The Copper Queen

A fascinating historical tale that has nothing to do with law or medicine…

At the turn of the 20th century, the richest copper mine in the United States – later one of the top five in the world – was located in Cochise County of what would become the state of Arizona. Situated only a few miles north of the Mexican border in the crossroads of Bisbee, the name of the mine was the Copper Queen.

In the 1870s, cavalry detachments from Fort Huachuca had regularly bivouacked in the area where Bisbee would be founded while pursuing Apaches. On more than one occasion, the soldiers noticed interesting looking rocks on the ground. An officer showed these rocks to an old prospector, one George Warren, and the two decided to become partners in staking a mining claim as soon as the officer left federal service. Delay proved unfortunate for the officer, as Warren quickly realized the potential wealth of the site – the rocks were rich in the mineral cerussite, often found with silver deposits. Warren decided in 1877 to stake a claim by himself and forget his erstwhile partner. Three years later, a local entrepreneur named Ed Reilly acquired an option on the site from Warren for an undisclosed sum; Reilly began to raise capital to commence production.

Within thirty six months, all of the surface mineral deposits were depleted, but in the process the site crew had noticed something very unusual about the ore. Mines of that era could run profitably on orebody that ran as little as 3% copper (since silver and gold were also byproducts). The orebody on the stake that was to become the Copper Queen was over 23% copper, an extraordinary, and many said unrivaled, grade. The miners started to dig deeper beneath the Mule Mountains and found even larger orebodies of equal quality. By 1884, only four years after industrial-scale mining had commenced, the now-named Copper Queen was advertised for sale at a record asking price of more than $500,000. It was acquired by Phelps Dodge, a huge industrial conglomerate based in Arizona but with major international operations as well.

Organized as the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company (CQCM), the subsidiary became the dominant player in mining – as well as labor unrest and wildcat strikes – in southern Arizona for decades. Bisbee’s population rose into the thousands, and by the turn of the century, CQCM was the area’s largest employer, and also owned the biggest hotel in town, the only hospital and mercantile exchange, and the Bisbee Daily Review. CQCM also enforced its own brand of draconian rules on workers – intrusive physical exams to prevent theft, operating dangerous equipment while short-staffed, and even permitting for blasting to take place while men were uncomfortably close to explosions inside the mine.

Keep in mind that while the frontier wasn’t perhaps as wild then as it had been a generation before, the population was still sparse in much of the territories in 1900. Banditry and Indians were not uncommon; the last stagecoach robbery in the West occurred as recently as 1916. Transportation and communication were difficult, territorial law enforcement was scattered, and revolution brewed just across the southern border. Given the value of the ore at the mine, the payroll of the workers, and the need to transport both ore and payroll across swaths of emptiness, CQCM raised its own security detail. These armed men – I’m not certain if they were officially deputized or not – protected and kept order on the property. They also escorted convoys both to and from the mine along a spur of the El Paso & Southwestern, which connected with main lines of both the Southern Pacific and AT&SF Railroads at Fairbank, 30 miles to the north. Later, these same men – some would say thugs – enforced strike breaking and at least one mass deportation of Mexican and native American laborers and their (Caucasian) union agitators.

mining railroad, AZ Territory, 1903 (courtesy of Arizona Historical Trust)

mining railroad, AZ Territory, 1903 (courtesy of Arizona Historical Trust)

Although the date of the first company purchase isn’t known, CQCM executives authorized that weapons be ordered from Colt Manufacturing in Connecticut and shipped to Bisbee to arm the security detail. Luckily, Colt still has extensive records of sales going back to the mid-19th century, and the provenance of many a surviving revolver can easily be traced through serial number.

