Wednesday, November 23, 2022



 - the medicine and surgery of yesteryear

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

During the Civil War surgeons had to deal with a huge array of wounds. According to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine the vast majority of documented wounds were caused by the MiniĆ© ball, while the rest were caused by grapeshot, canister or other exploding shells. Few men were treated for sabre or bayonet wounds and even fewer for cannon ball wounds.

More documentation of cases seems to have been recorded by the Union Army than the Confederate States Army. 

When one thinks of hand to hand fighting the sabre and the bayonet come very much to mind, but the following figures of cases recorded during the American Civil War 1861-1865 put things into perspective.


522 cases  

488 recovered

26 fatal


400 cases

357 recovered

30 fatal


245,790 cases 

201,962 recovered 

31,922 fatal

Of the sabre wounds the most common site of injuries were the head, followed by the upper limbs.

Of the bayonet wounds the most common site of injuries were the abdomen.

Of shot wounds the most common site of injuries was the chest, followed by the limbs.

So, let us look at the treatment of sabre and bayonet wounds by looking at one of the major textbooks of surgery written for surgeons during the Civil War. It was written by one of the great medical and surgical innovators of the era, Dr JJ Chisolm. You will, if you care to delve back in the blog find that I have written many articles referencing him. 

Dr Julian John Chisolm (1830-1903)
Julian John Chisolm, often referred to as john Julian Chisolm or as J.J. Chisolm was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1830. He obtained his MD medical degree from the Medical College of South Carolina in 1850 then travelled to Europe to study medicine and surgery in Paris and London.

He returned to Charleston in 1860 and took up the post of Professor of Surgery at the Medical College. He  kept the position throughout the War and in 1861 published the first edition of his textbook A Manual of Military Surgery for the Use of Surgeons in the Confederate States Army.

He was one of the few competent surgeons at the start of the War (it was the steepest of learning curves for surgeons on both sides), but his book gave detailed instructions. His experience was based on personal observations of many wounds  treated in both civilian and military hospitals admitted form the battlefields of Europe. The book was updated twice during the War.

I quote from the book.

PUNCTURED WOUNDS, MADE BY THE BAYONET OR SABRE, require similar treatment to gunshot wounds. If the history and appearances clearly indicate the character of the wound, there will be no need of probing for imaginary foreign bodies. Such wounds usually bleed more freely than gunshot wounds, but the haemorrhage is susceptible of control by similar means - pressure being preferred to ligation of arteries. The treatment should be cold water dressings - irrigation preferred. Protect the wound from air, if possible, by covering it with adhesive plaster or collodion, and dress it a seldom as possible, compatible with cleanliness. Once, probing such a wound should satisfy the curiosity of any surgeon. A frequent repetition of this meddlesome surgery, besides the needless pain inflicted upon the wounded man, must end in mischief. 

Simple incised wounds, as sabre cuts, will be closed by adhesive plaster (or sutures, which are preferable, should there be any tendency to gaping), to be followed by the cold water dressing. Should the wound be not of a serious character, it may be left even without after-dressing - the little oozing from its edges, when drawn together by straps or sutures, dries into a scab along the line of the wound, and excludes air with its pernicious influences. This permits of the remodelling process and cicatrisation is effected without suppuration. 

Should a bayonet or sabre wound transfix one of the natural cavities, the internal injury may be rapidly fatal from hemorrhage , or the injury inflicted upon the contained organs may, sooner or later, lead to the destruction of the patient by visceral inflammation. Under ordinary conditions, when such wounds exist in the extremities, where no large vessels are implicated, they require no special treatment. It is a class of wounds not as frequently met with in military surgery as one would suppose. The sabre-bayonet, when plunged into the body among the viscera, leaves but little work for the surgeon. Such cases seldom leave the battlefield alive.

When the ordinary bayonet has buried itself deeply in a limb, suppuration may appear in the course of the wound. Should pus b suspected, and fears exist that it may be pent up under a fascia, it would be necessary to dilate the wound t permit of its free escape. Under no other condition should a punctured wound , made by either a sword or bayonet, be dilated, except to remove foreign bodies or to control serious haemorrhage, where it is necessary to ligate the open mouths of the bleeding vessel. 

[It should, of course, be noted that the book was written before Lord Lister developed the practice of aseptic surgery in the 1870s]

John Sith Pemberton (1831-1888) and the creation of  Coca Cola
We come now to another Confederate veteran, the pharmacist John Sith Pemberton.

