Wednesday, August 25, 2021



Dr Keith Souter aka Clay More

There are some names that stand out in the history of medicine. Hippocrates, the father of Medicine who gave us the Hippocratic oath practiced in Classical Greece in the fifth century BC.  Dr William Harvey, who described the circulation of the blood in 1628, was 'Physician Extraordinary' to  King James 1 of England. Sir James Simpson was the first physician to extol the wonders of chloroform in 1847. Lord Joseph Lister, promoted the concept of aseptic surgery in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1860s. All of them deserve their status and their place in history for their contributions to the relief of suffering.

But less people know the name of Dr Ephraim McDowell? And probably less will know that he was the first surgeon to successfully perform a laparotomy. For this he is known as   the father of abdominal surgery. He did this not in a major teaching hospital but in the kitchen of his house in Danville, Kentucky in 1809 - without anaesthetic and decades before the Germ Theory and aseptic surgery. 

[A laparotomy is a surgical operation to open up the abdominal cavity. It is major surgery]

The tale is worth telling. But first, let me introduce you to this pioneering surgeon.

The surgeon - Dr Ephraim McDowell

The son of Samuel, a colonel during the American Revolution, and Mary McDowell, he was born in Virginia in 1771. The family moved to Danville when Ephraim was thirteen years old, as his father was appointed as a judge. 

He  studied medicine in Virginia for three years as an apprentice and then went to Edinburgh in Scotland to study surgery for two years. He returned to Danville, but without any formal medical qualification, a common enough occurrence in those days. It would not be until 1825 that this would be rectified, when the University of Maryland conferred the honorary degree of MD upon him. 

Dr Ephraim McDowell (1771-1830)

In Danville he was the only surgeon for hundreds of miles. Calls to see patients could be brought with danger. 

Over the years he performed many operations and actually perfected the technique of removing urinary bladder stones. These were a source of excruciating pain, so his operation of lithotomy was a real boon to sufferers. Indeed, one of his patients was James K Polk, who would become the 11th President of the USA. 

The patient - Mrs Jane Crawford

Born in Rockbridge County in 1763, not far from Ephraim McDowell's birthplace, Jane Todd Crawford, her husband and four children moved to Kentucky in 1805. They built a log cabin on the Blue Spring Branch of Caney Fork. There she had a fifth child. 

In 1809, when she was 46 years old she thought that she was pregnant with a sixth  child. Unfortunately, she went  beyond her due date and on December 13 she experienced severe pains, which were attributed to the late stages of labour. Her local doctor thought she had an obstructed labour, again not uncommon in those days. Dr Ephraim McDowell was sent for and after a sixty mile journey he diagnosed that she was not pregnant, but had an extremely large ovarian cyst, which was causing a false pregnancy. 

Such  cases were not considered treatable, he told her. She pressed him and he agreed to do an experimental operation, making her quite aware of the likelihood of failure and fatality. Nevertheless, a few days later she travelled on horseback the sixty miles to Ephraim's house in Danville. 

On Christmas morning, 1809, on the kitchen table Ephraim and his young assistant performed the first laparotomy through a nine inch incision. This was without anaesthetic.  The whole complex operation was performed in twenty-five minutes.

Jane Todd Crawford (1763-1842)

I will spare the surgical details, other than to say that he removed an ovarian cyst weighing almost eight pounds, plus fifteen pounds of fluid.  Five days post-op she was on her feet and much to Ephraim's astonishment, he found her making up her own bed. Less than four weeks after that, she made the return journey home on horseback.  

In 1821 she and her family moved to Indiana, where she died at the age of 78 years. A remarkable, stoical lady, who also deserves her place in medical history. 

The Father of Ovariotomy and the Father of Abdominal Surgery

One would have expected a surgeon who had just performed a pioneering operation to have immediately written up his case. Not so Dr Ephraim McDowell. A staunch presbyterian, who preferred to operate on Sundays, possibly when prayers could be said in advance of his work. He did not immediately publish, but performed more laparotomies and did not publish his study of three cases of ovarian cyst removals by laparotomy until 1817.

The case report was treated with scepticism by other surgeons. Indeed, a renowned surgeon wrote in the London Medical and Chirurgical Review expressed total disbelief. However, later when Ephraim McDowell published a further report, the surgeon withdrew his remarks and apologised, stating 'A back settlement of America - Kentucky - has beaten the mother country, nay Europe itself with all the boasted surgeons thereof.' 

