Thursday, May 13, 2021

On This Date in the Old West: May 14

This month, we’re continuing my research into interesting facts from U.S. history. On May 14, two useful products were patented in America: condensed milk and Vaseline.


In 1853, Gail Borden, teacher, rancher, businessman, land surveyor, newspaper publisher, politician, and inventor, became the first person to successfully develop a commercial method for condensing milk. Mr. Borden was born in 1801 in Norwich, New York, where he lived with his family until they moved to Kentucky in 1814. It was there he learned how to survey land by helping his father plot the future city of Covington.


On the move again, Borden taught school in Indiana and Southern Mississippi before eventually settling in Texas in 1829, joining his father and two brothers. He started out raising cattle and farming, but soon found a calling in the political arena. As a delegate to the Convention of 1833, he helped write the first draft of the Republic of Texas Constitution. He was also appointed the Republic of Texas Collector of Customs in 1837, for which he raised government funds. 


Borden also co-founded the first lasting Texas newspaper in 1835 (the Telegraph and Texas Land Register). He ultimately had to sell his newspaper shares due to ongoing financial difficulty but continued his surveying career and helped lay out the city of Galveston and co-plotted Houston. Borden even contributed to the first topographical map of Texas.


In 1849, Borden began experimenting with beef processing. He invented a dehydrated product called the “meat biscuit,” loosely patterned after the Native American pemmican. He sold some of these biscuits to men seeking gold in California, and more to Arctic explorer Elisha Kane. The meat biscuit won Borden the Great Council Medal at the 1851 London World’s Fair, and he set up a factory in Galveston to produce the food. He was aiming for the military market since the military of any country needed easily transported food that wouldn’t spoil. However, none of the expected customers materialized. Not only did customers complain about the taste and texture of the “biscuits,” but the U.S. Army actually concluded that the product didn’t satisfy hunger and might even have made people ill. Borden filed for bankruptcy in 1852.


This set-back didn’t deter the inventor, though. On his way back from the London World’s Fair in 1851, both cows on board the ship died, as did several children who had drunk their disease-contaminated milk. Borden became interested in a method to preserve milk, inspired by the vacuum pan he had seen Shakers use to condense fruit juices and herbs. Borden learned how to reduce milk without scorching or curdling it, and eventually succeeded in producing a milk derivative that lasted without refrigeration. After three years of refining the product, Borden patented the process, abandoning his “meat biscuit,” and partnered with Jeremiah Milbank to found the New York Condensed Milk Company. 


To ensure a sanitary product, Borden established strict requirements for farmers supplying his factories with raw milk (the “Dairyman’s Ten Commandments”). These included washing the cows’ udders before milking, keeping the barns swept clean, and scalding and drying their strainers twice a day. By 1858, Borden’s condensed milk (sold as Eagle Brand) had gained a deserved reputation for purity and economy.


Meanwhile, in other inventing arenas, Robert Chesebrough, the chemist who had formerly clarified kerosene from sperm whale oil, traveled to the Pennsylvania oil fields in 1859 (after kerosene had been rendered obsolete by petroleum products). His goal was to research new materials that might be made from this new fuel. Chesebrough learned of a residue called “rod wax” that had to be periodically removed from oil rig pumps. Oil workers had been using the greasy residue as a cure-all for cuts and burns. Chesebrough took samples back to Brooklyn and extracted the petroleum jelly, which he patented as Vaseline on May 14, 1872. He claimed to have invented the name by combining the German word for water (wasser) with the Greek term for olive oil (elaion). 


Chesebrough promoted his new product by driving around New York and burning his skin with acid or open flame, then applying Vaseline to the wound and showing his healed scars. By 1874, stores were selling over 1400 jars of Vaseline a day. Chesebrough believed in his "new" product so much that he ate a spoonful daily until his death at 96. In actuality, petroleum jelly had been in use among the Native Americans since the early 1400s. They built sophisticated oil pits to extract the substance, which they used for protecting and healing the skin. Chesebrough just refined the product and made it marketable.


If you’re writing about these periods in history, your characters could certainly encounter condensed milk or Vaseline (or both), or even meet their respective inventors. 


J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

 Ranger Jim's Ramblings for May 2021

Sotty I haven't posted for some time, but I've been rambling all over the place. The big news is I'm in the midst of starting my own  small publishing outfit, Yankee Cowboy Press More news on that as things get developed.

