Friday, October 24, 2014


Who doesn't love a great musical, on stage or at the cinema? And a Western musical is even BETTER! Sure, it might not show the real wild and woolly west, and today it might be considered old fashioned and silly. But for pure fun and some sweet (and heart-tugging) romance, check these classic Western musicals that made their way to film.

As a kid, I always woke up in the summer sunshine streaming in the bedroom window, stretched and thought, "Oh, what a beautiful morning..." So naturally I loved this musical's songs.

Gordon Macrae and Shirley Jones head up a fabulous cast. Rogers & Hammerstein first teamed up for the musical score - and what songs they were! Had I ever been to Oklahoma? Nope. I'd never seen the prairie, only read about it in the Little House series. But there's something about "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" that makes you feel glorious. My husband had lived in Texas during part of his Army career, and also loved the play. We still tease each other whenever one of us says, "Oh--" with "OOOOOOOOOOOOKLAHOMA where the wind comes sweeping 'cross the plains..."

There are plenty of fabulous Western musicals to consider -- and remain classics to this day.

One of my favorites (and my daughter's too) is SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. The handsome actors, the dancing, the music, the romantic story -- it may be quaint now, of course, but we still love it. The costumes are colorful, if not accurate to the times, but who's noticing anyway? Howard Keel and Jane Powell! The dancing, and the acrobatics by the brothers in the spectacular Barn Dance! The musical is just marvelous. Fun for the whole family.

CALAMITY JANE -- "America's Sweetheart" Doris Day gets a chance to "rough it" - ha! - in this musical, also starring Howard Keel. Doris doesn't seem to fit the authenticity of the real Calamity Jane, but neither does Howard Keel act like Wild Bill! Some of the songs are plenty of good fun, though. Keel seemed to be the go-to guy when it came to the hero in these musicals. Really disliked how he called Doris "Calam" which seemed silly. Oh well.

SHOWBOAT -- Talk about a real showboat!! This musical is another true favorite of mine because it has *everything.* Great costumes (not always accurate, of course), a wonderful setting, an in-depth complex story, great actors who can sing their hearts out! Joe E. Brown provided both a comedic and sympathetic air, and Agnes Moorhead was also great as a harridan with heart. Ava Gardner was gorgeous, and this time Oscar Hammerstein teamed up with Jerome Kern to give us such fabulous numbers. William Warfield singing Ol' Man River! Marge and Gower Champion, dancing! Kathryn Grayson, trained for the opera since she was 12 years old! And of course, Howard Keel. Yes, some may claim the 1936 film is more authentic, showing the true poverty on the river, the dockworkers, the issue of miscegenation, but I loved this film and still shed a tear while watching it.

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN -- Betty Hutton and Howard Keel team up as Annie Oakley and her husband Frank. Urp. There's something about Hutton I never liked -- quite possibly her gravelly voice, along with her attitude as shown in her performance here and in other films. Not a favorite. But here it is if it's one of yours. Keel comes through once again as the hero.

PAINT YOUR WAGON -- Clint Eastwood? in a MUSICAL? Yup. Along with Lee Marvin, who is hilarious. A fun film, based on the Lerner & Lowe theatrical musical, that rips and roars its way through a Gold-Rush era California mining camp (No-Name City). I confess I've only seen bits and pieces, but I do know that many friends love this film. And really, Clint Eastwood? Singing?? Gotta admit, he was good compared to Lee Marvin. But this song sums up the film best.

THE HARVEY GIRLS -- Judy Garland, John Hodiak and Angela Lansbury! Virginia O'Brien and Ray Bolger! Chill Wills and Marjorie Main! And accurate costumes when the girls come to town in Arizona on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, at least! It faces off the Harvey Girls, waitresses who come for a job and a husband, if they meet one in a wild western town, against the local "soiled doves" working at the local saloon. If you've researched the real Harvey Girls, the women did bring a touch of civilization to wherever they went. And petite Judy is fun to watch in this film, squaring off against the conniving gambler-owner who stole the restaurant's meat.