Copper Queen Bisley

Copper Queen Bisley

Many years ago, I found this revolver, a .38-40 Bisley Colt ‘Peacemaker’ with its original leather holster, during one of my trips west. It is a solid and presentable example of a period gun in its own right. But only recently did a search of the Colt archives reveal tantalizing further details. This Bisley was originally part of a shipment of ten guns for the mine’s security detail – “deliver FOB CQCM, Bisbee, Territory of Arizona, US of A” read the invoice – on 28 April 1903. Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch had been robbing trains in nearby New Mexico as recently as four years earlier! ‘1903’ was almost a decade before Arizona would even be admitted to the Union as a state.

Unless one finds a revolver carried by Doc Holliday, or something issued to the U.S. 7th Cavalry, this Bisley Colt is as classic an ‘Old West’ gun as one will find. If only it could speak.

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The Death Cafe

I recently attended my first death café here in Raleigh. For those unfamiliar with the phenom, it apparently started as a social movement in Europe that has spread internationally. On one organizer’s website, it is explained as an opportunity to “drink tea, eat cake, and discuss death… [the] aim [being] to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their finite lives.”

Before I go further, though, I want to explain what might not be immediately obvious about my blog’s usual thematic content.

A dear friend recently asked me why I write about death and the funereal so often. “You should write about love instead,” she posited. She then reminded me in closing that she is a “rainbows and unicorns girl” (and by extrapolation, I suppose, one who doesn’t want to read about death and the funereal).

I thought about this long and hard. I was tempted to write a post about love, just for her and to head off further such critiques. But my pen ranneth dry, and I can’t discern anything in the saccharine realm about which to write. Poets and thinkers far more accomplished than I have tried to tackle the subject of love, and I’m not certain that any of them has squarely hit the nail on the head – or that I could improve on the canon already composed.

I can come up with only three explanations for why I gravitate in my writings as I do.

1. Give the public what they want. Why do you think the sensationalism of yellow journalism in the 19th century was such a guilty pleasure? Why do you suppose public executions were so well-attended? Why is Inferno the best known and most read of Dante’s trilogy? This is not coincidental. Admit it or not, people find the lurid fascinating.

2. Talk about what you know. Recall that I’m a forensic and prison psychiatrist. Rarely do I encounter the romantic in my line of work.

3. Discuss that in which some consensus might actually be reached. Love is wholly subjective and in the eye of the beholder. For a professional chef, planning and cooking a dinner party for 20 could well be a labor of love. For me, it would be a living Hell. Love and attraction are many things to many people, and it spans the gamut. But most everyone can agree on the macabre, and with apologies to Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”

Anyway, back to the death café.

It was held at Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery, arguably the most historic of this area’s burial grounds, and the final resting place of Tarheel governors and politicians, local celebrities, and numerous Confederate fallen. The cemetery’s mausoleum was the meeting site, and after winding through twisting narrow roads, passing old stones and fresh burials, I came across the marble-faced building with many cars parked around it. Going inside, there were probably 30 people sitting in folding chairs. I was greeted by a cemetery employee and volunteers from the county’s hospice service and gestured to a seat.

Being held in a cemetery, I feared the possibility of a commercial bent to the presentation. But this was not the case. Nor were religion and faith-based issues discussed specifically. There wasn’t really even an agenda. The larger audience was divided into four break-out groups, each lead by a volunteer. Mine was led by a hospice pastor. By this point I was really curious how it would proceed.

Those in attendance were a varied lot. All of the others in my break-out group were female. Some were still grieving recent losses, and crying. Some admitted to pondering an impending loss. Some were contemplating their own ends and how to make plans. I felt almost voyeuristic, since I wasn’t dealing with loss or grief, but was, more than anything, curious about who would show up and how the discussions would proceed.

Before the coffee break – this was a café, remember? – the talk revolved around words. Participants were asked to write down the three words that came to mind when they thought of death. Then they were asked to write down words describing how they’d want to be remembered after their own passings. As with almost all group processes with which I’ve been involved, people were reluctant to speak at first, but slowly the kindly facilitator drew out thoughts, and then the conversation flowed more freely. Fears. Hopes. Uncertainties. A few lighthearted moments (a memorial candle unexpectedly blowing out after someone remarked that ‘life can be cut short’ elicited nervous laughter).

