Monday, May 4, 2015

The Stethoscope Invented

19th Century Stethoscope with bell-shaped end.
My current work-in-progress is a novel which takes place during the Civil War. The heroine is a nurse and the hero a doctor. It occurred to me as the hero examined a patient, that I’d never seen pictures of a Civil War surgeon using a stethoscope. So, off I went on a research quest to learn when the stethoscope was invented.

Before the 1800’s if a physician needed to hear a patient’s lungs, heart, or bowels he merely placed his ear against the patient’s body. I can’t imagine how awkward this was for both the doctor and the patient. For women, it meant having a doctor lay his head between their breasts and some ladies refused to allow it. Although this method was somewhat effective, it was difficult for the doctor to hear everything, or pinpoint from where an unusual sound might have originated.  The ear often missed important clues, which could have helped them diagnose an illness.

Stethoscope-early wooded
The word stethoscope comes from the Greek word, stethos (chest) and the word, scopes (examination), and was invented in 1816 by Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781-1826), a physician at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris. He’d been too embarrassed to press his ear against the large bosom of a female patient and instead rolled up a sheaf of paper like an ear-trumpet, in order to listen. 

Excited by how loud and clear the sounds were, he created the wooden aural stethoscope. Laënnec was skilled with a lathe and made his first stethoscope  from a turned piece of wood about 12 inches long with a 3/8 inch hollow bore. The doctor placed the smaller end against his patient’s chest and listened through the larger funnel shaped, opposite end.

In 1851 an Irish physician, Arthur Leared made the device bi-aural.
Stethoscope-early bi-aural

George Cammann wrote a major treatise on diagnosis by auscultation, which was made possible by the bi-aural stethoscope. He refined the stethoscope for commercialization in 1852.

I’m not certain how many Civil War surgeons had stethoscopes, but I decided my brilliant doctor carried one in the pocket of his frock coat.


Wilbur M.D., C. Keith, Civil War Medicine 1861-1865, The Global Pequot Press, 1998

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pancakes, Griddlecakes, Flapjacks, or Hotcakes?

Pancakes have taken on many forms in different parts of the world: crepes, Irish potato pancakes, Russian blin, the Welsh crempog, Hungarian palascinta, and Dutch pannen koeken.

In ancient times, cooks would drop gruel on a hot rock and make thin cakes. The Romans call them Alita Docia, Latin for  ‘another sweet.’  The ingredients were milk, eggs, and flour and sometimes added bits of fruit, honey, cheese, or meat were added before frying.

Cornmeal, buckwheat, and potatoes were used during medieval times. These cakes were made on baking stones and hearths.

Pancakes 3-4 inches in diameter are at least 500 years old and are mentioned in Shakespeare’s, All’s Well That Ends Well and As You Like It.

During the 1700’s the Dutch popularized the buckwheat cake. It was called a hoe cake because it was cooked via flat hoe blades.

In America, the Native Americans had a version called ‘nokechick (no cake). In the colony of Rhode Island Native Americans taught colonial settlers to use Naraganset maize to make griddle cakes. These cornmeal pancakes became known as Johnnycakes or ‘Indian cakes.’

George Washington loved his pancakes soaked in maple syrup.

Our modern version of the pancake comes from a Scotish cake which used baking powder, flour, buttermilk and eggs.

Pancakes, Griddle cakes, Johnnycakes, Hot cakes, Flapjacks, what are they called in your house?


Wheat Griddle Cakes-

1 cake Fleischmann’s Yeast                                           2 eggs         1 cup milk, scalded and cooled                        2 tablespoonfuls lard or butter, melted                              1 cup lukewarm water                                       2 tablespoonfuls light brown sugar       2cups sifted flour           1 teaspoonful salt

Dissolve yeast and sugar in lukewarm liquid. Add lard or butter, then flour gradually, the eggs well-beaten, and salt. Beat thoroughly until batter is smooth. Cover and set aside for about one hour, in a warm place, free from draft, to rise.  When light, stir well and bake on hot griddle.

