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Review - Wild West Tech - Native American Tech

Every once in awhile the History Channel re-runs its Wild West tech series. I also found some videos available at my local library or you can watch pieces of the shows on YouTube. I really like the shows because they offer a vivid image of what life was like during the Old West sprinkled with facts and research that I can use for my own works in progress.

This particular episode, Native American Tech, deals with some of the interesting facets of native life including some famous chiefs, fighting tactics, and daily life.

During the gold strikes of Montanan, in the early 1860s, white miners would flow in and several government issued forts appeared along what is now known as the Bozenman Trail (1864). Additionally, there were constant army supply wagons to restock the forts - temptation for nearby natives, such as the Lakota, who found them easy pickings.

The main weapon of natives was the bow and arrow (until later when white settlers traded guns to them). Arrowheads have been found as early as 500 BC and were brought to the plains for hunting. Originally made of flint or obsidian (very sharp), they could travel 100 feet per second. Later arrowheads were made of iron. The arrow shaft was made of a light wood such as ash or hickory and decorated with turkey or hawk feathers. Eagle feathers were too fragile and were rarely used. Bows were under 3 feet long and had a range of about 60-75 yards.

Horses were introduced to natives by the Spanish after 1500. The Commanche tribe excelled at horsemanship. They could jump on and off a horse and shoot arrows while moving. Dogs were used as beasts of burden and pulled travois (a type of sled) loaded with hundreds of pounds.

Commanche and Lakota had portable tipis that could be packed up within an hour but were strong enough to withstand gale force winds. They were typical tipi design - 3 pole tripod with several supporting poles and a hide cover.

By 1890, all plains indians were on reservations.

You can view part of the episode.

Review - The Real West - The Law from Behind the Tin Star

One of my favorite ways to research is to watch documentary-type television series because we can get a more three-dimensional sense of the facts as opposed to reading in a book. The History Channel's The Real West series is an enjoyable one with plenty of little tidbits and first person accounts throughout.

This particular episode focuses on the Law of the Wild West, which in some places wasn't a whole lot. "Gun Law" ruled before actual lawmen did, which also meant there were vigilante gangs to impose their own form of "justice". Sometimes lawmen overstepped their duties - intentionally or not.

April 15, 1871, James Butler Hickok (known as "Wild Bill Hickok") became marshal of Abilene, Kansas. He was a Civil War hero and flamboyant dresser with a real talent for handling and shooting guns. On October 5, 1871, James is holding off an unruly crowd on the sidewalk and shoots Phil Coe. He also accidentally shoots his deputy, Mike Williams.

Iron cages for jails were shipped to towns via the railroad. Badges were made from tin cans or were emblems sewn on hats.

Pat Garrett was sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches he made an imposing figure. In 1881 he captured Billy the Kid. He died in 1908 almost penniless.

Review - Smithsonian Channel's Mystery Files - Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn

The Smithsonian Channel has a great series called Mystery Files which takes an investigative journalism approach to well-known events and offers a glimpse into what really happened. This particular episode, Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn, digs deep into the events leading up to and during the battle and exposes the truth behind the legendary myth that Sitting Bull led his warriors to victory.

Sitting Bull was a member of the Lakota Nation who had been a respected warrior in his youth but had become a sun-dancer and spiritual leader in his forties. He performed the annual Sun Dance ceremony for his people and had visions or prophecies.

In 1868, the Lakota had agreed to a peace treaty with the United States and were moved to the Great Sioux Reservation with plenty of land to roam. However, in 1874, Colonel George Custer's expedition finds gold deposits in the Black Hills. Once news gets out, white settlers flood the land to mine the precious ore. The government decides to take this piece of the reservation back. The Bureau of Indian Affairs goes one step further and decrees the Indians can no longer roam on/off the reservation and must remain within the reservation boundaries. The Indian's way of life - to follow the herds as hunters - was now in jeopardy. Sitting Bull refuses to accept this new decree.

On June 25, 1876, General Custer charges into Sitting Bull's camp (next to Little Big Horn) but quickly realizes the camp is bigger than he expected. His men, who practiced Civil War-style line formations, are quickly surrounded by warriors who engage in guerrilla-type combat (like hit and run). Sitting Bull was not a combatant. For now, the tribesmen were victorious.

The native people were attacked and pursued for several years. In 1881, Sitting Bull finally surrenders and moves to a permanent reservation.

Learn more on the Smithsonian Channel

Learn more about the gold rush to the Black Hills

Review - Wild West Tech - Train Tech

Review - Wild West Tech - Shootout Tech

The Wild West Tech series is enjoyable for western history buffs. This particular episode focused on the spreading of the locomotive throughout the west.