The group then broke for refreshments, standing around to eat and drink next to the columbarium. The cake served was – what else? – Death by Chocolate, complete with little sugar grave markers with RIPs on them . I sampled the cake but slipped out before the second half of the group session convened. I didn’t think my clinical and decidedly non-spiritual approach to the whole thing meshed well with those still actively grieving, and I no longer wished to perceive myself as an intruder.

Death by Chocolate at the Raleigh Death Cafe

Death by Chocolate at the Raleigh Death Cafe

The Civil War marked a sea change in this country regarding how we collectively deal with death. Suddenly there were large numbers of people dying far from home, and there had to be logistics in place for preserving and transporting those remains back to waiting families. Before long the commercial Death Industry had arisen, and for better or worse, no longer did families care for their own. Slowly but inexorably the task of dealing with the dead fell to professionals, and then even the discussion of that inevitability fell more secretive and hushed in tone and volume – the proverbial 800lb gorilla of which no one wants to speak.

I’ve had a will since I was in college, long before I had an estate or dependents. It appealed to my Type-A temperament. But many of my (professional) friends who will even discuss the subject admit that they do not have wills or even advanced healthcare directives. And let’s face it: while not a jolly topic, how much better to address these concerns when feeling balanced, and not when possibly in the midst of an unexpected and sudden emotional crisis? I don’t consider myself a fragile sort, but as I had done research on available options long before they were needed, at the time of my own father’s passing in 2002, the hard decisions had already been finalized. That preparatory work made the process as easy as it could possibly have been.

So, no, dear friend, this post isn’t about love. It’s about death. I’m glad I went to hear the discourse, and I am delighted that such discussions are taking place in the open. Even rainbows and unicorns fade at some point.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Sagt, was ich gestehen soll!

On this date in 1631, an old widow and part-time vintner in the town of Bruchhausen, Anna Spee, was burned at the stake for witchcraft.

This otherwise would be a tragically unnecessary if forgettable death – well, perhaps not to Anna – were it not for the coincidence regarding the deceased husband of the condemned.

Anna, you see, was the widow of one Robert Spee, who was either the first cousin or brother of Fr. Friedrich Spee. Readers of this blog will remember that in my post Malleus Maleficarum on 9 September, Fr. Spee was noted to be one of the first ecclesiastic voices – that of a prominent Jesuit, no less – to express serious reservations about the use of torture in eliciting confessions of witchcraft from those so accused.

The same year as Anna’s execution, Fr. Spee published, anonymously at first, his work Cautio Criminalis, which took a daring stand against then-widespread use of judicial torture. Fr. Spee argued that the technique was most efficient for obtaining confessions, but perhaps not so efficient for obtaining truthful confessions.

“Why do we search high and low for wizards? I will show them to you no matter where. Torture the Capuchins and Jesuits; they will confess…. Torture the prelates and canons of the Church; they will confess…. If you want still more, then torture you yourselves, and then torture me.”

We do not know of a causal link between Fr. Spee’s writings and Anna’s fate, though we must surmise that the former would have learned of the latter’s murder, and that possibly it hardened his resolve against the practice.

Sadly, Anna’s relation to Fr. Spee did her no good. She denied at first having had sex with Lucifer, but under torture finally confessed. Her words on breaking, the title of a recent book on the history of the witch hunts, were “Sagt, was ich gestehen soll!” or, “Tell me what I should say next!”

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Malleus Maleficarum – a Cautionary Tale

“Who is so dense as to maintain… that all [the defendants’] witchcrafts and injuries are phantastic and imaginary, when the contrary is so evident to the senses of everyone?”
~Heinrich Institoris and Jakob Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum (1486)

Malleus Maleficarum (‘The Hammer of the Witches’) is a book published in the late 15th century in both Germany and England. It is a polemic against those who held that witchcraft didn’t exist, or that it wasn’t the threat that the authors perceived. It is also a ‘how to’ guide for magistrates who wished to ferret out witches in their jurisdictions and prosecute (i.e., kill) them to the fullest extent of the law.

