Category: Wild West Research

Learning to Love the Camas Root

I grew up in the Palouse area of Idaho, close to the Camas Prairie, and when I was in the third grade, while we were studying the Nez Perce Indians, I ate a cookie made with camas root flour. I can taste it to this day–and not in a good way.  It might have been the cook, it might have been the camas root flour. I don’t know, but that cookie did not agree with me. Interestingly, Lewis and Clark had a similar experience.

Before I tell you about Lewis and Clark, let me give you some background on the camas root. The camas is a blue flowering plant. It’s really quite beautiful and although there are several Camas Prairies, my Camas Prairie is an area in north central Idaho where the Nez Perce gathered camas roots for thousands of years.

The camas root is really a bulb, and it’s higher in protein that some fish. The native peoples would dig the root with sticks or parts of antlers in the early summer months. The time varied depending on the altitude. After the harvest, the camas roots were cooked in earthen ovens. The roots that were not eaten were dried for later consumption. Dried camas root lasted for years. There are stories of travelers eating camas roots that were more than thirty years old.

It was very important to only harvest the blue camas bulbs, because the white camas bulbs, which are also nutritious, closely resembled another species of camas known as White Death. The White Death could be lethal if enough was consumed, so white camas plants were generally avoided.

 So what happened to Lewis and Clark?

When the explorers reached the Weippe Prairie in Idaho in September of 1805, they were essentially starving. The Nez Perce fed the men camas roots, which were described as “sweet and good to the taste”. They were also very high in fiber and very hard on the starving men’s digestive systems.  The men fell ill with vomiting, diarrhea and gas. Captain Clark wrote, “Capt Lewis Scercely able to ride on a jentle horse which was furnishd by the Chief. Several men So unwell that they were Compelled to lie on the Side of the road for Some time others obliged to be put on horses.” The sickness lasted over five days, during which time the less weak men took care of the sicker men while making five canoes to travel the Clearwater River. Those guys were tough.

Later it was discovered that fermented camas made a decent beer and the men felt friendlier toward the root. Eventually, their bodies adapted. The men came to like the camas root and took a large supply with them when then traveled down the Clearwater in October 1805.

In researching the camas, I’ve learned that the roasted bulbs taste similar to pumpkin and sweet potato, both of which I hated as a kid, and that, I believe, was the source of my issues with the root. I would try a camas flour cookie again, given the chance. And hopefully, like Lewis and Clark, I would come to appreciate this historically valuable food source.

Time Enough for Locks

Kathleen Rice Adams: Classic tales of the Old West...that never forget the power of love.

tumbler lock

Rendering of an ancient tumbler-style lock.

For as long as there have been haves and have-nots, the haves have sought ways to secure their valuables. History no longer remembers the inventor of the first lock, but invention of the first key is attributed to Theodore of Samos in the 6th century B.C., which leads to the suspicion locks have been around at least that long. In fact, crude locking mechanisms dating to about 2,000 B.C. have been found in Egyptian ruins.

The first devices resembling what we know today as door locks were discovered in the palace of Persian king Sargon II, who reigned from 722 to 705 B.C. They were large, clumsy devices made of wood. Nevertheless, they served as prototypes for contemporary security devices.

The first all-metal locks, probably made by English craftsmen, appeared between 870 and 900 A.D. in Rome. A row of bars of varying length, called tumblers, dropped into holes drilled through the horizontal bolt securing a door or gate. Only the person who possessed a metal bar fitted with pins corresponding to the tumblers could shove the bars upward through the holes, thus freeing the bolt.

Bodie Bank in Bodie, California, mid-1870s

Bodie [California] Bank’s vault, mid-1870s (photo by Dick Rowan, National Archives and Records Administration)

No great advancements in lock technology occurred until about the 14th century A.D., when locks small enough to carry appeared. Traveling tradesmen used the so-called “convenient locks” to secure their money and other valuables.

Although padlocks were known to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the first combination lock didn’t appear until the 18th century. Until 1857, most banks used combination locks of some kind to secure their vaults. The secret to combination locks was to create complex series of letters and numbers that would frustrate anyone who tried to disarm the mechanism. The code for the combination lock securing the safe in the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington D.C., for example, required a lengthy series of letters and numbers that provided 1,073,741,824 possible combinations. Because cracking the code by systematically running through all the possible combinations would require 2,042 years, 324 days, and 1 hour (barring a lucky guess), the lock was considered burglar-proof.

