Do You Know Where Your Hairy Creature Came From?


I’m talking about your pet! And veterinary medicine.

Two years ago we got a cute new puppy and instantly fell in love. She’s a Bichon Frise and has the sweetest personality. Her name is Amy.

At the time, I was writing the novel, KLONDIKE WEDDING.  (Published in 2007.) I wanted to give my heroine a puppy and started looking into Amy’s history to see if her breed was around then. Lo and behold, yes! Because it was a gold rush story, I named her Nugget in the book. 

They weren’t known as Bichon Frises back then, simply bichons. (Double-check the breed names if you’re including them in your novels. The dog may have existed, but the name may have been slightly different. Many official names and standards of a particular breed were formalized later, in the 1900s, for American kennel clubs.)

One thing often overlooked in Klondike history is the huge influx of stampeders’ dogs. People from around the world heard of the gold strike and raced to get there. They brought their faithful companions not only as a remedy for cabin fever, but as work dogs. They pulled sleds, hauled supplies and people, carried mail and acted as security guards. Often times, they were the only friend a gold miner could trust. And extremely valuable. A dog that sold for $15 in the lower states could sell for ten times that amount or more in the Yukon.

When I was in the Yukon, I picked up this great book. GOLD RUSH DOGS by Claire Rudolf Murphy and Jane G. Haigh. It offers such an interesting point of view of the gold rush. For centuries prior to this, Indians and Eskimos in Alaska relied on their huskies and malamutes for transportation (dog sleds) and carrying household goods as they moved seasonally for hunting, fishing and trapping.

Stampeders brought different breeds. Saint Bernards, English mastiffs, water spaniels, Lapphunds (a Norwegian or Lapp dog that was a reindeer herder) and countless other mixed breeds. Many became legendary in the north for their hard work, incredible strength and duration. They bred with the huskies and forever changed the bloodline of northern dogs.

DOGS. Some dog breeds from around the world and their history:

Bichon – French, Belgian and Mediterranean ancestry dating back to the 1300s. Related to poodles, Maltese breeds, and water spaniels. During the 1500s, the breed became popular as pampered lap dogs for French, English and Spanish royalty.

Golden Retriever – Developed sometime around 1865 by Lord Tweedmouth of Scotland. For hunting purposes to retrieve game birds such as grouse, pheasant and quail. The dog is able to swim in cold water, push through vegetation and retrieve gently.

Saint Bernard – Very old breed. Some say they date back to the 1st century A.D. Its ancestors are herding dogs of Swiss and Italian farmers, and watchdogs. Famous for being used by Swiss monks as rescue dogs for travelers crossing the treacherous Swiss Alps. These dogs have a highly developed sense of smell to find people trapped in snowstorms and are excellent pathfinders. In widespread use until the middle of the 19th century.

CATS. Around 4,000 years ago, cats were fully domesticated by the Egyptians as household pets, and used to guard stored grain from rodents. Cats don’t have as many diverse breeds as dogs. Although some breeds are 500 years old, most are roughly 100 years old and new breeds are continually being developed.

Some cat breeds:

Persian – Originated in Persia (Iran). Believed to have been brought to Europe during the Crusades in the 1300s, though first documented in Italy during the 1600s. Introduced to North America in the late 1800s.

American Shorthair – A breed with ancestry related to English cats, which were brought on ships by early explorers (the Mayflower) to guard valuable cargo from mice and rats. Known for longevity, robust health and amiability.

Siamese – Exported from Thailand (known as Siam then) in the late 1800s, to England and America. Known for distinct beauty, intelligence and inquisitive nature.


In KLONDIKE WEDDING, I took the story one step further and made the hero a Veterinary Surgeon who worked for the Mounties. He had a lot on his plate—dealing with a measles quarantine, trapped with the heroine and several other people, while suspecting someone was using his vet supplies for poison.

You can imagine how valuable veterinarians were during those times, especially in caring for horses. Horses were desperately needed for transport, battle, hunting, and basic survival. Veterinary Surgeons became very important during the American Civil War.

Although the Royal Veterinary College was founded in England in 1791, the first college in the U.S. started in 1857—the New York College of Veterinary Surgeons. Up until then, American men became veterinarians by apprenticing with someone who was trained in England, or by practice and hearsay. Unfortunately, in some pockets of the U.S. it took several decades for good education to filter through.

In 1863, the United States Veterinary Medical Association was founded. It went through several name changes, and published the journal, American Veterinary Review, for their members.

Reference sources for this article can be found on my website

Tell me about your creatures! What pets do you have? If you’re a writer, what animals have you written into your stories?


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         Wanted in Alaska…coming Feb 2009

Catherine Stang and Medicine in the Old West

A big thanks to the ladies from Petticoats and Pistols for inviting me to come blog! 


When I was working on my new release, The Bargain, I had a rare chance to do research with my husband.  (Not the way you’re thinking.  LOL.)  Like the hero in my story, my husband is a doctor, although in a different specialty.  The history of medicine is a hobby of my husband’s, so he enjoyed sharing with me what it was like to be a doctor back in the 1800’s.  I’d like to share with you what I discovered.       


The first Medical College in America was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1765.   American medicine in the mid-19th century was a far cry from today’s curriculum of 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3-6 years of residency training.


