, hence the expression ‘to vent one’s spleen.’ It was also thought that it could be associated with depression. 
Of course, nowadays we know that the spleen has nothing whatever to do with the emotions. It is an extremely important organ of the reticulo-endothelial system. This system is part of the body’s immune system. It is called this because it consists of the reticular connective tissue, which contain cells called monocytes and macrophages. These accumulate i.n lymph nodes and in the spleen. The liver is also part of this system. 
The spleen is an organ about the size of a large fist, located in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen, although it cannot usually be felt, since it is just under the rib cage. It removes old red blood cells from the circulation and also produces and keeps a reserve of these precious red cells in case the body suddenly needs them. 
Glandular fever usually causes a reversible enlargement of the spleen. Malaria can enlarge it incredibly, to as much as nine kilos! (that's twice the weight of my Gray's Anatomy). 

 Surprisingly, the spleen is not essential to life, but if one has had a splenectomy, there is a potential risk of pneumonia. For this reason, people who have had their spleen removed may be offered a vaccine. 

The story behind Gray's Anatomy
This famous book, which generations of medical students and surgeons in training have studied as they have sought to learn about every organ, nerve, blood vessel and tissue in the body, has now gone through 40 editions.  The newest version has 1600 pages, 2,260 illustrations and weighs about eleven pounds, almost twice as heavy as my old copy. Like most medical texts it has changed dramatically over the years and been redesigned, restructured, rewritten and re-illustrated with modern techniques.  This mirrors the way that anatomy is taught in most medical schools throughout the world. Whereas in my day we spent  two years in the anatomy dissecting rooms, nowadays many schools teach anatomy with a mixture of  dissection, prosection (demonstrations by anatomists in front of students), computerised  demonstrations. Indeed, today if you do not wish to carry an eleven pound textbook around with you it is available  on-line. 

Yet there is a side to Gray's Anatomy that is not so well known. Whilst Henry Gray wrote the text, he collaborated on the dissections over eighteen months with an anatomy demonstrator and fellow surgeon  Henry Vandyke Carter. It was Carter who did the famous illustrations. 

Henry Vandyke Carter - self portrait
Upon completing the book Carter sailed to India to begin a career in tropical medicine and anatomy. Gray stayed behind, published the book and accumulated several accolades. This is not to say he did not deserve them, he unquestionably did, but somehow Carter did not receive due recognition. When the book was published in 1858 it was titled Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical. Henry' Gray's name was on the cover and on the frontispiece Carter's name also appeared, but in smaller print and without his qualifications. It looked as though he had been reduced to role of the mere illustrator, not an equal. Gray received significant royalties, while Carter received none.

Carter worked for the Indian Medical Services for the rest of his career and became professor of anatomy at Grant Medical College in Bombay (modern day Mumbai). In 1888 he returned to England and became Deputy Surgeon to her Majesty, Queen Victoria.  He married and had a family, before dying from tuberculosis at the age of 66.

Undoubtedly, Carter should have received more credit for his work. This happens a lot in science and medicine, some get all the glory and go down in history, while others are slighted, passed over  and forgotten.

And finally, for you Western writers.....
A perusal of Gray's Anatomy will make you wary of those abdominal wounds. The fact is there is no good place to be wounded, since there is bound to be damage and surgical treatment has to be incredibly skillful.

The arterial blood supply of the bowel

The small intestine has been rolled aside to show the arteries 

....and if you look behind that!

There may be  some parts that are 'less bad' to be wounded, but luck will always play a huge part. You might say it's a Gray area!

If you are intrigued by medical Latin, then you might like to dip into this book, which you can pick up for a cent or two!

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 past 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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


post by Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

View of one of many Colorado Mountain Ranges
photo property of the author
Yes, I've been in the research stacks again. This time for a recently released novel, "The Outlaw's Letter". In the course of my research, as I indicated in the last post, I found there was in fact a Virginia City, Colorado.

First a little background. One of the first places I spent any amount of time in when I first arrived in Colorado, was the Taylor Park area. It was while exploring this area north of Gunnison, Colorado, that I developed a love of ghost towns and searching them out. It was there I first visited Pie Plant, Tin Cup and the area surrounding Taylor Park reservoir. I devoured Robert L Brown's books on Colorado's ghost towns, some of the early guide books available in the 1970s. Some of the other towns in that area, according to the signs I remember seeing, were Abbeyville, Hillerton, Forest Hill.  