By the late medieval epoch, knowledge of witches was not new. But earlier treatises on witchcraft often framed it as a misguided pagan activity – nothing that a few days of public humiliation in the stocks and penance couldn’t cure. But after Malleus was widely read – thirteen editions were printed by 1520, thanks to the newfangled printing presses then available –the hysterics increased and civil prosecutions multiplied in many locales. Interestingly, the book was not used by the Church’s formal Inquisition – the Vatican even condemned many of its pearls – but Malleus was employed widely in secular courts which were less familiar with the Holy See’s formal teachings on demonology.

You recall what they say about knowing just enough to be dangerous?

Western religion being as it was and is, the root of all of this was sex. Women were barely contained nymphomaniacs, so it went, and those who let their passions loose and had intercourse with Lucifer promptly became witches, leading to all manner of hexes and curses, poisons and potions, pestilence, infanticide and other murders, and the stealing of penises (no joke on that last one). Thus, while there were sometimes male witches identified (not sure how those were created) it meant that half of the human population was teetering on the brink at any given moment of being co-opted by Beelzebub. That made for a lot of potential raw material for witch prosecutions.

Clerics, jurists, and authors began to take sides, and over time not everyone bought the party-line on witches. As noted, the Church expressed grave doubts about the contents of Malleus (but was either unwilling or unable to suppress its application). Cruentation (the belief that a dead body bleeds or exhibits lesions in the presence of a murderer or witch) was thought by some to be unreliable as an evidentiary standard. In the late 16th century was published by Reginald Scot The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), a tome referenced by no less than Shakespeare, in which the author Scot countered that the public oft had been fooled when it came to witches by ignorant superstitions, the mental derangements of observers, and charlatans. Father Friedrich Spee was a prominent German Jesuit who argued against witch trials, as then being conducted, in his work Cautio Criminalis (‘Precautions for Prosecutors’) in the early 17th century; he believed that the torture employed did not produce truthful confessions. At the same time, Inquisitor Father Alonso Salazar y Frias in Spain examined who was being burned and over what supposed transgressions; what Salazar found looked to him like many false accusations, confessions extracted through torture, and ‘evidence’ lacking all credibility. He couldn’t say bluntly that witches didn’t exist, but he did change the rules of evidence. Starting after 1610 in his jurisdiction in Spain, accusations of witchcraft had to be supported by some independent observations. And, said Salazar, there would be no more use of torture to extract the ‘truth.’ Predictably, prosecutions in both civil and ecclesiastic courts began to decline.

This didn’t happen overnight. While the skeptics of witch trials were in the minority at first, their numbers grew. The last legal witch conviction and execution took place in Switzerland in 1782 – the place where the first had also occurred in 1427.

Institoris and Sprenger would have scoffed in 1486 at the notion that dangerous witches aren’t everywhere. Three hundred years later, the last witch was judicially put to death in Europe. Today, few if any individuals lie in bed at night in fear of witches or missing parts of their anatomy.

Mindsets don’t change quickly. But they do change.

When I was in my medical training, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) was the gospel. It was felt in most medical quarters to be the answer to a host of age-related problems that befall post-menopausal women – everything from stress incontinence to absent libido, and from osteoporosis to winkled and thinning skin was to be prevented by the administration of nature’s wonder-substance, estrogen (along with a progestin chaser for those still with an intact uterus).

HRT remained the gospel for years… until one day it wasn’t.

The Women’s Health Initiative of NIH, in 2002, was performing meta-analyses of data on patients taking HRT, and that massive review set off alarms when it was found that there was heightened risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, and stroke in older patients on HRT, despite the earlier touted health benefits. Suddenly what we had learned in training was heresy. The number of women taking HRT dropped precipitously, and the relatively few still taking HRT are almost always given the regimen for time-limited treatment of menopausal symptoms, not as the permanent fountain of youth that it represented in the 1980s and 1990s.

