Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. I hope everyone had a joyous Christmas and the happiest of New Years!
I recently read an article about 10 amazing women who paved the way for females in various branches of law enforcement. Some of the names I was familiar with, some not, but I learned new tidbits about even the ones I’d already heard of. So I thought I’d share what I learned with you. But to do these stories justice, I’m going to spread them over a series of articles rather than try to squeeze them all into one post.
The first one, speaking chronologically, is also the one I was most familiar with, Kate Warne.
In 1856 Kate walked into the Pinkerton National Detective Agency office seeking a position. To Allan Pinkerton’s surprise, she was not looking for a clerical position, but that of a field agent. It took quite a bit of convincing, but the 23 year old widow was more than up to the task. She calmly described the many potential benefits a female detective could offer, such as an ability to manipulate targets into believing she was on their side and confiding in her in a way that men could never manage.
Despite his initial skepticism, Pinkerton never had reason to regret his decision to hire the indomitable Kate. She proved her worth on the first major case she worked on. She was assigned to the investigation of possible embezzlement of funds at the Adams Express Co. The primary suspect was a Mr. Maroney. Kate immediately befriended Mrs. Maroney. She gained the woman’s confidence so much that not only did she learn the information she need to prove Mr. Maroney’s guilt but she managed to find and recover almost 80 percent of the money that had been stolen.
Within four years of hiring her, Pinkerton was convinced that there would be immeasurable value to him to have more female operatives in his organization. So in 1960 he opened a Female Detective Bureau and put Kate in charge.
Of course this didn’t put an end to Kate’s field work. At one point Pinkerton assigned five agents, Kate among them, to investigate secessionist threats against the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Based on their field reports Pinkerton became convinced that there was an assassination plot against then President-elect Lincoln to take place during his trip to Washington DC for his inauguration. It was Kate who confirmed that not only did this plot exist, but she learned the specific time and location where it was to take place. She also played a key role in the secret alternate travel arrangements that foiled the assassins’ plans.
The start of the Civil War saw Kate’s role change from that of investigator to that of spy while she continued to serve as Superintendent of Female Detectives. Using over a dozen assumed names and her spot-on southern belle impersonation she worked both down south and in the north, successfully gathering needed intelligence.
After the end of the war, Kate continued on her course as a valuable senior member of the Pinkerton team. There is no telling how far she would have gone, but alas, while the ‘bad guys’ could not best her, her health did. In January of 1868, still in her mid 30s, Kate contracted a lung infection and died.
In his book The Spy of the Rebellion, Pinkerton wrote of Kate Warne “Of rather a commanding person, with clear-cut, expressive features, and with an ease of manner that was quite captivating at times, she was calculated to make a favorable impression at once. She was a brilliant conversationalist when so disposed, and could be quite vivacious, but she also understood that rarer quality… the art of being silent.”
There you have it, a very brief sketch of the trailblazing adventures of this brave and adventurous woman. What struck you most about her? If you’d already heard of her, did you learn anything new, or do you have more to add to her story?
Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing for winner’s choice of any book from my backlist.
Before my son graduated from Texas A&M University and entered the Air Force, I took our freedom for granted. Since then articles on the plight of veterans hold a new meaning. My son was deployed twice but he is one of the lucky ones. He escaped any lasting trauma. Other veterans haven’t been as fortunate, because you know what? Freedom isn’t free.
For most of us, the Fourth of July means food, family, fireworks and fun. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. For those veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some estimates say this is as many as one half million vets, this holiday is difficult. For them, fireworks sound like artillery and throw them back on the battlefield amid the death and destruction of war.
Some veterans have placed signs in their yards saying, “Combat veteran lives here. Please be courteous with fireworks.” They hope this will increase awareness and encourage discussions about PTSD. If you plan to shoot off fireworks tonight, please give any veterans living nearby a heads up. This allows them to prepare to deal with their possible reactions and keeps them from being caught unaware.
We owe these men and woman because of the cost they’ve paid for our freedom. We owe them whatever help we can offer. That brings up the question, what helps veterans deal with PTSD or the other issues plaguing them after serving our country? In doing research? I’ve discovered two agencies who work tirelessly to change veterans’ lives for the better.
While researching my current book, the third in my Wishing Texas Series, To Tame A Texas Cowboy, I visited Patriot Paws in Rockwall, Texas. This agency provides service dogs to veterans with physical disabilities or PTSD. Service dogs can perform tasks a disabled vet is unable to or provide emotional support. Either way, they help veterans regain control of their lives. Unfortunately, agencies such as Patriot Paws are too few and the wait lists too long. Veterans often wait YEARS to receive their service dog. For more information on go to http://www.patriotpaws.org.