Pemberton was born in Knoxville, Georgia and qualified as a pharmacist at the Reform Medical College of Georgia. He eventually set up a drug store in Columbus. 

Doing the Civil War he served in the Third Cavalry Battalion of the Georgia State Guard, part of the Confederate Army. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. 

During the Battle of Columbus he sustained a sabre wound to the chest and survived. He was, however, left with chronic pain and became addicted to morphine.  As a pharmacist he experimented with various ingredients as a substitute for the opiate. 

At first this medicine he came up with contained coca, from which cocaine is derived. He produced Pemberton's French Wine Coca. When a temperance act was imposed the alcohol content had to be removed and so he developed another formula for his medicine. This was in the form of a syrup, which after experimentation he mixed with soda which he sold as a fountain drink rather than a medicine.  This eventually became Coca Cola.

Sadly, due to ill health and the threat of bankruptcy he sold the complete rights to his drink for  what would nowadays be considered a paltry sum. The drink is now iconic around the world. 


My latest novel, written under my crime and historical writing name of Keith Moray is an historical crime novel. It is entitled DEATH OF A POET and  is the first in the Ancient Egypt  Murder Mysteries series set in Alexandria in the Ptolemaic era. It introduces Overseer Hanufer of Crocodilopolis 

And for more medicine and surgery of yesteryear, The Doctor's Bag published by Sundown Press.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Collaboration -Invaluable


Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

McAllister House
Photo Property of the Author

Preservation and presentation of history is a vital foundation for civilization. While we think of history as something solid from the past, it is fluid. Its very fluidity adds to the richness that has come before. Much like the story of the early women doctors in Colorado that I myself have been researching for the past ten-plus years, this additional information, and fluidity if you will create a story that people can connect to. These connections we can find by sharing information will continue to give us a solid foundation upon which to grow our future.

As an example, the common story is that William J. Palmer founded Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is true, to a point. The city was his dream. The truth, he needed help to make that dream a reality. The collaboration he received was invaluable to creating the dream. Originally "The Fountain Colony" was a 'membership organization that one joined to purchase real estate during the city's formative years'.

Some of the people who helped Palmer realize his ambition to create a town at the base of Pike's Peak might have been lost to time had they not left legacies of their own.

Dr. William Bell had been part of the original survey party in which Palmer first saw the region. Dr. Bell was born in Ireland, studied at Cambridge University, and had a practice at St. George's Hospital in London. Dr. Bell was in the United States to continue studying homeopathy when he became part of Palmer's party. He continued with Palmer as the two along with others created the resort town of Colorado Springs and the health mecca Manitou Springs.

Pikes Peak
Photo Property of the Author

Henry McAllister, Also a Quaker who was also from Pennsylvania and a member of General Palmer's 15th Pennsylvania Calvary during the Civil War and rose to the rank of major. McAllister had a job as the secretary of the American iron and steel Association when he accepted Palmer's invitation to be a part of the founding company of Colorado Springs.

William Sharpless Jackson, also a Quaker from Pennsylvania, was part of Palmer's founding organization. He was working for a railroad in the Midwest when tapped by Palmer. It was Jackson who spent years in banking, was a Denver and Rio Grande railroad executive and like McAllister and Bell along with Palmer had a part in the creation of Colorado College.

Both Jackson's and McAllister's sons continued the legacy started by their fathers but their story is for another time.

As you can see, one person can have an idea, but in order to realize that idea it takes collaboration, it takes people willing to become part of something bigger. It is through the work of these men, their families, and researchers/historians that we understand how invaluable collaboration is. The more we know the richer our history becomes.

Perhaps you have a project you're working on, collaboration, asking for help, is invaluable. Growing this organization, and keeping it vital, takes more than just one person. Keep up the good work, we're on our way and with everyone's help will make it to the top.

For those who would like to know more here is a YouTube video from the director of "The McAllister House Museum" on 'The Development of the Fountain Colony...' Fountain Colony

Until next time.

Doris McCraw

Thursday, November 10, 2022

On This Day in the Old West: November 11

 On November 11, 1889, Washington became the 42nd State of the USA. After a thirteen-year hiatus where no new states were admitted to the Union, the US Congress passed an act that would allow Washington, Montana, and North and South Dakota to petition to become states. In order for this to happen, however, each territory must write and pass a state constitution. Washington duly convened a constitutional convention in Olympia, the territorial capital, on July 4. It was swelteringly hot that day, and the convention was crowded with delegates and onlookers.

