Lori Austin & An Outlaw in Wonderland


The second book, AN OUTLAW IN WONDERLAND, in my western historical romance series “Once Upon a Time in the West” was released on June 4th.  This series is set in the post-Civil War period.  However the incidents that set the heroes and heroines on their path occurred during the war.  This second book begins at Gettysburg in 1864 and moves to Chimborazo Hospital and Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond.

As the hero of OUTLAW is a physician, and the heroine a matron at the hospital (when they aren’t spying for opposite sides) I did a lot of research about Civil War era medicine and became fascinated by it.  They knew a lot more than we thought they did back then, or at least a lot more than I thought they did.

The casualties of the Civil War were the greatest in our history.   Most estimates put the death toll at 620,000, though some go as high as 700,000.  For the Union, over twice as many died of disease as died in battle.  The names of the diseases were as colorful as their symptoms–the King’s evil, a strangery, erysipelas, pyemia, paroxysms.

Most physicians were aware of the connection between filth and infection, however they had no idea how to sterilize equipment.  Because of the conditions–an overabundance of wounded, tents and barns used as field hospitals, a lack of any water, let alone clean water– doctors often went days without washing their hands, thus transferring bacteria from one man to another.  A small cut on a hand could result in a “surgical fever” for the doctor himself.   And penicillin wouldn’t be discovered for another seventy odd years.

In AN OUTLAW IN WONDERLAND, Ethan Walsh believes that putrefaction is a result of invisible particles in the air. If they entered an open wound, infection set in. The particles could travel on the instruments used, the sutures, even the surgeon’s, the nurse’s, or the patient’s hands.  Therefore, Ethan washes everything that touches his patients, including the doctor, with a mixture of alcohol and water.  Fewer of his patients die than any of the other physicians’.  Most think him insane.  Annabeth Phelan sees him as both beautiful and brilliant.

While the concept of “biting the bullet” has become legend, in truth most operations were performed after the administration of ether or chloroform.  Reports of screaming from the operating tents were most likely the screams of men who’d just learned they would lose a limb rather than their screams as they were losing it.

Chloroform and ether was administered by dripping the liquid onto cloth then holding the cloth over the patient’s nose.  When he went limp, the operation commenced.  Not the best technique, but better than the alternative.  Many soldiers were only half asleep when the operation began.  Stonewall Jackson was said to have remembered the sound of the saw cutting off his arm.  In the Civil War, speed was often a surgeon’s best technique.

If a soldier survived surgery and escaped fever, pain might be alleviated by laudanum or morphine, which was made from the opium poppy.  Often the drug was rubbed directly onto the wound in powder form.  The liquid form could also be injected.  As laudanum, the drug could be added to water and made more palatable with sugar.  The drug in either form was highly addictive.  Such addiction, its symptoms and cure, also plays an important part in OUTLAW.

In this trilogy, brain injuries play a significant role.  During the Civil War, as now, the brain is a mystery.  Injuries to it–be they from a Minié ball, or a knock on the noggin–are treated with a combination of guesswork and hope. 

I became fascinated with Civil War era medicine, and enjoyed filtering it through the “Once Upon a Time in the West” series.

Do you enjoy learning about other time periods?  What’s your favorite time period?  What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about it?


I’ll be giving away a copy of the first book in the “Once Upon a Time in the West” series, the RITA nominated, BEAUTY AND THE BOUNTY HUNTER to three of today’s commenters, chosen at random.

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46 thoughts on “Lori Austin & An Outlaw in Wonderland”

  1. This was very interesting to me, Lori. We also lost a great number of deaths in WWll. Way more in a shorter than our recent wars that they talk about losing more lives. We have veteran hospitals in lots of places overseas. I would love to win your book. Thanks for the chance. MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

  2. How fascinating!!! I love the Civil War era and didn’t know some of this! Now I want to go read all about it! I enjoy writing – short stories and such for my friends and writing partners (and for my own enjoyment!) – and research is a big part of it. I tend to get fixated on the smallest detail and research the heck out of it. I think it really adds to the story. Thanks for sharing! I’d love to win a copy of your book, but even if I don’t, I’ll be downloading this series to my Kindle! Thanks for transporting us to another time and place!

  3. I’ve always loved learning about history throughout the ages. I was raised on tales of Camelot so Medieval was my first love. I expanded to Victorian, Regency, and Western historicals.

    I would say that the Regency time period is my current favorite. The balls, royalty, family ties, and women trying to break out of the strictures of a male controlled society.

  4. How cool – thank you so much for sharing with us, Lori – I love learning more about The Civil War and that time period – all three of my brothers are Civil War re-enactors and we have attended a few local re-enactments, which were fascinating – scary stories about the primitiveness of the surgery at the time – I have also recently gotten a few books on Lincoln, and his assassination as well as John Wilkes Booth –

    I also love the Regency era – ever since I read my first Regency Romance – “Felicia” by Leonora Blythe – back in 10th grade!!!