Old trains were made mostly of wood which made them easily damaged and highly flammable. Sparks from the coal stove could catch the car on fire.

In San Antonio, a boiler exploded and 26 men were killed. Pieces of the train were found up to a mile away.

Before the railroad came, a trip across country on a wagon took months or a trip around Cape Horn via ship took almost a year. One could travel about a month through the area that would eventually be the Pananama Canal, but the locals demanded heavy payment and the journey was dangerous.

1862 marked the first Transcontinental Railroad.

Early rails were of "strap rail" construction - two planks of wood and a bar of iron strapped on top. This construction tended to come undone or the planks of wood tended to curl ("snakehead") causing trains to derail.

1856, Henry Bessemer of Bessemer Steel made steel tracks which were a lot stronger.

Interestingly, the initial straight smoke stacks allowed floating embers to fly into the passenger cars (igniting the wooden seats) or into nearby farm fields. The shape of the stack became cone shaped so the sparks became trapped inside preventing potential fires.

1869, George Westinghouse invented automatic air breaks. Previously, a brakeman had to run down a narrow cat walk, over cars, and set a handbrake manually. Very dangerous. 1872, an air compressor break was designed to run along a peper.

In 1830, there were 23 miles of tracks. In 1900, there was over 200,000 miles.

Review - The Real Story - True Grit



I really like the series "The Real Story" from the smithsonian Channel which features facts behind fictional stories or movies. Shows have included Braveheart, Apollo 13, Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Pirates of the Caribbean and True Grit.

Charles Portis wrote "True Grit" in 1968 and it was made into a movie twice - the 1969 John Wayne version and the 2010 Jeff Bridges version. It tells the story of a fourteen year old girl, Mattie Ross, who tracks down her father's murdered by hiring the toughest marshal (a man with "true grit") that she can find. They are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who is also after the murderer (Chaney).

The drunken, one-eyed U.S. Marshal was Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, a Civil War veteran who killed 23 men, supposedly out of self defense, during his career as marshal.

1851 colt Navy cap and ball revolver - took forever to reload, plow-handle shaped handle, accurate up to 50 ft.

Winchester 1873 Rifle was accurate up to 400 yards, lever-action, 14 rounds per load.

During this time, deputies worked on commissions and not on salary, so they had to cover their own expenses. Oftne they performed side gigs and pursued warrants. They could get 6 cents a mile to go out to get someone and 10 cents a mile to bring someone back under arrest. Deputies walked a thin line between good and bad (abuse of power).

Fort Smith, Arkansas had a jail known as "hell on the border". It was dirty, smelly, and had a bucket for a bathroom. By the 1870's, the jail was overcrowded. On Fort Smith's hanging day, over 5000 people came to watch, including consession salesmen (hawkers). About 100 people hung in their gallows.

Judge Isaac Parker, known as "Hanging Judge Parker", 36, was from a small town in Ohio and had a wife named Mary. He sentenced 79 men to die from the gallows.

Indian Territory was desolate, wide open, and made it a haven for dangerous criminals. 17,000 of the 22,000 white people were criminals. It consisted of over 64,000 square miles so it was difficult to police. There were 5 native tribes, the Creeks being the most violent.

Deputy Marshal's job was a lot like a private investigator - had to go interview people, tracked criminals down, went undercover. But it was a dangerous job and 1/5 of Fort smith's deputy marshals were killed.

Resources: The Real Story series





Review - Book - Madame Millie



I have been doing some research in the area of Old West bordellos and found this interesting book, set a little after the Old West (in the twentieth century), but the practices are similar and the rural townships are similar, it was still worthwhile to read.

Mildred Clark Cusey lived from the 1920's - 1970's periods. She was also known as Silver City Millie.

Mildred started her career as a Harvey Girl waitress on the Santa Fe Railroad line. This was a "prestigous" gig in those days.

A lot of people wonder why a woman would turn to prostitution if there were other opportunities to make money (cooking, washing, etc). Take a look at these stats and you can see that a woman could become very wealthy:

In Virginia City, Nevada =, during the Washoe Rush, there were 2379 men and only 147 women. Another stat says in many booming areas, there were 7 men to every 1 woman.

Of course, the problem comes when soiled doves start heading to a place. Then there is too much competition and the prices go down.

For example, in Cripple Creek, Colorado in the 1890's, there was a five mile stretch of "red light district" that featured every type of woman and race. In comstock, Nevada there were 307 prostitutes in 1875 (almost 10 percent were under 18 years old). Another example, Rawhide, Nevada's "Stingaree Gulch" stretched a quarter of a mile with over 500 women.