Image result for historic images of Tin Cup Colorado
From Western Mining History
So why change the name from Virginia City? Well there were two additional Virginia Cities in the country, so the Colorado one changed its name to Tin Cup. Now some stories say the postal service asked them to change the name. Others say it was those who were loyal to Jim Taylor, who first found gold in the area, wanted the name changed to honor Jim. 

I can hear you ask, why Tin Cup to honor Taylor? Well, it seems when Taylor bent to rinse his tin cup, he saw flakes of gold in the water. The story gets a bit murky here, as it was another twenty years before mining actually started in the area. There are other stories that say Taylor carried the gold back in his tin cup in that year of 1859, and that placer mining took place until 1879 when a lode deposit was found.

Stacks Image 19
Tin Cup today, from
The other interesting fact about Virginia City/Tin Cup, was that it was very isolated. Access was via the following passes: Tin Cup pass, a very treacherous route from the east. Hancock Pass, from the south. Cumberland Pass from Pitkin. Today there is a highway on the way to Crested Butte from Gunnison that has a cut off for Taylor Park and Tin Cup. You can also travel in the summer via Cottonwood Pass from Buena Vista.

So why did I include Virginia City, as it was known during the time frame of the novel, in my story? Well, it was known as the 'wickedest town in Gunnison County'. It had four cemeteries, one on each knoll outside the city. There is a story that a newcomer woke up one morning with eight bullet holes in his tent. Another story that justice could be bought by setting up the most drinks at Frenchy's bar. The town bragged it went through eight marshals in its early days, with only one finishing out his term. Below is the story as relayed by Sandra Dallas in her book, "Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps":

      The first, known as old man Willis, was told: "See nothing. Hear nothing. Do nothing, and the first arrest you make will be your last." Willis followed orders only to discover that his employers also intended to do nothing. When he went unpaid, he quit. His successor, Tom LaHay, was a bully, a former border ruffian who arrested men to show off his fearlessness, then let them go once they reached jail. Town fathers, afraid LaHay would be lynched by irate townsmen, let him go to. LaHay himself disposed of the third lawman by gunning him down in a shootout.
     The fourth Sheriff arrested so many men the court had to work overtime to hold their trials. He was shot by a gambler he supposedly had disarmed, and was replaced by Jack Ward, a tough, who quit to become a preacher. The fifth marshal, Sam Micky, was committed to an insane asylum where he spent his time pacing the floor, believing he was back on the Tin Cup beat. The seventh marshal was shot, and the eighth managed to last out his term.

I hope you enjoyed some of the gems I found while researching this remote area of Colorado. There are so many other stories of Tin Cup and surrounding area, but I'll leave those for possible future posts. 

For further information and research you may want to check out the following:
Robert L. Brown's - "Ghost Towns of the Colorado Rockies", "Colorado's Ghost Towns: Past and Present", "Jeep Trails to Colorado Ghost Towns"

1884 Business Gazette for Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona

Gunnison, Colorado's Bonanza Co


Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
Angela Raines Books: Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Are you a reader who loves descriptions and details of settings? Glittering ballrooms, the bone-chilling cold of a winter in the Rockies…or maybe the oppressive, killing heat of the desert? What about something idyllic, like a river or creek babbling through the woods? A beautiful rose garden, or even the ugly side of description—such as barren prison walls, or a Civil War battlefield?
It depends on the story, doesn’t it, and again, how much importance those descriptions have on the impact of the action, and the outcome of the story.

Let’s use a ball as our example.
If you’ve never been to an 1800’s ball—and none of us have—we need to know at least the barest details.

Five basic things we need to know are:
What is a ball?
Why is the ball being given?
Who will be invited?
When will the ball be given?
Where will it be held?

That’s enough for some stories. But the main question is—how important is the ball to the plot?

This is where layering comes in—and this one scene, and the details it contains—can be vital to what comes next, or even many scenes later.
So many things can happen at a ball!

Guests can meet for the first time, uninvited guests can show up, clothing can have significance, music can bring back memories, the food can even be poisoned!

