Did you know?

The historical details in a work of my chosen genre have to ring true to the era. Extensive research has gone into, and is still going into, the trilogy I'm writing. Sometimes I stumble upon surprising tidbits. This is where I'll share some of them with you; so please check back often. Enjoy!

Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill
Never missed and never will;
Always aims and shoots to kill
And the company pays his buffalo bill.

In 1868, when the Kansas Pacific was still under construction, the Railroad contracted William Cody to provide buffalo meat for its crews. He was paid very well for his services; in that era $500 a month was a small fortune. Within an 18-month period, he killed almost 4,300 head. The construction crews began calling him "Buffalo Bill" and composed this little jingle to sing as they laid the tracks.

  
Aconite is a genus of more than 250 species of flowering plants which have been used for medicinal purposes in various cultures throughout history, including 19th-century America. Users who overdosed on this powerful natural substance might exhibit frothing saliva, vision impairment, vertigo, or even coma.

Sounds a bit like rabies, doesn’t it?

Ever heard of Cerberus, the ancient Greeks’ mythological dog of hell?  As the myth goes, Cerberus’ job was to prevent the dead from returning to life; if they tried to go back, the multi-headed Hound of Hades would attack them—saliva frothing from his many ferocious jaws—and devour them if necessary.

Hold onto that thought, and move a few centuries forward.

In his Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid listed a number of poisonous substances, among them the “slaver from Cerberus.”  Supposedly, the hell-dog’s rabid saliva would spray over a field of battle; and wherever it had fallen, the poisonous plant called aconite would sprout up.

Aconite’s many names suggest the plant’s track record of poisonous potency: monkshood, leopard’s bane, women’s bane, devil’s helmet, Queen of All Poisons and…wolf’s bane. Aconite was bad stuff.

And it was readily available in the United States in the 1800s.
  

  
After the War Between the States, the U.S. Government turned its attention to westward expansion. Organized surveys of the vast lands west of the Mississippi River were needed, but the Government--and the people--engaged in a ten-year debate (1867-1878) over whether the surveys should fall under military or civilian control.

Consequently, at first, there were six surveys: two geological surveys under the War Department, two geological surveys and one land-parceling survey under the Department of the Interior, and the Coast and Geodetic Survey under the Treasury Department.

The 1878 Sundry Civil Act streamlined the situation; first, by eliminating the land-parceling survey under the Department of the Interior and the Coast and Geodetic Survey under the Treasury Department, and combining the two geological surveys under the War Department; next, by bringing together the remaining three geological surveys (one under the War Department, the other two under the Department of the Interior), as The U.S. Geological Survey, under the auspices of the Department of the Interior.

Clarence King--geologist, mountaineer, and author--served as the first director of the USGS (1879-1881). John Wesley Powell--soldier, geologist, and explorer of the American West--served as the Survey's second director (1881-1894). Both men are featured in my trilogy.

  
Ice skating was a popular winter pastime among 19th-century New Englanders. The sport was so well-liked that efforts were made to extend the skating season by building indoor rinks. The artificial “ice” was a smelly mixture of hog’s lard and salt. The odor, and development of new technology for refrigeration of ice rinks by century’s end, put an end to the stink-rinks.

  
The geological term "dike" refers to a sheet of rock that formed in a fracture in a pre-existing body of rock.
​A "dike swarm" encompasses several to hundreds of parallel, linear, or radially oriented dikes emplaced during a single intrusive geological event. A dike swarm can extend 250 miles or more in length and width. There are only about 25 known dike swarms on Earth, but dike swarms have also been identified on Mars and Venus.

  
Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is a multi-branched shrub with yellow flowers and silvery-grey foliage. One of the dominant plant species in the American West, it grows in arid and semi-arid conditions, typically to heights of 1-1/2 to 10 feet. Big Sagebrush plants exceeding 3-1/2 feet in height are indicators of arable land. Once this plant grows past the seedling stage, its chances for a long life are very good; Big Sagebrush can live more than a hundred years!

  
How fast could 19th-century Americans travel?

If they weren't walking (2.5 mph), they were usually on horseback or in a horse-drawn vehicle. Depending on whether the horse was walking, trotting, cantering, or galloping, the speed would vary from from 4 to 30 mph. If the horse, or horses, were pulling a carriage, the rate of travel would have been only 4 mph; a wagon or stagecoach, 5 mph. Steamboats coursed the nation's navigable rivers at a rate of 6 to 10 mph, while trains of the time averaged 30 to 40 mph.


  
Chiriquí is a province on the western coast of Panama. Until the Spanish conquistadors arrived, several indigenous tribes, known collectively as the Guaymí, populated the area. Gaspar de Espinosa was the first European to visit and describe this corner of the New World, in 1519. But it wasn’t until 1849, when Chiriquí was still part of Colombia, that the province was officially established. Abraham Lincoln favored Chiriquí for development of Linconia, a place where freed slaves could colonize. The President’s assassination in 1865 brought an end to his vision for the colony.