Have you ever read a story that made you wonder why the author spent such a long, boring time describing an item or place that seemed of little importance to the story?
Usually when that happens, it’s because its importance will be revealed later on, or some scene will call up that particular memory or description for some reason—and its usually a pretty darn good reason!
Let’s look at Cinderella’s slipper as our first example for this. Of course, a glass slipper would be highly unusual, wouldn’t it? In fact, most likely, there would be no other slippers like that one pair!
This particular pair of shoes serves as a symbol for the entire story—improbable things happening to a young woman who has been treated so terribly for so long that lead to her ultimate happiness—it’s a story we can all relate to!
The magic that brings her happiness is not just going to the ball and all the wonderful things that happened on the way—the beautiful gown, the carriage, and so on—the true magic for Cinderella is falling in love. And how can the two lovers hope to be reunited? Well, if it weren’t for those exquisitely, perfectly-fitting glass slippers, everything else that came before—all the magic, hopes, and dreams—could have amounted to nothing at all. Everything hinges on the glass slipper fitting!
Hence the description of the slippers themselves, carrying the slipper on a pillow (which I always believed was taking a terrible chance!) and the endless search and trying on of the slipper throughout the kingdom.
The slipper is all-important because it is the proof that she is “the one” –and it has come to symbolize the very story itself. When we see a picture of the glass slipper, we know it “means” Cinderella, right?
Think about Lous L’Amour’s iconic western, Conagher. Two lonely people meet and fall in love through heartfelt notes that Evie, the heroine, writes and ties to tumbleweeds. They could be found and read by anyone—or no one at all.
But the fact that Conagher feels they speak directly to him, shows us how important what she did is to the story. This is further borne out when, in conversation with him, she uses a phrase she’s written on one of the notes—and he knows immediately it is she who has been writing them.
Loneliness and the vast emptiness of the land is a common theme throughout the book. It was unimaginable to her that Conagher would be the one who found “that note” – the one she repeated the phrase from in conversation with him—but it wasn’t impossible. And his line to her is one of the most romantic of all time, in my opinion.
He takes one of the notes out of his pocket and asks if she wrote it, and she says yes, she did. She tells him she was just so lonely she had to talk to someone, even if no one was there to hear. He says, "There was, Evie, there was me."
The details of:
1. The land around them and their feelings about the emptiness and aloneness of where they are... 2. Evie’s acting on those feelings by just writing them down on paper and tying them to tumbleweeds... 3. The act of Evie repeating the phrase in conversation she’d used on the note Conagher found...
all add up to make this story so special and memorable—and one you will not want to put down once you start reading!
Conagher isn’t a fairy tale, but it does have its own brand of magical connections that lead to love. The details and descriptions in both of these stories, as different as they are, give the reader insights that the author, in both cases, was masterful in providing throughout the story!
Finally, another couple of tales that come to mind are two short stories many of us read in our high school English classes—The Necklace, by Guy De Maupassant, and The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry. Do you remember these—both based on objects that were described in great detail—and the twists at the end that left you gasping in surprise?
If you haven’t read them, or even if it’s been a while, they are always good to revisit and are classic examples of why detailed descriptions of “things” can be so important to a story’s premise.
Can you think of an example in your reading where the detailed description of something had deep importance to the story?
In the early 1990s on one of my visits home to Fort Morgan, Colorado from where I’d moved to take a teaching position in the southeastern corner of the state (a 500-mile round trip), I stopped in Limon at a convenience store/souvenir shop. The shop had a bin of posters and prints that you could flip through. This is where I came across my first Michael Atkinson painting. I was immediately enthralled, captivated, and in love with Atkinson’s work. (The images I'm sharing are prints I've purchased.)
'Western Majestic' - Michael Atkinson
'Unknown Title' by Michael Atkinson
'Pueblo Sentinel' ceramic tile by Michael Atkinson
For the next several years, I checked that same shop for Atkinson prints every time I passed through Limon. I also looked in shopping malls, other souvenir shops, second hand stores, etc. Every time I found an Atkinson, I thought I had a treasure. It mattered not at all that the prints I bought weren’t originals or even expensive. Keep in mind, this was just as the Internet launched (1991), and years before eBay (1995) and Amazon (1994) started and it took these venues a few more years to gain their current popularity and convenience for finding what you want at the click of a few keyboard keys.
So, who is Michael Atkinson? He is a painter and sculptor, but beyond that, an Internet search produces scant information about him. These two websites, www.prints.com and www.galleryone.com, offer a tiny bit about him.
From his Smoky Ridge studio in Texas, Atkinson seeks to capture the emotion, be it subtle or exaggerated, a pursuit that has been in evolution since he started painting as a child in the northwest Texas town of Lubbock. Attracted early to the study of architecture, he earned a degree from Texas Tech University, then taught and worked in the field for a time. From the first, his art, prints and posters have reflected his training, experience, and wide-ranging interests, as he creates images buildings, oceanscapes, animals, and Southwestern landscapes through a unique, semi-abstract style and a mastery of watercolors, spontaneity, and freedom. White space is an essential element of the composition that characterizes Atkinson's art, prints and posters. The white is not empty. It is completely finished. Treating the paper as an element of design, the artist works from one concentrated area of detail and color, leaving much of the paper white and allowing the eye to focus on the central image without intrusion from the periphery.
