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.
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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