Sure, there are other musicals we could revisit, but that's enough for now. Hope you enjoyed some of the videos and songs!

Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog.Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and Laramie Award winning Double series is now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. WOULDN'T IT BE DEADLY is out now! It's based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, play and film, with a nod to Lerner & Lowe's My Fair Lady -- so Meg does love musicals! Book 2, MOVE YOUR BLOOMING CORPSE, will be out in 2015. You can find Meg (and D.E. Ireland) on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014



By Keith Souter aka Clay More

The practice of medicine in the Old West would never have been easy. There were no x-ray facilities, no scanning of an sort and no laboratories to test  blood or examine tissue biopsies. Diagnosis was arrived at by taking the patient's history and performing a physical examination. Most doctors would have a stethoscope although American doctors favoured the monaural type even after the Civil War. Indeed, Harvard medical School did not possess one until 1868.

A doctor with his monaural stethoscope

While the doctor might have a thermometer (they were being used during the Civil War, although not often - there were only about twenty in the Union army), the examination of the eye and the ear had to be done by direct inspection. The  ear canal was examined by inserting a small speculum shaped like a funnel and then peering down it to see the ear drum. This either had to be done with natural light or a strong lamp at one's back. 

The ophthalmoscope was invented in 1851, allowing doctors to examine the eye indirectly by viewing through a lens with light reflected into the orifice. This started to be used during the Civil War and it is possible that a well-equipped and enthusiastic frontier doctor would have one after the war years. 

Dr Logan Munro of Wolf Creek, being a town doctor with a scientific bent, of course, has all of these!

But what about other tests that the town doctor could do? Well, of course, he could always check the urine.

A brief history of uroscopy
In medieval medicine the naked eye examination of a flask of urine was regarded as one of the most effective aids to diagnosis. Uroscopy, as the method was called was invented by Isaac Judeus (845-940 AD), an Egyptian physician at the School of Medicine at Salerno. 

The matula flask was the badge of office of a doctor before the stethoscope was invented

A special glass bulbous flask called a 'matula' was developed so the doctor could look at the urine and check for the presence of blood, discharge or any sediment. 

Isaac Judeus produced a colour wheel, a chart on which twenty different colours of urine were represented, each of which would give the doctor a different diagnosis.  This was used by doctors for many centuries.

Uroscopy gives way to urinology
In the 19th century science started to show the flaws in the empirical practice of uroscopy. The name changed to urinology, which instead of mere inspection involved an analysis of the urine for different qualities and different substances. 

William Prout (1785-1850) was an English physician, chemist and theologian who is regarded as one of the first doctors to introduce chemical analysis into medicine. His 1825 textbook  An Inquiry Into the Nature and Treatment of Diabetes, Calculus, and Other Affections of The Urinary Organs is regarded as one of the classics of medicine.

In this book he gives a list of "Tests, Apparatus, &c. required in making Experiments on the Urine." This includes litmus paper 9blue and red), turmeric paper (plant extract which exhibits colour change from yellow to reddish brown, and violet on drying, and is a test for alkalinity), a specific gravity bottle or a small or portable hydrometer that he designed, as well as a blowpipe, forceps, two small plates of glass for distinguishing mucus from pus and a watch glass for detecting urea when nitric acid was added. A strip of linen would stain yellow in the presence of bile, which appears in the urine in some types of jaundice.

             “These, with one or two small test tubes, and small stoppered phials, containing solutions of pure ammonia, potash, and nitric acid, can be readily packed into a small portable case, or pocket book, and will be sufficient, by the aid of a common taper or candle, to perform all the experiments on the urine, and urinary productions, that are commonly necessary in a practical point of view” 

Later, doctors added a spoon, to act as a tiny ladle, which when heated reveals the presence of albumin, a protein. This was one of the tests for Bright's Disease, a disorder of the kidneys.