The other source of information I have is this paper that is attached to the backs of several of my prints. There is a reference to ‘seven years ago’, but there isn’t a year listed, so there’s no point of reference. You’ll notice this information is stamped with Diversified Art, Inc., Tucson Arizona, but an Internet search didn’t reveal much about this organization.
I have a Pinterest board of Michael Atkinson’s artwork, and these few prints hanging on my living room walls are enough.
Kaye’s Michael Atkinson Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/kayespencer/michael-atkinson-artist/
Are you familiar with Michael Atkinson’s works?
I’ve labeled three of the pictures as “Untitled”, because the prints lack titles. I haven’t found them on the Internet, either. But I’ll continue to search. That’s part of the enjoyment of having a reason to browse through Michael Atkinson’s art.
Until next time,
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With Memorial Day weekend behind us, and summer just ahead, with all its strange weather, I thought a list of fun facts about the region I live in might be a nice diversion.
1 Colorado Springs is the county seat for El Paso county. In 1861, when President Buchanan signed the order creating the Colorado territory, El Paso became one of the original 17 counties.
2 Although other towns may have been planned, Colorado City, now known as Old Colorado City, was the first actual town in El Paso County.
3 Black Forest was part of an area that was called ‘The Pineries’. It was from here lumber for the building of Colorado Springs, Denver and the various railroads was logged.
4 Fox run park has many trees that are Ute Prayer Trees. The Ute and Comanche inhabited the area until about 1800 when the Kiowa took over the area. They in turn were run out by the Ute and Comanche about 40 years later.
Canon City had a territorial prison in 1871, five years prior to Colorado becoming a state in 1876. At that time, it became part of the state system.
Arkansas River - Canon City photo property of the author
Although Cripple Creek has the honor of being the place where Bob Womack located gold and started the last great gold rush in the lower 48, most of the mines in the area were located on Battle Mountain near Victor Colorado.
7 Manitou Springs was originally founded as town to be fashioned after the resorts in Europe. The town was known for its healing mineral waters that visitors would drink to improve their health.
1 The Pikes Peak Hill Climb had its first race 1916 and is the second oldest race in the United States. It was promoted and conceived by Spenser Penrose, who had converted the old carriage road into an auto road.
2 The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo originated in 1937 and took place at the Will Rogers Stadium, across from the Broadmoor, until 1973 when it moved to the Pikes Peak Equestrian Center. (now known as Norris-Penrose)
3 Colorado Springs was chosen as the national headquarters in 1977. It established the Olympic Training Center at the old ENT Air Force Base at the corner of Boulder and Union. Colorado Springs is now known as Olympic City USA.
4 Prospect lake originally was used as a reservoir to water Evergreen Cemetery, and the east side of Colorado Springs. It was also the place for ice skating in the late 1800s.
Heasdstone - Evergreen Cemetery - Colorado Springs Photo property of the author
Pro Rodeo Hall of fame opened in 1979 and is the only museum in the world devoted to the sport of professional rodeo.
6 Winfield Scott Stratton, Cripple Creek Millionaire, donated land for a baseball park and even purchased bicycles for laundry ladies.
On Saturday June 7, 1873 the Base Ball Club played their first game. The newspaper had a reporter on site, but he was sad, for no accidents of note occurred. ( source - Colo. Springs Weekly Gazette)
In 1879 ‘wool growing’ was one of the top industries in the region.
Colorado Springs has seen Eight plus railway companies come and go during the heyday of train travel. The Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway and the BN&SF are still active
Tourism has always been a part of the region. Cave of the Winds was ‘first’ discovered in 1880. It was called ‘Pickett’s Cave’ in honor of the minister whose group found it. *source Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, July 3, 1880. Pg.7, col. 1 *
Out West, the first newspaper for Colorado Springs, had this to say about Garden of the Gods in the June 20, 1872 issue. “ The Garden of the Gods is one of the best know wonders of Colorado, its characteristic features being so striking as to arrest the attention of even such as may not be susceptible to the grander beauties of the mountains.”
Author Helen (Hunt) Jackson has this to say about Cheyenne Canyon in her essay of the same name. “There are nine “places of divine worship” in Colorado Springs, - the Presbyterian, the Cumberland Presbyterian, the Methodist, the South Methodist, the Episcopal, the Congregationalist, the Baptist, the Unitarian and Cheyenne Canyon.”
There were numerous coal mines in the area making it an early and profitable industry for the region.
Early on, Ute Pass was considered one of the easiest routes to the gold and silver mines in the Leadville and South Park area.
Enjoy your summer, writing and may your book sales and reading be even greater than you expect.
Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in Colorado and Women's History
I’m going to take a chance and exercise a little literary license by posting this story on a blog dedicated to the American West, and I feel justified in doing this for two reasons: First, this story takes place in 1912 during the tail-end of what is considered the time period that we associate with the west (usually from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of WWI). Second, whereas the “west” is generally considered to be located west of the Mississippi, this story takes place just inside that border, about eighty miles west of the Mississippi River in the east Texas town of Nacogdoches.
But before we get to the part with the mule and what exactly happened in Nacogdoches in 1912, we need to back up a little and get some context to the story and introduce our main character, Julius.
Julius was born on a chilly day in October 1890 in a room above a butcher shop in the poor Yorkville section of New York City’s Upper East Side. His parents, Sam and Minnie, were Jewish immigrants from Germany. Sam and Minnie already had two sons (a third had died of influenza at the age of seven months) and, by 1901, would add two more sons to the family.
By all accounts, Julius had a happy childhood and dreamed of becoming a doctor someday. However, the family was poor. His father, Sam, worked as a tailor, but apparently, was not a very good one. Julius wound up dropping out of school at the age of twelve to help support the family. He worked at several different jobs, but his
Minnie and Sam with their five boys
big break came when his mother realized what a pleasant singing voice he had. Actually, all of Minnie’s boys were musically inclined. Her oldest son, Leonard, played the piano and her second oldest son, Adolph, eventually learned to play six different instruments. Minnie was ambitious for her sons and came up with an idea. She had a brother who worked in vaudeville. Maybe she could use that connection to get her boys on the stage.
On July 16, 1905, 14-year-old Julius took to the stage as part of the Le May Trio, debuting at the Ramona Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Entertaining on the road wasn’t all glamour for the young Julius. At one point after a show in Colorado, one of the other group members took off with all of his money, stranding him. He found a job in a grocery store where he worked until he had saved up enough money to go back home to New York.
The Four Nightingales
Undaunted, by 1907 Julius joined with his older brother, Adolph, and a younger brother, Milton, to form a trio called “The Three Nightingales.” Sometimes they were joined by a friend, Leo Levine, and were known as “The Four Nightingales.” They toured all over the country with Minnie as their manager. However, it was still tough going for the family. They only experienced moderate success and felt like they hadn’t really discovered their place in the entertainment industry.
Here’s where the mule comes in.
One night in 1912 (some accounts have it as early as 1907 and others put it at 1914) the brothers were performing at the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas. Sometime during the middle of their performance, the show was interrupted by someone busting through the door of the Opera House and shouting, “The mule’s loose!” These Texans were a peculiar bunch who were either easily distracted or found the prospect of a mule tearing through town more entertaining than the singing brothers. At any rate, most of the audience jumped to their feet and ran outside to see what was going on.
Julius was seething at having lost the spotlight and his brothers were furious at what they considered rude behavior from the audience, so after the audience returned, Julius let them have it. The insults rolled off of his tongue. He told them that “Nacogdoches is full of roaches,” and that “The jackass is the flower of Tex-ass.” No matter how many insults he threw at them, to his amazement, rather than getting mad at him, the audience laughed. It was then that they realized that they could have a future as a comedy group, and that, as it turned out, was their destiny.
Although all five of Minnie’s boys would at one time or another be a part of the group, it was primarily the three oldest boys, Leonard, Adolph, and Julius who made a name for themselves in comedy. If it hadn’t been for that mule, they might have remained little-known singers. But because of that night in Nacogdoches, we all know them as comedic geniuses. They even made thirteen movies together and Julius wound up with a star on Hollywood Boulevard.
But if you don’t recognize their real names, you will undoubtedly recognize their stage names: Chico (Leonard), Harpo (Adolph), and Groucho (Julius) – the Marx Brothers.
Mike Ritt describes himself as Conservative, Christian, Pro-life, and Pro-gun. He is a drinker of copious amounts of coffee. Happily married to his redheaded sweetheart, Tami, they live in the mountains of western Montana. He is a writer of western short stories, poetry, and humorous fiction and has been published in a number of anthologies and magazines. He has finished his first western fiction novel and is patiently waiting for publication. You can visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelRRittAuthor, and his blog at http://michaelrritt.blogspot.com.
The blog about Medicine and Surgery in the Old West
By Keith Souter aka CLAY MORE
OK, I appreciate that this blog about the medicine of yesteryear is not for everyone's taste. I take into account that some people are squeamish about blood and body fluids, but the reality of life in the 19th century is that sanitation and hygiene were not as well developed as they are now. People fell ill, they contracted all manner of infections and infestations and the treatments were not always pleasant to take.
So, if you are squeamish please do not read further. I'm going to talk about worms. Specifically, tapeworms. These are a potential problem
A word about parasites
Humans are hosts to around 300 types of parasitic worms, and to around 70 types of protozoa. Doctors have known about several of them since antiquity. Canopic jars containing the intestines of mummies have been found to contain tapeworms.