Nye & Ormsby County Bank, Manhattan, Nevada, 1906

Vault among the ruins of the 1906 Nye & Ormsby County Bank in Manhattan, Nevada. The bank crumbled (literally and figuratively), but the vault survived.

Soon enough, enterprising criminals figured out combination locks had an Achilles heel: Robbers could hold a bank employee at gunpoint and demand he or she dial in the correct code.

In 1873, James Sargent invented what he called a theft-proof lock. The device combined a combination lock with a timer that would not allow the safe to be opened until a certain number of hours had passed, even if one knew the combination.

By the late 1870s, theft-proof locks were de rigueur in banks all over the U.S. Though they weren’t quite unbreakable — dynamite trumps almost any security measure — theft-proof locks thwarted more thieves than any previous mechanism.

 

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Pathfinders — Sacagawea

 

Pathfinders — Sacagawea

I need to add to my series of posts on Pathfinders, Sacagawea, the lone woman who’s story seems to have survived.

The more I read about Sacagawea the more … well, it’s strange … but the more emotional I felt about it.

When you start and read the bare bones account, from Wikipedia, it’s fine, fascinating. This young girl. I MEAN YOUNG. She set out with the Louis and Clark Expedition as a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD!

Now pause for a moment and think of the 13-year-old girls you know.

Now picture her married. Pregnant. A mother. Setting out with a husband known to be abusive with a crowd of men headed across the Rocky Mountains on a path for which no map exists.

Add in the rumors of Sacagawea being won by her husband while gambling. Or possible sold to him.

This isn’t some pretty fairy tale. Well, maybe it is considering all Cinderella went through with that old bat. But Cinderella … well, the shoe fit and she got her prince.

Not Sacagawea

She did all this work, hiked over those monstrous mountains, came near starvation and is credited with keeping the men alive by finding food in odd places. My dubious research says she dug up wild asparagus roots, or something related called camus roots, and pretty much kept everyone from starving with those things.

Anyway, it wasn’t a pretty picture.

But the most blunt thing I read, that also made me hurt, was a statement written by someone very realistic who said so much that we know about Sacagawea, is just plain made up.

The truth is Louis and Clark and their expedition members took a stunning number of notes. By count they wrote more than one million words about this expedition. Very few of them were about Sacagawea.

Sacagawea is mentioned by name seventeen times and her name is spelled eight different ways. There is plenty of debate about her name. Generally, Sacagawea means Bird Woman in the Hidatsu language, (the Hidatsu the tribe is who she was living with when she joined the Expedition-taken captive from her own tribe, the Shoshone) . But there are those who say  she renamed by the Hidatsu or her true Shoshone name was mispronounced by them to sound like Sacagawea…honestly how would they know how to spell her name in English. And Louis and Clark just had to sound it out. Still, you’d think they’d have PICKED ONE NAME AND STUCK WITH IT!

I will note here that Louis and Clark and their corp were notoriously bad at spelling. Their journals are incredibly hard to read. I will additionally note here that until Daniel Webster wrote his first dictionary, no words were really widely spelled alike. Most people wrote by sound with no one judging a word ‘misspelled’. There just was no accepted correct spelling until 1806, when Webster’s Dictionary was first published…and he kept adding words and republishing until 1825. So random spelling was widespread.

What words there are about Sacagawea, are very favorable, about her courage, about how much she helped. About how her knowing the Shoshone Indians and indeed finding her brother and enabling the expedition to trade for horses, once they had to abandon their boats, helped them through the mountains. About those camas roots.

But most of these things are noted in a one sentence reference to her between long intervals of writing about other things.

Women of the West

I have this theory that I can get very passionate about that someone needs to take all the famous men in history and write about their wives. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett had wives. What were they doing while their menfolk went about exploring? I’ll bet they were standing right there beside them, fighting the wilderness, wrestling survival out of the frontier and doing it pregnant and wearing a dress.

I suspect if I set out to research these women, I’d find something similar to what exists about Sacagawea. A few passing notes left behind. I’d have to build my books out of fantasy, make 2 + 2 = 10 by sheer willpower.

So Sacagawea did NOT keep them alive. No, she did NOT single-handedly drag their sorry backsides across the Rockies.

The truth of the Corp of Discovery

The truth of the Corp of Discovery is that this was a pack of incredibly tough men. Louis and Clark did a fantastic job of picking real hardened men who took their job seriously, faced untold hardships, battled on forward through disappointments, danger and pain.