He ended by asking '....pray pardon of God and of Dr McDowell of Danville.'

Ephraim McDowell died in 1830 after a two week illness diagnosed as acute inflammation of the stomach. The bitter irony is that this may well have been from peritonitis following an acute appendicitis. A laparotomy may have saved his life. 


Tuesday, August 24, 2021


 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Creede, Colorado, that rip-roaring town where the likes of Bat Masterson, Jefferson Randolph 'Soapy' Smith, and Robert Ford lived for a brief time. Founded officially in 1892, the town was known for its silver mines and was booming until the silver panic of 1893. It was in Creede, on June 8, 1892, that Ed O'Kelley walked into Ford's tent saloon and shot and killed Ford.

Jim Town Cliffs above Creede, c. 1893

But where did Creede get its name? Nicholas C. Creede, who founded the Holy Moses mine, has that honor. Although silver had been found in the area as early as 1869, the extraction of the ore was too expensive. By 1889 all that changed. 

So who was Nicholas C. Creede and is there a mystery? Creede was born on April 4, 1842, in Ft. Wayne Indiana. Records show the family moved to Iowa in the late 1840s early 1850s. From there, according to the "Encyclopedia of  American Biography', Creede, "In 1862 went to Colorado in search of adventure and found it in seven years as a United States scout, holding the rank of first lieutenant."

Nicholas C Creede

According to the Los Angeles, California voter registration, in 1896, Creede is listed as being 5'9" with light skin, blue eyes, and brown hair. 

Between 1862 and 1896 Creede traveled. He was involved in a mine and town along Monarch Pass in Colorado. Founded his mines in what became Creede. He lived in Pueblo, Colorado in 1893. Then that same year he married Nancy Louise White in Las Vegas, New Mexico. 

By 1897 Nicholas C. Creede was dead. According to the newspapers, he committed suicide by taking an overdose of morphine. (The official coroner report lists it as an Accidental Morphine Poisoning.)

The reason? I quote from the Ann Arbor, Michigan, newspaper, the Ann Arbor Argus of July 16, 1897:

Suicide of Creede.

Millionaire mine owner kills himself at Los Angeles.

Wanted to be rid of a wife.

He resorted to desperate means because Mrs. Creede insist upon renewing old relations — both had agreed to separate

Los Angeles, Cal., July 13 — Nicholas C. Creede, the millionaire mine owner, after whom the town of Creede, Colo., is named, committed suicide with morphine Monday evening, at his home in this city, because his wife, from whom he had separated, insisted upon renewing their marriage relations. On Jan. 4 last Creede and his wife separated and agreed to dissolve at once as fair as possible without legal process their marital bonds. Mrs. Creede accepted $20,000 cash and surrendered all further claims upon her husband, at the same time voluntarily withdrawing from his premises. It was understood, after the necessary time had elapsed, Creede6 would institute legal proceedings and begin suit for absolute divorce.

Went to Alabama.

At that time it appeared that both husband and wife were well satisfied that they were not required to maintain relations, and while Mrs. Creede considered that the amount of cash settled upon her was insignificant as compared with her husband's wealth, she left him and took up her home in Alabama. About three weeks to go Mrs. Creede returned to Los Angeles and proposed to her husband a reconciliation. This was much to Creede's distaste, and he endeavored to avoid his wife, but being unsuccessful, he determined to end his life. Monday evening he took a large dose of morphine and went into the garden to die. He was discovered by a servant and medical aid was summoned, but he died two hours later. Mrs. creed was notified of her husband's death, but declined to discuss the tragedy.

So what might be the mystery? Creede's wife, Nancy was married four times prior to her death in 1922. Additionally, it does seem odd that a man who had done all that Creede had done would take his own life. Of course, when you are not there and haven't spoken with the person, you never know. But, to this retired correction worker, it does raise a red flag. At the very least it has all the makings of a good fiction story.

Still, history is full of stories of men and women who carved out lives, wealth and so much more in the expansion of this country. What I've done is find some of the information and shared it. There is an 1894 biography of Creede on the way, it just didn't make it in time for this post. 

Until next time. 

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

Monday, August 23, 2021

Who’s Really Buried in Buffalo Bill’s Grave?