The Ebers papyrus
Indeed, the Ebers papyrus, a medical papyrus written around 1550 BC contains a chapter on stomach disorders and describes the treatment for tapeworm infestation. They used the roots of the pomegranate tree. Interestingly, this is an anthelminthic (a drug used to expel worms), so they had discovered a treatment over three millennia ago.
The medical name for tapeworm infestation is Cestodiasis. There are about 40 species of tapeworms and 15 larval forms.
The main ones that cause illness are:
Taenia sodium - the pork tapeworm
Taenia saginata- the beef tapeworm
Diphillobothrium latum- the fish tapeworm
Tapeworms can reach a length of several meters, live in the intestine of the host attached by a scolex (head). The long body is called the strobila and is formed of multiple segments. Each of these segments is called a proglottis. Once mature, many of these proglottids containing numerous eggs, pass out in the excreta into soil or water, where the eggs are released.
Taenia solium - the pork tapeworm
When an intermediate host consumes the eggs, they hatch in the intestine, releasing larval stages called oncospheres, that burrow through the gut wall to reach various tissues of the host, where they develop into cysts in muscle.
Life cycle of the pig tapeworm
The life cycle is completed whenundercooked or raw meat is eaten and the cysticerci are released and attach to the gut wall of the final host and develop into adult tapeworms.
Remarkably, there may be none. More often though, there will be vague abdominal symptoms. A voracious appetite is common and is accompanied by weight loss.
Diagnosis is made by examination of the stools for segments of the worms. Eggs may also be found on the peri-anal skin.
Trust your butcher and make sure you cook it properly
The Victorian worm diet
It is often quoted that in Victorian times people could buy pills containing tapeworm eggs in order to grow your own tapeworm inside your intestine. People were persuaded that the tapeworm absorbed all of the nutrients and that the person lost weight.
I have not been able to track this down and think it is probably a myth. However, I have read of one case in recent times where someone tried this and became quite ill. It is definitely not something that anyone should ever attempt.
Doctrine of Signatures
In ancient times the dominant theory in medicine was that plants and minerals had special markings, nature's clues about their medicinal value.
As mentioned above, the Ebers papyrus from ancient Egypt describes a treatment derived from pomegranate roots. The pomegranate is full of little seeds which resemble the segments of the tapeworm.
Another often used remedy came from pumpkin seeds.
Both actually have antihelminth properties, which is interesting.
Pumkin seeds were used in the 19th century. The outer husks were peeled off, then the seeds were ground in a pestle and mortar. Then sugar was added to make into a paste and finally water was added to make it into a drink.
Sometimes a dose of castor oil would be taken to produce a laxative effect.
From The Cincinnati Lancet and Observer, June 1862, republished in The American Journal of Medical Sciences, July 1862:
Seeds of the Cucurbita Pepo, or Pumpkin in Taenia, by Dr G R Patton;
Fourteen cases of taenia successfully treated by an emulsion of pumpkin seeds. One patient was troubled by the Bothrocaphalus latus (fish tapeworm) , the others with the solum (pork tapeworm)
Dr P says that "of all the antihelminhics proposed for the extermination of taenia, the seed of the ordinary pumpkin claims our first attention. It is innocuous, inexpensive, readily procured and by far the least disagreeable of all the vermifuge medicines. Its power to dislodge large fragments of these worms has never been questioned; but it has not succeeded in every instance in destroying them. This results evidently from discontinuing the remedy too soon. By maintaining the treatment from four to six days (unless the head is discovered with the fragments first passed) success would, doubtless, result in all cases.
The administration of castor oil during its use is not to be recommended. The emulsion itself is sufficiently laxative in large doses, if a light diet be strictly enforced. By purgation we may defeat our end, by interfering with the action of the pumpkin to produce its full toxicological effect upon the head of the parasite.
Other treatments used by doctors included making a liquid extract of Lady Fern, which had the added effect of making the patient nauseous!
Turpentine in tiny doses was advocated by some physicians, as were chloral hydrate, naphthalene and chloroform. The aim in all of these was to paralyse the worm so that it would relinquish its hold on the intestinal wall and be passed out of the body.
None of these would be recommended today, as we have more effective drugs. It has to be said that in parts of the world these parasites are all still a major problem.
If you are intrigued by medical Latin, then you might like to dip into this book, which you can pick up for a cent or two!
On behalf of Western Fictioneers, I'm pleased to announce the finalists in the 9th annual Peacemaker Awards for the best in Western fiction published in 2018, listed below in alphabetical order by author.