If wanted for overnight, use one-fourth cake of yeast and an extra half teaspoonful salt. Cover and keep in a cool place.

Note. All batter cakes are better baked on an ungreased griddle, as they rise and keep their shape, and do not follow the grease. You will be rid of the disagreeable smoke and the odor of burning fat. Your griddle need not necessarily be of soapstone. If you have an old griddle and clean it thoroughly, being sure to remove all burned fat or batter, it can be used the above way.

-- This is a Griddle Cake Recipe from a 1910 booklet put out by Fleischmann.


Sour Milk Griddle-cakes

2 ½ cups flour                    2 cups sour milk                    ½ teaspoon salt                                                 1 ¼ teaspoon soda           1 egg

Mix and sift flour, salt and soda; add sour milk, and egg well beaten. Drop by spoonfuls on a greased hot griddle; cook on one side.  When puffed, full of bubbles, and cooked on edges, turn, and cook other side. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

-- This Griddle Cake recipe came from a 1910 edition, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer

Corn Griddlecakes

“One pint cornmeal, one teaspoon salt, one of soda. Pour on boiling water until a little thinner than mush. Let it stand until cool. Add yolks of three eggs, one-half cup of flour, into which two teaspoons cream tartar are mixed. Stir in as much sweet milk as will make batter suitable to bake, beat whites, and add just before baking.”  First Baptist Church, Tried and True, 48

--From Food on the Frontier, Minnesota Cooking From 1850-1900 with selected recipes, by Marjorie Kreidberg
In my latest novel,  A Tarnished Knight ,the heroine, Victoria never learned to cook. Here is a scene where she tried to make pancakes for the hero, Ryder.
The acrid bite of smoke filled his lungs. He awoke coughing. Fire! Gray haze filled the cabin, and he jumped from the bed, wincing against the pain in his side.

“Tori?” He croaked between coughs.

“I’m sorry,” she called from across the room.
Now that his initial burst of panic had ebbed, he noticed the front door and windows stood wide open as though welcoming the night. Fortunately he’d hinged the glass for each window in two panels so they could swing out. Piles of burnt flapjacks littered the table in the glow of the lanterns, and a pan heaped with more still smoldering pancakes sat on top of the stove.

A large quantity of flour lay spilled near the cupboard like a snowdrift across the floor. The dogs

snuffled around inside, leaving trails of white footprints everywhere.

He strode toward her, but his socks slid in the flour like he was on ice, sending his feet in opposite directions. He grabbed the edge of the table to keep from landing on his ass.

Towel in hand, Victoria waved the smoke toward the darkness beyond the window as if she were shooing flies from a pie.

With mincing steps, he reached the stove and turned the lever on the pipe at the back. “Why is the damper closed?”

“I’m sorry; I must have turned it the wrong way.”

Caught between dismay and amusement, he shook his head. He leaned to check inside the oven; it was empty. “What the hell is all this?” He gestured to the blackened flapjacks.

She turned to face him, twisting the towel with her hands. “I added water to the pot of stew, because it was sticking to the bottom of the pot, but I added too much, so I tried to mix in flour the way you did. I must have done it wrong, because it turned out thicker than paste.”

He lifted the lid on the pot and laughed aloud at the spoon sticking straight up from the center of the congealed glob of stew.

“I wanted to make you something else. You haven’t eaten.”

“Damn, Victoria, I couldn’t eat all this in a year.”

“But they’re burnt!” She heaved a shaky sigh that seemed to border on tears.

“The first ones were too runny, and I couldn’t flip them, so I added more flour. Then they came out too thick, and when I cut them open raw dough oozed out. When they kept burning, I made more, and the cabin filled up with smoke so I opened the door, and the dogs came in.

“I tried to chase them out, but they thought it was a game, and they raced around the table and knocked over the flour.”

He gazed around the room, amazed he could have slept through all this.