The Author at Buffalo Bill's Grave on Lookout Mountain
(Photo Credit: Tami Ritt)

A few years ago, during a trip to Colorado, I took the opportunity to visit the gravesite of that iconic western figure, William Fredrick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill. The grave is prominently placed on top of Lookout Mountain outside of Golden, Colorado.

Rising 7,377 feet, Lookout Mountain is part of the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and is located about two miles southwest of Golden, Colorado. Aptly named, from its summit you have an imposing view of a large part of Colorado’s eastern plains, including an impressive view of the city of Denver twelve miles to the east.

Buffalo Bill passed away from kidney failure on January 10th, 1917, while visiting his sister in Denver. The first draft of his will indicated that he wanted to be buried on Cedar Mountain near the town that he founded – Cody, Wyoming. However, in the final draft of his will, Cody had changed the choice of his eternal resting place to Lookout Mountain.

The view from Lookout Mountain. The city of Golden is in the foreground and Denver can be seen on the horizon.

(Photo Credit: Michael R. Ritt)

In January of 1917, the road to Lookout Mountain was impassible because of the snow, so the undertaker at Olinger’s Mortuary in Denver kept Cody’s body on ice until June when the roads could clear and the summit to Lookout Mountain could be reached. During those six months, Olinger’s embalmed Cody’s body six times to prevent decomposition and keep it looking “fresh” until they could hold the funeral service.

Here’s an interesting side note about the Olinger Mortuary. It is now “Linger Eatuaries.” That’s right. If you are up for a little macabre dining experience, you can visit Linger’s and dine in the same building where Buffalo Bill was embalmed. (It actually looks like a beautiful restaurant).

There has been some ill-will, and not a little controversy, between Colorado and their neighbor to the north over the burial of Buffalo Bill Cody. There were rumors that some fearless Wyoming patriots stole Cody’s body from the mortuary and replaced it with the body of a vagrant who looked like Buffalo Bill. This is highly unlikely and these rumors were never taken very seriously. During his funeral in June of 1917, Cody’s family and friends, as well as thousands of mourners, viewed his open casket. Someone surely would have recognized if there had been an imposter in the casket instead of the famous scout and showman.

Buffalo Bill Cody circa 1875

In 1921, Cody’s wife, Louisa, died and was buried next to her husband on Lookout Mountain. Shortly thereafter, Cody’s niece, Mary Jester Allen accused Denver officials of conspiring to bury Cody on Lookout Mountain rather than sending his body to Cody, Wyoming. People on both sides of the Colorado-Wyoming border were enraged by the new allegations. As a result, John Baker, Cody’s foster son, had Buffalo Bill and Louisa reburied under tons of concrete to ward off any attempts to steal the bodies.

The controversy continued in 1948 when members of the American Foreign Legion in Cody, Wyoming offered a $10,000.00 reward to anyone who could steal Cody’s body and return it to Wyoming. This prompted the state of Colorado to call out the National Guard to be stationed around the gravesite to protect it from being pilfered.

As recently as 2006, Wyoming state legislators were still “joking” about retrieving Cody’s body through covert means.

Always the showman and consummate entertainer, I think that Cody would have enjoyed the hullabaloo and the attention that he is still drawing, more than 100 years after his death.

Buffalo Bill's Casket

About the Author:

Mike is an award-winning Western author currently living in a 600 square foot cabin in the mountains of Western Montana. He has been married to his redheaded sweetheart, Tami, since 1989. He is a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Finalist three years in a row and his short stories have been published in numerous anthologies and are available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers as well as brick and mortar bookstores. His first Western novel, The Sons of Philo Gaines, was released in November of 2020. It is available everywhere books are sold. Mike is a member of Western Writers of America and Western Fictioneers. You can find him on Facebook at, or at his website

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Peter Brandvold - Obsession & Stubborness a Key to Success

Peter Brandvold, this month's interviewee is the Western Fictioneers Lifetime Achievement Award winner for 2020. Thank you to Peter for taking the time to share his insights into writing and his writer's life.  

Author Peter Brandvold and his trusty assistant.

*  When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? 

You know, I can’t remember NOT wanting to be a writer, so I’d have to say very early on. Maybe when I was six and just starting school and I learned there was such a thing.