Most aspiring doctors would spend a few months in a medical school for 2 terms, often without having a college degree, then spend a year or two apprenticed to a practicing doctor where they would learn the practical aspects of patient care.  Medical students were renowned for their raucous and drunken behavior.  Most medical schools in America were privately owned and run by individual doctors.


 Medical techniques were still rudimentary.  No anesthesia, save for perhaps intoxicating the patient with liquor, was available at that time for surgery – even ether was not yet available.  A surgeon was prized for his ability to perform operations quickly due to the pain, and a good surgeon could, for example, amputate a leg in about 2 minutes.


Antibiotics were still decades in the future, so post-op infections were the rule, with mortality rates for even simple operations running about 50%.  Wounds were usually cauterized with boiling oil or hot pokers after surgery.  The operating theaters in hospitals were often located in towers or in a separate building so that other patients could not hear the screams of the surgery patients.  Surgeries of the abdomen or chest were uniformly fatal.


Medicine theory was still grounded in the passive, nature-based principles of Hippocrates, a Greek physician from 4th century BC, and Galen, the 2nd century AD Roman physician. Some herbs were available in 19th century America and some plants were used, such as the foxglove plant which provided digitalis for dropsy, or congestive heart failure, but the mechanism of action was unknown and doses were not precise.


Hospital wards were unsanitary to say the least – often 3-4 patients shared a bed, and one could often awaken to find oneself sleeping with the corpse of a bedfellow who had passed on during the night.  Doctors had little knowledge of the germ theory, which was doubted and ridiculed by some doctors, so handwashing between patient visits, or even between the doctor doing an autopsy and examining his next patient, was rare.  No wonder people would do most anything to avoid going into a hospital when they could.


With standard medicine in such a state, many people sought out herbalists or homeopaths who, even if their nostrums were ineffective, at least did little harm and let the patient heal by themselves if possible.  This was preferable to the frequent bloodletting or provision of emetics and strong purgatives to make the patient vomit or have diarrhea which were among the “heroic medicine” treatments most doctors used at the time.


Of necessity, medical practice advanced during the Civil War, possibly due to the sheer number of patients. Attention began to be paid to basic hygiene as cause and effect perhaps became more readily apparent, and army physicians began to compare notes on epidemics and infection. Slowly, new methods of dealing with traumatic injuries were developed and patient care overall began to improve, although it was still primitive. Some believe that medicine advanced more during the Civil War than during any other four-year period in history.


My latest release, The Bargain, takes place in a Union field hospital in the closing days of the Civil War. It is the jumping off point for my Western series, Finding Home. Researching the medical practices of the time gave me a greater sense of admiration for the doctors of the Old West and what they went through to try to help others. 


I have an autographed copy of my new release The Bargain to give away. I’ll draw a winner from all the comments.  Thanks in advance for stopping by to leave a comment. 


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Longevity and Tips for Living Longer

In my novels, I often include characters with a wide variety of ages. Sometimes a reader will ask if it’s accurate that one of my characters would have lived to be a senior. I tell them yes, because this is where statistics come in.

Sadly, up until the mid 1800s in America and England, nearly half of all children died before the age of ten. Nearly half. Childhood diseases such as measles, diphtheria (a deadly membrane that grows over the throat) and scarlet fever took many lives. Tuberculosis was another killer. Statistics vary slightly by region and time period, but the average lifespan for the early part of the century was roughly forty.

However, once a person got beyond childhood, these diseases weren’t usually fatal. So, let’s look at statistics. If one person lived until they were 4 years old and another lived till they were 76, the average lifespan of these two people would be 40.  Or if one person lived till they were 1 and another till they were 80, their average lifespan would be 40, as well. You get the idea…the average lifespan, statistically, doesn’t give a true picture of what that society looked like back then. It does not mean that people over the age of 40 were scarce. What it means is that half the population was wiped out in childhood.

Fortunately, after the 1850s, people started to understand the connection between germs and disease. Soaps and disinfectants came into common use. Public sanitation, such as garbage collection and water treatment, began in New York City. The average lifespan increased dramatically in the latter half of the century. And later, with the development of vaccines, most children’s lives were remarkably spared.

So how can we improve our own lives?

In writing this article, I goggled tips on longevity and you can imagine how long the list was. We pursue the fountain of youth with zeal. We’ve got anti-aging formulas, bottled vitamins, testimonials on new exercise techniques, cleansing products, and you name it.

What caught my eye were natural solutions, and not based on buying a certain product. In other words, getting back to basics. Besides eating well—especially vegetables and fruits—and getting regular mild exercise,  these are some other interesting tips I’d like to share:

1)     Some scientists believe that eating only until you feel 80% full, will prolong life. According to the BBC news, residents of Okinawa, Japan have four times more centenarians (those over 100) than the rest of the world. The calendar says they’re 70, but their body says they’re 50. Most impressively, a lot of them are healthy until the very end. They eat more tofu and soya products than any other population in the world, a rich source of anti-oxidants. But they also have a cultural tradition, called hara hachi bu, which means eating only until they feel 80% full. Recent lab studies with mice also mimics this result—those fed less, live longer.

2)     Taking deep cleansing breaths for 2 minutes a day stimulates the lymph system. The lymph system is Mother Nature’s way of getting rid of the toxins in our body naturally. Inhale slowly, hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Lymph flow improves throughout the body.