And Sacagawea was right there with them. She was tough. That little baby strapped on her back was tough. That awful Charbonneau, well he might not have been all that tough, but he knew the mountains. He helped. They all worked hard together and managed this incredible journey. Made it to the Pacific…and made back to tell the tale.

One man died. Based on the sketchy notes taken, it’s believed Sgt. Floyd probably died of an appendicitis attack, get that? He didn’t freeze or starve or die in battle or fall off a cliff. Poor guy, he was probably really tough too, but he didn’t make it.

I want so much more for Sacagawea than to die at age 25 of a stupid fever. I almost hunger for her to be more. To have survived.

Sacagawea’s ages on this timeline are approximate. No one really knows. It is known that Jean Baptiste lived to travel in Europe and knew several languages. Louis was his godfather and kept his promise to Sacagawea to give her son a fine education.

There are oral histories that are very weak, that say she lived to be 100 years old. There are markers by her burial site in Wyoming when the truth is almost certainly that she died and was buried in an unmarked grave in North Dakota.

And the real tricky part here is, those few words written about Sacagawea, with two very minor exceptions that support her death at age 25, were all that was ever written about her until one hundred years later.

All the oral history, including that she married a second time, had more children, reunited with her son Jean Baptiste and lived until 1884, was only ‘discovered’ on the centennial celebration of her amazing fete of endurance and courage.

 

 

Creating a fable about Sacagawea

Clark nicknamed Sacagawea’s son Pompy or Pomp and refers to him in notes occasionally by those names. He named a pillar of rocks after Pompy and this memorial sign refers to the still visible name ‘W. Clark’ dated 1806.

Yes, I want more for her. So much more.

But it is very doubtful she lived until 1884…a story that was ‘discovered’ in 2004. There was certainly a woman who lived to be 100 who many, on looking back, believed could have been Sacagawea. But these were the long ago memories of elderly people remembering a long dead member of their tribe. And these folks may well have believed this woman was Sacagawea, but they may have wanted that to be true as badly as I do.

Whatever happened to her after this expedition, she belongs in this list of Pathfinders.

By creating a fable about Sacagawea, I think we diminish what she really did.

As if surviving, guiding, and feeding the Corp of Discovery wasn’t enough.

As if walking, boating, riding a horse from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean wearing a dress, carrying a baby on your back, a baby she’s certainly breastfeeding and diapering and probably trying to get to sleep at night, wasn’t enough.

I think we need to let the story we know, the story that is written down about Sacagawea be enough, because….it is.

To get your name in the drawing for a signed copy of Long Time Gone leave a comment about Sacagawea or any woman in history you’d like to know more about.

 

Long Time Gone

The Boden clan thought their problems had ended with the death of a dangerous enemy, but have they truly uncovered the real plot to take their New Mexico ranch? Rancher Justin Boden is now in charge. He is normally an unshakable and rugged man, but with his brother, Cole, shot and in mortal danger, even a tough man faces doubts. And it doesn’t help that Angie DuPree, the assistant to the doctor trying to save Cole, is as distracting a woman as Justin ever laid eyes on.

With her and the doc’s timely skills, Cole looks to be on the mend, and Justin and the rest of the Bodens can turn their attention back to the dangers facing them. It’s clear now that everything that’s occurred is part of a much bigger plot that could date back to a decades-old secret. Can they uncover all the pieces before danger closes in on them, or is the threat to the ranch even bigger than any of the Bodens could imagine?

Updated: May 17, 2017 — 11:14 pm

Wild West Words: Temper, Temper

Kathleen Rice Adams: Classic tales of the Old West...that never forget the power of love.

Fighting — over insults, over ideals (as in war), or just for fun — has been a popular pastime since the first person drew the first breath. There’s a reason the American West was called “wild”: Folks on the frontier seemed ready to throw a punch or unshuck a weapon with the slightest provocation, at least if popular myth is anywhere near the truth.

Nineteenth-century words and phrases relating to fighting, things that could provoke a fight, and means of stopping a fight are below. If you’re of a mind, also check out words for women, insults, outlaw vocabulary, food terms, and gambling.

"Smoke of a .45," Charles M. Russell, 1908

“Smoke of a .45,” Charles M. Russell, 1908

At outs with: no longer on friendly terms with; from about 1826. Became “on the outs with” around 1900.