*  Did you chose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

I would say it chose me. I’d gone to undergrad and grad school wanting to be the next Ernest Hemingway, but I wasn’t having any fun. So after I got out of school and still wasn’t having any fun writing the “literary” stuff, I asked myself what I’d really LIKE to write. That turned out to be westerns because I’d grown up on them. They were the first books I fell in love with. 

*  What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?

I was extremely na├»ve. After I had the desire to be a writer it never really occurred to me that I couldn’t be a writer. I was very obsessed, and sometimes obsession is what it takes. Obsession and stubbornness. I was very stubborn. I wasn’t NOT going to be a writer.

*  Do your life experiences influence or hinder your writing?

I think they always influence it, definitely. Even the bad stuff.

Peter's latest release from Wolfpack

*  Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?

I can’t say much about my latest releases—I’ve had three books come out in July alone—but they’re all pseudonymous books and I’m not at liberty to divulge their titles. Let’s call my latest release REDEMPTION TRAIL published by Wolfpack. It’s a Yakima Henry yarn. I have no idea where the idea for it came from. Sometimes I just come up with an opening scene and a character or two and put them into play and simply write to discover what happens. As I remember, that’s what happened with REDEMPTION TRAIL. Most of my books come about that way.  

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Definitely a pantser!

Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?

I follow a fairly strict routine. 500 words right after breakfast, another 500 before noon. After lunch, another 500. Then some work around the house or yard or a nap or an errand run then another 500 before happy hour. Happy hour is a big incentive for me!

* If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?

Full-length novels. I need room for my imagination to breathe and wander.

* Do you ‘interview’ your characters before or at any time while telling their story and what do you do if they don’t cooperate with your story idea?

No, I don’t do any of that stuff. Sometimes I actually like it when they don’t cooperate with the story. Sometimes that makes the story more interesting. A nice surprise. Otherwise, if I get off on the wrong track, I backtrack and force them onto the right trail. But that rarely happens. Sometimes you just have to have confidence that what you're writing is good and to just keep going and entertain yourself. That’s the best trick for entertaining the reader that I know. Entertain yourself first.

*  Is there a process where you find your next story or does the idea just hit you?

Usually just hits when I’m out walking with my dog. I have a vivid imagination, and I can just start the camera rolling and images start appearing on the screen. It’s weird but it works.


Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?

I make beer and wine. 

Do you write in other genres?

I’ve written two “weird” westerns, sci-fi westerns, or fantasy westerns. CANYON OF A THOUSAND EYES and DUST OF THE DAMNED.


*  What are your favorite areas of research and why they are important to you?

Reading nonfiction books about the West. I’ve read a ton of them including the autobiography of John Wesley Hardin, one of my favorites. I also like to travel out west, camp in the mountains, and visit out-of-the-way museums. I once spent three summers in the Sawatch Mountains of Colorado and three winters in the Arizona desert, boondocking in my fifth wheel. Great way to soak up the Old West atmosphere. 

*   When do you start to ‘market’ your new released?

The publishers usually do that for me, thank God. I’m not much of a marketer.

What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?

Only do it if you can’t NOT do it. That’s what I did, but I came by it naturally. And I really think that’s the only way to do it. Because it’s a damn tough business and your chances of succeeding—well, let’s just say you probably have a better chance of getting hit by lightning in your basement in January than making a living as a writer.


Are there authors you grew up with or inspired you to take pen to paper?

There are so many, I hesitate to name any. Certainly Jack London. He was probably the biggest for me and still really is.

If it were possible would you choose to go forward in time or back?

Nah, I like it right here. As long as I’m making up stories and telling big lies just as I did uncontrollably as a little kid—who had an imaginary friend named “Cousin”—I’m doing just fine. 

For more about Peter and his books:

Amazon Author Page - Peter Brandvold

Post (c) Doris McCraw All Rights Reserved (interviewees have full use of this post)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021


Hi everyone! I found this little gem quite by accident. Do you remember studying about The Mason-Dixon Line here in the United States? Maybe in a history class many years ago?

Chances are, if you did, it was skimmed over and briefly touched upon. And you may still have misconceptions about it, because of this. Is it a “real” line, or just one that exists in American cultural references? How far south is it? Why did we need a “line” such as the Mason-Dixon Line?

And probably, you’ve never even given this a second thought once high school nine-weeks’ tests were over and done with, right? I wouldn’t have, either, but I became fascinated with a piece of music of Mark Knopfler’s called SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA.