“And I’m sorry.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. She turned in a small circle. “I’ll clean it up, I promise.”

She looked up at him, and he laughed. It hurt his ribs, but he couldn’t help himself. His princess stood in the center of this chaos, her blonde hair hanging in disheveled strands around her face, her clothes dusted with flour and spattered with dried batter, and she never looked more beautiful.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Billfold or Purse? Where Did the Frontier Cowboy Keep His Money?

During the draft stage of my latest book, A Tarnished Knight, I was unsure if my western hero would carry a billfold with paper money or a purse with coins. In the TV westerns I grew up with, respectable business men and gamblers seemed to carry billfolds while the rest of the men carried coins in their pockets.
After some research I discovered that paper money was not used on the frontier.
Spanish Dollar- 1821
Gold or silver coins were used for purchases, and there wasn’t much use for anything smaller than a quarter--two bits. The term came from the Spanish-colonial milled dollar. Instead of dividing them into halves and quarters like our dollar, they were broken into eight  reales, (pronounced ree-ahl) or eight “bits” which were call “pieces of eight.” They were a small silver coin, and worth 0.12 ½ cents.  Hence, two bits became a quarter.  The half-bit, 0.6 ¼ cents, known as the medio, fip, or picayune was also widely used, especially in Louisiana. 
Mexican peso-1856
Pesos and the big Mexican “’dobe dollars” were also popular until 1857 when the U.S, government banned the use of foreign coins.
In Kansas and Nebraska, Wildcat banks began printing script, but did not have the assets to cover the script issued and consequently failed, leaving the public holding worthless paper. Later, useless Confederate money only added to the suspicion of anything paper, including government bills (called Greenbacks) and the fractional currency used in place of coins.
In California private mints created gold pieces from a half-dollar, to a dollar, to the large, eight-sided, fifty dollar gold piece known as a “slug.”
Private Collection-used with permission
The gold dollar became available in the 1850’s with a

Liberty head on one side and a wreath surrounding the number one on the reverse. In 1854 the Liberty head was changed to an Indian wearing a feathered headdress. In 1856 a different Indian head was used, but both coins stayed the same on the reverse side.

Double Eagle- 1875
Other coins included the “eagle,” a gold piece worth ten dollars which had a Liberty head on the front and an eagle on the back. The twenty dollar gold piece also had a Liberty head on the front and an eagle on the back. It was known as a “double eagle.” Between 1839 and 1866, the “half-eagle” was worth $5.00 and had a Grecian head on the back.  From 1866 to 1908 it was an eagle. The “quarter eagle” worth $2.50 also had the Liberty head on one side.
Private collection-used with permission
The silver dollar included a flying eagle on the reverse and a seated Liberty on the face. “In God We Trust” was added in 1872.
So at the time of my novel, when the cow puncher headed into town, he carried his wages in coin, which he kept in a poke, or purse, or a draw-string pocket bag.  When he made a purchase, in lieu of the fractional currency used back East, cartridges of standard sizes were acceptable.
Private collection-used with permission
From the refuge of shadow, Ryder MacKenzie leaned into the light. "I'll raise you two." He tossed two silver dollars in succession toward the center of the table. A soft chinking sound followed each coin as it hit the pile of, what was for most men, a month's wages.  --A Tarnished Knight 

McCutcheon, Mark, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800’s, Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1993
Foster-Harris, William, The Look of the Old West, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007

Rollins, Philip Ashton, The Cowboy his Characteristics, His Equipment, and His Part in the Development of the West, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fractional Currency