Bantam: small, aggressive person; first documented in 1837. Extension of the 1749 name for a a breed of chicken discovered on Bantam, a Dutch colony in Java. As a lightweight class in boxing, use is attested from 1884. “Banty” is a dialectical corruption of the word.

Beat the living daylights out of: thrash, punish, chastise. Americanism; arose 1880s based on the late-18th Century threat to “let daylight into” a foe. The original phrase meant intent to kill by sword, knife, bullet, or other deadly weapon, but as the force of law began to catch up with the U.S.’s western frontier, the phrase was softened to lessen the perceived risk of hanging for murder should the target of the threat be found dead.

Below the belt: unfair; arose 1889 from boxing.

Bulldozer: person who intimidates by violence. Arose during 1876 U.S. presidential election, along with related “bulldose,” meaning “a severe beating” (literally, “dose fit for a bull”). Both were slang associated with aggressive intimidation of Negro voters in the North and the former Confederate states. Bulldozer acquired its current meaning, “ground-clearing tractor,” in the 1930s based on the image of bulls shoving one another around during dominance displays.

Call [someone] out: challenge, especially to a duel or fight. Arose c. 1823.

Cold shoulder: icy reception; deliberate coldness or disregard; a snub. Arose mid-1850s, evidently as a sarcastic reference to the European elite setting out hot feasts for their guests while the poor were able to afford only a cold shoulder of mutton (not a well-regarded meal). Sir Walter Scott is credited with creating the figurative sense c. 1816 by using “cold shoulder of mutton” to convey a deliberate intention to be rid of an unwanted guest. Americans, as usual, clipped the phrase.

Come off the rimrock: back away from a discussion that has turned unfriendly. Attested from the 1860s in the American West.

"Busted," Charles M. Russell, c. 1920

“Busted,” Charles M. Russell, c. 1920

Comeupance/comeuppance: Get what’s coming to you. 1859, presumably rooted in the phrase “come up,” meaning present oneself for judgment or trial.

Crotchety: irritable, contrary, grouchy. Arose c. 1825 from late-14th Century French crotchet, literally a small hook. In English, crotchet came to mean a perverse, capricious or eccentric notion c. 1800.

Dander: ire, irritation, temper, strong emotion. Entered American English c. 1831: “Don’t get your dander up.” Exact origin unclear, but may have been based on the slightly older (1825) shortening of dandruff (loose flakes of skin; mid-1500s), Spanish redundar (to overflow), or West Indies dunder (fermentation of sugar).

Dustup/dust-up: fight; brawl. Arose c. 1897; Americanism. Most likely a colorful reference to brawlers raising dust as they duked it out, but also may have roots in the late-16th Century usage of dust to mean confusion or disturbance. In the 1680s, to “dust [someone’s] coat” meant to deliver a sound thrashing.

Faceoff/face-off: disagreement (often silent, using only eye contact) that might turn physical. Arose c. 1893 as an extension of the boxing term that first appeared in 1867.

Face the music: Arose 1850 in U.S. congressional debates, probably as a reference to actors facing the orchestra pit—which sat between the audience and the stage—when delivering particularly dramatic lines or soliloquies.

Fired up: angry; arose c. 1824 in the American West. The meaning “throw someone out of a place”—a saloon, for example—arose c. 1871, probably from a play on the two meanings of “discharge”: “to dismiss from a position” and “to fire a gun, the latter of which dates to the 1520s.

Fistiana: anecdotes about pugilists; boxing lore. From 1839.

"Not a Chinaman's Chance," Charles M. Russell, 1894

“Not a Chinaman’s Chance,” Charles M. Russell, 1894

Get in [one’s] hair: persistently annoy, vex, or irk. First appeared in print in the Oregon Statesman in 1851, though the expression undoubtedly is older. Etymologists speculate the phrase originally may have compared an irritating person to head lice.

Gunfight/gun-fight: combat with handguns. American English c. 1889; combination of “gun” and “fight.”

Hold your horses: settle down; take it easy; be patient. Original usage was literal: During harness races at American county fairs, horses picked up on their drivers’ nerves, often resulting in a false start. Consequently, announcers frequently admonished participants to “hold your horses.” First appearance in print: New Orleans Times Picayune, 1844.

Hot air: unsubstantiated statements; empty, exaggerated or pretentious talk; boasting. Probably from observation of a flaccid balloon puffing up and rising as it fills with heated air. Colloquialism; may have arisen as early as 1835-40 but was in common use during the latter half of the 19th Century.