Another wonderful agency helping veterans is Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship south of downtown Dallas. I discovered this wonderful organization when doing research for Roping the Rancher. My hero turned his horse ranch into a similar organization when he left the military. Like numerous veterans, he struggled to find a purpose with meaning after returning to civilian life. Equest’s program,
Hooves For Heroes, does amazing work helping veterans struggling with the lack of purpose issue, as well as, depression and PTSD. For more information go to http://www.equest.org.
No matter what your plans today, I wish everyone a safe and fun Fourth of July. But please take time to remember those veterans whose lives have been impacted serving our country. Some of them and their families have paid a very high price because Freedom isn’t free.
Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Roping the Rancher.
After finding herself a widow at the age of twenty-six, JOSIE JOHNSON moves back home to Two-Time, Texas and takes over the town’s only newspaper, the Gazette. Everything works as planned until the very charming, very handsome BRANDON WADE moves to town to start his own newspaper. At first Josie welcomes the competition, but soon learns that readers prefer Wade’s bold hyperbole to her more serious type of journalism.
Brandon never meant to put the pretty publisher out of business and suggests a solution. Nothing sells newspapers like a good juicy scandal, but lacking that, the next best thing is a good old-fashioned print war between two battling editors. Brandon even writes up an article disparaging himself and his paper to demonstrate. Josie refuses to stoop to such tactics. She’ll gain her readers back on her own terms—or not at all! But when her paper accidentally publishers Wade’s article, the print wars are on.
The rivalry between Josie and Brandon meets with immediate success and both newspapers fly off the racks. The editorial warfare is the talk of the town and readers can’t seem to get enough. While the ink wars rage on, Josie and Brandon find themselves fighting yet another battle—a mutual attraction that could put everything they worked for at risk.
Before the Civil War, people were content to receive news weeks and even months after an event, if at all. The war changed that. Suddenly, people were demanding to know what was going on, and newspapers became an important part of life. President Lincoln recognized that newspapers could be used to sway public opinion and he used them to good advantage, much as politicians do today.
Here’s my question: What’s your favorite way of getting the news?
We’re delighted to have Dee Burks with us today. She’s filling in for Phyliss Miranda who’s out of town. Dee is immensely talented and infuses her stories with humor that will make you laugh out loud. This Christmas-themed book is sure to please. She’s also giving away three copies (winner’s choice of format!) So, help us welcome Dee!
It’s great to be here. Thank you so much for having me. I write contemporary westerns and I think I have the best job in the world.
I’ll be happy to spur you outta the chute, Cowboy!
How many times have you wanted to shout that at a smoking hot guy in Wrangler’s? Actually I think I did once, or maybe twice! Cowboys you run across these days are just as exciting and interesting as they were back in the old west and I love writing about them. There is truly nothing more enticing than a smart, sexy, wickedly funny cowboy romance set in the mountains. When I decided on the setting for this series, I chose the beautiful Moreno Valley in far Northern New Mexico. It is one of my favorite places – full of ranchers, cowboys and beautiful scenery.
Beyond an awesome setting, I knew I wanted more than your average ranch cowboy to be the hero of this first book. I wanted something different. Something that would interest readers and give the book an added dimension. One day, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, a guy I knew in high school (ahem…like over 30 years ago) posted some photos of a set of custom spurs he was making. I thought, “What an awesome occupation for a former rodeo star!” And the idea for Custom Made Cowboy was born.
I sent Quint Finney, spur maker extraordinaire, a message and asked him for an interview which he graciously granted. He also sent me a pair of custom-made spurs that I could examine and take pictures of. I feel that sort of authenticity is something you can’t replace as a writer. To hear the excitement in the voice of someone who actually does this work, allows me to add nuances I couldn’t get any other way. I feel it is that real, down to earth voice that makes my hero, Trampas Woodburn, leap off the page and into the hearts of readers.
A former bull rider (yes I interviewed one of these too!) Trampas is trying to start a new life away from the spotlight but still stay connected to his rodeo roots. A leather and spur making business is what he dreams of, he just needs a quiet place to relax and get things off the ground. While he is starting a new life, my heroine, Angie Martin is desperately trying to keep her life together.