Under the microscope
A doctor in the Old West who was scientifically minded enough to do his own bedside or side-room testing of urine may well have had a microscope. This would be powerful enough to show casts in the urine and the presence of blood. Naked eye examination does not always show it. And this would be important if a patient had sustained an injury to the kidney. 

If a doctor was trying to determine where in the urinary tract blood was coming from (especially if a calculus or stone was suspected - see my last blog), then he would want to see the urine as quickly after it was passed as possible. If the bleeding as from the bladder, the blood might only be found in the last portions of urine, whereas i

If a doctor was trying to determine where in the urinary tract blood was coming from (especially if a calculus or stone was suspected - see my last blog), then he would want to see the urine as quickly after it was passed as possible. If the bleeding was from the bladder, the blood might only be found in the last portions of urine, whereas if it was from the kidney, it would be thoroughly mixed.

Dr Logan Munro of Wolf Creek uses a microscope  like this, as does Dr George Goodfellow of Tombstone.

Clay More's novel about Dr George Goodfellow is published in the West of the Big River series by Western Fictioneers. 

Available at

And his collection of short stories about Doc Marcus Quigley is published by High Noon Press

Available at

And his latest western  novel Dry Gulch Revenge was published by Hale on 29th August.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Civil War Reenacting: Daguerreotypes

By Matthew Pizzolato

The daguerreotype was the first photographic process and saw widespread use in the 1840's.  It was invented in 1839 by Louis Daguerre. He published a booklet describing the process and by 1850 there were more than 70 studios in New York City. By the 1860's, it was replaced by less expensive techniques such as the ambrotype and the tintype.

The tintype was patented in 1856 by Harold Smith. Photography became instantly popular and many people wanted portraits of their loved ones before they marched off to war.

It was Mathew Brady, considered to be the father of modern photo-journalism, who captured many pictures of the era. Brady photographed many famous Americans of the time period as well took graphic pictures of the casualties of the War. In 1862, he opened a gallery in New York called The Dead of Antietam. It was the first time Americans witnessed the horrors of war in a medium other than artists impressions such as drawings and sketches.

The daguerreotype is taken on a highly polished plate of copper coated with silver and the resulting photo is a mirror image. It was this phenomenon that lead to the myth that Billy the Kid was left handed and even spawned a movie starring Paul Newman called THE LEFT HANDED GUN.

I recently had a daguerreotype taken of myself at a reenactment and the exact same process is used today with the same chemicals that was used during the 1840's. The photographer added the color in my vest by hand after the image had developed, a technique that was commonly used during the time period. I could have reversed the image using software but I tend to prefer it in the original condition. For the record, I'm not left-handed.

During the War, photographers generally charged one dollar per photo. Today, the process will set you back about $50 depending on what size you want the image to be, but I consider it a worthwhile investment.

Matthew Pizzolato's short stories have been published online and in print. He is a 
member of Western Fictioneers and his work can be found in the Wolf Creek series as well as his own publications, THE WANTED MAN, OUTLAW and TWO OF A KIND. 

He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Western Online, a magazine dedicated to everything Western. He can be contacted through Twitter @mattpizzolato or via his website: 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"MACCHIATO?" No thanks, Pardner By Tom Rizzo


Morning java still ranks as a good way to kick-start a day–much the same way it was in frontier America. The process of brewing coffee back then, however, involved a lot of moving parts and required loads of patience.


The selection was fairly basic. The coffee beans were green. They first had to be roasted on a wood stove in an open skillet. On the trail, the roasting took place over a campfire. After the bean were roasted, they were placed in a bag and crushed–often with the butt of a rifle or an axe handle.

The typical brewing formula was straightforward: a handful of crushed coffee beans in a cup of hot water. This concoction yielded a robust cup of coffee, but far from what we might consider a satisfying taste. Nothing at all like a Cinnamon Dolce Latte, Caramel Macchiato, or Skinny Peppermint Mocha.