I stumbled across this on Youtube one day and was shocked when I printed out the words and to learn it. I was even more surprised to find a very short documentary that accompanies the song, in which the lives of surveyor Charlie Mason and astronomer Jeremiah Dixon are touched upon.

Here’s the song performed by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor. Briefly, according to a Wikipedia article:

The Mason–Dixon line, also called the Mason and Dixon line or Mason’s and Dixon’s line, is a demarcation line separating four U.S. states, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia (part of Virginia until 1863). Historically, it came to be seen as demarcating the North from the South in the U.S. It was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the resolution of a border dispute involving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware in Colonial America. The dispute had its origins almost a century earlier in the somewhat confusing proprietary grants by King Charles I to Lord Baltimore (Maryland) and by King Charles II to William Penn (Pennsylvania and Delaware).

The largest, east-west portion of the Mason–Dixon line along the southern Pennsylvania border later became known, informally, as the boundary between the Northern free states and Southern slave states. This usage especially came to prominence during the debate around the Missouri Compromise of 1820, when drawing boundaries between slave and free territory was an issue, and resurfaced during the American Civil War, with border states also coming into play. The Virginia portion of the line was initially the northern border of the Confederacy, until West Virginia separated from Virginia and joined the Union in 1863. It is still used today in the figurative sense of a line that separates the Northeast and South culturally, politically, and socially (see Dixie).

But did you realize this “line” was “drawn” in great part by using the stars at night as the guide? And that every mile is marked by stones every mile 1 mile and “crownstones” every 5 miles using stone shipped from England. The Maryland side says “(M)” and the Delaware and Pennsylvania sides say “(P)”. Crownstones include the two coats of arms. Today, while a number of the original stones are missing or buried, many are still visible, resting on public land and protected by iron cages. (Wikipedia)

Here’s the link to the documentary–it’s about 10 minutes long and WELL WORTH IT!

Mason and Dixon confirmed earlier survey work, which delineated Delaware’s southern boundary from the Atlantic Ocean to the “Middle Point” stone (along what is today known as the Transpeninsular Line). They proceeded nearly due north from this to the Pennsylvania border.

Later, the line was marked in places by additional benchmarks and survey markers. The lines have been resurveyed several times over the centuries without substantive changes to Mason’s and Dixon’s work. The stones may be a few, to a few hundred, feet east or west of the point Mason and Dixon thought they were: in any event, the line drawn from stone to stone forms the legal boundary. (Wikipedia)

Think of it. This “line” was drawn between 1763 and 1767 and has been remeasured and re-calculated many times through the following centuries—and there have been “no substantive changes to mason’s and Dixon’s work.” Amazing!

I’m going to include the links to the song, the documentary, and the Wikipedia article in this post. But I think I’ll be talking more about the Mason-Dixon Line in the future. It was truly a huge accomplishment that needs to be remembered!

Here’s the link to the entire Wikipedia story about the Mason-Dixon Line.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

On This Day in the Old West: August 13

 On this date in 1860, Phoebe Ann Mosey was born. Not ringing a bell? Maybe you know her stage name better: Annie Oakley. Phoebe Ann was born in a log cabin in rural Ohio, near the border with Indiana. If you’re interested, there’s a stone-mounted plaque at the site, erected by the Annie Oakley Committee in 1981.


Annie’s parents were English quakers from Pennsylvania. Susan Wise and Jacob Mosey married in 1848. He was 49 and she was 18. They moved to a rented farm (which they later purchased) in Ohio around 1855. Annie was the sixth of their nine children and the fifth of the seven who survived. Her siblings were Mary Jane (born 1851), Lydia (1852), Elizabeth (1855), Sarah Ellen (1857), Catherine (1859), John (1861), Hulda (1864), and a stillborn brother in 1865. 


Annie’s father became invalid from hypothermia during a blizzard in 1865 and died of pneumonia in late 1866, at age 66. Her mother later married Daniel Brumbaugh and they had one daughter, Emily (1868) before Susan was widowed once again. Because of their poverty following Jacob’s death, Annie didn’t attend school regularly as a small child, although she did attend as an older child and an adult. 