Humps and grumps: surly remarks; a fit of ill humor. Arose c. 1844 from the adjective “grumpy” (c. 1778), which most likely arose as an extension of “grum,” meaning morose or surly (also possibly related to Danish grum, meaning cruel). By 1900, the “humps and” had dropped off and “grump” had become a common term for a disagreeable person. (In this case the adjective appears to have given rise to the noun, instead of vice-versa as was more common.)

Keep your shirt on: be patient; calm down. The Americanism arose c. 1904 from prizefighting. Because organized boxing was illegal in much of the U.S. until the 1920s—not because of the violence, but because gambling and organized crime quickly attached to the sport—pugilists waited to remove their shirts and engage until they were reasonably certain a police raid would not be forthcoming. Men fighting fully clothed was considered a spontaneous brawl; men fighting half-naked indicated forethought.

Knock-down drag-out: violent fight. Arose c. 1859 in the U.S.

Knockout/knock-out: as pertains to general fighting, arose 1887 from the phrase “knock out,” meaning “to stun by a blow for a 10-count,” in boxing. Slang meaning “attractive person” is from 1892. To knock oneself out, meaning “make a great effort,” is from 1936.

"Loops and Swift Horses are Surer than Lead," Charles M. Russell, 1916

“Loops and Swift Horses are Surer than Lead,” Charles M. Russell, 1916

Lather: state of agitation. Arose c. 1839 from the 1650s application of the Old English word for “soap suds” to the violent sweating of horses under stress.

Lock horns: Arose 1839 in the American West from observation of the way cattle butted heads during dominance displays.

Manhandle: to handle roughly. First recorded use 1865, from the earlier nautical meaning “to move by force of men” (instead of using tackle or levers). The nautical connotation arose from the mid-15th Century meaning “to wield a tool”; the 1865 connotation seems more closely related to the late-15th Century common usage meaning “to attack an enemy.”

Mexican standoff: stalemate; impasse. First documented use 1891, though the expression may be older. “Stand-off,” meaning draw or tie, arose c. 1843. Though some sources claim “Mexican standoff” is Australian in origin, a more likely source is Texas, where Mexican bandidos routinely crossed the border for nefarious purposes. Originally, the idiom referred to three mutual enemies facing each other with drawn weapons. If A shot B, C would shoot A, thereby winning the conflict. Everyone wanted to be C, so nobody fired—leaving the dispute unresolved.

Pull in your horns: calm down; back away from a fight. Mid-1800s among cowboys in the American West as a reference to cattle battling with their horns.

Pull up: check a course of action. First recorded use 1808 as a figurative reference to pulling on the reins to stop a horse.

Rough/rough up: beat up or jostle violently; first documented use 1868.

Roundhouse: blow delivered by the fist with a wide sweep of the arm. Arose latter half of the 19th Century from the 1856 use of roundhouse to describe the circular shed with a turntable at the center for repositioning locomotives.

Scrap: fight. First attested 1846, possibly as a variant of scrape, which came to mean “abrasive encounter” or “scheme, villainy, vile intention” in the 1670s.

Scrappy: inclined to fight. First documented appearance 1895, from scrap.

Sockdolager: a heavy, finishing blow; a conclusive argument. First documented appearance 1830 from the 1700s “sock,” meaning “to beat, hit hard, pitch into.” Sockdolager is assumed to have arisen from the conflation of “sock” and “doxology,” meaning finality. The word shifted meaning to “something exceptional” in 1838. “Sockdologising” (confronting with a forceful argument) likely was one of the the last words Abraham Lincoln heard. During the performance of Tom Taylor’s Our American Cousin, assassin John Wilkes Booth—an actor who had performed in the play—waited for the humorous line “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologising old man-trap.” Amid the laughter that erupted from the audience, Booth fired the fatal shot.

Smack: hit with an open palm; slap. Attested from 1823; presumed to be imitative of the sound of flesh meeting flesh with force.

Spat: petty quarrel. Arose c. 1804 as American slang. Of unknown origin, but perhaps from the notion of “spitting” words.