During the Civil War, Union solders never suffered any shortage of coffee beans.

Confederates, however, found that coffee commanded outrageous prices because of its scarcity, so many went without the dark elixir. As a result, coffee became a major trading commodity between the two sides.
When solders from each side met periodically–on an informal basis–Yanks would trade coffee for Virginia tobacco.

The were a couple of clever innovations brought about by the war.


Some regiments of the Union Army were issued special rifles–one per 100-man company–that had a coffee grinder built into the butt of the stock. And, although the first coffee filter wasn’t officially patented until 1908 (by a German housewife), Civil War soldiers created their own filters.  

Unlike the paper or gold filters we use today, soldiers often let the brew settle for a few minutes and then poured it through a piece of flannel to remove the grounds and improve the taste, according William C. Davis, in his book, Civil War Cookbook.

The coffee industry underwent a dramatic change at the close of the Civil War.


John and Charles Arbuckle, who owned a Pittsburgh grocery business, discovered a process for sealing in the flavor, and aroma, by coating coffee beans with an egg and sugar glaze; the wash also prevented the beans from spoiling.

“I need a cup of Arbuckle’s,” cowboys used to say, and the name became interchangeable for coffee. A great example of successful word-of-mouth advertising.

Arbuckle’s went a step further in marketing efforts by offering coupons and trading cards, many of which are available on eBay.


Marketed under the name Arbuckles’ Ariosa Coffee, the product’s airtight, one-pound packages became a big hit.

Chuck wagon cooks liked them because they faced the task of brewing plenty of coffee to satisfy the appetites of cowboys who spent hours riding a cold range.

Ever wonder how you would have coped with a coffee addiction in the 19th century?

Would a cup of morning Joe be worth the effort it took to crush beans, roast them in a skillet or open fire, and then strain the dark, brown liquid through a piece of flannel?

# # # 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Shotgun Shells by Gordon L. Rottman

I’ve been crashing to meet a publisher’s deadline (they can be sooo pushy) and was unable to put together a totally Western-oriented article. So, I’ve put together an entry using three shotgun-related articles from my e-book published by Osprey: The Big Book of Gun Trivia: Everything you want to know, don't want to know, and don't know you need to know.
Some of this covers modern shotguns, but much applies to shotguns of the Old West. Either way, if you have an interest in firearms, this may be worthwhile. The e-book may be purchased from any Amazon site, US or otherwise.

How are the gauges of shotguns determined? The caliber or bore diameter of shotguns is determined by the diameter of a single ball equaling the diameter of the bore after forming a number of identically sized balls from one Imperial Libra pound (453.6 grams) of lead. For a 12-gauge shotgun the pound of lead has been formed into 12 equal sized balls (the result can vary depending on what value is used for the density of lead). Thus, the larger the gauge number the smaller the caliber of the bore—see below table. Common US shotgun gauges are 10-, 12-, 16-, and 20-gauge with the 12- and 20-gauges being the most popular. Unrealized by many, in the Old West the 10-gauge shotgun was very widely used (“Doc” Holliday of O.K. Corral gunfight fame carried a sawed off Belgium-made Meteor 10-gauge—“street howitzer.” By the way, the gunfight with the McLaurys and Clantons actually occurred on the opposite side of the block from the O.K. Corral.) 8-gauge shotguns saw some popularity too. The 4-, 8-, 14-, 24-, 28-, and 32-gauge were popular in the States and Europe to varying degrees in the past, but are virtually unheard of today, the “lost gauges.” 14- and 28-gauge shotguns were widely used in the Old West along with the more common US gauges mentioned earlier. Shotguns larger than 10-gauge have been outlawed for hunting in the US since 1918.
 Modern shotgun shells for size comparison.