On March 15, 1870, Annie and her sister Sarah Ellen were admitted to the Drake County Infirmary, where they were taught to sew and “decorate” by the superintendent’s wife, Nancy Edington. Beginning that spring, she was “bound out” to a family to help care for their infant son, with a false promise of 50 cents a week and an education. The couple, who Annie never would name (calling them only “the wolves”), originally wanted an older (and larger) servant who could pump water and cook. Annie spent around two years in near slavery to them. Once, the wife put Annie out in the freezing cold with no shoes because she’d fallen asleep over her darning. Around the spring of 1872, Annie ran away, living for a time with the Edingtons and returning to her mother’s home at age 15.


Annie began trapping before the age of seven to support her siblings and widowed mother. She learned to hunt and shoot before eight. She sold the game to people in Greenville like shopkeepers Charles and G. Anthony Katzenberger, who shipped the meat to hotels in cities like Cincinnati. Annie also sold meat to hotels and restaurants in northern Ohio. Her skill paid off the farm’s mortgage when she was around 15.


Annie became well known in the region for her hunting skills. At one time, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was performing in Cincinnati. Marksman Frank E. Butler (1847-1926) placed a side bet with hotel owner Jack Frost: $100 that Butler could beat any local fancy shootist (that’s the modern equivalent of $2,400). Frost arranged a match between Butler and Phoebe Ann, saying “The last opponent Butler expected was a five-foot-tall, fifteen-year-old girl named Annie.”


After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match (one account has him hitting the bird, but it fell beyond the boundary line and so was disqualified). He soon began courting Annie and they married a year later. According to a modern-day account in The Cincinnati Enquirer, it’s possible that the shooting match actually occurred in 1881 rather than the often reported 1875. The Annie Oakley Center Foundation has stated that Annie and her mother visited her sister Lydia, who had married and moved near Cincinnati, in 1875, but this could not have been correct, as Lydia did not marry Joseph Stein until 1877. It’s more likely the women visited in 1881, when Lydia was ill with tuberculosis. Also, in 1875, the Bevis House Hotel was still being run by Martin Bevis and W.H. Ridenour. Jack Frost didn’t take over until 1879. The Baughman and Butler shooting act was first mentioned in The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1880. 


Regardless of the actual date, Annie and Frank were married the year afterwards. Some sources claim the date was August 23, 1876, but there is no recorded certificate to validate that claim. A certificate on file with the Archives of Ontario, Registration Number 49594, reports that Butler and Oakley were married on June 20, 1882 in Windsor, Ontario. Also, throughout Annie’s show-business career, the audiences were led to believe she was five or six years younger than her actual age. The later marriage date would better support this fictional age.


Annie and Frank Butler lived in Cincinnati for a time, in the Oakley neighborhood. It’s believed that Annie took her stage name from that neighborhood. They joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1885, and Annie was given the nickname of “Watanya Cicilla” by Sitting Bull. This was translated in the public advertisements as “Little Sure Shot.”


Annie worked with the show for a time, but tense relations between her and a much-younger rifle markswoman, Lillian Smith, led her to leave. Once Smith left the show in 1887, Annie returned, in time for the Paris Exposition of 1889. The three-year tour cemented Annie’s fame as America’s first female star. She earned more than any performer in the show save Buffalo Bill himself. Annie also performed in other shows on the side for extra pay. In Europe, Annie performed for Queen Victoria, King Umberto I of Italy, and other crowned heads of state. Supposedly, she shot the ashes off a cigarette held by newly crowned Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, at his request. 

From 1892 to 1904, Annie and Frank lived in Nutley, New Jersey. Annie promoted the service of women in combat operations for the American armed forces. She wrote to President William McKinley in 1898, “offering the government the services of a company of 50 ‘lady sharpshooters,’ who would provide their own arms and ammunition should the U.S. go to war with Spain.” The Spanish-American War did occur, but Annie’s offer wasn’t accepted. 


In 1901, Annie was badly injured in a train accident, and only recovered from her partial paralysis after five spinal operations. She left the Buffalo Bill show for a less taxing career in a stage play, The Western Girl, written especially for her. Annie played the role of Nancy Berry, who used a pistol, rifle, and a rope to outsmart a gang of outlaws. Throughout her career, Annie taught women to handle guns. It’s believed she taught more than 15,000 women. Annie said, "I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns, as naturally as they know how to handle babies."