  5. It was a wonder any of the wounded lived during that time. It must have been very frustrating for the medicals to not be able to do more. Dee

  6. Having been an RN for 37 yrs, this fascinates me. Strangely, it’s something that I never thought about until you wrote about all the research you did for this book. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  7. I love the old west! I believe in another life I lived in the 1800’s. I love my horses and my cowboys! I wish I could go back to those days ! Thanks for a awesome giveaway !

  8. Kim,
    That’s cool. I figure if I did live in the Old West, I was a St. Louis drop out. I have a phobia about crossing big water. No thanks. Especially in a wagon or a raft or a rickety boat. No way.

  9. Western historicals are also my favorites. I love the time period a good decade after the Civil War. During the ’70s, they had the Transcontinental Railroad, the telegraph, and some advancements in the medicine world. I totally agree that they knew more about medicine back then than what we give them credit for today.

  10. This sounds like a great series. I always enjoyed learning about the Civil War in history class. Also “Gone with the Wind” is a favorite book and movie of mine.

  11. I love learning about other time periods! I often feel like I was born in the wrong era lol. I really enjoy the 1800’s in the west. I just love how people and families had to band together to make things work and for the most part they didn’t get in day without some good old hard work. I think the most interesting thing I have learned would be about how women use to cook back then. When learning about their recipes, I was amazed to find out that nothing had particular measurements. They would say add dash of this or dollop of this. all I know is that I wouldn’t be able to cook like that. Thanks so much for your post1 I’m excited have learned about you and writing!

  12. Enjoyed reading the article. My favorite time period to read about is the Western expansion of America. I would have loved to been with Lewis and Clark on their expedition-to see what no one had seen before and to discover what was beyond the horizon. That would have been awesome
    Your book sounds really good.

  13. One of my fondest memories of my grandfather was sitting with him and watching Westerns on TV, so even though I have never been west of the Mississippi, I love to read about them. However, whenever I think I was born in the wrong tiem peeiod I also realize that I would not want to live anywhere, anytime wothout indoor plumbing. lol!

  14. I love reading book, especially romance books about the Civil war and western.. I am not sure what I would be like living in those times.. But am sure it was harder than we think, especially for the medical treatments.. I prefer modern medicine..
    thanks for sharing such great info.

  15. I love Historicals… being able to step back in time with the characters to all different eras… seeing their way of life… how different things were… thank you so much for sharing Lori… enjoyed your post!

  16. I read a lot of historical romance set in England. A lot of them are Regency settings, where rules were different for men & women, and the women more or less have to do what their fathers or husbands want. There is a lot of marrying for money or title. It seems like the move to America gave women more say in their lives, right from the start, even if it isn’t total equality.

  17. I love reading books about the Civil War. I am 74 years old and I can look back and see how far medicine has come in my time. Remember how many people died during WWI of influenza. Now we just say “oh I’ve got the flue”.

  18. Goldie,
    Well Edward Cullen certainly did! Just kidding. It always gives me a shiver to read about the diseases that swept through populations in the past. My mom tells stories of being kept inside when polio hit the area.

  19. Welcome to the Junction Lori and thanks for the fascinating post.. The Civil War was such a dark period in our country’s history and it’s always good to see the hopeful aspects that came from it as well.

  20. Congrats on your new release. I love the Civil War era! Also big into westerns. I have already read Beauty and the Bounty Hunter and let me tell you ladies it is awesome!

  21. I am fond of historical novels, Time period doesn’t matter. I always seem to learn something because of the super research done by the authors. I thank you.

  22. Love historical novels and the research you and other authors do for these type of novels is so interesting. Would love to read either of your books. Thank y

  23. I do enjoy learning about time periods. I don’t really have a favorite time period, because all of them have their own charm.
    Btw Lori, I just have to say how much I like the titles and the covers from your books.

  24. I used to be fascinated by the Civil War period. The more I’ve read though I have begun to stay away from this period. Having seen the results of this latest war and having it touch on people I know or related to people I know makes war more real to me. My father and grandfather both served in WWII. Their reluctance to talk about it confused me as a child. Now, learning about the things of war I am not so curious. History was one of my interests and considered majoring in it in college (chose music instead)(took placement tests to cover my requirements).Now, I’ve lived through history. How things can change.

  25. I love the Western Historicals. Reading about the people that had the courage and determination to go west and make their home. I’m disabled and a avid reader so I love to read any era. I really enjoy the Amish. I admire their faith. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your giveaway.
    Barbara Thompson

  26. I absolutely love reading about other time periods! Maybe because it is my way of having a “vacation” and learning history at the same time. 🙂 My favorite is anytime around the 15th century. Don’t know why!
    Susan P
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

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