Stacey Kayne: Inspired by House Fires and Hacksaws

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Crazy as that sounds, a house fire and a hacksaw were strong visual inspirations for the conception of my novella in STETSONS, SPRING & WEDDING RINGS.  The heroine in this book, Miss Constance Pauley, was inspired by a true story. I had just begun to dabble in writing when I heard about a local woman who’d ended up in California as the result of a house fire in Montana in the early 1900’s. Eighteen years old and working as a housekeeper in a boardinghouse, she’d accidentally knocked a kerosene lamp into a basket of linens. No fire-retardant fabrics back then, and the room was quickly ablaze. The house went up in flames and she suffered burns to her legs and hands. The rural Montana community didn’t have a physician capable of treating such burns—not without the loss of her legs. Check out the standard surgical kits of the times–very similar to what you’d find in a tool shed nowadays.

detail of surgical kit (J.H. Gemrig, 1840-1880)

The town sent out a wire asking for help. The nearest hospital willing to treat her was in San Francisco, and arrangements were made to send her to California by train. Back then a caboose was coupled at the back of each train and the only doors on the standard cars were on the ends, the passage too narrow for a stretcher to get through. Bound to the stretcher, she was hoisted up by a number of men and slid in through a window. Her treatment was a success and after her release from the hospital she found a teaching job outside of San Francisco. She met and married a farmer and eventually found her way to our small agricultural town where she taught school until she retired.

I was fascinated by the imagery of this young woman being bound to a stretcher and the fear she must have felt as that window swallowed her up into the belly of the train, transporting her hundred of miles from her home. In my own version of the story it is the hero who sets the fire, as is revealed in the excerpt. When the town doc pulls out his hacksaw as the best means to save her life, Kyle draws his gun to keep the doc at bay and begins setting his own plans into motion, starting with sending that wire to San Francisco. And then the real fun begins.

I have to share a recent treasure find of a research book–Lotions, Potions, and Deadly Elixirs: Frontier Medicine in America.  The author of this informative book has a riveting writing style; clever, witty and downright hilarious in some segments. “Powder papers, booty balls, and sugartits, Lotions, Potions and Deadly Elixirs has a cure for whatever ails.”  And he’s not kidding! Some of the documented medical procedures and home remedies in this book are mind-boggling, others horrifying–while some are good, honest herbal remedies like Grandma used to make. Aside from a wide and varied well of information, it’s plain fun reading. Some of the stories and antic dotes are sure to inspire upcoming characters.

Can you imagine the town doc showing up at your home and busting out one of those early surgical kits?  I’m starting to think a fear of doctors may be an inherited survival instinct  😉

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45 thoughts on “Stacey Kayne: Inspired by House Fires and Hacksaws”

  1. Stacey I am so glad the medicine has changed I would be so freaked out if I had to be strapped to a stretcher and taken to another State to be treated by myself. I don’t even like going here where I live and be treated and I have all my family here.
    And thank goodness they had real tools now look how much more they can do now. Everything has advanced so much.
    Your book sounds very interesting even more now I will have to get it.

  2. Thank god for modern medicine and technology. I thought watching Katherine Chancellor on the young and the restless getting a live facelift was frightning. OMG I could see why a person would draw a gun to stop that sugery.
    I will have to locate your book Stacey!! I want to find out what happend to this hero.

  3. Good morning, Brenda! Congratulations on your book win yesterday! I’m with you–thank goodness for the modern marvels in medicine 😉 Hope you can find the book–THANKS!

  4. Hi Kathleen! You are braver than I am, I doubt I could stomach watching a facelift—ack!!! I had to have sinus surgery and a nose reconstruction about seven years back, by a doc I adored and trusted, but when he started to explain the surgery I was like (yeah, I’m from CA *g*), “Whoa, Whoa–just tell me I’m going to go to sleep and wake up all better–or I’m showing up!” Had there been a hacksaw anywhere in sight I’d have been outta there 😉 Hope you enjoy the book–Kyle and Constance are a favorite of mine 😀

  5. Morning Stacey. Please take a deep breath and relax. The remedies they used to think were the only way to take care of illness and wounds is most definitely frightening. I think the worst thing was bleeding someone to let the poison out had to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. Guess they are starting to use leaches again. ICK! The saw does look terrible – just the sound of the blade against a bone would knock me off. Glad we have more civilized instruments now. The research book is an interested read, I am sure. 🙂 HUGS!