With the Civil War looming on the horizon, the economy of the United States grew more uncertain. People began hoarding silver and gold coins. Others sent their coins to Canada to sell for scrap which had risen to become more valuable than the coins were worth. At that time the country’s only mint was in Philadelphia and the ability to keep enough coins in the market place had been a growing problem since the mint started making coins in 1793.
Used with permission from private collection.
By1862 small coins had nearly disappeared. People were either unable to get change back for their purchases or they were forced to buy things they didn’t really want. Banks and merchants created their own promissory notes and tokens of metal or wood. But the public didn’t like promissory notes or wooden nickels. The value at one business didn’t always equal the same value at another.
The use of postage stamps was thought to be the answer, but the stamps were easily soiled and torn. If they got wet they would stick together. A special brass case with a thin mica face was designed to hold and protect each stamp. Merchants put their advertising on the back side of the case and this worked well for a time.
Used with permission from private collection.
However a dispute between the Post Office and the Treasury Department soon followed, and stamps intended for use as money grew too scarce to meet demand.
In July 1862 General F.E. Spinner, Treasurer of the United States took blank paper, on which government securities were printed, and cut it into small uniform sizes. He then pasted a few of the stamps onto the cut pieces of treasury paper. The first production of these stamp papers bore the name “Postal Currency” across the top. The small bills measured 2½ to 5 inches across and were issued in denominations of three, five, ten, twenty-five, and fifty cents. Each denomination featured the same presidential portraits as those found on the regular postage stamps.
In March of 1863 and in all issues afterward, the papers were stamped “Fractional Currency.” They featured busts of Washington, Lincoln, Liberty, and Columbia, and the Secretaries of the Treasury, Fessenden, Spinner, Walker, and Crawford. Eleven different papers were used to prevent counterfeiting.
Used with permission from private collection.
These notes of Fractional Currency became the legal tender for amounts up to one dollar and were to be used to alleviate the coin shortage.
But the public hated the currency. The papers were stuffed into the pockets of soldiers along with their jackknife, cartridges, tobacco, and other small items. The notes became ragged and frequently had to be exchanged. Because they resembled the little papers soaked in vinegar used to treat sore legs, they became known as Shinplasters.
By 1875 the government made them redeemable for coin and the last issue of Fractional Currency came in 1876.


McCutcheon, Mark, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800’s, Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1993
Foster-Harris, William, The Look of the Old West, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007
Rollins, Philip Ashton, The Cowboy his Characteristics, His Equipment, and His Part in the Development of the West, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Every Knight Needs a Mule

In my new release, A Tarnished Knight, the hero, a-down-on-his-luck bounty hunter, is trying to start a new life. He has a new ranch and a small herd of cattle, but his cattle are stolen, his horse is killed, and in trying to obtain another he loses all his money in a poker game. As I wrote the story I intended for him to only have enough money to purchase a plug-ugly nag that no one wanted. But when I wrote the scene, instead of a sway backed old horse, a mule appeared in the corral. I thought, perfect.  A mule is more humiliating for a cowboy to ride than any horse.
I’ve heard that actors say they have to be careful working with kids and animals because they can easily take over the scene. That’s exactly what happened to me with this mule, whose personality quickly took over the book. By the time I finished, Percy (secondary characters always have a name), had his own story arc.
So what exactly is a mule? Here are a few quick definitions.
A donkey is the domestic ass. The male is called a Jack, and the female a Jenny. A Hinny is the hybrid cross between a male horse (stallion) and a female donkey. A mule is always the offspring of a horse (mare) who has been bred with a donkey (Jack).  The male mule is called a john mule and the female a molly mule.
Mules are easy keeper and don’t need a lot of feed to stay fat. They inherit the best qualities from both the horse and the donkey. The horse gives the mule his size, color variation, and courage. The donkey is responsible is for the mule’s strength and endurance.
The mule’s body is covered with masses of long smooth muscles while the body of the horse has differentiated masses of muscle. This can be seen in the chest where the horse has two distinct muscle groups and the mule has one wide mass of muscle. Another example is in the hind quarters where the long, smooth, wide muscles of the mule allow him to kick forward, backward, to the side, and even allow him to scratch the top of his head. Horses can’t do this because of their smaller, bulkier muscle mass.
A strong desire for his own happiness, health, and self-preservation are traits the mule has inherited from his donkey father, which are often mistaken for stubbornness.  A horse carrying a heavy load can be made to push through his exhaustion until he drops. The donkey will stop and rest when he’s tired and won’t move until he is ready. Also with his limited depth perception he will stop and study the brook before he decides to cross. 
The mule has also inherited from his donkey sire low withers and flatter back. This is where the hero of my novel runs into trouble. The bars of a horse saddle curve to accommodate the curve of the horse’s back. When placed on a mule, the back of the saddle tips up and causes the front of saddle to rub as the mule moves.  This combined with the position of the cinch will cause the saddle to slide forward until the cinch stops just at the little hollow behind the front legs. It will rub and cause additional sores.
Mule bars keep the saddle low and flat with less rocking, combined with rigging that has been moved closer the  center of the belly. Other aids can also help, such as a breast collar if the saddle wants to slide back, or a crouper under the tail if the saddle slides forward.
When treated with kindness and understanding, mules can learn to trust and obey.
What are your thoughts on a cowboy hero who rides a mule?
A Tarnished Knight is currently available for your Kindle and world wide release is scheduled for February 21, 2014.
Hodges, Meredith, Training Mules and Donkeys A Logical Approach to Longears, Blue Ribbon Books, Alpine Publications, Loveland, CO, 1993
McClintock Saddle Works,  3/18/2010