Angie is a painter and owns a little art studio in Eagle Nest, NM. I now live in Northern New Mexico, and can tell you firsthand that art is everywhere and so are great artists. I’ve had the opportunity to sit and listen to artists talk about what it feels like to create great works and the struggles that go along with making a living from that art. Giving my heroine a teetering art business to try and salvage while dealing with an unexpected, hot cowboy adds layers of humor and tension to this book in every area.
I chose two very strong willed, determined people who aren’t looking for romance at all to show how unexpected and powerful love can be. Their connection to one another is palpable, to the point readers may feel as if the pages will burst into flames on occasion!
Being a writer is a great excuse to talk to gorgeous, knowledgeable cowboys and I do a lot of it – which I, of course, will use in a book at some point (wink, wink).
I hope you all enjoy this book and to get you started I’m giving away 3 copies of Custom Made Cowboy (winner’s choice of format.) To enter the drawing, leave a profession in the comments that you think would suit a cowboy – beside chasing cows!
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She’s a bestselling author who brings to life today’s true west with feisty heroines and heart melting cowboys. A multi-generational Texan, she now lives in the gorgeous mountains of Northern New Mexico infusing all her settings with authenticity of the southwest while crafting love stories spicier than the hottest green chili!
Her favorite pastime is writing as the snow falls over the Sangre De Cristos, hot cup of coffee on the desk and sweet pup Charley at her feet. When not writing, she travels the west collecting ideas and indulging her passion for fly fishing.
One of the writer-related questions I get most often is where do my ideas come from. The answer is a bit complex. As a writer, I see stories everywhere – in snippets of conversation, in song lyrics, in throwaway scenes from movies and TV shows and just from everyday life. But story ideas are also very fragile – they can disappear like mist when the sun beats down or like dream fragments once you’re fully awake.
So, whenever I get an idea for a new story, even if it’s just for a character or scene, I’ll set up a document in my Ideas folder to capture it before it gets away. From time to time I’ll go back in and add to one or more of the files, depending on what snags my interest at the time. And eventually one of these ideas will tell me it’s ready to be turned into a full blown book.
All of the above is backdrop to explain that one of these idea files contained a snippet of a story set in the late 19th century with a female doctor in the lead role. Of course a story like this requires a lot of research – questions such as what educational options were available for women and where could these be found, how well received were female doctors, what difficulties would they have faced due to their gender and just in general what medical treatments and a medical practice looked like during that time period.
And as often happens, while I was happily ensconced in researching some of this, I stumbled upon an unexpected and totally intriguing story about a fascinating woman. Her name was Mary Walker. She was born in 1832, in upstate New York to parents who encouraged all of their children to pursue formal education. Mary took full advantage of her parents’ ideals and at the age of 25 graduated from Syracuse Medical School with a doctor of medicine degree – she was the only woman in her class. She then went into private practice and eventually married another physician, Dr. Albert Miller. However, in an action that was typical of her fierce independent spirit, she retained her maiden name. Eventually, she and Miller divorced due to his alleged infidelity.
When the Civil War broke out, Mary wanted to serve in the army as a surgeon, but because she was a woman she was unable to do so. Not willing to give up, she worked for free in a temporary hospital in Washington D.C. From there she moved on to Virginia, treating the wounded at numerous field hospitals throughout the area. Finally, in 1863, her medical credentials were acknowledged and she was appointed as a War Department surgeon. A year later she was captured by the Confederate Army and remained their prisoner for about four months.
In 1865, Dr. Walker became the first woman to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, an acknowledgement for her services during the Civil War.
Mary’s unconventional life extended past her service during the war. She was an active and vigorous proponent of women’s rights. She became an author and a lecturer, focusing on issues such as temperance, health care and dress reform. And putting action to her words, she could often be seen garbed in bloomers or even men’s trousers and a top hat. Dr. Walker was a member of the Woman’s Suffrage Bureau in Washington D.C. and testified before committees in the US House of Representatives on woman’s suffrage issues.
In 1917 her name, along with 910 others, was stricken from the list of Medal of Honor recipients. The reason given was that none of these had ever officially served in the military. However, despite orders to return her medal, Mary refused and continued to wear it for the remainder of her life. She passed away in 1919 at the age of 86.
But that’s not the end of Dr. Walker’s story. In 1977, thanks to efforts made by her family who pushed for a Congressional reappraisal of her accomplishments, President Jimmy Carter restored her medal posthumously. She is one of only six people to have this honor restored after it was rescinded. And to date she is still the only female to ever have this medal awarded to her.