This month, I thought I'd go back to horses, and discuss some of the main injuries or diseases that can cripple or kill a horse, even today. Of course, such equine life-threatening issues were much more dangerous to both man and mount in the time of the frontier West, where veterinarians, like physicians, were few and far between. And of course, as in the case of human medicine, veterinary medicine and knowledge was far less advanced than it is today.

Today, the average lifespan of a horse, depending on the breed, genetics, etc., is 25-35 years, give or take. The barn where I keep Yankee just had to put down a quarter horse gelding who was 42, which is ancient indeed. Yankee is now 28, making him about 84 in people years, so he's an old man indeed. The oldest horse on record was a stallion in England during the latter 1700s, who lived to be 62! Amazing  as that is, considering the time he lived, it's miraculous. In the era of the frontier west, a horse ten years old would be considered a very old animal, and few lived to see 15.

Colic and laminitis, which an lead to foundering, are still two of the main causes of horse deaths. Since a horse's neck and throat muscles are so strong, they can't vomit. That makes any kind of stomach or intestinal upset, gas, or blockage a very serious situation. I lost Yankee's predecessor, Sizzle, at a very young age due to chronic colic problems. The symptoms are looking at the sides, pawing at the belly, or lying down and rolling, as the animal is in extreme discomfort. A horse that colics must be kept up and moving until veterinary help arrives. Treatment can include intubating with liquids to try and move the blockage, pain relieving medication, and lots of walking. Surgery is possible, but the outcome is highly questionable. I had surgery done on Sizzle, which was deemed successful. Unfortunately, scar tissue eventually developed in his colon, where a section had been removed, then the remaining colon sewn back together.. Since the scar tissue isn't capable of motility,blockages tend to develop. After three years of fighting, Sizzle's system finally gave up.

Laminitis in an inflammation of the tissues inside the hoof. It's extremely painful, and can be caused by overwork, eating too much green grass when it first grows in the spring, too much water when a horse is overheated, or a bruise to the sole of the hoof. The inflamed tissues create pressure inside the hoof, which can displace the coffin bone. The horse can go lame, or founder. In severe cases, the coffin bone can be forced right through the sole of the hoof. If left untreated, laminitis can be deadly.

Of course, most people know if a horse breaks a leg it's usually a death sentence. Horses have no muscles below their knees, just tendons and ligaments. These are so strong that when a horse's leg is broken, they pull the pieces of bone so far apart it's almost impossible to cast them to be allowed to heal. In addition, horse's can't lie down for any length of time (most horses sleep no more than three or four hours a day, in short periods of about 15-20 minutes), without major damage to internal organs. Since most horses won't tolerate being confined by a sling, hung from the ceiling aoround their belly to keep weight off the broken leg, surgery to repair the break is usuall a futile effort.

In the old West, bullets were another hazard. Anyone pursuing a person on horseback would aim at the horse, rather than the rider. The horse is a much bigger target, and once the rider was unhorsed, they were relatively easy to capture or kill.

Snakebite is another hazard to grazing horses. While a horse is large enough to survive the venom of a poisonous snake bite, in most cases, they usually suffocate. That's because a grazing horse is most often bitten on the nose or lower lip. The ensuing swelling closes the nostrils and air passages, so the animal can't breathe.

Interesting side note. A horse's brain is about the size of a grapefruit. Most of its head is air passages. A horse can literally have a hole pierced through the side of its head, below the eyes and brain, and survive.

Most horses won't eat poisonous plants, but if grazing is poor, they sometimes will. Horses actually enjoy bitter tastes, so they can be attracted to poisonous shrubs like yew (which wasn't around in frontier days). And of course a horse thirsty enough will drink poisonous water. While horses are generally good swimmers, they can drown if caught in s strong current, or get tangled in underwater vegetation or obstacles.

Moldy feed, grain or hay, can also kill a horse, either fro colic, or by poisoning.

So there's some basics about horse health. Hope it's useful in your writings.

Until next month,

Ranger Jim

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Writer and the Dude Rancher: A Friendship Formed in the West


Mary Roberts Rinehart was working in her Pittsburg office in the early summer of 1915 when a man she’d never seen before knocked on the door. He was middle-aged and tanned, with a cheerful, open face. His name was Howard Eaton, and although he was also a Pittsburg native, he now lived in Wolf, Wyoming, in the Bighorn mountains. There, he and his brothers ran a place called Eatons’ “dude ranch.”