From 1922 there were 14½-gauge Greener Mk I and II police shotguns using a .577/450-inch* Martini-Henry single-shot, drop-block action, modified from old service rifles. The idea was that this odd British gauge prevented stolen guns from being used as the shells could not be privately purchased. It was circumvented by merely wrapping a smaller 16-gauge shotshell with a few layers of paper or tape. This was countered by developing a new shotshell in the late 1930s. This new round for the Greener Mk III police shotgun was an all brass case slightly bottlenecked down to 14½-gauge. Additionally it had a circular groove in the head encircling the primer. On the face of the breech plate on either side of the firing pin were two fixed studs that fit into the groove. This prevented paper-wrapped smaller shells from being loaded. Most of these shotguns, produced until 1964, were issued to prison guards and the Egyptian police, but also served in many British colonies. They were commonly known as “EGs”, Egyptian guns.
* The .577-450 Martini-Henry cartridge was actually .458-caliber being a necked down version of the older .577-inch Snider.
It is spelled “gauge” (abbreviated “ga.”) and never “gage” as is sometimes seen. “Gage” is often seen in US military publications, but that still does not make it correct. The British-developed gauge system is also used in Europe, e.g., 12 Gauge Schrotflinte in Germany, although the British usually call it “12 bore.” Older shotshells were sometimes headstamped, e.g., “No. 12,” but they were seldom called such. “Caliber” is also used to designate shotgun gauges in some countries. The Russians call it 12 калибра (kalibra). The French call it a calibre 12 fusil de chasse (hunting gun).
Of course Justin Wilson (1914-2001) had his own description of shotguns. “We rush back in the house and I get my twice-barrel car-a-bine, and Jean Ba’tiste get his automatic shootgun. Dat a one hole gun that shoot three times out of the same hole if the game warden there. If he ain’t there, it shoot five time right through the same place.”
The mathematical formula for determining gauge is:

It might be easier to simply use this table:
Gauge              Caliber             Millimeter
4-gauge           0.935-inch       23.79mm
8-gauge           0.835-inch       21.21mm
10-gauge         0.775-inch       19.69mm
12-gauge         0.729-inch       18.53mm
14-gauge         0.693-inch       17.60mm
16-gauge         0.662-inch       16.83mm
20-gauge         0.615-inch       16.53mm
24-gauge         0.580-inch       14.73mm
28-gauge         0.550-inch       13.97mm
32-gauge         0.526-inch       13.36mm

Even larger “shotguns” existed for commercial waterfowl hunting—“market hunting”—in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These were known as “punt guns”—aka “stanchion guns,” “market guns,” or “merchant’s guns”—as they were mounted on stanchions (support posts) fitted aboard punts—on small flat-bottom boats with a square-cut bow. Punt guns were custom-built 1.75-inch to over 2-inch caliber (44mm to 50mm-plus) swivel guns loaded with shot or scrap metal to “blast entire flocks” of fowl rising from marshes and lakes. They had 8-foot (2.43-meter) or longer barrels. The overall length could be up to 13 feet (3.96 meters). As for blowing “entire flocks” out of the sky, the average number of birds downed per shot was 16. Large commercial operations through would employ dozens of boats on line for barrage fire. These were actually muzzle-loading, flintlock- or percussion-fired cannons rather than true shotguns. There were some later breech-loading models using shotgun-type shells in 2- and 4-gauge. Punt-gunning is still a suctioned, but highly regulated, sport in Britain. In the US, punt-gunning was outlawed in most states in the 1860s and by Federal law in 1918.