BEST WESTERN NOVEL
THE PISTOLMAN'S APPRENTICE, Linell Jeppsen (Wolfpack Publishing)
WHERE THE BULLETS FLY, Terrence McCauley (Pinnacle)
I AM MRS. JESSE JAMES, Pat Wahler (Five Star)
BEST CHILDREN'S/YOUNG ADULT WESTERN NOVEL
MYSTERY ON THE BRAZOS, Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)
RAWHIDE ROBINSON RIDES A DROMEDARY, Rod Miller (Five Star)
CASTLE BUTTE, John D. Nesbitt (Five Star)
THE CHRISTMAS BEAR, B.N. Rundell (Wolfpack Publishing)
ESCAPE TO FORT ABERCROMBIE, Candace Simar (Five Star)
BEST WESTERN SHORT FICTION
"Byrd's Luck", Jeffrey L. Mariotte (THE UNTAMED WEST, Western Fictioneers)
"The Gamble", Cheryl Pierson (THE UNTAMED WEST, Western Fictioneers)
"Father Pedro's Prayer", Michael R. Ritt (THE UNTAMED WEST, Western Fictioneers)
"Peyote Spirits", Ron Schwab (Uplands Press)
"The Lake Spirit", Troy D. Smith (THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO: FRONTIER JUSTICE, Moonstone Press)
Congratulations to all the finalists! The winners will be announced on June 15. Thanks to everyone who submitted work to this year's competition, and especially to the judges, whose hard work and diligence make the Peacemaker Awards possible in the first place.
Finally, I'm very pleased to announce that this year's Lifetime Achievement Peacemaker Award goes to . . .
As an adjunct to our discussion on campfire cooking, let’s examine that essential piece of cowboy equipment: the chuck wagon. When they think of cowboys, most people imagine the chuck wagon accompanying every trail drive, but that wasn’t always true. The chuck wagon was invented specifically for the use of Texas cowboys in 1866.
While some type of mobile kitchen had existed along the trails for generations, what we now know of as the chuck wagon is attributed to Charles Goodnight, Texas rancher and co-founder of the Goodnight-Loving Trail. The term is attributed to two different sources – one says it was named after “Chuck” Goodnight and the other says it’s from the slang term for food (chuck).
During the early days of the great trail drives, cowboys were responsible for their own meals and had to make do with whatever they could carry with them. This made it tough to recruit good cowboys for long drives to Kansas or other states. Charles Goodnight came up with a solution to this problem and in 1866, created the prototype of the chuck wagon.
Goodnight bought a double army-surplus wagon (Studebaker) and hired a good cook. The two then outfitted the wagon for the trail, adding steel axles that could withstand the tough terrain and boxes, shelves and drawers for the equipment and supplies. Goodnight and his cook created an efficient layout with a “chuck box” (a sloping box with a hinged lid that dropped down to provide a flat working surface) at the back of the wagon. Beneath the wagon was a “boot” to hold larger items like the Dutch oven we talked about in the past few posts.
The average chuck wagon was about ten feet long and 38-40 inches wide. A water barrel and coffee mill were attached to the outside, and a “possum belly” (a strip of canvas or cowhide) was suspended underneath to carry firewood or cow chips. Waterproof tarps were held up by the wagon bows to keep the contents dry, and a “fly,” or canvas awning, was often attached to the top of the chuck box, ready to be rolled out in case of rain.
In the front of some chuck wagons was a “jockey box,” used for storing tools and heavier equipment needed on the trail. Larger ranches might also employ a second wagon to carry the bedrolls, tents, spare saddles and extra supplies. Otherwise, the chuck wagon carried personal items and bedrolls, as well as any other needed supplies (bulk food, water, tools, feed for the horses, medicine, needles and thread, etc.).
The chuck wagon could be drawn by oxen or, more commonly, by mules. Food was usually easy to preserve, such as beans, salted meats, coffee, onions and potatoes, lard, and flour. Beef was easy to come by, and a good cook could prepare many different types, from fried steaks to pot roasts, short ribs and stew.
On long drives (often as much as a thousand miles in length, lasting as long as five months), the cook became one of the most important members of the team – even more so than the drovers themselves. Second only to the Trail Boss, the cook not only made meals, but also acted as barber, dentist and banker. Camp morale also depended on the cook, as well as the smooth functioning of the camp. Even the Trail Boss deferred to the cook at times. The Trail Boss usually made around $100-120 a month and the drovers between $25-40. A good cook made around $60 a month, putting him right up there with the boss in importance.
Cooks usually had a number of nicknames, such as Cookie or Coosie, Soggy, Pot Rustler, Lean Skillet, Old Pud, Old Lady, Belly Cheater, Biscuit Roller, Dough Boxer, Dough Puncher, Greasy Belly, Grub Worm, Gut Robber, Sourdough, and more. Even though some of these names were hardly complimentary, and a chuck wagon cook had a reputation of ill temper, none of the drovers dared to complain. Breakfast and dinner were the highlights of their day. (On the other hand, a cook who didn’t get meals ready on time would quickly be subject to ridicule).
And why was Cookie so ill-tempered? Think of all the extra work he had to do during his day: get up even earlier than the cowboys in order to have breakfast ready, still manage to be alert enough to drive the wagon, be constantly on the look-out for fuel (and gather it), and collect any additional food supplies they might pass along the way. The cook’s day began well before dawn, and after the crew had eaten breakfast and ridden away, he had to wash, dry and put away the dishes and cooking utensils, pack away the bedrolls and any food supplies, then hitch up the team to drive to the next camp. In the evening, he had to move quicker than the crew and be in place with a hot meal when they arrived with the cattle.