In my own specialty there are many such examples – lobotomies and insulin shock treatments of the early 20th century come quickly to mind. Even more recently than those barbarisms, when I was a new attending, a novel antipsychotic hit the market: Janssen’s Risperdal. It was said to have none of the nasty side effects of the older antipsychotics, and could be quickly and aggressively titrated for patients in which fast relief from psychosis was needed. Janssen even made up a little jingle: “Risperdal 1-2-3-BID,” earworming that the recommended manner by which to dose the Rx was 1mg twice a day followed by 2mg twice a day followed finally by 3mg twice a day, all over a rapid 72 hours from start to maintenance dosing.

I know I did this many times in practice.

Now I know of no one who would attempt to do this.

Experience taught us that Risperdal is in fact fraught with potential side effects, recommended doses are now less than half the previous average 6mg daily advertised, and the titration is usually accomplished in a much slower and deliberate manner.

It’s funny what you learn when you question dogma and actually stop, look, and listen.

There is a scene in Star Trek IV (1986) in which the crew of the Enterprise lands in 20th century San Francisco. In the one act, the ship’s doctor, McCoy, is shown talking to an old woman in a hospital waiting room, and she tells him that she’s there for kidney dialysis. He exclaims with surprise, “dialysis..! they’re still doing that?!?” He then gives the woman a pill from his 26th century doctor’s bag, and in a later shot we see the same woman dancing down the hall as she leaves the hospital, obviously cured by a treatment modality that does not yet exist and which our feeble minds cannot yet grasp.

While witchcraft and modern medicine might seem wholly disparate, I note the above because I wish I could live long enough to see with bemusement what, from our own ‘advanced’ age, will be viewed with incredulity and amazement in the future.

And in the meanwhile, be very wary of those who preach orthodoxy without some pretty convincing data.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]


We’ve all heard the story of how George Washington’s demise was likely hastened by the amount of blood that was purposely extracted from him by his physicians as he lay critically ill with pneumonia. At least one of the late President’s doctors later opined as much. But bloodletting, whether by instruments or leeches, was a widely accepted practice for all matter of ailments in Western medicine well into the 19th century.

I was nonetheless taken aback recently when I read this account in the Lancet of an early 19th century bloodletting on a trauma victim, perhaps surprised all the more because he survived!

On 13 July 1824, a sergeant in the French army was stabbed in the chest while engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Though he was carried to the surgeon’s tent as soon as possible, within minutes he fainted from the loss of blood. He was immediately bled twenty ounces (570 ml) “to prevent inflammation.” During the night he was bled another 24 ounces (680 ml). Early the next morning, the chief surgeon bled the patient another 10 ounces (285 ml); during the next 14 hours, he was bled five more times. Medical attendants thus intentionally removed more than half of the patient’s normal blood supply – in addition to the initial blood loss which caused the sergeant to faint. Bleedings continued over the next several days. By 29 July, the wound had become inflamed. The physician applied 32 leeches to the most sensitive part of the wound. Over the next three days, there were more bleedings and a total of 40 more leeches. The sergeant amazingly recovered despite his treatment and was discharged on 3 October.

His physician wrote that “by the large quantity of blood lost, amounting to 170 ounces [nearly eleven pints] (4.8 liters), besides that drawn by the application of leeches [perhaps another two pints] (1.1 liters), the life of the patient was preserved.”

Apparently, by 19th century standards, thirteen pints of blood taken over the space of a month was a large but not an exceptional quantity. The medical literature of the period contains many similar accounts – some successful, some not.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

America’s Youngest Serial Killer

Jesse Pomeroy ‘only’ killed two people of whom we know. It was his prodromal phase, and his age, that set him apart from other Ted Bundy wannabes.