So what do you think of this very unorthodox woman? Is there something about her life that particularly intrigued you? Comment on this post for a chance to win an advance copy of my upcoming December release Once Upon A Texas Christmas.
Abigail Fulton is determined to find independence in Turnabout, Texas—and becoming manager of the local hotel could be the solution. But first, she must work with Seth Reynolds to renovate the property by Christmas—and convince him she’s perfect for the job. If only he hadn’t already promised the position to someone else…
Ever since his troubled childhood, Seth yearns to prove himself. And this hotel is his best chance. But what does someone like Abigail know about decor and furnishings? Yet the closer the holiday deadline gets, the more he appreciates her abilities and her kindness. His business ambitions require denying Abigail’s dearest wish, but can they put old dreams aside for a greater gift—love and family?
My passion is writing about the old west and the fabulous women who helped settle it. Western movies helped establish the male hero, but depicting women mainly as bonnet saints, soiled doves and schoolmarms did them a terrible disservice.
The westward migration freed women in ways never before imagined. Women abandoned Victorian traditions, rigid manners and confining clothes and that’s not all; they brought churches, schools and newspapers to frontier towns and helped build communities.
Female barber wielding “man’s most sacred implement.”
Women today may still be banging against glass ceilings, but those brave souls of yesteryear had to break down doors. One newspaper reporter complained that “Women dared to lay hands on man’s most sacred implements—the razor and strop—and shave him to the very face.”
Ah, yes, women were barbers, doctors, firefighters and saloon keepers. Women even disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War. With little more than their faith to guide them, they owned cattle ranches and gold mines and fought for women’s rights.
In 1860 Julia Shannon of San Francisco took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife. Cameras were bulky, chemicals dangerous and photo labs blew up with alarming regularity. It was a hard profession for a man let alone a woman.
Forty years before women were allowed to join a police department, Kate Warne worked for the Pinkerton National Detective agency as an undercover agent from 1856 to her death in 1868. Not only did she run the female detective division, she saved president-elect Abraham Lincoln from a planned assassination by wrapping him in a blanket and pretending he was her invalid brother. Her story is the inspiration behind my Undercover Ladies series in which the heroines were—you guessed it—Pinkerton detectives working undercover.
It took strong and courageous women to bury children along the trail; barter with Indians and make homes out of sticks and mud. It’s estimated that about twelve percent of homesteaders in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Utah were single women. And yep, women even took part in the Oklahoma land runs.
An article in the San Francisco Examiner published in 1896 says it all: “People have stopped wondering what women will do next, for keeping up with what she is doing now takes all the public energies.”
These are the heroines for whom we like to cheer. It must have been a shock to the male ego to have to deal with such strong and unconventional women—and that’s at the very heart of my stories. The gun may have won the west, but praise the Lord for the gusty and courageous women who tamed it.
Can you name a gutsy woman–either past or present?
“Are you’re askin’ if your virtue is safe with me?”
She blushed, but refused to back down. The man didn’t mince words and neither would she. “Well, is it?”
“Safe as you want it to be,” he said finally.
–From Margaret’s new book, A Match Made in Texas
My new book will be released June 6th and I wanted to share a little bit about it. This is Amanda Lockwood’s story. If you read Left at the Altar, you might remember that she is the sister who was always in trouble. Well, she’s in really big trouble this time around.
The book opens with Amanda stuck in the middle of nowhere after been thrown off a stagecoach for criticizing the driver. This is where Rick Rennick finds hers and he offers to give her a ride. After assurances that her virtue is safe with him, she accepts. Here’s what happens next:
No sooner had she seated herself upon the wooden bench than Mr. Rennick took off hell-bent for leather. Glued to the back of the seat, she cried out. “Oh, dear. Oh, my. Ohhh!”
What had looked like a perfectly calm and passive black horse had suddenly turned into a demon. With pounding hooves and flowing mane, the steed flew over potholes and dirt mounds, giving no heed to the cargo behind. The wagon rolled and pitched like a ship in stormy seas. Dust whirled in the air and rocks hit the bottom and sides.
Holding on to her hat with one hand and the seat with the other, Amanda watched in wide-eye horror as the scenery flew by in a blur.
The wagon sailed over a hill as if it was airborne and she held on for dear life. The wheels hit the ground, jolting her hard and rattling her teeth. The hope chest bounced up and down like dice in a gambler’s hand. Her breath whooshed out and it was all she could do to find her voice.