"Buccaroos," Charles M. Russell, 1902

“Buccaroos,” Charles M. Russell, 1902

Wild and woolly: untamed; rowdy. Americanism first documented in 1855 in The Protestant Episcopal Church Quarterly Review and Register (“wild and woolly-haired Negrillo”). In the post-Civil War years, as dime novels and newspaper accounts popularized sensational tales about Indians, outlaws, lawmen, land and gold rushes, etc. in the new territories, the alliterative phrase “wild and woolly West” became a popular way for Easterners to describe the entire region west of the Mississippi River.

Winded: tired; out of breath; rendered temporarily breathless. Arose c. 1802 as a boxing term used in reference to the effect of a punch in the stomach.

Yank: sudden blow; cuff. American English from 1818. (Also short for “Yankee” during and after the Civil War.)

 

The Calgary Stampede with Linda Ford

Today our guest is Linda Ford, who is here to give us some background on the rough and rowdy Calgary Stampede.  Linda will also introduce us to her Big Sky series and give away a book to one lucky commentor!

The year is 1912 and the hero of the story is Guy Weadick, a man born in New York. He ran away from his boyhood home to Montana where he learned to ride and rope and talk like a cowboy. Weadick considered himself to be ‘half cowboy and three-quarters showman.’ Along with other performers, he toured with a vaudeville troupe, barnstorming across the country and even performing in England.

Enter our heroine, Flores LaDue, the stage name of Grace Maud Bensell raised in Montevideo, Minnesota next to an Indian Reserve where she learned riding and roping early in life. At a young age, she ran away from home to join the circus.  A talented athlete, she was famous for roping five running horses while lying down on the arena floor. It is said Guy fell in love with her the first time he saw the petite horsewoman (she was less than five feet tall) hanging upside down from her horse while swinging her rope overhead. Flores was a little more reserved about committing to the re

lationship. She was an independent woman with no interest in marriage. Nevertheless, she couldn’t resist the handsome cowboy and they were married five weeks after being together. He was 21, she was 23. They were partners in a way that was unusual for that day and age. Guy treated her as an equal. After her death, Guy had these words place on her tombstone “A Real Partner.”

Back to the story of 1912. Guy was concerned that the cowboy skills of the West were disappearing as the flood of settlers increased. He approached the Canadian Pacific Railway livestock agent with the idea of staging a rodeo to preserve the old west. He talked some local ranchers into financing his venture and thus the Calgary Stampede was born. From the beginning Guy use this boastful brand that has continued to this day, ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth.’ Guy considered Flores the business woman behind this venture. He considered himself the talker—the salesman.

Guy was determined this would be a Big show—$20,000 offered for prizes, 200 imported Mexican longhorn cattle, 300 of the meanest horses, a replica of the notorious Fort Whoop-Up and many other wonderful offerings. He didn’t want to leave out anyone and invited Treaty 7 First Nations to participate. The Stampede opened with a grand parade through the town. Among those watching the performances were the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and daughter, Princess Patricia.

Courtesy of the Calgary Stampede Archives

Top North American cowboy and cowgirl performers came to compete. Mexican Bandit Pancho Villa even sent his best rider.

A number of women contestants participated alongside men in events such as steer roping and bucking horse competition.

One of the most exciting events featured a local bronc rider, a Blood Indian by the name of Tom Three Persons. He drew the bucking horse, Cyclone, a big black gelding that had rarely been ridden. People shook their heads and predicted that poor Tom was done. The horse exploded from the chute and bucked his best but Tom held on and won the most important contest of the show.  The thousands of spectators erupted into a roar of applause.

Several competent trick riders gave Flores La Due stiff competition for the title of World Champion Trick and Fancy Roper but she won the prize in the end.

For some wonderful pictures of the Stampede and the people involved go to http://www.glenbow.org and search Calgary Stampede under the archived photos.
The Calgary Stampede continues to this day—still at tribute to the cowboy skills of the west.

My stories have never included the Calgary Stampede but do honor the cowboy life. My book, Montana Cowboy’s Baby, is out in July. It is the third book in my 6-book Big Sky Country series. It’s a story about a baby left on the doorstep of the hero with a note saying the baby is his. He knows it’s not. This series is set in Montana—in case you didn’t catch that—and features three Marshall young men, their sister and two close friends. Montana Cowboy Daddy was out in Oct. 2016. Montana Cowboy Family was out Jan. 2017. The fourth book—Montana Bride by Christmas—will be released in Oct. 2017. I am really looking forward to that story. It has many sweet elements. At least I think so. I’ve just turned in the fifth book and it’s about Annie Marshall’s friend, Carly, who is prepared to do anything to save her ranch and her home…including marrying a complete stranger.

