Monday, May 7, 2018

People often ask me where I get the ideas for my characters. Usually, when I’m half asleep or walking the dog, they just appear on the periphery of my mind. I see them fully formed, wearing clothes from whatever time period they live. Sometimes they are talking sometimes engaged in some activity.
This time however, the heroine of my newest novel, A Place In Your Heart, was inspired by a woman I came across in my research of the Civil War. Her name was Mary Bickerdyke.

At the beginning of the Civil War, troops at the hospital in Cairo, Illinois were dying from disease and poor treatment in a place where medical supplies were either poor or nonexistent. The doctor in charge of the hospital, Dr. Benjamin Woodard, made a plea for help to the members of the Brick Congregational Church in Galesburg. The congregation decided to send Mary Ann Bickerdyke to help.

Mary Ann was a tall, broad shouldered, plain looking woman who never flinched from any job.

She was born on July 19, 1817 in Knox County, Ohio, to Hiram and Annie Ball. About a year and a half later, Annie died and Mary Ann was sent to live with her mother’s parents in Richland County.

At some point in her life she graduated from a local Cincinnati school which taught botanic medicine.

In 1847, at the age of 30, she married Robert Bickerdyke a widower with small children. Shortly before her husband’s death she became well known in the town as a Botanic Physician. Though she was a kind, honest woman, she was quite outspoken.

Mary Ann arrived at the military hospital in June of 1861. The hospital overflowed with sick. Hundreds of men lay in tents waiting for space inside the hospital.
Only one or two men lay on cots, the rest lay on straw pallets covered with a blanket or an overcoat, so close together there was no room to step between them. The dirt floor was covered with human excrement, and flies swarmed over the sick men. The men lay only in shirts and underwear which were covered with filth, vomit, and stale sweat.

Mrs. Bickerdyke grabbed a bar of lye soap from one of the many boxes she brought. She scoured the insides of barrels and used them as tubs to bathe each man. She directed the volunteers and assistants to shave the beards and cut the hair of the men to rid them of lice. She ordered the patients clothing to be burned along with all the straw. Other volunteers were put to work shoveling out the dirt floors of the tents until they’d dug to an uncontaminated level.
Once the patients were bathed and dressed in clean clothing and back in the tents with fresh sheets, she passed out the food she’d brought. She filled pails with lime and brought them to the tents to be used as latrines.

She wasn’t supposed to go into the wards at all, but that made no difference to her, she went anyway.

Supplies from the Sanitary Commission were sent to her personally and stored at the hospital. It didn’t take long for her to realize the whiskey intended for the patients was going to the doctor’s lounge for the benefit of the chief surgeon and his friends. Other food was being sold by the chief nurse and many of the assistants were eating the fruit sent by the Sanitary Commission for the patients.

Mrs. Bickerdyke went to the chief surgeon and told him the supplies were being stolen. He ordered her out of the hospital. She told him, “Doctor, I’m here to stay as long as the men need me. You put me out one door and I’ll come in another. If you bar the doors, I’ll come in a window. If anybody goes from here it will be you. I’m going straight to Gen. Grant. We’ll see who gets put out of here.”

One day she went into a ward where the ward master, a young lieutenant, was talking to his friends. His uniform blouse was open exposing his shirt. Mrs. Bickerdyke approached him, pulled open his blouse, and turned down the neck of the shirt revealing the inked initials NWSC for the Northwest Sanitary Commission.

A strong woman, Mrs. Bickerdyke threw the young lieutenant to the floor, sat on his stomach and removed the shirt, which she held up to the cheers of the patients. She then checked his trousers and found them to be his own. That wasn’t true of his slippers and socks. Barefoot and shirtless the officer completed his rounds that night, then applied for duty with a regiment headed for the battlefield. He was never seen again.

To stop the assistants from eating the fruit intended for the patients, she stewed a pot of peaches and told the cooks and men hanging around the kitchen not to touch it. When she returned, found the kitchen staff groaning and holding their stomachs.

She told them she’d added a dose of tartar emetic to the peaches and if they didn’t stop eating food meant for the patients, the next time she would add rat poison.

I fell in love with this woman who the men called Mother Bickerdyke, and the idea of Gracie McBride was born.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Business of Being a WriterThe Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book for writers. Writing is a business and it's easy to forget that sometimes. Lots of information. Read most of the book twice just to get the stuff to sink in and I'll probably keep it as a go-to book for answers to any of a multitude of questions I will have.

View all my reviews

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