If Cookie was feeling kindly towards the cowboys, he might make dessert, usually pastry or pie.
Dinner was the highlight of the cowboy’s day, and though the talk was colorful (and often full of profanity), there were rules to be followed. For instance, never tie a horse to the chuck wagon or ride so close that dust might blow into the food. Approaching riders always stayed downwind from the wagon for the same reason, and cowboys weren’t allowed to scuffle about the camp site. The boys also knew not to play around with the cook – including never touching his tools, never helping himself to a bite before meals, or never using his work table for any reason. Cowboys also never crowded around the cook’s fire for warmth.
More unwritten rules: Never take the last piece of anything unless you’re certain everybody else is finished and if you get up to refill your coffee cup, fill everyone else’s at the same time. After the meal, cowboys always scraped their plates clean and put them into the “wrecking pan” (a big dishpan the cook washed in). After he washed the dishes and cooking utensils, filling the water barrel and dragging up more wood (or cow chips), the cook could finally relax and enjoy what was left of the evening. One trick he used was to point the tongue of the wagon toward due North. When the Trail Boss started out in the morning, he could use the tongue to tell which direction to move the herd.
Here is some chuck wagon etiquette for your cowboys:
· Nobody eats until Cookie calls, then come a-running.
· Fill your plates and move on so someone else can fill theirs.
· Eat first, talk later.
· It’s OK to eat with your fingers – the food’s clean.
· Food left on your plate is an insult to the cook.
· Strangers are always welcome at the wagon.
· If you come across any decent firewood, bring it to the wagon.
This month's blog is about two things that have tripped up every writers of Westerns, from Spur and Peacemaker winners to the worst pulp hacks.
I'm talking, or course, about words and objects that weren't in use or yet invented in the time of the old West, but frequently pop up in Western writings. Admit it, you've been shot down by this problem. We all have.
Obviously, there's no way to make this a comprehensive list. That would be a book in itself. Instead, I'll mention some of the things that have caught me, an dhope some of you will leave comments with those which have trapped you. I'm also not going to bring up most of the more common ones.
First, a few words. The first one that tripped me up was "jeans", or "blue jeans." You'll see this over and over in Westerns; however, denim pants weren't called "jeans" until early in the middle of the 20th century. In fact, the first pants Levi Strauss made were of canvas. Pants were called just that, pants, or trousers. What we call jeans were merely referred to as denims, or denim pants. And overalls were just that, overalls, not dungarees.
Two words which surprised me are "Mom" and "Dad." Again, twentieth century words. In the 1800s, most likely a parent would be called "mother" or "father" "Ma" or "Pa" were less frequently used, and definitely not by the upper classes, who would be more likely to use the Latin "Mater" or "Pater". Even "Momma" and "Poppa" or "Pop" were not in general use.
Of course, most slang in the old West was completely different from what we use today, or what has been used since 1900.
Although most of us know this, it still bears repeating that cattle in a herd were all referred to as "cows." Steer, bull, heifer, yearling, or cow, it didn't matter. They were all cows. Also, ropes were just that, a rope. Calling a rope a lariat, lasso, or anything else immediately marked the speaker as a tenderfoot.
There were no rodeos in the old West, either. There were informal contests of skill among cowboys, but the first official "rodeo", which is claimed by several towns, didn't take place until the late 1890s..
Also, as there were no breed associations, until the Jockey Club for Thoroughbred Race Horses was established, there were no official breeds of horses. Yes, there were quarter horses, paints/pintos, appaloosas, morgans, and more, but in the context of a western novel, the horse would be a type, not a breed. Therefore, the type of horse should never be capitalized.
Zippers. Most of us know the zipper wasn't invented until the 20th century. Toilet paper. There's a reason the Farmer's Almanac has that hole in the upper left corner. It was to hang the book in the outhouse and tear off the pages as needed. Adhesive bandages. No. Adhesive postage stamps. No
Pre-folded adhesive envelopes. No. A letter would be folded and sealed with wax. Toothpaste. No Surprisingly, the telephone, and even electric power, were more common in large Western cities than is generally known. Galveston had a telephone exchange as early as 1878, and electricity not long after.
A couple of things that are incorrect, the first two of which I still use, despite them being in error.
Belt loops for men's pants. Again, a 20th century invention. However, the idea of pants with belts is so ingrained in everyone's mind it just makes sense to use that. Before the belt loop was developed, pants were held up with suspenders, or galluses. They were considered, in much of society, to be underwear, and were not supposed to be seen in public. Who would have guessed.
Hats with turned up brims. Nope, but those old floppy, flat brims just don't convey the same image as the curled brim hat.
High-heeled, pointed tow cowboy boots. Again, not until very late 19th century.