Inauguration of the first governor


The delegates were chosen according to a formula Congress came up with, which required the governor and chief justice of the Supreme Court to divide the territory into twenty-five voting districts of approximately equal populations. Three delegates represented each district—two from the majority party and one from the minority, thus ensuring the dominance of the Republican Party.


“Seventy-five men elected to the State Constitutional Convention included 21 lawyers, 13 farmers, 6 merchants, 6 doctors, 5 bankers, 4 cattlemen, 3 teachers, 2 real-estate agents, 2 editors, 2 hop farmers, 2 loggers, 2 lumbermen, 1 minister, 1 surveyor, 1 fisherman, and 1 mining engineer.” (HistoryLink)


Washington Territory was formed in 1852 when Congress split what is now Washington State, northern Idaho, and western Montana from Oregon Territory, which had been created five years earlier. Washington was reduced to its current boundaries in 1863, when Idaho Territory was created. By the time it achieved statehood, Washington would have spent 36 years as a territory, longer than any of the 41 states admitted before it and more than three times as long as neighboring Oregon. There are many reasons for this length of time (only five other states exceeded the 36-year tenure as a territory), including little interest by the territory’s citizens in the politics of statehood. At least four times during the late 1860s and early 1870s, voters rejected proposals to call a convention to adopt a state constitution. 


The biggest obstacle to statehood, however, was geographical. Historian Robert Ficken notes, “The complete lack of communications over the Cascades prevented unity, in politics and economics.” During most of the territory’s existence, there were not even wagon roads, let alone railways across the mountains. The growing settlements on either side of the mountains could not communicate or trade with one another. Those in Western Washington did business mostly with California by sea, while Easterners shipped to and from Portland, Oregon along the Columbia River, by boat or rail. 

Governor Miles C. Moore


This changed dramatically in 1887 with the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s line from Eastern Washington over the Cascades via Stampede Pass to Tacoma. Direct trade between the regions boosted the economies on both sides of the mountains and brought in many more immigrants from the eastern US. With the territory economically unified and booming, local regional rivalries were put aside, at least temporarily, and calls for statehood increased.


The new constitution ended up a patchwork made from the constitutions of other states, and a document drawn up in Walla Walla at an earlier convention, as well as resolutions and ideas submitted by citizens’ groups. It reflected the concerns of its day: restrictions placed on the legislature, the many statewide elected officials that split the responsibilities of governance, and the complex amending formula (Avery, Mary W. Government of Washington State. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1966).  Some of the hottest topics under discussion involved the disposition of school and state lands, the regulation of railroads (delegates debated the corrupting influences of free railroad passes for elected officials and prohibited them yet failed to create a strong elected commission to regulate the rates railroads would charge, an issue of vital importance to farmers and other citizens). 


Despite its flaws, the citizens of Washington Territory voted 40,152 to 11,879 to ratify the new constitution in an election called by territorial governor Miles C. More on October 1, 1889. Certain perennial issues could not be agreed upon, such as women’s suffrage, prohibition, and the location of a state capital. These issues would be discussed all through the first few decades of statehood. 


Not all sectors of the population approved of the new constitution. Many farmers, especially in eastern Washington, were uneasy with the new document. They felt the new constitution provided for too many state offices with too high salaries, which would result in “an office-seeking class, the most worthless class that can exist. It will also foster machine politics of the most corrupt and offensive character” (Crawford, Harriet Ann. The Washington State Grange. Binfords and Mort, Publishers, Portland, 1940).

President Benjamin Harrison


On November 11, US President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation declaring Washington’s admission into the Union was complete. This news was immediately telegraphed to Olympia, setting off celebrations in the new state’s capital. "There was a moment of dead silence, followed by a roar which shook the ancient wooden capitol. Jubilation spread from the senate to the house and then down Main street to the town. The cannon, which had been charged for days awaiting the great event, fired unceasing salvos and the male populace rushed to the town's 14 saloons" (Gordon R. Newell, Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen (Seattle: Hangman Press, 1975).


J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, October 26, 2022


DR SILAS WEIR-MITCHELL, Physician, poet, novelist and researcher

By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE

One wonders how surgeons coped during the Civil War. After performing countless amputations on young men maimed by Minie balls, shrapnel and cannonfire how did they silence the screams and the suffering that plagued their dreams for years after?