Or, the ball can just be a ball, like the old saying attributed to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…” –and if that’s the case, then tedious description and intricate detail is wasted because the ball is just a vehicle to get from one scene in the story to the next, and has no real underlying importance.

Describing the details of the clothing worn is sometimes distracting as it pulls us away from the action. We may be reading about a blue satin gown when we need to be concentrating on the man who lurks in the shadows. Too much description can bog down the reader and deaden the story rather than bring it to life.

Why? Because deep description of the things such as d├ęcor, clothing, and meals stop the action of the characters. The plot “takes a break” while our minds process all of the description of the scenery, the meals, the clothing. In this case, again, sometimes, “less is more” and we need to let the reader’s mind fill in much of that kind of detail.

Consider this: We know certain facts—a ball costs a lot of money to host. So we already understand that those who are invited are most likely people who move in the same upper crust social circles. Therefore, we know they, too, have money, so are appropriately dressed, arrive in style, and are schooled in proper societal customs. One excellent way to cut through the “red tape” of description (of things we already know) is to describe something that is out of place, or “not right” as this reminds us of what should be—and those details of descriptions we’re already aware of.

Perhaps an imposter at the ball commits a social faux pas without realizing it, alerting others to the fact she isn’t who she pretends to be. Maybe an unlikely hero comes to her aid quickly, offering an excuse, or correcting the mistake before others notice.
This scenario does several things for the story that simple description can’t achieve.

1. Points out the discrepancy in what should be and what is.
2. Allows our characters interaction, and possibly dialogue and observation, rather than the author filling the page with scenic description.
3. Allows the reader the opportunity to learn more about the characters and their personalities through this interaction, and can be a vehicle to reveal something of importance.
4. Can possibly further the action during such a scene rather than slowing it by miles of scenic description.

This is not to say that there isn’t a time and a place for detailed descriptions of settings! We can’t call ourselves authors and take the “easy” way out by saying, “It was a ball like any other” by way of description, unless—we put it in the right context.

How about this:
Jake looked around at the opulent ballroom –the surroundings were familiar in a tiresome, cloying way. Or…maybe was jaded. It was a ball like any other—except for one thing. Something that made him catch his breath and inwardly let go a streak of curses he’d love to shout to the skies. She was here. The woman he’d thought he’d never see again…

Well, anything can happen now, can’t it? Maybe she’s wearing an inappropriate shade of red amidst a sea of violet and blue. There are so many ways to make setting come alive without endless description that many readers become bored with and skim over.
If you read my last installment of this blog series about main characters, the examples I used from Shane (Jack Schaefer) and St. Agnes’ Stand (Tom Eidson) are also prime examples of description of setting as well as character.

But here’s another good one I really think is wonderful from Conagher, by Louis L’Amour. In this story, Evie from “back East” has come out west to marry a man with two children. Evie tries to make the best of things, but she lives in fear at first. The land is so different, After she’s been there a while, she finds there is a beauty in her surroundings she had to grow to love, in time.

As L’Amour describes the heroine's (Evie) dismal hopelessness at the land her husband (Jacob) has brought her to, we wonder how she will survive. Yet, Jacob has plans, sees the possibilities that Evie cannot, or will not see. The underlying message is, "The land is what we make of it."

As the story continues, she begins to appreciate the beauty of the prairie, while acknowledging the solitary loneliness of her existence. She plants a garden, nurturing the plants, and gradually she sees the farm being shaped into a good home from the ramshackle place she'd first laid eyes on.

The land is beautiful, but unforgiving. Her husband is killed in a freak accident, and for months she doesn't know what has happened to him. She faces the responsibility of raising his two children from a previous marriage alone.

In her loneliness, she begins to write notes describing her feelings and ties them to tumbleweeds. The wind scatters the notes and tumbleweeds across the prairie. Conagher, a loner, begins to wonder who could be writing them, and slowly comes to believe that whomever it is, these notes are meant for him.

At one point, visitors come from back East. One of them says to Evie something to the effect of "I don't know how you can stand it here."
This is Evie's response to her:

"I love it here," she said suddenly. "I think there is something here, something more than all you see and feel…it's in the wind.

"Oh, it is very hard!" she went on. "I miss women to talk to, I miss the things we had back East–the band concerts, the dances. The only time when we see anyone is like now, when the stage comes. But you do not know what music is until you have heard the wind in the cedars, or the far-off wind in the pines. Someday I am going to get on a horse and ride out there"–she pointed toward the wide grass before them–"until I can see the other side…if there is another side."