Our subject was born in Massachusetts on the eve of the Civil War to a seemingly loving mother but a violent and abusive father. Modern alienists and students of human behavior will immediately recognize that his early-onset tortures of family pets were a serious red flag; of course, in the 1860s, this was merely noted as being a ‘difficult child.’

What we do know of Jesse: starting at the age of 12, he began to lure younger boys to remote areas, where he proceeded to beat them, bite them, and in one case, try to gouge out one of their eyes with both a stick and a penknife. He did succeed in mutilating one of the boy’s genitals with the knife. He eventually let all of these boys go, albeit likely scarred physically and emotionally for life.

Predictably, the attacks became more frequent and increasingly sadistic and perverse with time. In one instance, he made the victim kneel before him and recite an obscene version of the Lord’s Prayer. When the boy refused to blaspheme thusly, he was slashed across the face, beaten, and left bleeding after salt water had been thoroughly rubbed into his gaping wounds.

Jesse was arrested on 20 September 1872 and quickly confessed to the numerous attacks, saying only that he “couldn’t help [him]self.”

He was promptly convicted in juvenile court and sent to the Lyman Reformatory School for Boys. He was supposed to remain there until he came of age, but Jesse, being no fool, read the fine print and learned that early release was mandated if he ‘reformed.’ Hence, he followed all of the rules, ignored taunts from other youths, and was a model student. Nay, he was downright angelic. Jesse was therefore paroled to his mother’s custody in February 1874, after less than 18 months in custody.

The following month, Jesse was working in his parents’ general store when ten-year old Katie Curran disappeared. She was last seen heading for the store to buy a notebook for school. Amazingly, given Jesse’s record, the police at the time didn’t consider him to be a suspect in her disappearance, probably because, up until that point, he had only victimized young boys. The investigation into Katie’s disappearance went nowhere.

Jesse got overly confident apparently, and the month following Katie’s disappearance, he was seen, hand in hand one morning, with four year old Horace Millen, who was heading to the store with a few pennies to buy sweets. Those who saw them together said later that they thought the two were brothers out for a jaunt.

Horace’s body was found at 4 p.m. that same afternoon. He had been stabbed eighteen times in the chest, his throat had been slashed ear-to-ear, and his face and genitals had been mutilated.

Someone, finally, noted the similarities between Horace’s injuries and those of Jesse’s victims two years previously. The police rushed to Jesse’s home, where they found him with scratches on his face and blood on his penknife. A more-thorough search of the basement of Jesse’s parents’ store uncovered Katie’s decomposed body, similarly mutilated.

Before long, Jesse again confessed, saying only, “don’t tell my mother… but please put me somewhere so that I can’t do these things again.”

At his trial his attorneys attempted an insanity defense. Three alienists (yes, that was the term used in court documents!) examined him and noted that he exhibited no remorse for his actions and that he needed to be locked away in a mental institution for life. The insanity defense didn’t work, and he was convicted of first degree murder x2, for which the penalty was death by hanging. However, the jury recommended clemency from capital punishment on account of his youth (14). The governors stalled. Two years after Jesse’s conviction for murder, when the press had died down, then-Governor Alexander Rice commuted his sentence to life in prison. But there was a catch. It had to be served in solitary confinement.

Jesse would spend 41 years in a tiny cell, totally isolated from the world. His mother visited him once a month until her death. The only other persons he saw for almost half a century were the guards. He did attempt a few half-hearted escapes, but nothing that amounted to more than a pain in the collective prison’s ass.

His sentence was relaxed in 1917, when he was 57 years of age. He was then allowed in the general population of the prison. But his health was by then failing, and more disturbing to him, his name was not recognized by new inmates to the prison system. That really bothered him, as he had enjoyed, to some degree, the prison notoriety he had attained in earlier years.

He died, still incarcerated, on this date in 1932, having spent 60 of his 72 years behind bars.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]