“Mr. R-Rennick!” she stammered, grabbing hold of his arm. She had to shout to be heard.
“What?” he yelled back.
“Y-you sh-should—” She stared straight ahead, her horrified eyes searching for a soft place to land should the need arise. “S-slow down and enjoy the s-scenery.”
Her hat had tilted sideways and he swiped the peacock feather away from his face. “Been my experience that sand and sagebrush look a whole lot better when travelin’ fast,” he shouted in his strong baritone voice.
He made a good point, but at the moment she was more concerned with life and limb.
He urged his horse to go faster before adding, “It’s also been my experience that travelin’ fast is the best way to outrun bandits.”
“W-what do you mean? B-bandits?” It was then that she heard gunfire.
She swung around in her seat and her jaw dropped. Three masked horsemen were giving chase and closing in fast.
Have you ever been stranded?
Leave a comment and you could win a copy of
Left at the Altar. (Giveaway guidelines apply)
A Romance Writers of America RITA finalist
There’s a new sheriff in town, and she almost always gets her man!
Gambling has been a popular way to fill empty time almost as long as people have existed. Many modern words related to gambling saw their genesis in the 1300s. “Pasteboards,” slang for playing cards, arose in the 1540s because the cards were made of layers of paper pasted together. Roulette, in the gambling sense, originated in about 1725. Terms like “game of chance” (1920), “snake eyes” (1930), and Lady Luck (1935), on the other hand, didn’t arrive until the early 20th Century.
Gamblers, c. 1900. Artist unknown.
The following words and phrases, most of them slang appropriations of previously mundane words and phrases, sneaked into the language during the 1800s.
Ante: opening bet; American English poker slang. Noun form arose 1838; verb, 1846. Both are based, appropriately, on the Latin ante, meaning before.
Baccarat: As a card game, arose 1848. Variant spelling of the French word for the same game, baccara, which is of unknown origin.
Bank: to put money on. American colloquial usage arose c. 1884, based on the 1833 meaning “to deposit in a bank.”
Bankroll: roll of bank notes. American slang from 1887 as a conflation of “bank” and “roll,” the latter of which gained the slang meaning “quantity of paper money” in 1846.
Beginner’s luck: explanation for wins by the inexperienced. American slang c. 1897.
Big deal: in poker, a game-changing turn of the cards. Arose mid-19th century. The sarcastic phrase meaning “So what?” is American English from 1965.
Bilk: a cheat or to cheat. Although the 1651 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as a cribbage term meaning to spoil an opponent’s score by playing unusable cards, in the western U.S. after the Civil War, calling someone a bilk was about the worst insult one man could bestow upon another. “[T]he most degrading epithet that one can apply to another is to pronounce him ‘a bilk.’ No Western man of pluck will fail to resent such concentrated vituperation.” (A.K. McClure, Three Thousand Miles Through the Rocky Mountains, 1869)
Blackleg: gambler or swindler. Popular in the American West 1835-1870.
Bottom dollar: the last of one’s money; from 1882.
Bluff: the noun meaning subterfuge in cards dates to 1839 in the U.S., perhaps from the Dutch bluffen (to brag or boast) or verbluffin (to baffle or mislead). Bluff as an alternative name for poker is American slang from 1844. The verb bluffing, meaning misleading in poker, arose c. 1845; later generalized to misleading in any context.
“Gambling Down Below,” illustration from the Mark Twain story of the same name, 1883
Card sharp: shortened form of the American slang term card-sharper, which entered the lexicon in 1859.
Chip: counter used in a game of chance. Americanism; first recorded in print 1840. “When the chips are down” is from the 1940s as a reference to the pile of poker chips on the table after all bets are made.
Cleaned out: left penniless by losses; arose c. 1812.
Craps: game of chance employing dice. American English from the Louisiana French craps (“play a dangerous game”), based on an 18th-century Continental French corruption of the British “crabs,” which was slang for the lowest dice throw: two or three.
Crap out: a losing throw of two, three, or twelve in the dice game of craps. American slang, 1835-1845. Called “seven-out” when the player threw a seven instead of making his “point.”
Dead-man’s hand: a poker hand including two aces, two eights, and any other card. Yes, it really is based on the hand Wild Bill Hickock held at the moment of his 1876 assassination by Jack McCall.
Dough: money. From 1851.
Down on [one’s] luck: at a low point financially or personally. From 1832; possibly borrowed from gambling. “Be in luck” first appeared in print in 1900 but may be older; “push [one’s] luck” first appeared in 1911.