The land, at first her nemesis, has become not only a friend, but a soulmate. L’Amour gives us this description through Evie’s eyes and feelings, not in writing about it from his perspective as the author.

Think of your own writing projects, and books you've read. What importance do you give setting in description, plot, even characterization? Within 40 pages of 'Conagher', we understand that the land, with all its wild beauty and dangers has become enmeshed in Evie's character. She can't leave it, and it will never leave her.

Endless, detailed description can’t do what L’Amour does through Evie’s eyes in a very few sentences. Do you have a favorite description of a setting you've read about or written about?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

 Ranger Jim's Ramblings for April

Howdy, all. This moth's post is a video. I was interviewed by Audrey Cox of WMUR Channel 9 out of Manchester, New Hampshire back in February, about my books and my therapy work with Yankee.
The episode aired February 27th. If you go to the link below, and seaech for that date, or "Jim Griffin, Yankee Cowboy, you should be able to see it. If that doesn't work, it's on  my Facebook page.

Happy Spring.

"Ranger" Jim

Monday, April 8, 2019

A small tribute to country music legend Merle Haggard by Kaye Spencer #classiccountry #countrymusic #westernfictioneers

April 6, 1937 and April 6, 2016 are significant dates for those of us whose country music roots are in what I call 'classic country'...

Merle Haggard was born on this day, and he died on the same day 82 years later.

Merle Haggard - 1971
Country Music Association, Merle Haggard in 1971,
marked as public domain, more details on
Wikimedia Commons

I'm not going to talk about Merle's life in this article, as it is easy enough to do an Internet search and read more in depth biographies of his life than I need to synthesize and summarize here.

Merle Haggard - 2010
U.S. federal government, Merle Haggard 2010, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

What I am going to share is a comparison of his song Mama Tried to Johnny Paycheck's song of similar theme, The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised.

Both songs are iconic of each artist and each song tells the lamentable story of grown men (or women) looking back on the bad choices they made in their younger lives despite the best guiding efforts of their mothers to raise them right and keep them on the 'straight and narrow'.
Both narrators have gotten sideways of the law and, while it seems what they are sorriest about is getting caught, there is a hint of guilt that they cause their mothers sadness and grief. But the dirty deeds they've done in their lives can't be undone so Que Sera Sera.

Mama Tried was released in July 1968 as the first single and title track from Merle Haggard's album, Mama Tried, and it became one of the cornerstone songs of his career.* The song entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Two weeks before Merle died in 2016, the song was preserved in the National Recording Registry due to it's 'cultural, historic, and/or artistic significance"*.

While this song is not autobiographical, Merle did serve time in San Quentin and he did lament the pain it caused his mother. Merle was among the "Outlaw Movement" artists of the 1970s. The song was his fifth Number 1 hit on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Single chart in August 1968.

The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised by Johnny Paycheck, who was also considered one of the members of the "Outlaw Movement" artists**. He received an Academy of County Music Career Achievement award in 1977**. The song was on is on the album, Slide off of Your Satin Sheets and, as a single, it reached Number 8 on the U.S. Country charts in 1977****.

For your viewing and listening entertainment...

Until next time,

 Kaye Spencer

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Resources Disclaimer – Reader discretion advised:
Some information in this article relies primarily upon that model of excellence in accuracy itself, Wikipedia.
**Wikipedia: and

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Carved in Stone—or Shell

 I have always loved cameos. I received one as a birthday gift years ago, white carving on a brown background set in an antique gold broach, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. Not because I wear it all the time, but because of the history of the gift. My history.

Recently my mother, sister and I were sorting through my grandmother’s jewelry. Among the dozens of bird and animal pins—she loved wearing them for her kindergarten students—were several cameos. Some were plastic, others looked to be rather old. Since GGG (she signed her cards this way for years—it stands for Great Grandmother Grace) didn’t collect fine jewelry, the old pieces were probably her mother’s. Looking at those wonderful pieces got me thinking about the history of the cameo.

The cameo is much older than I thought. Though the origins are still under dispute, most think the word “Cameo” comes from the Hebrew word KAMEA, meaning a charm or amulet, or from the Latin CAMMAEUS, meaning "engraved gem".