3)     Studies show that being exposed to nature makes us feel better. A recent study of hospital patients who had a window view of trees and grass went home, on average, a day sooner than patients who didn’t. You don’t even have to be in this environment, you just have to see it!

4)     Natural endorphins in our bloodstream—that give us an emotional high and fight disease—can be triggered by laughter. These are the same endorphins that can be triggered by jogging (the runner’s high). So being a couch potato and watching sitcoms can be beneficial.

5)     Reduce your stress level. We’re all individuals and as such, different things trigger a lower stress level. For some, it’s exercise, for some it’s reading, others spend time with their children and families, or take a trip to the beach. Here’s one you may not know—scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but they’ve known for twenty or thirty years now that people who go to church regularly, in whatever faith they observe, live longer. It seems that churchgoers have significantly lower levels of stress hormones. What’s your method of relaxation?

6)     Singing can help you live longer. According to studies in the UK and one recently done in California with opera singers, and studies from Harvard and Yale with choir singers—singers live longer. Singing releases endorphins (those happy hormones) and increases oxygenation through the heart and lungs. Singing promotes a healthy heart and enhanced mental state. Wow!

Do you have any other tips you’ve heard of?  Are you blessed with longevity in your family?

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First of all, please take a moment to thank me, Mary Connealy, for NOT using a bunch of the pictures I found. So icky. I stumbled upon lobotomies while doing research for…… what? I can’t remember? If they were still doing lobotomies, they would totally be coming for me. Ick.

We talk about all things western here but there have been some great posts on historical medicine, like this one from Kate Bridges on the contents of a Surgeon’s BagThough lobotomies are outside the historical western era, it’s just one of those things. I start doing research and one step leads me far afield. Here are some facts, some so horrific that I just immediate thought of our loyal P & P readers. (Poor babies!)

Lobotomies were used in the 20th century to treat a wide range of severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, clinical depression, and various anxiety disorders, as well as people who were considered a nuisance by demonstrating behavior characterized as, for example, “moodiness” or “youthful defiance”. After the introduction of the antipsychotic drug Thorazine, lobotomies fell out of common use and the procedure has since been characterized “as one of the most barbaric mistakes ever perpetrated by mainstream medicine”

In 1890, psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt removed pieces of the frontal lobes of six patients.

Psychosurgery was not publicly attempted again until 1910, when Estonian neurosurgeon Ludvig Puusepp operated on a few patients.

Then, in 1935, Portuguese physician and neurologist António Egas Moniz pioneered a surgery he called prefrontal leucotomy. The procedure involved drilling holes in the patient’s head and destroying tissue in the frontal lobes by injecting alcohol. He later changed technique, using a surgical instrument called a leucotome that cut brain tissue with a retractable wire loop. Moniz was given the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1949 for this work

This is where it gets REALLY ICKY! On Jan. 17, 1946, a psychiatrist named Walter Freeman launched a radical new era in the treatment of mental illness in this country. On that day, he performed the first-ever transorbital or “ice-pick” lobotomy in his Washington, D.C., office. Freeman believed that mental illness was related to overactive emotions, and that by cutting the brain he cut away these feelings.

Freeman, equal parts physician and showman, became a barnstorming crusader for the procedure. Before his death in 1972, he performed transorbital lobotomies on some 2,500 patients in 23 states.

 Walter Freeman believed that this surgery would be unavailable to the patients who needed it most: those that lived in state mental hospitals with no operating rooms, no surgeons, no anesthesia, and very little money. Freeman wanted to simplify the procedure so that it could be carried out by psychiatrists in mental asylums, which housed roughly 600,000 American inpatients at the time They’d advertise that Freeman was going to be in the area and put lobotomies on sale and do many of them in one day.

The Freeman-Watts prefrontal lobotomy still required drilling holes in the scalp, so surgery had to be performed in an operating room by trained neurosurgeons.

Freeman decided to access the frontal lobes through the eye sockets, instead of through drilled holes in the scalp. In 1945, he took an icepick from his own kitchen and began to test the new surgical technique on cadavers(if you can stomach it, go to Google Images and type in Lobotomy. Yikes!) A hammer or mallet was then used to drive the ice pick through the thin layer of bone and into the brain. This new form of psychosurgery was intended for use in state mental hospitals that often did not have the facilities for anesthesia, so Freeman suggested using electroconvulsive (that means they’d zap the patient with a bolt of electricity to knock them out-I believe thanks are in order) therapy to render the patient unconscious.

By the mid-1940s, Freeman was touring the country performing dozens of ice-pick lobotomies each day. Sometimes, for kicks, he’d operate left-handed. This is a picture of Freeman, he often had reporters watch the process and welcomed spectators of any kind.

At Cherokee State Hospital in Iowa, he accidentally killed a patient when he stepped back to take a photo during the surgery and allowed the ice pick to sink deep into the patient’s midbrain. Oops! My Bad!

As Freeman conducted more lobotomies, he advertised his dramatic results, promoting his technique as a 10-minute medical marvel. Nearly all his procedures included press coverage and before-and-after photo ops. In 1952, he made headlines by performing 25 lobotomies in a single day. His staff timed him as he tried to set speed records for performing the lobotomies. Freeman soon enjoyed celebrity.