Texas Ranger badges. A HUGE no-no. Yes, you can have your Ranger wear a badge, but the earliest example of a Ranger badges is from the late 1880s-early 1890s, as seen on the cover of my Lone Star Ranger books. And those first badges were not made from Mexican cinco peso coins. The first official, state issued Ranger badge was issued after the Rangers were reorganized and placed under the Texas Department of Public Service, in 1935.
There are many, many more, but I'm out of time and space. Let me know some of yours. Ranger Jim
Part One discussed what a young cowboy might experience in a barbershop at the end of a long trail drive. Part Two focuses on the barber’s experience.
Barbers have always conjured up mixed feelings, even in the Old West. On one hand, a good barber who could be trusted was a treasure never be discarded. On the other, he was in a position of being able to slit one’s throat with a stroke of the blade. He was just as prone to vices as any ordinary man, gambling and womanizing were two. A barber who had a shaky hand and alcohol on his breath did not last long in the profession, however, so that usually wasn’t one of them.
Particularly in a one-chair shop, the barber became almost like a father confessor. His
Wyoming barbershop ca 1905
customers related their personal problems. Elderly men would talk constantly of the deceased wife they missed. Ranchers holding on by a thread would discuss their problems with the bank. He had to listen to everyone else’s difficulties and keep his mouth shut about them. Often, he was called upon to give advice. He might be asked for a loan, and many times, he would allow a man who was down on his luck to sweep out the shop in exchange for a haircut. He would have to listen to a preacher exhort him to come to Jesus even if he felt plenty religious enough. He was expected to know all the news of the world, everything going on in his town, and the latest jokes. And he often did.
In addition, if there was no doctor in town, he might be asked to use his sharp instruments to remove a bullet, pull a tooth, or even do an amputation.
Ambroise Paré was a French barber surgeon,
serving four French Kings, who is often called
the Father of Modern Surgery. He left a lasting
legacy of the ethics of gentleness in surgery.
He is famous for the quote:
“Je le pansai, Dieu le guérit (I bandaged him, God cured him)”
The barber stood on his feet with his hands up in the air for long hours at a time and soon learned in order to make it through the day, he had to sit and rest when he could. A cowboy used to the rough outdoors would walk into a cozy shop, see the barber sitting and think what a lazy, cushy life he had, having no idea of the physical demands placed on a barber working 12 hours or more a day.
In order to make ends meet, a barber might combine his business with that of selling cigars, a shoe shine stand, or a gun shop. Some of the less scrupulous ones might use a back room for a bookie parlor or other unsavory deeds. In cow towns, a bathhouse would most likely be the barber’s other business.
This nineteenth century barber pole sold for $1000 in a 2013 online auction.
If offered in 2019, the starting price would likely be $2000 or over.
A lot of money was made in selling tonics, and many barbers used their own recipes for bay rum, shampoo, hair dye, and baldness preparations. Some of them were extremely dangerous, but no conscientious barber would purposely poison his customers. His livelihood depended on their health. His counters might be lined with ornate bottles with fancy labels he had printed, or just plain bottles to hold his mysterious preparations. But they added to the atmosphere and mystique of his shop.
The barber might buy a fancy bottle, and then use his own recipe to fill it.
As mentioned in Part One, music was often an integral part of a barbershop. That particular harmonizing known as a “barbershop quartet” evolved in the middle of the 19th century—probably with roots in African-American singing. However, the term was not coined until early in the 20th century.
The powdered wigs of Colonial America had disappeared by 1837. The barber was no longer required to own a scarificator or other bloodletting instruments. The only socially acceptable men who could wear beards before 1858 were writers, artists, and pioneer settlers. A Massachusetts man in 1830 was arrested for refusing to shave his off.
Wild Bill Hickok did not achieve this look without the help of mustache wax.
Out West, it was a different matter entirely. Beards served as good protection against sunburn and frostbite. A miner panning for gold could not have cared less if his beard was long and his hair scraggly, but put women into the mixture, and suddenly everything changed. By the time the Civil War started, beards and mustaches had once again become popular. They stayed that way until the end of the 1800s. But to stay neat and attractive, mustaches and beards still required the services of the barber. His tools now included a mustache curler and an alcohol lamp for heating curling irons, and he carried mustache wax to sell to his customers.
Yes, your grandma had a reason for all those crocheted doilies on her chairs.
Having shiny, slicked back hair also became highly fashionable. The main ingredient in these pomades was bear fat, and it would literally drip down the collar at times. Women got busy crocheting doilies known as antimacassars to protect their furniture.
Rowland's Macassar Oil replaced bear grease, mainly because it was touted as preventing baldness. This bottle was found by archaeologists at Fort Vancouver in Washington. Bottles like this were often throw down privies when empty.
With little understanding of germs, and without licensing inspections, patrons could give and receive impetigo, scabies, erysipelas, favus, tinea barbae, and head lice. These fell under the heading of “Barber Itch,” all easily spread by unclean towels, unsterilized razors, combs, brushes, and shaving mugs. Most barbers had special treatments for barber itch—vinegar mixed with tincture of muriatic iron applied with a feather being one. Coal oil soaked on the scalp for thirty minutes was the standard treatment for head lice, but the barber was well within his rights to tell the afflicted to treat themselves at home before coming back into his shop.