There was another side to prostitution - drugs. Laudanum (a derivative of opium) was readily available and girls often overdoesed. Suicide was also high among "fallen angles"

An interesting marketing technique performed by Jennie Rogers in Denver, she would take her girls on a coach ride through town to show what was available. Another marketing tool was full-length photographs of girls dressed in their best outfits and these cards were given to their favorite customers. For Mille, she would have a new girl walk a poodle downtown with a special hat to advertise she was available for business.

The term "Red Light District" came about from the red lantern railroaders hung outside the brothel so that the trainmaster could find them if needed (during the day or night).

Review - Video - Wild West Tech - Shootout Tech



I'm going to be posting a lot of reviews in the coming months based on the Wild West Tech video series from the History Channel. They are fun shows featuring David Carradine (of Kill Bill and Kung Fu fame) or his brother, Keith. Each episode focuses on a different topic of interest inthe Old West.

Today, I chose the Shootout Tech episode since shootouts are the main staple of any good western movie. Unfortunately, the shootouts portrayed in the movies are much more exciting and action-packed than what happened in the 1800s.

The main gun involved in a shootout was the six-shooter - mainly the "Peacemaker" Colt .45 caliber single-action revolver. The force was enough to knock down a man.

Interestingly, during this period, the "gunslinger" or "gunfighter" terms were not commonly used. People said "gunman" or "pistoleer".

February 8, 1887 - shootout between "Long Hair" Jim Courtright and Luke Short. Short hit Jim in the thumb who quickly switched hands (called a "border shift") but his gun jammed. Luke managed to shoot and kill him.

Jamming was common. Any type of moisture could interfere with the gunpowder and jam a gun. Malfunction could jam a gun.

1879 - Dodge City, Kansas - Frank Loving (Colt) vs Levi Richardson (.44 Remington) at the Long Branch Saloon. Although the guns they used were similar, Remington's balance was inferior to the Colt. Frank won the match.

July 1865 - Springfield, Missouri - the first recorded shootout was between Dave Tutt (professional gambler) and Wild Bill Hickok (who used a 1851 Colt Navy, cap revolver).

August 25, 1877 - Madam Maddie Silks vs Madam Kate who fought over Cort Thompson. They tried to shoot then they used their fists.

Welcome to the Wild West!

For the next few months, I'm going to switch gears and concentrate on the American Wild West which I am researching for my current manuscript. It's going to be fun! I've had the opportunity to visit actual historical sites and talk to experts in 19th century history, so be on the lookout for pictures.

Review - Video - Where did it Come From? Ancient Rome: The Mobile Society



What really set Rome apart in the ancient world was their vast highway system and the amazing engineering of the roads.

In 312 BC, there was about 53,000 miles of roadways.

Roads and bridges were built as a way for soldiers to get to the battle sites as well as for merchants to reach distant cities.

Via Appai, "The Appian Way", 350 miles long, was named after Appius.

    The process for building a roadway included:
  • 1. Dig a trench just under 3 ft
  • 2. Fill the trench with large stones
  • 3. Next, fill the trench with small stones and a lime-water mix
  • 4. Next, lay down some gravel and flint and pack it down
  • 5. Finally, neatly level and lay down flat paving stones


Roads were crowned to allow water to slope to the sides and run off.

Not all roads were paved, some were gravel.

A Roman Surveyor was sent to evaluate the terrain/land.

Flaminian Way went through the mountain. A crew of men used a process of heating the rock and then cooling it quickly to create fissures. Then they used chisels and hammers to break through the solid rock.

Milvius Bridge, 142 BC, was the first bridge made of stone. Guidebooks existed in ancient times. During the Pax Romana (Period of Peace), many tourists and travellers came through.

The Roman Mile was measured as 1000 paces a Roman soldier could walk. Mile came from mille, the Latin word for 1000.

Vehicle rentals were made available, including wagons, carts, carriages, horses, mules and a driver.

Full service rest stops ("road houses") also sprang up at regular intervals.

Mile stones (like our modern day mile marker) showed the name of the town, distance, and name of the stone builder.