Draw a blank: come up with nothing. The image is from lotteries, c. 1825.
Face card: jack, queen, or king; c. 1826. Also called “court cards” because of the royal images.
Four-flusher: a cheater or sneak. Arose 1896 from the earlier verb four-flush (origin uncertain), meaning to bluff a flush while holding only four cards in the same suit.
Full house: poker term for three of a kind and a pair. 1887 American version of the 1850s British term “full hand.”
Gamble: a risky venture. Arose as slang in 1823. By 1879, the act of gambling. Apparently a remnant of the dialectical Middle English gamel (1590s), “to play games.” The B may have been added due to confusion with “gambol.”
Gouge: to cheat, swindle, or extort. Verb form attested 1880, probably from the 1560s gouge, meaning to cut with the tool of the same name.
Grand slam: in suit-based card games, to win a series of games; 1814. First use as a bridge term 1892.
“The Gaming Table,” Thomas Rowlandson, 1801
Have a card up [one’s] sleeve: originally, the poker term was literal. Poker players would hide a winning card under their sleeve cuff and exchange it for a losing card the sly. Arose c. 1898.
High-roller: extravagant spender. American slang by 1873, probably originally as a reference to throwing dice.
Jackpot/jack-pot: big prize. From 1881, a series of antes that results when no player has an opening hand consisting of two jacks or better. The slot machine sense arose 1932; slang for a big win in any situation from about 1944.
Joker: non-royal face card in a poker deck, 1868. Probably a reference to the generic British slang use of the word to mean any man, fellow, or chap. Black Joke, a card game in which all face cards were called jokers, is mentioned in Hoyle’s 1857 edition of Games.
Kitty: pool of money in a card game. Arose 1887 from 1833 “kit,” meaning a collection of necessary supplies, with a possible contribution from the 1825 British slang “kit,” meaning prison or jail.
Lucky break/lucky strike: in billiards, at least one ball landing in a pocket after the opening collision of cue ball with the rack. Attested from 1884. Earlier meaning “fortunate failure” arose 1872. Lucky Strike as the name for a brand of pre-rolled cigarettes, 1872.
Monte: a particular card game, so called because of the heap of cards left after the deal. The game arose 1824, with the name probably borrowed from monte, Spanish for mountain. The game was especially popular during the California gold rush. Three-card version arose in Mexico in 1877.
Pass the buck: American slang, originally literal, 1865. A bone-handled knife, or “buck,” was laid on the table in front of the dealer to keep track during poker games. As the game progressed, the deal passed from player to player around the table, and so did the knife. Figurative sense “shift responsibility” first recorded in print 1912.
Penny-ante: insignificant; American slang. Originally an 1855 poker term for small stakes.
Play the trump card: slang for an unexpected winning move; from 1886. Originally “play the Orange card,” which meant “appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment for political advantage.”
Poker: a particular card game that arose in America in 1834. Origin of the term is unknown, but perhaps from the German pochen, “to brag,” which itself arose from a slang corruption of the verb spelled the same way which meant “to knock or rap.” May also be related to French poque, a card game similar to poker, though that is undocumented.
Poker face: expressionless by intent. 1874 slang from a poker tactic disguising a bluff.
“Monte in the Mines,” J.D.Borthwick, 1851
Risky: dangerous. Arose 1825 from “risk,” which itself was a 1728 anglicized version of the 1660s French risqué. “Risk-taker” is from 1894.
Showdown/show-down: lay down a poker hand face-up. From 1873; American slang. Figurative “final confrontation” arose 1904.
Stack the deck: cheat by unfairly arranging the cards in a deck before the deal. First recorded 1825.
Straight: a poker hand containing any sequential run of cards from different suits; arose 1841 from 1640s use of the term to mean “level.” By 1864, “straight” became slang for the straight part of a horse-racing track.
Straightaway: the flat, straight home stretch of a horse-racing track; 1839.
Stud poker: a form of poker in which the first card is dealt face-down and the others face-up. From 1864; antecedents unknown. The related term “hole card,” meaning the card dealt face-down, is an Americanism from 1905.
Swindle: cheat out of money. American English colloquialism from 1826.
Take a chance/take chances: do something with an uncertain outcome. From the 1815 usage meaning “participate in a lottery.” The related “take a risk” is first documented 1826, but may be older.
Tinhorn: of no value, but flashy. By 1857, from the earlier use referring to low-class gamblers who used a tin can to shake dice.