Annie continued to set shooting records into her sixties. She and Frank moved to Cambridge, Maryland and, in 1917, to North Carolina. Annie also engaged in extensive philanthropy for women’s rights and other causes for women. Her health declined in 1925 and she died from pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio at the age of 66 (November 3, 1926). Frank was supposedly so grief-stricken that he stopped eating, and he died 18 days later. The couple is buried in Brock Cemetery near Greenville. 

If you have characters from this period in history, especially if they’re women, they could easily have seen or met Annie Oakley. Perhaps she even taught them to shoot or inspired them to stand up for better women’s rights. She was still actively performing until close to her death, so your characters could have seen her almost any time between 1870 to 1925. What an amazing life she lived, and what a wonderful side character she would make for a story.


J.E.S. Hays

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Levi Strauss and the Very Unhappy Customer


     I was the company Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years, and one of my duties was to research the life of the founder, Levi Strauss. This wasn’t easy, because the company lost all of its records in the 1906 earthquake and fire. But once historical newspapers became available online, I was able to track Levi down and I found a few stories that were not the traditional tales of his business, the blue jeans, or his philanthropy.

     For example, the time one of his customers threatened to kill him.



     Antonio Gagliardo owned a retail dry goods store in Douglas Flat, Calaveras County, California, and he bought much of his inventory from Levi Strauss, who was a wholesaler as well as a manufacturer of the riveted denim pants he had introduced in 1873. But in late 1884 Gagliardo went out of business, and he and his family relocated to Los Angeles. In February of 1885 he sent a letter to Levi Strauss, asking him to use his influence to get Gagliardo a clerical job.

     Strauss had some friends in the Italian community of San Francisco, and they told him to steer clear of the man, because the request was so odd. Levi wrote to Gagliardo anyway and said he couldn’t get him a job, but he sent along $50, which he hoped would be helpful.  

     On March 3, Gagliardo wrote to Strauss again and, as reported in the San Francisco Examiner, stated that “…he would give Strauss ten days to amend his reply and get something for him to do, or he would send Strauss to the great beyond.” The more sensational Daily Alta California put it this way: “On the 3d of March Gagliardo sent a threatening letter to Strauss, stating that in ten days from the receipt of it, unless something was done, he would blow his head off.” 



     Strauss’s friends pleaded with him to go to the police, but he thought the man was just “overexcited by his troubles.” On March 11, Strauss heard that Gagliardo had come to San Francisco, so he gave in and told the police, who arrested the distraught man, setting bail at $5,000 (which is about $150,000 today).

     He went on trial April 1, but the case was dismissed: Strauss refused to prosecute because Gagliardo said he would “…refrain from carrying his sanguinary promises into execution.”

     He left San Francisco and never threatened Strauss again. 

     Gagliardo wasn't the only one of Levi Strauss's customers who should have been in jail. In 1881 a wholesale client came to San Francisco, bought a bunch of dry goods from the firm, and then skipped without paying. His name was Joseph Goldwater.

     He and his brother Michael had come to the U.S. from Russia, via England, and changed their name from Goldwasser. They settled into storekeeping in Arizona in the 1870s, and Joseph's job was to place orders with the big wholesalers. In February of 1881 he visited the many merchants in San Francisco's financial district and then....disappeared. As the February 6 issue of The Citizen reported, the businessmen on Sansome, Battery, and Front Streets "...are just now wonderfully anxious to see Joseph Goldwater, a commission merchant engaged in the purchase of goods for Arizona, who left very suddenly for the land of the rattlesnake and tarantula a week ago." 

     Goldwater had taken the goods and turned them over to a partner in Yuma, with no intention of paying. So the San Francisco merchants informed the U.S. marshal, who went to Arizona to either get the goods back or arrest the culprits. Both Goldwater and his partner were holed up in a store and, as the Sacramento Daily Record-Union reported, "The defendants have men barricaded on the premises, armed with shotguns, who declared that they would resist service at all hazards." The marshal said that he would "serve the process regardless of consequences. If resistance is offered by the mob there will surely be bloodshed. The posse are all determined men."

     Well, it didn't end that dramatically. Goldwater gave up, was arrested, and then taken back to San Francisco where he settled his accounts with the merchants. 

     The Goldwaters continued to do business in Arizona and they became prominent citizens over the succeeding decades. Joseph's great-nephew became a U.S. senator and, in 1964, candidate for President. And you've figured out by now what his name was: Barry Goldwater.

For a deeper look at Levi Strauss's life, check out my 2016 book, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World