Silas Weir-Mitchell  was a contract surgeon  with the US army in 1862 and operated on the wounded at Gettysburg and other battlefields. On his deathbed having contracted influenza he lapsed into delirium and it is said that he actually re-enacted operating on the wounded at Gettysburg. 

Dr Silas Weir-Mitchell (1829-1914)

He had come a long way from his wartime experiences and rose to become known as the father of American neurology. His contributions to medicine were  significant and numerous. He was the originator of Weir-Mitchell Therapy, known as The Rest Cure, a highly controversial therapy, but which for many decades became a standard treatment for psychoneurosis. 

In addition to his work in neurology, he was a scientific physiologist, a medical writer, poet and novelist. 

Early influence and rattlesnakes
Silas Weir-Mitchell was born into a wealthy Philadelphia family that had three generations of physicians. 

When he entered the University of Pennsylvania he had little interest in subjects like mathematics, which he was obliged to study. He apparently occupied his time playing billiards, reading and writing poetry and dodging many of his lectures. His father, a devoutly religious man told him that "you are wanting in nearly all the qualities that go to make a success in medicine."

Whether this gave him the impetus to change or whether it was just that the actual study of medicine opened his eyes, he applied himself to his studies at Jefferson Medical College in 1848 and qualified as a doctor in 1851.

He went straightaway to Paris and studied physiology under Claude Bernard, one of the greatest experimenters of the day. 

He was impressed by Bernard's maxim "Why think? Exhaustively experiment, then think."

Silas returned to the USA and worked with  another famous physician, Dr William A Hammond. They shared an interest in snake venoms and their effect on the nervous system. In 1859 they wrote a paper in the American Medical Journal on corroval and van, two substances used to poison arrows. 

There is a tale that one day while working at his desk a rattlesnake escaped and climbed the chair he was sitting on and put its head over his shoulder. Quite the sort of scene so beloved by the movie-makers, he was able to make a move to escape when the snake's swaying head touched the lamp. 

The speckled rattlesnake was named after him - Crotalus mitchellii

And frogs!
A year later he carried out more important experiments using frogs. He found that by feeding them sugar you can induce cataracts in the eyes. He published his findings in a paper  On the production of cataract in frogs by the administration of sugar in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, in 1860.

The significance of this was not fully realised, as the pathology of diabetes mellitus was still ill understood. But cataracts are a well known long term complication of the condition.

The Civil War
Working with two other US army surgeons, George R Morehouse and William W Keen a vast amount of information was accumulated from the wounded brought back by them in wagons and operated upon. This resulted in a book published in 1864, written by all three - Gunshot Wounds and Other Injuries of the Nerves.

It contained the first description of  'causalgia',' an extremely painful condition now known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Phantom limb pain
After the War many amputees complained of pain, often excruciating discomfort where their amputated limb should have been. For example, they might have severe pain where they could still feel the foot that was no longer there. The year after the War  Silas opened a stump clinic in Philadelphia, where he made observations of these symptoms and he wrote a paper published  in Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, in which he described for the first time phantom limb pain. He speculated that it was the result of injury to the nerves during the operation.  This is hardly surprising considering that in those days when chloroform was new and in short supply a surgeon had to operate swiftly. The operative technique was gradually improved with better results, yet still the problem occurs. 

He was  quite correct about the cause, but there was little that could be done for the condition, as there were few effective drugs. Although we have a  better understanding of this phenomenon now and a greater range of therapeutic interventions, yet it is still a significant problem for many amputees.

The Weir Mitchell Rest Cure
I need to mention the Rest Cure that he popularised and which Sigmund Freud ad other European doctors were critical of. Essentially, Silas was highly interested in hysteria, from his work with soldiers. Indeed he frequently alluded to the fact that brave men in the heat of battle could develop paralysis. This he distinguished from malingering, which is also mentioned in the book.

There was great interest in hysteria and other neuroses in the nineteenth century. His Rest Cure consisted of complete rest in a room, during which the patient should do no work, except write their life history. A little light exercise was permitted and a 'nutritious' diet with a high fat intake. The patient had to drink two litres of milk a day. Electrotherapy was also used, as was a form of psychotherapy.

A final word on the latter, which seems to have been direct and authoritarian confrontation. Let me cite one case.