After the Civil War, African-American men entered the barbering profession in droves. There were no fees or licenses at that time, and setting up shop was a relatively inexpensive way to start a business. Most Anglos had no problem having a negro cut their hair or shave them. Because of the prejudice of the time, however, a negro man could not walk into a white barbershop and get a haircut, nor would he really want to. That type of curly hair takes a different training to learn to cut properly, and very few whites even today can do it without butchering it up. Because of its properties, head lice cannot survive in it, however. (By the way, head lice and body lice, known as “crabs,” are two different creatures.)
Indians had their own ideas about how to wear their hair and rid their body of it, so the majority of them would have no interest in entering a barbershop of any kind for years to come. However, if they had, during that time period, they probably would have been refused service in a white barbershop.
Mexicans, with their incredible eye for detail, made excellent barbers, but they too would rarely cross the color barrier with whites or blacks. Many of them used a process called singeing, using candles or singeing papers to give haircuts and shaves. It was believed to be beneficial for the hair and keep it from falling out. When done properly the customer only felt a little warmth on his face as his whiskers were being singed away. Anglo barbers adapted the process, doing it after the haircut to seal the ends of the hair. Burning hair smells terrible, and barbers would usually try to talk their customers into a shampoo afterward. This was accomplished by having the customer stand, leaning his head over a basin.
In 1867 Galveston, a thirty-year-old immigrant woman who called herself Madame Gardoni was doing a thriving business as a barber and employed two males in her shop. In 1870, a female barber in Detroit made the news in Emporia, Kansas. In 1883, a Spanish proprietor hired four girls to work in his Sedalia, Missouri, shop. Although the newspapers were complimentary to these women, in the general public, they were viewed more or less as shady ladies.
Madame Gardoni and client. Notice the sly way the illustrator drew the position of the man's head and eyes.
The barber was often called out to cut the hair of an ill man at his home, or go to the funeral parlor to clean up the deceased for a wake. The sick man was often sicker with an infectious disease than his relatives had let on, and the preparation of a dead body is only for the strong in stomach.
A wealthy cattle baron might pay a barber to come to his hotel room to give him a shave and a haircut. These hotel trips were not without risk, however. If the person requesting his services turned out to be a wanted man, the barber could very well be caught in the crossfire of a gun battle with the law. Young barbers, especially, were exposed to peril. In large cities, a young barber might suddenly find his privates being fondled. A quick way to put a stop to that was to put a cold razor on the offender’s neck and whisper how much one hated the sight of blood. The barber was also in peril of being attacked by a gang of ruffians once inside the hotel room.
The barber in the West was just as civic minded as his fellow citizens. In 1892, a barber joined in the attack on the Dalton Gang in the Coffeyville Raid, firing a load of buckshot that knocked Emmett Dalton off his saddle, effectively ending the raid.
After getting out of prison, Emmett Dalton got religion and went Hollywood. He’s shown here with legendary western movie star Tom Mix.
In John D. Fitzgerald’s novelization of his mother’s reminisces about a Wild West mining town, he tells of a system of deputies the local sheriff organized to keep law. When one young punk came into town touting how many men he had killed, the sheriff gave him until sundown to get out of town. Ignoring the warning, he made the mistake of getting a haircut instead. The banty-sized barber, one of the sheriff’s deputies, loved to talk and didn’t seem to mind when the outlaw sat in his chair for a shave and a haircut. The process was considerably slowed by the barber’s loquacity, and when the sun went down on the other side of the mountain range, only half of the outlaw’s face had been shaven. The barber put down his razor, removed a Smith & Wesson from a drawer, proceeded to put the barrel in the gunman’s ear, pulled the trigger, at the same time saying, “I kill you in the name of the law.”
Hollywood often depicts outlaws as scruffy creatures, but in reality, they often looked better than the people they robbed. Shown above: The Sundance Kid, John Wesley Hardin, Bob Younger, Jesse James, and Sam Bass. Hardin, who had ears that stuck out, was almost always photographed with hair over his ears.
Guns were for killing outlaws; the razor was held in sacred trust for the barber’s chosen profession.
And coming in February 2020 from Five Star Publishing
A Frontier Mystery
Resources: The Vanishing American Barbershop: An Illustrated History of Tonsorial Art, 1860-1960 by Ronald S. Barlow; http://www.kristinholt.com/archives/7229; http://www.kristinholt.com/archives/7413; https://whatdoeshistorysay.blogspot.com/2014/01/history-of-american-barbershop.html; http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/10/bloody-history-barber-pole/; http://www.nationalbarbermuseum.org/about/barbering-timeline; https://www.instructables.com/id/Fire-Shaving/; https://www.historynet.com/dalton-gang;
Papa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald; Barber Instructor and Toilet Manual by Frank C. Bridgeford; Shannon Hartsnagel Interview; http://www.acappellafoundation.org/essay/bbshistory.html