Freeman performed his final lobotomy on Helen Mortensen.  It’s her third lobotomy by him.  She died from a brain hemorrhage following the procedure.  Freeman was banned from operating again.

Between 1939 and 1951, over 18,000 lobotomies were performed in the US, and many more in other countries.  It was often used on convicts, and in Japan it was recommended for use on “difficult” children. 

There have been a few famous cases over the years.  For example, Rosemary Kennedy, sister to John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy, was given a lobotomy when her father complained to doctors about the mildly retarded girl’s embarrassing new interest in boys.  Her father never informed the rest of the family about what he had done.  She lived out her life in a Wisconsin institution and died January 7, 2005, at the age of 86.  Her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in her honor in 1968.

Concerns about lobotomy steadily grew. (You THINK?!) By the early 1970s the practice had generally ceased. About time.

I know what you’re all thinking.

You can’t HANDLE the lobotomy–think Jack Nickolsen in A Few Good Men, NOT Jack in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest where he was given a lobotomy. And now that I’ve shared this with you, if you want to buy my books still… (I’ll understand if you’re afraid-there are no lobotomies in my book, I promise) …click on the books below and it’ll take you to Amazon. Even if you’ve had a lobotomy you can handle that!!!!!!!!!!!!

There are still many people living today who had lobotomies. One guy, Howard Dully (ironic name, huh? Dull?) wrote a book about his and got pretty famous for talking about his lobotomy, given at the request of his step-mother when he was twelve.  Okay, a couple of things.

1) If you’ve had a twelve year old, you can sympathize.

2) Hello wicked Stepmother

3) If the guy could write a book, how badly was he really hurt, c’mon!

Anyone ever heard of this? Know anyone who had one? (And no, I don’t want any ex-husband jokes here-unless they’re really funny)

So, how much of the weird medical science they’re doing today will be banned in a few years. And yes, I do include Michael Jackson in that question.





Lisa Plumley Talks Traveling Medicine Shows

One of the things I like best about writing for a living is that it gives me an opportunity to learn about all kinds of amazing things. While researching background material for stories, I learn about history, social mores, technologies old and new, interesting careers, cool settings…pretty much, the sky’s the limit (unless you actually want to say “the sky’s the limit” in an 1880s western romance–that saying didn’t come into popular use until 1920).

My next Harlequin Historicals release, “Marriage at Morrow Creek” in the Hallowe’en Husbands anthology, is set in and around a traveling medicine show in 1884.


Here’s a link to the video if you’d like to watch it: 

I *love* the idea of a traveling medicine show! I’ve wanted to write a story with that setting for a while now…and I think I might return to it someday. Anyway, I found out some nifty things about medicine shows, some of which play right into the stereotype of patent medicine quackery and others that you might find surprising. Here goes…

* Tonics, elixirs, and other patent medicines typically sold at medicine shows often contained between five and fifty-five percent alcohol (usually whiskey), but were used by people of all ages and walks of life, including women, children, and followers of the temperance movement. The most famous of these cure-alls, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, contained approximately 18% alcohol “as a solvent and preservative.”

* Patent medicine shows began around 1860 in America and enjoyed large audiences in most areas they stopped in. The shows typically opened with banjo or piano music, then proceeded with variety acts, minstrel skits, and sing-alongs, followed by the medicine man’s sales pitch. This cycle continued until the crowd thinned out; promising more entertainment after the sales period kept audience members in their seats. Other popular medicine show attractions included sword swallowers, fire eaters, tumblers, fortunetellers, flea circuses, magicians, strongmen, and buxom female singers.

* Most medicine shows and nostrum producers provided their audiences with informative almanacs or pamphlets to build and maintain their customer bases. These publications included popular features such as astronomy columns, information about the phases of the moon, cartoons, jokes, advice to farmers and housewives, and more.

* Less scrupulous medicine show proprietors filled salve boxes with axle grease or mixed powdered herbs in hotel bathtubs. Some remedies consisted of nothing more than artificially colored and flavored water. A few contained ingredients that were dangerous, including morphine and cocaine, but most were harmless. Some were even effective, especially those based on ancient herbal remedies.

* Snake oil, or shéyòu, is a genuine item. It’s still used as an anti-inflammatory pain reliever in China and may owe its efficacy to its high prostaglandin content.

* Lydia Pinkham® Herbal Compound is still sold today as a source of “nutritional support for women.” Other remedies a time-traveling medicine show attendee might recognize today include wrinkle erasing treatments, miracle pills that block fat absorption, creams that evaporate cellulite, lotions that stop hair loss, magnetic shoe insoles, male “enlargement” supplements, and laser “zit zappers.”

So the next time you reach for a nutritional supplement, brush on some “revolutionary” micronized mineral makeup, chug the latest “energy” drink, or browse the offerings at QVC, take a minute to consider the traveling medicine shows of the Old West. It’s possible that the more things change…the more they stay the same! (But be careful using that phrase in your historical romance–it didn’t come into use until novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” in his satirical journal, Les Guêpes in 1849.)

– – – – – – –
Lisa Plumley is the USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen contemporary and historical romances. Her latest book, Let’s Misbehave, was named one of Booklist magazine’s Top Ten Romances of 2007, earned a 4-1/2 star Top Pick! rating from Romantic Times, and was a finalist for the Booksellers Best Award in the mainstream/single title category. She’s excited to have two new books on the shelves this month: Home for the Holidays (Zebra) and Hallowe’en Husbands (Harlequin Historicals).