A patient was thought to be dying and he was sent for. He immediately sent the attendants out of the room and came out shortly after. They asked if the patient had any chance of survival, to which he replied that she would come out of the room within a few minutes. Surprised they asked how this was possible. He replied that he had set her bedclothes on fire. 

Apparently the Rest Cure had huge numbers of successfully treated cases and as I mentioned at the beginning it was the standard treatment for psychoneurosis for many decades. 

Poet and literary man
Silas Weir Mitchell is something of a paradox. In appearance he was often described as looking like Uncle Sam. He could be irrascible, but he was also compassionate. And he had a love of literature and poetry all his life. 

In addition to his medical and surgical writing he penned many novels, some of which were highly successful. So too, his poetry, which ranged over many subjects. I leave you with one.



A DOCTOR'S century dead and gone! 
Good-night to those one hundred years, 
To all the memories they bear 
Of honest help for pains or tears; 

To them that like St. Christopher, 
When North and South were sad with graves, 
Bore the true Christ of charity 
Across the battles' crimson waves. 

Good-night to all the shining line, 
Our peerage,—yes, our lords of thought; 
Their blazonry, unspotted lives 
Which all the ways of honor taught. 

A gentler word, as proud a thought, 
For those who won no larger prize 
Than humble days well lived can win 
From thankful hearts and weeping eyes. 

Too grave my song; a lighter mood 
Shall bid us scan our honored roll, 
For jolly jesters gay and good, 
Who healed the flesh and charmed the soul, 

And took their punch, and took the jokes 
Would make our prudish conscience tingle, 
Then bore their devious lanterns home, 
And slept, or heard the night-bell jingle. 

Our Century's dead; God rest his soul! 
Without a doctor or a nurse, 
Without a "post," without a dose, 
He's off on Time's old rattling hearse. 

What sad disorder laid him out 
To all pathologists is dim; 
An intercurrent malady,— 
Bacterium chronos, finished him! 

Our new-born century, pert and proud, 
Like some young doctor fresh from college, 
Disturbs our prudent age with doubts 
And misty might of foggy knowledge. 

Ah, but to come again and share 
The gains his calmer days shall store, 
For them that in a hundred years 
Shall see our "science grown to more," 

Perchance as ghosts consultant we 
May stand beside some fleshly fellow, 
And marvel what on earth he means, 
When this new century's old and mellow. 

Take then the thought that wisdom fades, 
That knowledge dies of newer truth, 
That only duty simply done 
Walks always with the step of youth. 

A grander morning floods our skies 
With higher aims and larger light; 
Give welcome to the century new, 
And to the past a glad good-night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A History of "Ghost Riders"

  Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Photo (c) and Property of Doris McCraw

Halloween = Ghosts, Goblins, and all things scary. Since I love music, comics, and history who knows where this post will end up.

History: Let's start with the 'Wild Hunt'. Wild Hunt is a folklore tail, popularised by Jacob Grimm, who coined the term 'Wild Hunt', which is a part of many northern European cultures. The story typically involves a chase led by a mythologic,  historic, or biblical figure. This leader is usually followed by a ghost or supernatural band of hunters. The hunters were usually composed of the souls of the dead, possibly ghost dogs, or in some cases depending on the composition of the believers could've been fairies, valkyries, or even elves.

In those cultures seeing the Wild Hunt was usually thought to presage some catastrophic event such as a war, a plague, or possibly the death of the person who witnessed it. For some people there was the belief that if you encountered the hunt you could be abducted and taken to the underworld or a fairy kingdom or your spirit was pulled away while you were sleeping to join the hunters behind the leader.

Comics: 'Ghost Rider'. Anyone who has read comic books has probably heard of Ghost Rider. This comic debuted in 1967 and was put out by the Marvel Comics Group. The original comic was actually a Western with the title character named Carter Slade. This particular series with Slade as the rider only lasted seven issues.

The next time we see Ghost Rider the title character had the name, Johnny Blaze. This character rode a motorcycle. Some of you may remember the movie of the same name that starred Nicholas Cage.

I believe the original seven Ghost Rider comic stories may have been renamed Phantom Rider, but I can't verify that.

And this brings us to the music part of the post.

Music: The song "Ghost Riders in the Sky" was written in 1948 by songwriter and actor Stan Jones. This song has been recorded by numerous singers, including Jones. According to Wikipedia, Jones claims that he was told the story,  at the age of twelve, of ghost riders by a Native American who was living near his hometown of Douglas, Arizona. The story was that when the soul left the physical body it resided in the sky as a spirit. To Jones, the cloudy shapes that he saw when he looked up in the sky resembled the "Ghost Riders".