Howard had moved to Medora, North Dakota in 1879 and, with a partner, began to hunt and sell meat to the men building the Northern Pacific Railway, calling their business the Custer Trail Ranch. By 1882 Howard’s two brothers, Alden and Willis, had joined him and they formed the Custer Trail Cattle Company. Like other ranchers, they often hosted hunters and explorers who came out to see the West and experience the life of the cowboy. They offered food and lodging as a courtesy, but it didn’t take long to realize that their generosity was eating into their cattle profits. So, later in 1882 they bought a guest book and started charging men to stay at their place. What they created was the genesis of the dude ranch.


Their concept was so popular that in 1903 the brothers sold the place in Medora and bought property and buildings in Wolf, Wyoming, near Sheridan. In 1904 they opened Eatons’ which, from the first day, was a full-time dude ranch.

Howard was also the most respected hunting and packing guide in the Rocky Mountain West. When he came to Pittsburg on that summer day, he was in town to organize a pack trip into newly-opened Glacier National Park in July.


Meeting Howard Eaton

Mary was a renowned writer of clever mystery novels and plays, and had just returned from Europe, where she had worked as correspondent in the early years of World War I. Howard dropped in on the famous author to ask if she and her husband would join the Glacier trip. He was a natural businessman, and knew that having a big name along would be good for business, especially since everyone would gather at Eatons’ dude ranch before heading out.

Mary’s husband, Dr. Stanley Rinehart, thought this was a great idea. His wife was still suffering from the effects of what she’d seen in Europe, working night and day on her writing, and mourning the loss of a beloved uncle. Mary was already a superb horsewoman, and an outdoor trip on horseback was just what she needed. So, she reluctantly agreed to come along. She left for Eatons’ by herself, and her husband and three sons planned to follow her later.


Life on the Trail

Howard was a stern trail guide for the pack trip’s forty-two participants. One of them was famed western artist Charles Russell, the other celebrity along for the ride. After the first few days getting used to hours of riding and sleeping rough, the exhausted Mary began to thrive. She took note of everything she saw, both with her pen and her camera. The camp food also made her stronger. For breakfast the riders ate bacon, eggs, pancakes with molasses, and black coffee. Lunch was more coffee and thick sandwiches. Dinner was usually fried beef and potatoes with…coffee.

Mary’s enjoyment of the trip was cut short when a ranger showed up in camp with a telegram. Her husband Stanley was in the hospital after an emergency operation for appendicitis, a dangerous condition in 1915. She gathered her belongings and followed the ranger at a gallop back down the mountain and caught the next train for home (her husband recovered).

Despite having to leave early, this trip changed her life, and Mary and Howard became lifelong friends.


Inspired by her travels

In 1916 Mary published Through Glacier Park: Seeing America First With Howard Eaton. More than just a travelogue, the book is a sometimes-hilarious celebration of wandering the unspoiled West, which had entranced her from the very first day. 



Mary and her family started taking regular vacations at Eatons’ dude ranch, where they would spend weeks at a time. It didn’t take long for her to get onto a first-name basis with the hands. She took these deeply-loved days and worked them into another travel book called The Out Trail, which she published in 1923. It’s a multi-chapter description of the experiences on her many travels around the U.S. and Mexico. One chapter is called “The Dude Ranch,” and is all about Eatons’ and Howard Eaton himself. If you want to know what life was like on a dude ranch in the early 1920s, this is the book for you.

Mary dedicated The Out Trail to Howard Eaton, who had died in April of 1922. The dedication read: “To the Memory of Howard Eaton,” followed by a quote from Kipling: “…the men bulk big on the old trail, our own trail, the out trail/And life runs large on the long trail, the trail that is always new.”

Howard’s death from peritonitis in a Sheridan hospital was a shock to Mary, who spoke publicly about the loss of her friend. So did Charles Russell, and newspapers across the country also carried Howard’s obituary. He would probably have appreciated the headline in his hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Daily Post: “Howard Eaton Missed ‘Dying With Boots On.’” After a funeral was held in Sheridan, his body was returned to Pittsburgh and cremated.

In July of 1923 a trail near Yellowstone was dedicated as the Howard Eaton Trail, though it was mostly abandoned in the 1970s and only portions of it can be hiked today.


The West stayed with her

Throughout the 1920s Mary continued to write books and articles about dude ranching, as well as a novel. The rest of her career was devoted to works of mystery and romance, but the West she saw with Howard Eaton enriched her life forever. This quote from Through Glacier Park says it all.

“Throw off the impedimenta of civilization, the telephones, the silly conventions, the lies that pass for truth. Go out to the West.”