Historians believe this carving tradition came from Alexandria, Egypt, nearly three centuries before the birth of Christ. Early Greek and Roman carvings featured images of gods and goddesses, mythological scenes and biblical events. Some immortalized rulers or heroes. During the era of Helen [323BC – 31/30BC], women wore cameos depicting a dancing Eros as an invitation to perspective lovers.

Queen Victoria popularized the cameos made of sea shells. Napoleon wore a cameo to his own wedding and founded a school in Paris to teach the art of cameo carving to young apprentices.

Stone, shell and coral are the materials most often used for the carvings. In stones, you’ll find agate and less often, turquoise.

Shell is probably the most commonly used material, because of its availability to carvers in all locations and financial situations. Among the shells used are Cornelian, Cassis Madagascariensis, Empire Helmet or Conch, Sardonyx, and Strombus Giga

The cameos we’re most familiar with show a young woman, hair and dress appropriate to the period of the carving, in various colors.

I still don’t know the origin of the lovely pieces in my grandmother’s collection, but that doesn’t matter so much. I appreciate them for their beauty and the history they represent—my history.

Do any of you own cameos? Do you know where they came from?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Barbers and Barbershops in the Old West: Part One by Vicky J. Rose, aka V. J. Rose, Easy Jackson

At the end of his cattle drive, the first thing a cowboy did was to buy new clothes and visit a barbershop. Whether or not the sign said barbershop or tonsorial parlor, because of the distinctive red, white, and blue pole, left over from the days when barbers practiced surgical techniques such as bloodletting, the cowboy would have little trouble finding it regardless of his ability to read. 

Most barbershops were open seven days a week, from about 9 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., closing at noon on Sunday. If the cowboy arrived on Saturday, chances are the barbershop would be packed with waiting people. Women sometimes did go into barbershops to have their hair cut, but because their hair was often thicker and more difficult for the barber, the general rule was no women and children on Saturday.
The rather phallic looking barber pole hanging in
the photo of this San Antonio barbershop
was quite common in the Old West.
The barbershop could be elaborate or small and plain, depending on the size of the town. The barber could be operating in the back of a saloon, especially in the far-flung mining towns where he might have a chair in the rear of a tent. However, using a razor and scissors on men fueled with alcohol is risky business, and most barbers would try to set up in their own shop as soon as possible. This was the Victorian era, and the barber would want to have the most ornate furnishings he could afford, most of which came from specialty mail-order houses. Every barbershop would have one or more spittoons, unless it had dirt flooring.
A barbershop/shoe repair shop near the Texas border.

Elizabeth Street, Brownsville, Texas, c.a. 1865
The barbershop is on the right next to a hotel.
 Inside the barbershop, the cowboy would catch up on all the news on a national, state, and local level. He would be advised on the best place to spend the night, have a meal, or find female companionship. In busy shops, the barber would employ porters to help with the towels, hone razors, refill urns with hot water, along with filling and emptying tubs. If the barber had children, boys as young as seven might be taught to shave customers on busy Saturdays.  

When it came his turn in the chair, the cowboy would sit in a high chair with a separate footstool. The reclining chair as we know it was not patented until 1881, and then it quickly caught on. If the cowboy had ridden into a place like Dodge City in the latter part of the 1800s, he would have checked in his guns at the sheriff’s or marshal’s office when he came into town. If not, to avoid discomfort, he would remove his pistol from its holster and place it in firing position on his lap, allowing the barber to cover it with his cape.

The cowboy would lean his head back, and hot damp towels would be placed over his face to soften his beard. Ideally, as the towels cooled, twice more warmer ones would take their place. After removing the towels, barbers in rustic areas would use a basin of water and a ball of soap to lather up, using their fingers to apply the lather to the cowboy’s beard. By 1870, most barbers were using shaving mugs with round bars of soap and shaving brushes, preferably made of badger hair. In large towns, there might be an elegant cabinet to hold personalized shaving mugs of regular customers.
San Angelo, Texas
Note the racks of shaving mugs belonging to customers.
Razors from the 1830s onward could have highly etched blades with trademarks, mottos, and ads. During the Civil War, blades with eagles, flags, and “Save the Union” on them were very popular in the North. The handles could be made of ivory, bone, mother of pearl, or gutta-percha. Most, however, were made of black or clear horn. Barbershops used the plainest one, but the barber would often have seven razors lined up in a row, the theory being that it would keep the blade sharper if it was allowed to “rest.” Before beginning, the barber would sharpen his razor, running it up and down the leather strop that would usually be hanging from his chair. A strop made of horsehide was considered the best.