The song reached number one on Billboard magazine's chart as recorded by Vaughn Monroe in 1949. It also made the charts when sung by, The Outlaws, Bing Crosby, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, two different versions by Burl Ives, Marty Robbins, The Ramrods, and Johnny Cash. Even Lawrence Welk recorded the song. 

Western Writers of America chose it in 2010 as the Greatest Western Song of all time.

Peggy Lee Version

So as the season progresses you can always take a trip down the rabbit hole that is YouTube and listen to all the versions of this song you can find.  Have a wonderful October.

For those who wonder what I've been up to, I've released two non-fiction works under the name Doris McCraw:

"Under the Stone: EarlyWomen Doctors in Evergreen Cemetery" and "52 Haiku: Reflections From Life in Colorado"


Now, back to the work in progress. Here's to a productive fall and winter for all.

Doris McCraw

Friday, October 21, 2022

Prairie fever, sometimes called prairie madness, was often attributed to people living in isolation on the prairies of the Great Plains. It mostly struck women, it seems—perhaps not surprising, since men often found reasons to get away from home, even if it was just a trip of a day or two into the nearest town for supplies. Women on the Plains, though, were more or less stuck at the house. Prairie fever is claimed to have caused intense depression and sometimes suicidal or murderous impulses. It’s been a staple of prairie fiction for years, from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years to Glendon Swarthout’s The Homesman (and the film made therefrom, as well as the more recent film The Wind), and James Michener’s Centennial.

Various explanations for the syndrome have been offered. Loneliness, solitude, the near-constant wind, the lack of trees or really anything to look at except incredibly vast emptiness. The sufferers were, for the most part, people who had moved west from somewhere else—somewhere likely more crowded, where one could see neighbors’ houses, trees, maybe even rivers, lakes, or the ocean. Having decided to pull up stakes and head toward the sunset, they found themselves living isolated lives, often in sod huts, in circumstances they could not have imagined.

Yes, Indigenous peoples had lived out there before, but they tended to live in groups, with extended family and other members of their tribes. And they were born on the prairies, and lived their whole lives there. They weren’t used to “civilization,” as the white newcomers were. It wasn’t, for the Indigenous people, a landscape as alien as that of Mars or Venus might be to us.

How bad was it for settlers? In The Atlantic magazine, in 1893, E.V. Smalley wrote this: “On every hand the treeless plain stretches away to the horizon line. In summer, it is checkered with grain fields or carpeted with grass and flowers, and it is inspiring in its color and vastness; but one mile of it is almost exactly like another, save where some watercourse nurtures a fringe of willows and cottonwoods. When the snow covers the ground the prospect is bleak and dispiriting. No brooks babble under icy armor. There is no bird life after the wild geese and ducks have passed on their way south. The silence of death rests on the vast landscape, save when it is swept by cruel winds that search out every chink and cranny of the buildings, and drive through each unguarded aperture the dry, powdery snow.”

Sounds enough to drive anyone mad. But is it?

A sod house on the North Dakota plains. Fred Hulstrand

A new study has a slightly different take. It’s not the isolation or the view, it’s the sound. Or, as Smalley points out, the lack thereof.

Alex D. Velez, a paleoanthropologist with State University of New York at Oswego, put this theory to the test. Although he couldn’t study what a pioneer might have heard on the plains in 1860, he was able to find recordings from the empty spaces of Nebraska and Kansas. These, he compared to the sounds of cities like Mexico City and Barcelona.

In his summary, Velez writes, “Prairie madness is a documented phenomenon wherein immigrants who settled the Great Plains experienced episodes of depression and violence. The cause is commonly attributed to the isolation between the households and settlements. However, historical accounts from the late 19th and early 20th century also specify the sound of the winds on the plain as a catalyst. A number of conditions such as acute hyperacusis can cause increased sensitivity to environmental sounds. These conditions can result from high stress and have been known to cause behavior consistent with descriptions of prairie madness such as depression, insomnia, and violent behavior. Audiometric analysis of general human hearing patterns, combined with data on the effects of wind and open environments on hearing and communication, can be used to establish the effect of soundscapes on daily life. Thus, historic documentation and psychoacoustic analysis add to the understanding of life for settlers on the Great Plains.”