You can find her on MySpace (, or Facebook

Drop by her blog ( or visit her Web site ( to read first-chapter excerpts from any of her books, sign up for new-book reminder e-mails, download the reader newsletter, and more!

One lucky commenter today will receive the autographed set of Lisa’s Morrow Creek Matchmakers trilogy that includes The Matchmaker, The Scoundrel, and The Rascal plus a copy of the UK edition of The Drifter. Good luck to all!

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The Old Medicine Men — Who were they? What could they do?


Although I’ve been talking recently about survival methods and preparedness and other things like this, I thought we might take a break to go over another topic that is dear to my heart.  The medicine man.  Next blog I’ll get back on topic of survival, okay?

Medicine men, who were they?  What could they do?  What were they expected to do?  As you might suppose, the medicine man was of necessity connected (more than any other member of the tribe) to the spiritual side of life.  If a boy showed promise, he would be taken under the wing of the current medicine and and trained rigorously.  His training would consist of scouting skills, where he would be required to be able to trace the paths of ants and other small, as well as large life.  He would be expected to be able to walk amongst the enemy without detection.  This helped to develop the mind of the boy, who was also taught as a scout to be able to detect in the wild when there was another and foreign presence.  Some of these scouts could tell you from the changes in air currents, when there was a foreign presence entered into the landscape and when there wasn’t.  He was also expected to survive with what he might consider luxury in any environment — going into it with nothing but the shirt on his back.

Many are the stories of medicine men who went out alone into some of the most hostile (yet beautiful) environments, where he was expected to “make it go right” and to survive and survive well.  Once mastered, the boy went on to train his body, and he was expected to train his body hard.  He joined in with games, he ran distances that would stagger us even by today’s standards — he was expected to be able to run all day with nothing but water to refresh him, and to arrive calmly and not even be out of breath.  The theory was that one had to have control over not only one’s mind, but be in the most excellent physical condition, if he were to be able to connect with the spiritual realm.  Both mind and body could hold the spirit back, thus the emphasis on training.

As you might expect, this training might take many years.  But once the boy had a master over his mind, as well as his body, he was ready to develop the other side his nature, the spiritual side.  Some call it the realm of the soul, some say spirit.  It was not the same as what we now have come to think of as a spiritualist.  Rather, the boy was expected to go out into the world and to observe it, to pray, to fast, to commune with the Creator and all life.  He was carefully watched and trained by the medicine man, but he was often sent out to remote places, there to find out who he was in relation to the world at large.

I have read some interesting tales of some of these medicine men, and their near escapes from death before they were at last able to trust to their environment and to the Creator.  I know of no tragedies.  I have read of some strife before the boy was able to become into possession of the spiritual side of life.

But what could a medicine man do?  What were his strengths?  What was expected of him?

All tribes were different, so let’s examine one tribe that I have studied somewhat — I don’t profess to know all there is to know about this subject.  Heaven forbid!  In the Lakota tribes (the Sioux), it was believed that the medicine men had lived amongst those supernaturals beings or lore, the Thunders, before his birth.   Thus, boys were watched for by the medicine man who would show signs that would point to his being able to become a medicine man.  Within the Sioux tribe (as well as the Blackfeet tribe) the medicine man was expected to be able to cure the sick, to foretell events that were important to the tribe and/or to a war party, good or bad.

Visions were extremely important, and a medicine man was often called upon to “interpret” dreams.  He was also expected to know (and his training did encompass) a thorough knowledge of herbs.  For instance, one of my best friends from the Blackfeet tribe told me that her medicine man told her that there are no poisonous berries, etc, that taste sweet.  Therefore, if you taste a berry and it is sweet, chances are that it might be okay to eat.  Now don’t try this and hold me responsible for it — I’m just relaying information.  But I know that my friend used to go around LA tasting all kinds of things, until I kinda took her aside and told her how worried I was about her doing this.  But you know something, she was never harmed by going around in the wild and tasting these fruits.

Medicine men were often very handsome when they were young.  Imagine, they have been trained all their life into physical alertness, they have trained to act in the best interest of their tribe, they have schooled their mind so that they us their skills only for the good of the people, and not evil, and they kept their word of honor as though their life might depend upon it.    Ritual was highly important, because a ceremony done incorrectly was believed to bring bad luck.   A medicine man was also expected to do such things as set broken bones, take care of sprains or pulled muscles and he was expected to be able to attend to deep wounds.  This they did without flinching.  If you’re interested in learning more about the medicine man, I might refer you to a children’s book that you can check out at your local library called THE INDIAN MEDICINE MAN by Robert Hofsinde (Gray-Wolf).  It makes for easy, yet fascinating reading.  And for even more information, might I also suggest the book, GRANDFATHER, by…goodness I can’t recall his name right now.   I’ll try to get hold of it and post it on the comments.

So tell me, what observations have you had about these things — i.e., physcial fitness, strength of mind, spiritual awareness?  Have you made any observations about these things?  For instance, I workout almost everyday (about 6 days a week usually), and I notice little things, like my strength increasing, despite the tendency of the body to keep getting older every day.  At present I’m here in Florida at my church where I’m hoping to attain better awareness of myself as a spiritual being, etc.  What about you?  Do you have any experiences that you’d like to share with me and others?  I’d love to hear what you have to say about this.  Oh, and while I’m at it, isn’t Adam Beach dreamy?