When he finished shaving the cowboy, the barber would wipe his face with a towel that had most likely been used on several previous customers. He would then pat on Bay Rum shaving lotion and use a styptic pencil on any cuts he might have made. Jockey Club fragrance for men was launched in 1840 and became extremely popular.

After the shave, the cowboy would sit up straighter. If the barber was short, and the cowboy was tall, the barber would stand on a wooden box. In the 1800s, there were several popular hairstyles—the Jackson style, combed back and short like Andrew Jackson, or the half-shingle, the quarter shingle, and the pompadour. However, because barbering was unregulated until the beginning of the twentieth century, the cowboy’s barber may have only known one haircut, which he gave to everybody.

While the cowboy was getting his haircut, a dog might wander into the shop and plop down. Someone might start singing or playing a musical instrument, particularly at night, when barbershops often became places for jam sessions. If the barber was tired, he might be so loquacious, it would irritate the cowboy who was used to the quietness of the open plains. Or the barber might be so exhausted, he would be cranky and not inclined to conversation, also possibly aggravating the cowboy who might yearn for human interaction.

When the barber finished with the scissors, he would use the razor to shave the back of the neck. After combing or brushing the head to make sure all the loose hair was removed, he would use a soft brush sprinkled with powder to brush hair from the cowboy’s neck and shoulders. Some barbers were also quite proficient at giving the shoulders and neck a quick massage. If the barbershop was also a bathhouse, the barber would ask the cowboy if he wanted a bath.
A derelict barbershop in Virginia City, Montana
The cowboy could be shaved, have a haircut, and bathe for about 75 cents. Although price wars in places like New York City were common, the phrase “Shave and a Haircut—Two Bits,” is good fit for the time frame of the Old West. For fresh water in his bathtub, the cowboy would probably pay 50 cents, but if he was willing to bathe in used water, the price might drop to 25 cents. On Saturday, however, the price of a bath might rise up to 75 cents. Before the faster manual hair clippers came into use in the latter part of the nineteenth century, a scissor cut and shave would take about 45 minutes.

If the cowboy stayed in town for a while, he would likely visit the barbershop three times a week to be shaved. If he developed an interest in a member of the fairer sex, he would bathe once a week, whether he thought he needed it or not, and get his hair trimmed every two weeks, or possibly every week should he think the situation warranted it.

In The Trail Drivers of Texas, compiled by J. Marvin Hunter, Jack Potter tells of joining a trail drive in 1882 headed for Colorado, near Greeley, as a sixteen-year-old cowboy in San Antonio. His wages were $30 a month and transportation back. On the way home, he stopped in Denver, going into a barbershop near the St. Charles Hotel.

“When the barber finished with me, he asked if I wanted a bath, and when I said yes, a negro porter took me down the hallway and into a side room. He turned on the water, tossed me a couple of towels and disappeared.”

Potter removed his clothes, letting the water run until the tub was nearly full. Not realizing the water was coming straight from a hot boiler, he hopped in, screamed “like a Comanche” and jumped out again, slipping and falling on the marble floor. After flopping around, he managed to get up using a chair for a brace. He stood fanning himself with his big Stetson hat and examining his feet to see if he still had toenails.  Like the jokester most cowboys were, he related this scalding incident with a laugh many years later.             

End of Part One of Two
Click here to read Part Two: Barbers and Barbershops in the Old West: Part Two
Resources: The Vanishing American Barbershop: An Illustrated History of Tonsorial Art, 1860-1960 by Ronald S. Barlow;;;;;;;;
Papa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald; Barber Instructor and Toilet Manual by Frank C. Bridgeford; Shannon Hartsnagel Interview

Click here to buy A BAD PLACE TO DIE
Click here to buy A SEASON IN HELL
Click here to buy TESTIMONY

And coming soon from Five Star Publishing:


A Frontier Mystery