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cowboy Boots--Enduring Through Time

When you picture the hero of a historical western, what kind of boots do you see him wearing?
Boots worn by cowboys during the mid-nineteenth century looked nothing like the boots worn today.
They were about seventeen inches high, coming almost to the knee and ended in a horizontal line, like a stove pipe. They often had wide square toes and low heels. No fancy leathers or stitching were used. These boots were most often black, made of calf skin and were snug fitting. At the top, “mule ears,” which were thin leather pull-on straps, hung down on either side of the boot.
These early cowboy boots added to the protection of the chaps, guarding against dust and gravel, prickly pear and sticker bushes, and also shielded the ankles from rattlesnake bites.
Then in 1875, a cowboy on his way home from the Kansas City stockyards, stopped by a cobbler shop in Olathe, Kansas. He wanted a boot that was different from his Civil War-style boots. He wanted something that would easily slip in and out of the stirrup, with a slanted heel, and a high top with V-shaped front and back, so he could take his boots on and off without difficulty.
Charles Hyer
The owner of the shop, Charles Hyer had come to Olathe in 1872 where he found a job teaching shoe and harness making at the Olathe School for the Deaf. Charles, who had learned boot making from his father William, opened a cobbler shop on the side and hired his brother to help him run it.
The cowboy was so pleased with Hyer’s work that he returned to Colorado and told others about his new boots.
These early cowboy boots were fairly plain. Any fancy stitching was limited to  the boot tops, but this was not common. The floppy mule-ear straps were replaced with a pair of leather pull-ons, sewn into the top inside of the boot on each side, so that they extended above the tops about two inches.
Nearly all these new boots were made of black calf leather and the toe was more rounded than pointed.
Hyer Cowboy Boots
Cowboys who roped cattle on foot found the high, thin-bottomed heels dug into the ground and helped them keep their balance. The usual, forward sloping heel was about two inches high, but some boots were made with a square heel, like cavalry boots. The insoles were thin so riders could feel the stirrups.
These boots had vamps of the best quality. They fit tight around the instep and this gave the boot its primary hold.
Most boots were made in small shops that catered to cowboy trade. By 1885, however boot makers began adding intricately stitched designs, cut-outs, and color to the footwear.
Pegged boots used hardwood pegs to secure the foot portion of the boot to the sole and cost a few dollars more than sewn boots.
Cowboys who wanted custom made boots gave the boot maker a paper tracing of his foot along with his instep measurements. He could spend as much as he wanted for boots, but very few men felt the need to invest a great deal in their footwear. Some cowboys had their boots made to order, but many bought them ready-made.
Boots were usually the most expensive item in his wardrobe. Prices varied from 7.00 for ready-made, to 15.00 for made-to-measure.
For a time the cowboy boot was the most popular footwear in the West, but by the mid 1890’s the boot had been replaced in many locations with heavy-duty shoes. Cowboys were no longer willing to pay 15.00 for a pair of boots. They wanted substance instead of show and boot makers grew worried that the most popular footwear in the west would become obsolete.  