So come on in and let’s talk.  I’d love to hear from you.  And don’t forget, if you haven’t already done so, to purchase a copy of THE LAST WARRIOR today.  Just click on the link below.

Apothecaries: Drugstores of the 1800s


Drive past any drugstore today and you’ll see the signs. “Open 24 Hours.”  “Pharmacist on Duty.”  “Refill Orders by Phone.”  We even have drive-thru pharmacies, unimaginable a century ago.

How did the settlers ever manage? What did they do if they had a stomach cramp in the middle of the night, or their sinuses were full?

If they lived on the open range, they used a home remedy or suffered through it. But if they lived in a bigger town like St. Louis or Cheyenne or San Francisco, they visited their local apothecary. The drugstore of their day.

The word apothecary came from the word apotheca, meaning a place where herbs, spices and wines were stored. During the thirteenth century, it also came to mean a person who sold these substances from a shop or street stall. Thus the word is used interchangeably—it can refer to the person or the pharmacy itself. 

Herbalists existed well before this time, though. Monks, for instance, grew herbal gardens in their monasteries and used them for healing in the ninth century. Native Americans were expert herbalists, too. And across the other side of the ocean, so were the Chinese.

By the mid-sixteenth century, apothecaries in England had become the equivalent of today’s pharmacists, measuring and dispensing medicine.

Some apothecaries had formal college training in medicine, some learned as apprentices. Whatever the case, folks considered them a godsend. Apothecaries diagnosed problems, gave advice and sold remedies. Most drug laws in the U.S. never came into effect till after 1900, so these druggists were free to sell whatever helped.

By the seventeenth century, medical practice in England was divided into three groups: physicians, surgeons and apothecaries. However, at that time the groups did not carry over to the United States. A doctor from England who landed on American soil was expected to practice general medicine, do surgery, and dole out medication. The American Medical Association was formed in 1847 to oversee education and practice. They started to regulate the profession, on who could and couldn’t call themselves a doctor. Specialization started to take place after that.

The American Pharmaceutical Association was founded in 1852.

Famous apothecaries in history

Benedict Arnold, the famous American General in the American Revolution who switched his loyalty to the British side, apprenticed as an apothecary in his youth. Four of his siblings had died of yellow fever.

John Keats, the British poet, also trained as one. He attended medical school before he focused on studying literature. His mother and his brother both died of tuberculosis. Keats eventually died of it, too.

John Parkinson, a famous herbalist and apothecary to King James I, was one of the founding members, in 1617, of the now world-renowned Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in England.

Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman in the U.K. to be granted a medical license, by this Society of Apothecaries, 1865.  (The first female doctor in the U.S. to obtain a medical license, graduating at the top of her class, was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, 1849—not an apothecary.)

Western Frontier

On the eastern seaboard, many apothecaries had patrons who were wealthy, and the shops reflected this in their rich architecture, beautiful bottles of various sizes, wall-to-wall shelving and drawers, and huge sunny windows that fronted the streets.  

On the Western frontier, apothecaries (the buildings) came in all shapes and sizes. Some were little more than shacks.

This is a pestle and mortar, used to crush and mix substances. (The pestle is the pounding tool, the mortar is the bowl.)  They were often made of stone, marble, or brass—hard enough to crush the medicine without crushing fine particles of the tools themselves. The tools had to be extremely washable, where residue from one medicine would not mix with another. Apothecaries sometimes ground uncooked white rice in them to clean them—repeating the procedure until the rice came out completely white.

Apothecaries also had very fine tools and trays where they made their own pills, before pills were manufactured by machine. As you can imagine, precise measurement was extremely important, and keeping each pill exactly the same size was an art form. Apothecaries had their own precise system of weighing mass in liquid and solid form.

Until about 1900, most medical recipes were written in Latin. Latin was the universal language, understood in Europe and America.

Some apothecaries grew their own beautiful herb gardens.

During the twentieth century, drugstores became a blend of soda fountains and drug dispensaries. Remember Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” working in one as a boy?

When you were a kid, what was your local drugstore like? Did you actually know the name of the pharmacist? Did the drugstore smell of licorice? Lotions and potions? What do you remember most?

A list of reference sources for this article can be found on my website.


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Time Travel: What You'd Find in a Surgeon's Bag

sb1Just like Mary Poppins’ magic carpetbag, medical bags of the 1800s carried surprising things. The medical profession was more advanced than we may think. Did you know, for instance, there was more than one bag a doctor might have carried to a house call?

Depending on the type of call, a doctor would have grabbed his or her general medical bag, an obstetrical bag or a surgical kit. Here’s a photo of an antique surgical kit that contains scalpels, tweezers, razors, scissors. They would have carried suturing material and gauze bandaging as well. 


Throughout history, different cultures from around the world have used various materials for sutures. Human hair, cotton, flax, silk and catgut, for example. Catgut was the most common in North America. It didn’t come from cats but the intestines of sheep, cows or horses. Surgeons discovered catgut was much stronger than plant fiber, so wouldn’t disintegrate in the body and the wound would not open up unexpectedly. 