If you’ve ever read a western novel or watched a western movie, no doubt you’ve run across a whole herd of quaint terms that add character to the story. Where did those terms come from, why did folks use them, and when were they popular?
Thomas Mitchell, Jack Buetel, and Walter Huston in The Outlaw (HowardHughesProductions, 1941) [promotional image]
Here are some of the words and phrases used to describe the bad boys of the Old West. Some of them are older than one might imagine. Western historical romance authors may be dismayed to find others are newer than they hoped.
Buscadero: gunfighter. From the Spanish buscadero, literally a searcher. The origin of the slang usage is obscure; possibly “seeking trouble.”
Bushwhacker: cowardly enemy who strikes from ambush. Americanism; arose c. 1809. Oddly, the verb “bushwhack” arose later, c. 1837. During the American Civil War (at least from 1862-1865), “bushwhacker” acquired a less-pejorative connotation, meaning any irregular who took to the woods to strike from cover and then vanish. The term was applied in equal measure to both friend and foe.
Cabrón: an outlaw of low breeding and even lower principles. In Spanish, the word means “goat.” Origin of the slang usage is obscure.
Cold-blooded: unfeeling, dispassionate, cruel. Arose c. 1828 from the old (1600s) notion that excitement increased human blood temperature. Reptiles have been called cold-blooded since about 1600, and the reptilian image also played into the description as applied to killers and other reprehensible sorts who acted without apparent regret.
Promotional flier for The Law and the Outlaw, 1913
Cold lead: from the mid-1800s until the 1920s, a bullet. About 1920, usage changed and “hot lead” became slang for bullets. The reason is unclear.
Cowboy of the Pecos: rustler, based on the notion safety could be found in the lawless area around Texas’ Pecos River.
Dressed to kill: double entendre meaning not only that a man wearing two guns most likely was a killer, but also that wearing a double rig (a holstered pistol on each hip) made it difficult for a gunman to do anything with either hand without implying a threat; therefor, dudes who adopted the practice were likely to be killed.
Dry-gulch: to ambush someone, particularly in a cowardly manner.
Get the drop on: to obtain a marked advantage, especially with the help of a gun. Probably dates to the California gold rush of 1849, when claim-jumpers sometimes seemed to materialize from the ether before hijacking a profitable claim at gunpoint. First documented appearance in print 1869 in Alexander K. McClure’s Three Thousand Miles through the Rocky Mountains: “So expert is he with his faithful pistol, that the most scientific of rogues have repeatedly attempted in vain to get ‘the drop’ on him.”
GTT: on the wrong side of the law. Short for “gone to Texas,” this usage dates at least to the Civil War, when deserters and other former soldiers from both armies — suddenly unemployed and inured to violence — migrated to still-wild, wide-open Texas, “lost” their names, and took up outlawry. (Originally, “Gone to Texas” was the phrase families ruined by the financial panic of 1819 painted on doors and fence signs before lighting out to begin anew in greener pastures south of the Mexican border.) In his 1857 book Journey through Texas, Frederick Law Olmstead noted that many newcomers to the state were suspected of having skipped out on something “discreditable” back home. Thomas Hughes, in his 1884 book G.T.T., wrote “When we want to say that it is all up with some fellow, we just say, ‘G.T.T.’ as you’d say, ‘gone to the devil,’ or ‘gone to the dogs.’”
Days on the Range (Hands Up!) by Frederic Remington
Gun: until the early 20th Century, cannon or long guns like shotguns and rifles. Handguns were called pistols or — after Samuel Colt introduced his first patented repeating revolver in 1836 — six-guns or six-shooters.
Gunman: shootist; gunfighter. First recorded use 1903 in a New York newspaper. (Gunsman, with an S in the middle, arose on the American frontier during the Revolutionary period.)
Gunslinger: No such term existed in the Old West. The word is pure Hollywood, from the early days of western movies.
Gun shark: gunfighter. Arose mid-1800s from the earlier (1700s) use of “shark” to indicate a voracious or predatory person, based on the reputation of the fish.
Heeled up: armed. Arose ca. 1866 from the 1560s usage of “heel” to mean attaching spurs to a gamecock’s feet.
Hogleg: large revolver. Originally referred to the Bisley single-action Colt (first manufactured 1894), but later generalized to any big pistol.
Holdup: a robbery. American English colloquialism, 1851. The verb “to hold up,” meaning “to stop by force and rob,” didn’t arise until 1887, apparently from the robbers’ command to raise hands. “Hold up,” meaning to delay, dates to 1837.