Enss, Chris, How the West Was Worn, Two Dots, Morris Book Publishing, LLC., 2006
Foster-Harris, William, The Look of the Old West, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007
Moulton, Candy, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900, Writer’s Digest Books, 1999
Rickey, Don Jr., $Horse, $40 Saddle, Cowboy Clothing, Arms, Tools and Horse Gear of the 1880’s, The Old Army Press, 1976
Rollins, Philip Ashton, The Cowboy, His Characteristics, His Equipment, and His Part in the Development of the Old West, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007
Kansapedia Kansas Historical Society photos used with permission from the Kansas State Historical Society

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Knights, Cowboys, and Spurs

Imagine it’s 1874 and you’re standing outside the mercantile looking through the front window. You hear the slow measured stride of boot heels against the board walk accompanied by the soft chink of spurs. Horses and wagons passing in the street can be ignored, but that subtle metallic rustle draws your attention. The sound quietly announces the approach of a man of importance, a man with confidence. You can’t help but turn your head.
A cowboy’s spurs were used not only to give gait cues to his horse or help him stay on the back of a bucking horse, they eased the loneliness as he moved about a solitary camp. When he walked around town they gave him a sense of worth which has carried forward through time from the days of medieval knights.
In my new novel, A Tarnished Knight, the first thing the heroine notices about Ryder MacKenzie’s are his spurs, in particular, the buttons which had been forged in the shape of small hearts.
Early western spurs had two buttons at the front of the u-shaped heel band. The spur leather or strap, which was cut to fit over the curve of the wearer’s instep, attached to the button at the front of the heel band. This strap came in two pieces, the long piece, or tongue, and the short piece with the buckle. On the tongue side of the strap where it connected to the button on the outside of the foot, there was often a decorative metal concho or rosette. The buckle was worn on the inside of the foot to prevent it from catching on brush. Spur leathers varied in width and were plain or stamped with intricate designs.
The second strap, or tie down strap, attached to the second button and went under the arch of the boot just in front of the heel. Sometimes heel chains would be permanently attached to the spur and would take the place of this second strap. These chains created a soft chinking noise as the cowboy walked. This second strap or chain could also be left off, leaving the spur to be held in place by the upper strap alone.
To add to the noise of the chains, some cowboys attached two small metal pieces called janglers or jingle-bobs, which were shaped like pears or bell clappers, and clinked against the rowels.
At the back center of the heel band was the shank of the spur. The shank of a western spur, usually about two inches long, curved downward. Some allowed the rowel to roll along the ground while the curve of others raised the rowel up. In front of the rowel, on top of the shank was a small, turned up hook or chap guard, which kept the leather from catching in the rowel.
Rowels were usually not more than three inches in diameter, with most two inches or less. Their shape varied from the blunt-tipped, five point star to an eighteen point sunburst.
Cowboys and vaqueros from the Southwest, Texas and California, wore spurs that had larger rowels (in the early days up to 6" and sharp), than the Northern cowboy, whose spurs were plainer than the more ornate spurs worn in California and the Southwest. Texas style spurs were heavy with the heel band about an inch wide. They were usually plain or lightly engraved. The fancier, more ornate spurs didn’t come into fashion until after the 1880’s.
At the time my story, a good pair of hand-forged spurs would have probably cost my hero ten dollars or more.    


Foster-Harris, William, The Look of the Old West—A Fully Illustrated Guide, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007

Moulton, Candy, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900, Writers Digest Books, 1999

Rollins, Philip Ashton, The Cowboy—His Characteristics, His Equipment, and His Part in the Development of the West, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007