Then what is the “410” shotgun? There are a couple of exceptions to designating shotguns by gauge. The gauge system was not applied to the “four-ten” shotgun popular in the US and Britain. Its bore is .410-caliber. If designated in the gauge system it would be 67.5-gauge. One occasionally sees it described as “410-gauge,” but this is entirely incorrect. The Air Force even marked cans of .410 survival shotgun shells as “cartridges, shotshell, .410 gage,” to incorporate two errors, designating it by gauge and misspelling it as “gage.” It has been called 36-gauge (not even close, that would be 0.506-inch) and in Europe it is known as the 12mm (it is actually 10.4mm—“4-10” transposed by coincidence). Regardless, these are accepted designations and “36-gauge” and “12mm” are sometimes marked in parentheses on .410 cartons. It has been suggested that “36-gauge” was used simply to fall smoothly in line with the above run of standard shotgun gauges and this may well have been the case. The .410 appeared in Britain in the 1870s and did not become common in the US until about World War I. It is often claimed that the .410 was derived from the .44 Extra Long (.44 XL or EL) introduced by Ballard in 1876 for its single-shot rifles, but was replaced by the .44-40 Winchester. The assumption that the .410 was derived from the .44 XL was because there was a shotshell variant, but the .410 shotshell had long been in use in Britain and Europe.

There were also little 9mm (0.355-inch) rimfire shotguns available in the US in the 1920s and earlier in Europe. These smallest of shotguns were intended for small pests and known as “garden guns.” Today the 9mm shotshell has been “replaced” by the .22 Long Rifle birdshot, aka “ratshot” or “snakeshot.” These tiny shotshells are only good for rats, mice, and snakes within 10 feet (3 meters) or closer. Even then, don’t expect immediate disabling wounds, in fact, they may attack if wounded (just kidding). Except at pointblank range it will not ever penetrate layered bird feathers. It provides a 6-inch (150mm) shot pattern 6 feet (1.82 meters) from the muzzle. The shot size is officially called “dust” (0.04-inch—1.01mm) in diameter. They are also loaded with the next larger shot size, No. 12 (0.05-inch—1.03mm).

Do the different colors of shotgun shells have a meaning? Shotgun shells may be thick paper or plastic with brass heads or all brass or all plastic including the head (introduced in the 1960s). Empty shotgun cartridges are often called “hulls.” Paper and plastic shotgun shells are colored with red, green, and blue being the most common. In the US most ammunition companies produce red shells, but Remington uses green and Peters blue. UMC used to use green and maroon. There are exceptions among other manufacturers to include foreign shotgun shells. Other colors such as black, light blue, brown, and tan will be encountered. There is one notable exception. From 1960 Federal Cartridge Company began producing 20-gauge shells with yellow cases allowing them to be easily identified if mixed with 12-gauge shells; the two most popular American gauges.
Shotgun shells were and are packed in 25-round cartons since the "beginning of time immortal."

The reason for this is that a 20-gauge shell loaded into a 12-gauge shotgun will catch on the forward lip of the chamber, the chamber being slightly larger in diameter than the bore. When a break-open breech-loading shotgun is opened the chamber appears empty as the shell is 2-3/4 or 3 inches* down the chamber and a 12-gauge shell can inadvertently be loaded atop the 20-gauge. The carnage can well be imagined (Well, best not to imagine it.). Yellow 20-gauge shells though have not been 100 percent standardized throughout the industry, so take appropriate precautions. Federal 16-gauge shells are purple as they can similarly slip through the chamber of 10-gauge shotguns, even if there are fewer opportunities of this occurring as the 10-gauge is none too common now, although it has re-achieved a degree of popularity in recent years.
* The 12-gauge 2-3/4-inch (70mm) long shell is standard in the US. The 3-inch (76mm) is a magnum load and it should never be attempted to load them into a 2-3/4-inch chamber. Most modern 12-gauge shotguns have 3-inch chambers. There is also a little used 3-1/2-inch (90mm) long-range round, introduced in 1987, requiring special shotguns. The 12-gauge 2-1/2-inch (64mm) was standard in Europe and the Old West. The shorter rounds may be fired in longer chambered shotguns, but there may be feed problems in semi-automatic and pump shotguns.
      I guess we need to talk about shot sizes sometime--bird shot, rabbit shot, buck shot, etc sometime, along with slugs.

The Hardest Ride (Now available I trade paperback.)

Tears of the River