Atlas Obscura elaborates:

“Velez found that, while all the landscapes contained plenty of sounds humans would naturally be able to hear, the sounds of the city were more diverse, spreading more across the range of human hearing and forming something like white noise. But out on the prairie, there was little to none of that background din. And what sounds there were coincided with a particularly sensitive part of the human hearing range the brain notices more readily.

“’The way I can describe it is: it’s very quiet until, suddenly, the noise that you do hear, you can’t hear anything but that,’ says Velez.”

Velez doesn’t arrive at a definitive conclusion. Did the wind and the silence drive settlers mad? Was it the loneliness of knowing your nearest neighbor might be miles away? The stress of depending on an unknown landscape for sustenance, when before moving west you might have lived within walking distance of a butcher, a baker, and an established garden?

In my Western fiction, I typically write about southwestern settings, with which I’m more familiar. But I’ve been studying up on the Bloody Benders of Cherryvale, Kansas—seemingly a family of serial killers, which is rare enough in itself—for a project I’m working on. Did life on the Great Plains drive the Benders insane? I’m thinking not—I’m thinking they were psychopaths before they ever saw Kansas, and remained so after they left. And my Benders won’t be entirely human, so that’s another wrinkle. But having read all about prairie fever, it might be a subject I’ll return to later. Have you ever written about it? If so, please share in comments. I’d love to see how you handled it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022


I published this blog many years ago, but I'm wondering if anything has changed during that time. Advice just keeps on coming, but my worst writing advice I ever received still remains the same as it was when I first wrote this in 2014. And I'm so glad I didn't follow it! There are "clues" throughout--pretty heavy ones at that!
What was the worst writing advice you ever received? Is there any such animal as “bad writing advice”? Not according to novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig. "There's only advice that works for you and advice that doesn't."

Is that true? Sometimes it seems, as writers, we can get so caught up in “the rules” that we forget the story and how to tell it. We become frustrated, and it can be downright maddening to try to remember every piece of advice from every writing source we’ve ever come across and tried to use properly.
No. It's not an Amish Romance...

Translating our ideas into language is one way of looking at our writing process, but how do we start? I have to admit, I am truly a ‘pantser’, not a ‘plotter’—which is really out of character for me in every other aspect of my life. But somehow, orchestrating everything to an outline and strictly adhering to that brings out the rebel in me. I just can’t do it—and I’ve tried. Here’s an example of the differences from Richard Nordquist’s “” publication on writing:

In his essay "Getting Started," John Irving writes, "Here is a useful rule for beginning: Know the story--as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story--before you commit yourself to the first paragraph." Irving has written far more novels than I. Clearly he knows what works for himself in a way that I don't always for myself, but this seems to me terrible advice. I'm more inclined to E.L. Doctorow's wisdom. He once wrote that writing . . . is like driving at night: You don't need to see the whole road, just the bit of illuminated blacktop before you.
(Debra Spark, "The Trigger: What Gives Rise to the Story?" Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway. Writer's Digest Books, 1999)

Yes. That’s what I do. I don’t always see the entire big picture, and I don’t need to from the very beginning. But I do see more than “just the bit of illuminated blacktop”—in other words, the immediate “coming up next” section of the story. So I guess I’m in category #3—Swiss cheese author—I know the basics of what’s going to happen, but even so, there are a LOT of little (and big!) surprise along the way.

Nope. Neither is this one...

Or this one...
Aside from being on one side of the “plotter/pantser” fence and being told you’re wrong by the other side, what is the worst writing advice you’ve ever had? You don’t have to say who gave it to you—but I’m curious…what was it? And do you agree with the idea that there is no bad writing advice, just “advice that works for you and advice that doesn’t”? Bring on the comments and opinions! The worst writing advice I ever received? “Try to write an Amish romance. That’s what’s “hot” now…” (from an agent). What’s yours?

Thursday, October 13, 2022

On This Day in the Old West: October 14

 On this day in history, in 1834, the first publically-identified African-American inventor was granted a patent. This historic occasion would probably have slipped right past your characters’ notice, but they would have known African-Americans, inventors or otherwise. This date just shows that the country was beginning to recognize that African-Americans could come up with just as good an idea as a Caucasian inventor.

Henry Blair was born in Glen Ross, Maryland in 1807. Little is known of his early life, except that he was probably a free farmer living in Montgomery County, Maryland. He had to be free because the US Patent Office would not have granted a patent to a slave. As a farmer, he was concerned with things like planting, harvesting, and maintaining his crops, so his inventions dealt with these areas.