  6. Amazing to me that she was able to endure the pain. Sunburn’s bad enough, but burns on her legs? Shudder. Of course those were the days when laudanum (opium) was given routinely. But then the patient ended up an addict. Shudder again. I still want to puke whenever I see that scene in Gone With the Wind when the surgeon is going to cut off the soldier’s leg and there’s nothing to give him to put him out. As much as I hated being in the hospital lately, it beats what came before.

  7. Hi Stacey, I love the inspiration you got from a real-life account. Congrats on the novella. I love ’em, it’s like three in one LOL.

    I have seen antique surgical –and dental- instruments up close, and yikes. More than ever glad to be living now. Although…I recently had surgery on my foot which entailed bone saws and screws. But at least I was asleep 🙂 I remember that horrifying scene in Gone with the Wind when they start to saw off the soldier’s leg and he’s awake. Whew.

    I have put Lotions and Potions on my reference to-buy list.

    Have a wonderful Mother’s Day! oxoxox

  8. STACEY!!!!! NO! NO! NO!
    That surgical kit is a nightmare. Saws in various sizes. Those looks like axes and drills and hammers.

    I’m seeing why people went with leeches, considering the alternatives…. yikes! Good for your hero for drawing his gun!!!

    The book sounds wonderful. I think one thing writers forget while we’re researching and trying to ‘get it right historically’ is the madness that went on in medicine. So what if your story isn’t exactly historically accurate, chances are every notion in YOUR head was in some DOCTORS head and it was probably tried.

    Amputation for a BURN?!

    Ouch! Riveting post, though, I couldn’t look away. 🙂 Did you actually see a doctor’s kit like that? I scour old museums for medical tools.

  9. Hi Paisley! You must know I get woozy at the sight of blood 😉 My baby boy had to get stitches in his chin when he was three (he turned 14 yesterday!) after doing a face-plant into the pool. I jumped in and pulled him to the surface and raw flesh was sticking out, blood gushed everywhere. I grabbed him up and started running—barefoot. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew I had to get somewhere. Thank goodness my husband pulled into the drive just then or I likely would have ran fifteen miles to town *g*. I jumped in the truck wearing a swim suit and tried to stay conscious as I stared at that split chin all the way to the hospital. Ethan never cried, not once–and fell asleep during stitches (he’s our tank). I cried–and they got me a bed to lie down on too 😉

  10. Hi Betty! You are oh so right! My heroine is doped up on laudanum–I had fun showing the effects it had on her. Just the thought of that amputation scene sends me under the couch! Ya know, an amputated limb was among the highest casualties of the Civil War. A character in my new upcoming series has a prosthetic foot due to gangrene from a bullet wound. Digging up info and pictures of the tables and tie downs those docor’s used for that “routine” procedure was not my favorite research. ::shudder::

    Thanks for stopping in to share 😀 And sending loads of happy-healing vibes your way!

  11. I so relate to your blood and fainting story, Stacey. My Kellie would pass out cold at the sight of a mere drop of blood. The worst time was when I cut my finger on a ham tin and it really bled. I asked her to run and grab the bandaids. But, NO, she had to see it first. So, there I stood bleeding everywhere and she was out cold on the kitchen floor. Bless the chiildren. 🙂

  12. You will love the Potions book, Tanya! Has to be one of the most entertaining I’ve ever come across. Even when the info is horrifying, the author has you laughing. I’ve seen those tools up close too—why go to a dentist if you had a good pair of pliers and someone with a strong arm at home–YIKES!!

    Happy Mother’s Day wishes to you, as well!!! Guess I could have chose a more flowery topic for today, uh? 😀

  13. I’ve got chill bumps from looking at your photos!

    I recall an actual home visit from our family MD
    back in my childhood. My youngest sister came near to our dog while he was eating & he bit her in the throat area. Mother called Dr. Pratt, who was at the house within the hour. The doctor told us that the bite just missed the vital blood vessels. We all watched as this tough little 3 y/o received several stitches without anesthetic!

    Pat Cochran

  14. After seeing the surgeons kit, I can see why he’d be schooled by dentist instead of a doctoring university–seems the best requirements would be a strong back and a beefy hand—eep!

  15. Hi Stacey,

    I enjoyed the excerpt!