In earlier times, doctors sometimes used hair from a horse’s tail. My heroine does this for an emergency in THE DOCTOR’S HOMECOMING. In another one of my books, THE COMMANDER, the surgeon uses violin strings (historically made from catgut) when all supplies run dry on the battlefield. When he returns home, he cherishes that violin for many heart wrenching reasons.

If you sew, you may recognize some of these suturing patterns: the interrupted stitch, figure 8, and running stitch. My medical graduate in 1880 Montana practices her stitching techniques on deerskin.

Bullet probes and extractors were a very big deal. They looked like bent tongs or forceps. They came in various lengths to extract a bullet, depending where it was located in the body.

Other items in the bag included:  stethoscope, glass thermometer (3 inch mercury ones started around 1867; up until then they were longer at 6 inches, sometimes 12), splints for broken bones (versus casts we use today), large knives and saws (ours are often powered by electricity—yuck!), vaginal specula, forceps for labor and delivery, and bloodletting instruments. Blood pressure instruments started to develop in the 1880s but were inaccurate. But by 1910, most American physicians had a portable one that was accurate, as they realized the importance of a blood pressure reading.

Surgeons would have various painkillers at their disposal. (see my previous article—Painkillers of the 1800s – under Categories — Medicine — in the sidebar.)

What about anesthesia? Nitrous oxide (called Laughing Gas because it made patients laugh) was first used as a dental anesthetic in 1844. Ether was used for general anesthesia starting in 1846, and chloroform in 1847. Chloroform anesthesia became very popular after it was administered to Queen Victoria in 1853 for childbirth.  


Today, surgeons specialize. To name a few — ENT (ear, nose, throat), cardiothoracic (heart and lungs), orthopaedic (bones) and pediatric.

Historically, when did the medical profession start to specialize? Here are a few dates, but keep in mind surgeons were becoming experts on an individual basis before the associations were formed. So if you’re a writer, you don’t have to limit yourself to these dates. Your surgeon might be known in the territory for being an expert in bone surgery. What he or she carries in her surgical bag might be based on this.

American Medical Association, founded 1847, Philadelphia.

American Surgical Association, founded 1880.

American Orthopaedic Association, founded in 1887, the first in the world.

The Western Ophthalmological, Otological, Laryngological and Rhinological Association (eyes, ears, throat and nose) was founded in 1896 (dubbed the WOOL society.) It’s now the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Most medical associations began on the eastern seaboard due to population patterns. However, doctors in the West may have become members. They may have received a quarterly newsletter, or a monthly subscription to a medical journal. Newsletters would announce new methods of surgery, recent research, upcoming guest lecturers, or visiting doctors from England, where they had a close bond.

Picture a surgeon stranded on a Montana mountaintop, devouring every page of a one-year-old medical journal, desperate for news. Or bartering his saddle for one. In THE DOCTOR’S HOMECOMING, my hero barters away the heroine’s medical bag, much to her fury, to save their lives.

Maybe the surgeon in your novel is reading one of these major publications: Journal of the American Medical Association,  founded 1883. (Today it’s the world-renowned JAMA.)

Or the British Medical Journal, started in 1840, then called The Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal.  Today it’s the world-renowned BMJ.)

One of the many reference sources for this article was ANTIQUE MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS by C. Keith Wilbur. Others can be found on my website

Back to Mary Poppins and her magic carpetbag. What is your handbag like? Are you a one-purse woman or do you have several, and switch back and forth? Is yours so big it gives you a backache? In a pinch, would you be able to pack clothes for an overnight getaway in your purse? Or do you, like me, prefer them as small as possible?

Do you carry anything unusual in your purse?

I’m not crazy about handbags, but I love briefcases. I’ve got them for all occasions—huge ones to haul books for booksignings, slender ones for carrying notes to a workshop, pretty ones that can double as a purse.


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Medicine of Old, Native America & Home Remedies I grew up with

horseheader1.jpeGood Morning!

Today I thought we might have another look at medicine, Native American style.  Let me define once again, medicine.  Medicine meant in the days of early America, something mysterious, powerful, unexplainable.  Different things in nature had different medicine and I suppose (although I don’t know this exactly) that this definition came into being because when the white man came into this country, he had so many things that the Indians of old could not easily explain and had no experience with, that these things became “mysterious,” or thus they had “medicine.”  But originally the meaning of this word meant that something or someone or some animal or spirit had taken pity on you and had bestowed upon you its secret power.

comanche-moon3.jpgBecause Native Americans lived so closely to nature, their medicine included not only herbs and plants and roots (as well as the medicine man’s expertise), it also included food, itself.   Last month we discussed how the Native Americans made corn their main food source by fermenting it with lime water (that’s not the limes that grow on trees, but rather the mineral, lime).  Even today  in the southwest, the Native Americans continue to treat corn in this tradition because amazingly enough, it gives the corn a complete amino acid base and becomes a complete protein.  Today let’s revisit this concept and take up another food source that became medicine.