On October 14, Blair was granted the patent for a corn seed planting machine, which was drawn by a horse. He was the only patent-holder described as “colored.” It was later shown that, in fact, another African American, Thomas Jennings, was granted a patent in 1821 for a dry-cleaning process, but he was not identified as an African-American in the patent. Blair, unable to read or write, signed his patent with a simple X. His lack of education didn’t stop him from inventing, however. 

In 1836, an article from The Mechanics’ Magazine carried a description of Blair’s invention. “A free man of colour, Henry Blair by name, has invented a machine called the corn-planter, which is now exhibiting in the capital of Washington. It is described as a very simple and ingenious machine, which, as moved by a horse, opens the furrow, drops (at proper intervals, and in an exact and suitable quantity,) the corn, covers it, and levels the earth, so as, in fact, to plant the corn as rapidly as a horse can draw a plough over the ground. The inventor thinks it will save the labor of eight men. He is about to make some alterations in it to adapt it to the planting of cotton”

In fact, Blair did invent a cotton-planter next. When the horses drew the machine, it threw up a ridge, whereupon the tongue plow made the drill and the cylinder, revolving with the wheels, caught the seeds and let them drop into the drill. The press cover then closed the sides of the drill to cover the seeds.

Blair died in 1860 of unknown causes. Your character probably would never have heard of this man, but you could easily insert a newspaper article about his inventions into your story, or even have your character meet an African-American inventor in their own town or area. 


J.E.S. Hays

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

New Release — Over Western Trails Edited by Richard Prosch


The crack of the whip! The pounding of hooves! The Thunder of stagecoach wheels! It’s all here in 15 tales of old west adventure edited by Richard Prosch and written by the following authors:

Terry Alexander — J.D. Arnold — Dennis Doty — J.L. Guin — J.E.S. Hays — Gail Heath — Jackson Lowry — Jeffrey J. Mariotte — Edward Massey — Terrence McCauley — Von McKee — Cheryl Pierson — James Reasoner — Charlie Steel — Benjamin Thomas — Big Jim Williams, with an introduction by Doris Gardner-McCraw President, Western Fictioneers.

Amazon Link


Monday, October 3, 2022

                                     Taking a Hiatus from Medicine in the Old West to Check out


Halloween is a holiday generally credited to the Irish. The original Celtic holiday is over two thousand years old and was called Samhain (pronounced Saw-win). Essentially, it celebrated the harvesting of the crops. Samhain included lighting bonfires and wearing costumes to ward off spirits and fairies.

The Celtic origins of Halloween also included gifts for the dead. Celts wore costumes to disguise themselves from ghosts and burned bonfires to ward off bad spirits. Small bowls of food placed outside homes sought to appease the ghosts. This may well be the origins of the more recent trick-or-treat tradition.                                        

All Saints Eve, All Hallows Eve, a celebration of the saints came at the same time of year. The holiday is now abbreviated to Hallowe’en--Halloween and is a combination of both holidays. Halloween became a time to celebrate the “dead” saints. Other holidays also celebrated during this time are: Day of the Dead or El Dia de Los Muertos that is celebrated in Hispanic countries. Whereas Halloween suggests fear of the dead and spirits, El Dia de Los Muertos celebrates the spirits of the dead, with people dressing and visiting their families in the cemeteries.Day of the Dead from 

     However, some Native American communities have a day of the dead as well but it is not a celebration of the dead, but a fear of the dead, and people stay inside, avoiding contact with those spirits.

When the large number of Irish came over during the mid 1800s, they brought their traditional celebrations that included dressing up in costumes, asking neighbors for food and money, and pulling pranks in the evening on Halloween. Mischief has always been a big part of the holiday. Stealing people's front gates (on their picket fences) was a popular prank. Other activities included soaping windows and, in some places, hitting people with socks full of talcum powder or flour.

One western community was said to dress their kids up as Native Americans (no cultural sensitivity then), take them to the local bar, let them “scare the patrons,” give each a small shot of liquor, and then send them home to a good sleep.

Bobbing for apples became a Halloween tradition. It wasn’t just a game. Some of the times, girls would carve their names into the apple, and the male bobbers would bite into their future wife’s apple, foretelling the future marital union.  

Some of the costumes were cute while others were downright scary as you see.  These photos have little to no explanation, but they certainly are interesting.    Trick or Treat!