    I agree with Mary, that surgical kit looks like torture! Ugh. I’m so glad we live in today’s world. Guess, a hundred years from now, the world will think our methods of medicine were quite antiquated. 🙂

  16. That just grosses me out to no end. I hate the sight of medical stuff in the first place. Eww. My hubby was recently in the hospital (he’s fine!) and they had displays of old medical equipment and clothing in all the lobbies and hallways, and I had to look the other way every time I walked past one.

    Your story sounds wonderful, and I look forward to reading it!

  17. LOL, Mary. After a glimpse of those “instruments” leeches do seem like a humane treatment 🙂

    I always try to keep it close to practical uses of my era. It wasn’t so much the burns that would have killed her, but the infection due to lack of circulation and education on the doctor’s part. Infection and gangrenous wounds were any rural doctors worst nightmare. San Francisco doctors had extensive experience with burn treatments–while the entire city hadn’t burned to the ground by this point in history (those crooked politicians!), fires were still a problem, and their doctors had become advanced in treating burns by keeping the wound clear of dead flesh to fight infection and promote the generation of new veins and circulation to the wound—treatments still in use.

    Don’t you just love museums!!

  18. Hi Stacey! I’m not sure which is more terrifying–the thought of a house fire or those surgical instruments. Either way, I’d be running! Infection scares me more than the blades. For a recent book, I had a rather gruesome chat with a friend who’s a dermatologist. We take so much for granted these days, like painkillers and antibiotics.

    Can’t wait for your story : )

  19. You know why barber poles are red and white, don’t you? Because old-time barbers used to also be the town doctor/surgeon/dentist, and they’d put the bloodstained cloths on a pole out front as advertisements. *shudder* Man, I hate it when useless trivia like that pops into my head!

    Scary thing, those hacksaws – no wonder life expectancy was so short in those days!

  20. Hi Charlene! I’m thrilled you liked the excerpt 🙂 I can’t even imagine what medicine will be like in a hundred years–it is amazing you look at the time-span and huge advances 🙂

  21. Sorry Cheryl 🙁 I’m wondering if those decorations were the hospital’s way of telling their patients to not complain—it used to be much worse 😉

    So glad your hubby is recovered!! Hope y’all have a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend 😀

  22. “We take so much for granted these days, like painkillers and antibiotics.”

    So true, Victoria! And I’m with you–I’d be running 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  23. Holy cow, Terri! I have never heard that! Barbers hung bloody towels to PROMOTE business?!? Good grief! Although, considering their clients were men, perhaps it was a macho thing to get a shave and lancing *g*

    Thanks for sharing that cool tidbit of historical info–I love your trivia mind 😀

  24. What a fascinating story! Also, it’s heartwarming that the residents of that town would pull together to help that woman. I’m with Betty — I’m a wimp when it comes to even sunburn. I can’t imagine what the woman went through.

  25. Terri – eeew on the barber pole! And Stacey, what a cool book to find on old frontier lotions, potions, etc. I love your books and can’t wait to get the next one in my hands!

  26. What a great post, Stacey. I enjoyed reading about what the doctors used then compared to now. I am glad that it changed.

  27. Stacey,

    I just received my copy of Lotions, Potions and Deadly Elixirs two days ago. Great resource for a historical writer to have on her bookshelf.

  28. Very interesting post. Wonderful sets of surgical tools. Better than what came before, I’m sure they seemed advanced at the time. Of all the advances in our world (plumbing, agriculture, transportation, etc.) I think the medical advances really mean the most to our quality of life.
    Loved the excerpt, look forward to reading the whole book.
    Happy Mother’s Day everyone. Enjoy the weekend!

  29. Thank you, McKenna!!! Can you imagine seeing a bloody towel hanging outside a shop and thinking, oh yeah, that guy must be a skilled surgeon–mind blowing 🙂

  30. Hi Keli–isn’t it GREAT?! If my book wasn’t due within a month, I’d be curled up with that book until I finished it—it’s going to be my treat read 😉

  31. Thank you, Patricia! I’d have to agree with you about medical advancing doing the most to improve our quality of life. Here’s hoping they keep making leaps and bounds on the CURE front 🙂

  32. Janet — I love hearing about your research and family “artifacts.” I have a pair of dainty sewing scissors that I’ve framed — belonging to my Texan great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. I LOVED “Courting Miss Adelaide” and can hardly wait to start “Courting the Doctor’s Daughter.” One of my great-greats was what was known as an “eclectic physican” in the 1800’s. Actually went to a “college” of some variety — so I’m hoping he was more than a “snake oil salesman.” 🙂

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