Hustler: thief, especially one who roughs up his victims. Arose 1825. Sense of “energetic worker” is from 1884; sense of “prostitute” dates from 1924.
Lam: to run off. U.S. slang dating to 1886; of uncertain origin. “On the lam,” meaning flight to avoid prosecution or consequences, arose c. 1897.
Jesse James’ Oath, or Tracked to Death by W.B. Lawson (Street & Smith Publishers, Dec. 1897)
On the cuidado: running from the law. From the Spanish warning ten cuidado, which means “be careful.”
Owlhoot: outlaw. “Riding the owlhoot trail” referred to a man who had left the straight and narrow to become an outlaw. One explanation of origin came from a man living in the Indian Territory of eastern Oklahoma around 1870. He claimed the name came about from the Indians in the area using owl hoots to signal danger or someone’s approach. Another tale indicates outlaws were called “owlhoots” because, when they were getting ready to ambush somebody in the dark, they would imitate the hooting of owls to signal one another.
Pecos swap: theft. Again, based on the reputation of Texas’s Pecos River area.
Pistolero: expert with a handgun. Adopted from Mexican Spanish, in which the word has the same meaning.
Rattlesnaked: ambushed (literally or figuratively) in a particularly devious or cunning way. Dates at least to 1818.
Safecracker (also safe-cracker): individual with a talent for liberating money from locked vaults. Arose ca. 1897, as a reference to robbers who used dynamite to thwart security boxes.
Shootist: expert marksman. Arose 1864.
Sidewinder: dangerously cunning or devious person. Arose American West ca. 1875 as a reference to some species of rattlesnakes’ “peculiar lateral movement.”
Stickup: robbery at gunpoint. Arose 1887 from the earlier (1846) verb “stick up,” meaning to rob someone at gunpoint. The phrase “stick up for,” meaning defend, is from 1823. The archaic noun “stick-up” arose ca. 1857 as a colloquial term for a stand-up collar.
This month I’m debuting a new series titled Heart of the Frontier. Book one is titled Treasured Grace and is the story of three sisters in 1847. The focal setting of the story is the Whitman Mission in the area of present day Walla Walla, Washington.
This is a model of the mission layout with the main mission house to the right, the blacksmith shop in the center and the Emigrant’s House on the left. The mill pond (upper left) was where they also had a grist mill.
This location was the site of the Whitman Mission Massacre that took place November 29, 1847. It was this massacre that truly changed the course of westward expansion and brought on the setting up of military forts along the Oregon Trail.
Marcus and Narcissa Whitman (she was one of the first two white women who crossed the Rocky Mountains) had tried for over ten years to win the hearts and minds of the Cayuse Indians in their area. However, a measles epidemic struck and killed a great many Cayuse, as well as whites. The Cayuse were convinced that Whitman (who was a doctor as well as a preacher) was trying to kill them and so on November 29th, they attacked and killed the doctor and Narcissa, along with most of the other men who were living at the mission. The remaining fifty-four women and children were taken hostage and held for nearly a month by the Cayuse.
On my many visits there to glean information for my series, I found the park rangers to be some of the best I’ve encountered while doing research. It was fascinating to learn about the Cayuse people. They were a nomadic people who were known for their horses and horsemanship. They were also considered to have some of the fiercest warriors.
They lived in tulle mat lodges and traveled with the seasons to harvest various roots and vegetation, as well as take advantage of the salmon fishing.
In the 1840’s this area of America was called Oregon Country. It was mostly inhabited by Native Americans and the British. The latter ran a string of Hudson’s Bay Company forts and traded with both the Native Americas and whites who came west. I mention this because another fascinating aspect of this massacre and the aftermath was the part the Hudson’s Bay Company played.
When it was learned that 54 white women and children were being held captive, Peter Skene Ogden (one of the factors at Fort Vancouver – now present day Vancouver, Washington) went to work to secure their release. He and Chief Factor James Douglas put together a ransom hoping they could convinced the Cayuse to let the women and children go without harm. The ransom included 62 blankets, 63 cotton shirts, 12 Hudson Bay rifles, 600 loads of ammunition, 7 pounds of tobacco and 12 flints. Eventually the Cayuse did agree to this and the women and children were set free. I thought it quite interesting, if not touching that The Hudson’s Bay Company never billed the American settlers for the ransom. I thought it equally interesting that reimbursement by the American government was never offered.