adam-beach.jpgAnd what is that food source?  Buffalo, of course.  Buffalo was the staff of life to the Native Americas of yesterday.  Not only did the buffalo give the people its skins for clothes, shoes, bags, sheilds and shelter, it gave the people medicine in the form of food.  It’s liver eaten raw (as we once saw in the movie, Dances with Wolves) gave vigor to the people.  Meat was cooked, yes, but for those who were sick, meat was usually eaten raw.  Why?  Because raw meat contain valuable enzymes and other trace minerals that our body needs.  When food is eaten raw, it should allow one’s own digestive system to take a rest, because the food itself has it’s own enzymes to digest the food, thus allowing your own system to recover somewhat.  Meat was also dried after smoking it, thus retaining its raw status.  Organs were also eaten, something that we in our society have forgotten.  How many of us would eat tongue, brain, intestines, liver, etc?  And yet there is an entire system of healing called glandular remedies today that will help to rebuild and repair those same organs or glands in your own body.  People with thyroid problems are aware of this kind of healing, since one of the main drugs for thyroid repair contains grandulars to rebuild your thyroid.

karenkay-cover.jpgThe theory in those days long gone was, build a strong system — we know this same premise today as build a strong immune system — and the body can take care of most anything.  For those who needed extra help, or who were injured, there were herbs to fix snake bites (poisonous ones), herbs to help with childbirth or pregnancy, herbs for the stomach, teas for various problems and there was always soup brewing in every tepee, available to anyone for the asking.  Soups?  You might say?  Soups have traditionally nourished thousands upon thousands of generations.  Do you know why your grandmother or great-grandmother used to cook her stews for 24, sometimes 72 hours?  And why she always insisted to make her stews with bones?  Because the nutrients in the meat and in especially the bones are filled with micro-nutrients, some of which haven’t even been studies or discovered.  These nutrients seep out into the broth during the cooking — if you cook it long enough. 

 Of course there are many other home remedies.   MSM for spider and snake bites, goldenseal for cuts, mammary for female problems and the Native American remedy, Black Cohosh for female late life problems, charcoal & honey for sparkling teeth.  So let’s open up the discussion today with home remedies.  I’ve named a few, but I bet you have an entire household full of remedies.  What did your mother, grandmother, father or grandfather teach you?

However, before we go onto this topic, let me do a little plugging for my book, THE LAST WARRIOR, that was just released into bookstores everywhere last week.  Here are some last minute reviews that I thought I’d share with you.

lastwarrior.jpgHeide Katros, reviewer/columnist

Her Voice?News Chief,

Winter Haven, FL

1053 Biltmore Dr. NW
Winter Haven, FL33881-1140

The Last Warrior is an achingly beautiful love story between a Lakota Indian and an English opera singer.  Black Lion is a man on a mission, a masterful lover with the heart of his namesake, and the pride and integrity that are a part of his upbringing. Ms. Kay offers us a glimpse into Native American tradition and keeps their history alive with her vivid accounts of their beliefs and lore in this novel set during the time of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. The story touched me so deeply that I feel that words are inadequate. My best advice is to read for yourself.



From the mists of time, people have had legends about lost peoples, lost tribes, and lost civilizations. Karen Kay has chosen her topic well, brought forth legend and times when they were honoured. The Last Warrior is an intensely beautiful book, written on a backdrop of the 1890’s west, Karen takes us on a voyage of discovery with a young brave who has values not understood in the white world. Black Lion is led on a quest that leads him not only to Europe, but to the very one he seeks. There, yet unknown at the time, he finds the meaning of love. Too preoccupied to do anything but his job, the revelations come to him alter when he finds a pregnant and very lost Suzette in The Song Bird’s tent. Known for her voice, Irena has followed Bill Hickcock and his show to America, she has her own agenda, her own quest, but when Suzette joins her, and when Black Lion comes into the mix, then the world spins, and thunder rolls, and only the gods can know what might come from the mix.

The Last Warrior has a rich background, a wealth of beautiful scenery, a host of magnetic characters, and a story you will not be able to put down. The tension and attraction that flares between Suzette and Black Lion is riddled with passion and desire. From their first accidental meeting in England when he proposes marriage, to her acceptance of his proposal in her aunt’s tent at the Wild West Show in the US, We are rooting for them both as we learn of the circumstances, of the bond, and of the sacrifices each are willing to make for the other. Only when you finish the book will you understand. This is a book of depth and sensitivity as well as being a wonderful romance. The Last Warrior will make you laugh, cry, and cheer as the terms of the quest are outlined, and the players take their places in the drama to come. Only then does Karen Kay allow the readers to see the possible ending, and even then keeps one on the edge of the seat until the end. The Last Warrior makes room and stands among the books by authors like Madeline Baker, Susan Edwards, and Cassie Edwards. It is out now, available through Amazon from Berkley. Don’t forget to put it on your list before you make the next trip to your local bookstore either. The Last Warrior is a book you will read over and over again, and a great addition to your keeper shelf.

Yours in good reading,


 From ROMANTIC TIMES MAGAZINE:  4 Stars — Rated at HOT

Kay’s series, about the legendary clans of the mists, concludes with an entertaining love story set against the backdrop of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The unique setting adds to the romantic plot, with its colorful characters and circus atmosphere. Kay creates an ideal finish to her fascinating series.

And from reviewer, Lucele Coutts:



            Don’t miss this one!  The Last Warrior is the last and best of this powerful series.  Always vigilant, Karen Kay tells his story in the same caring way, revealing the truth of the native American, who lives so close to nature it is easy to accept and explain the paranormal as part of the every day events in his life..


Well, that’s it for today.  Again, please do come on in and let’s talk about some of the home remedies I’ve mentioned and some of your own.