There were four major roads into Rome: Via Appia Via Latina Via Flaminia Via Aurelio

Review - Video - Cities of the Underworld - Gladiators: Blood Sport

In the Third Season of the video documentary series Cities of the Underworld, Don Wildman takes us inside some unusual places such as Las Vegas' Secret Sin City, Hitler's Trenches, Alcatraz Down Under and four disc's worth of other explorations. The episode we're reviewing today is the "Gladiators: Blood Sport" where Don inspects crypts and chambers used for worship and the training school. Ludus Magnus is the largest training ground with tunnels to the Colosseum. It was over 100 yards long and over three stories high with walls of gleaming marble. The complex contained barracks, kitchens, medical facilities, weapons factory and was strictly guarded (especially since a lot of gladiators were slaves). Weapons mimiced those of conquered foreign armies. Spartacus was a Thracian slave, forced into gladiatorial school. He revolted with 80 others, taking carts of weapons and kitchen knives. Eventually he had over 120,000 men and fought for 2 years. However, they were outnumbered by the Roman army and Spartacus died. The rebels were impaled along the main road, Via Appia (Appian Way) (people are also buried along this road). Weapon-handling became very closely guarded after this. Gladiatorial games were financed by Senators and wealthy men to gain more prestige among fellow men and to garner support for political careers. Julius Caesar regularly borrowed money to pay for game to increase his popularity. The first gladiatorial games were held at the Old Cattle Market where two men fought to the death during a small funerary ceremony. Average lifespan for a gladiator was 25 years even with the best foods and medical services available at the time. Gladiators were buried according to "position". The last gladiatorial game was held in 404 AD.

Review - Video - Cities of the Underworld - Beneath Vesuvius

Cities of the Underworld is a video series that goes beyond the normal touristy spots of a city to the foundations (under ground) and explores catacombs, crypts and other fascinating secrets. In Season 1, we are shown places such as Scotland's Sin City (Edinburgh), Hitler's Underground Lair (Berlin), Rome's Catacombs, London's Lost Cities, Dracula's Underground (Bucharest), Beneath Vesuvius (Naples, Italy) and lot others. In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, sending ash miles away and completely covering Pompeii. The eruption lasted over 24 hours reaching temperatures up to 1300 degrees Fahrenheit. Gas or smoke suffocated most of the people. In a lot of places, the volcanic ash got rained upon and created massive mudslides. One marketplace was found twenty feet below Naples because of the mudslide. The ash-mud preserved a lot of historical sites, which is great for archaeologists today because they can dig into the layers and see what life was like during that time. Pompeii is famous for the people frozen in time by ash. Tufa bricks (made of volcanic rock-ash) were strong enough to cut and be used for building projects. People built over the previous sites (covered by mud/ash). One example was San Gudioso. Underneath the ground were fourth century catacombs carved out of the tufa and niches carved into the walls for the crypts. On top of this, a church was built in the 16th century.

Research - Ancient Rome - The City of Rome - Aventine Hill

Aventine (Aventino) Hill is the southern most hill of the Roman seven (and it's the fifth hill of the seven in our blog series). Between the Aventine Hill and Palatine Hill is the Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo), the ancient stadium used for chariot races and ludi (public games during religious festivals). Days of ludi increased from 57 to 135 by the 1st century AD. The Circus Maximus was the largest at the time at 2037 ft long by 387 ft wide and held over 150,000 people. In the 1st century AD, the Colliseum was built for other forms of public entertainment - gladiatorial games.
The Baths of Decius, the big building near the Tiber River in the front, was built around 242 by the emperor Decius.
Basilica of Saint Sabina at the Aventine was built in the 5th century (between 422 and 432) by Priest Petrus and was later given to the Roman Catholic Dominican order. Interestingly, the windows are not made of glass but are made of selenite. The campanile or bell tower was added in the 10th century.
A real find is the municipal Garden of Roses (Roseto Comunale), which had previously been a Jewish cemetary.
There is also the Garden of Oranges(Giardino degli Aranci or Parco Savello) beside the remains of the Savelli Castle built by Alberico II and later given to the Dominican Order as a monastery. Legend says Saint Dominic planted the infamous orange tree that still grows there today and Saint Catherine of Siena used one of its oranges to make candied fruit for Pope Urban VI.
Another popular find is the picturesque keyhole-view of St. Peter's in door number 3.
In the 6th century BC, the king of Rome, Servius Tullius, became enamored with the Temple of Ephesus, so he decided to build a similar community project, the Temple of Diana, with the help of the Romans and the Latins. The temple became the center of the Latin League (a group of city-states) and Diana became its patron goddess.
During the middle ages it was occupied by churches or monasteries.

References: Excellent Site for Views of the Hill Wikipedia - Seven Hills of Rome Wikipedia - Aventine Hill Rome Tour - Walks around Aventine Rome Art Lover Delicious Italy Italy Heaven - Garden of Roses Italy Guides - Garden of Oranges Temple of Diana Temple of Diana Servius Tullius

Image Credits: RomeTour - Aventine Hill Wikipedia - Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta Wikipedia - Circus Maximus Explore Italian Culture - Garden of Roses Diana Aventine Overview Decius Bust Hercules