Beans and the cowboy in Nineteenth Century America

In 1974 Hollywood released the movie Blazing Saddles, directed by flamboyant maverick Mel Brooks, in which the cowboy took centre stage. It became notorious for its repetitive scenes of cowboys breaking wind. While the viewing public loved this movie and remember it fondly, the professional critics were less impressed and preferred to forget it. The… Read More

The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company

In the autumn of 1879 residents of Boston arriving at the central railway station were greeted by a novel spectacle. A gentleman flamboyantly dressed in tuxedo, high silk hat and clothing that shimmered, was lecturing to an audience seated in front of him. Suddenly the air was shattered by the bloodcurdling whoops of Indian war… Read More


“This is what I feed my dogs in the afternoon,” Kathy Lee Gifford declared scornfully on America’s ‘The Today Show,’ as she sniffed some beef jerky. It was January 2015 and the show’s skeptical anchor was discussing with author Esther Blum the premise of her new book titled, Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat: Ancient Secrets to… Read More

Chewing tobacco

When Clint Eastwood, as the on-screen fictional outlaw Josey Wales, chews unsmilingly on some tobacco before coolly spitting out the juices, the moviegoer is watching one of the most iconic gestures associated with the cowboy. It is a gesture young white males in parts of the American South East still emulate. Called variously chewing tobacco,… Read More

Yellow fever

Nowadays yellow fever is considered a disease of urban tropical areas, but it in fact accounted for the largest number of individual epidemic outbreaks of any disease in the nineteenth century, and the outbreaks were no respecters of climate or environment. There were many of them throughout the colonial period up and down the United… Read More

Native Americans today

The federal government of the United States recognises 566 Native American tribes while more than 200 have not received this recognition. Achieving federal recognition as a tribe is a tough ordeal for tribal elders who have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent and also evidence of the continuity of the tribe’s culture. Not… Read More

Fever ‘n’ ague

Settlers in the West had to combat serious illnesses which they hadn’t encountered before. These maladies are now for the most part controlled or at least understood, but in those days they were surrounded by prejudices which hampered any possibility of understanding how to avoid them. The negative effect of the illnesses was that much… Read More