I will be giving away a copy of Montana Cowboy’s Baby to one of those who comments on this post. (Or one of the earlier titles according to your wish).

The Pathfinders — John C Fremont

 

The Pathfinders – John C Fremont

I’ve written a series of posts I call The Pathfinders.

I’ve talked about John Mullen, John Colter, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger.

Today I’m writing about the guy they call………..The Pathfinder.

Yep, he’s the guy that inspired this whole thing.

John C Fremont — The Pathfinder

As I write my books I am struck, again and again, with how formidable the west was to people traveling through it. The mountains, the deserts, the vast grasslands. Not only the land but the grizzlies, the herds of buffalo. The harsh winters, the burning hot summers, and the storms in all seasons. Let’s add native people who weren’t that crazy about their new neighbors.

A person couldn’t just start driving their covered wagon across the land and hope to survive. There were streams and rivers that were hard to cross. Someone had to find the places shallow enough, without sinking mud and steep sides. Even on fairly level grasslands you had to guide your team to water, and there weren’t just creeks and lakes everywhere.

The deserts had water holes and narrow crossings but you had to know where they were. These are cattle drive stories many of them. The Goodnight Loving Trail was a wonder. Goodnight and Loving found a way through that no one had ever traveled before (well, not with a herd of cattle needing to be watered)

The Rockies. ON MY GOSH. Hello? Sacagawea dragging the Louis and Clark Expedition through? Donner Party anyone??

I am honestly just in awe of the men who made this their life. Finding a path through these places. What compelled them to do such a thing? How would you set out in the mountains and hope to find your way through. First on horseback, then a trail a wagon could cross, finally a path wise enough, up and down those vast, rugged mountains for a train.

John C. Fremont — The Pathfinder

And no one…No One was better at it than John C Fremont. In the 1840s, Fremont led five expeditions into the American West.

Fremont’s first expedition

was in 1842. He went with Kit Carson to present day Wyoming to find and map a path called South Pass, first discovered by Jedediah Smith. This trail was at first only passable on foot, so narrow and with such cliffs and barriers a horse couldn’t cross it. By 1846, after Fremont’s expedition and with tons of work to widen and clear it, it became the Oregon Trail.

Fremont’s reputation was launched from this. He was featured in dime novels, including one called The Pathfinder, which propelled to him to nationwide fame.

Fremont’s second expedition

was began at South Pass and was to map and describe the rest of the trail to Oregon. Jedediah Smith again led the way, but Smith never wrote down a good description, he never drew a map. He just told tales and Fremont, again with Kit Carson, followed Smith’s trail all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

 

Fremont also reached the site of present day Las Vegas and he is the first non-native person to see Lake Tahoe. He saw it from a great height and didn’t go down close to it, but he wrote of seeing it. The maps he drew led the pioneers through the Oregon and California trails, inspired the Mormons to travel to Utah, and were the road map for the 49ers heading for the California Gold Rush.

Fremont’s third expedition

was a wild one. He started out to explore the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains but instead ending up in California, nearly started a war with Mexico, and had battles with the Indians, both of which nearly cost him his entire crew of men. Fremont, the son-in-law of a powerful Senator, ended up being appointed California’s military governor, but there was trouble when the president appointed another man, and Fremont ended up being court marshalled and thrown out of the army. He was pardoned. But his career was over.

And then came

Fremont’s fourth expedition

To restore his honor after the mess in California, Fremont, along with his father-in-law Thomas Hart Benton, went all in to work for America’s Manifest Destiny. That was the idea that the United States should spread all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Mexico had signed California over to America but the country had yet to really take control of the area. Fremont set out to plot a path for the railroad to reach San Francisco. It was a disaster at the time, with ten of his thirty-five men dying on the trip due to unexpected snow storms.

Fremont’s fifth and final expedition

was mostly a second try at finding a railroad path along the same trail he’d tried before. His goal was to pass through the Rocky Mountains in winter. It was a brutal journey but they made it and this path was ultimately the trail taken by the Transcontinental Railroad. Fremont had found the way to connect the nation.

John C Fremont for President 1856 at age 43

Fremont also was an anti-slavery Republican presidential candidate in the election before Abraham Lincoln was elected. He was 43 when he ran. Yes, that’s right, he’d done all that stuff, all those expeditions and he was only 43 and was back east running for president. 

James Buchanan won and many believe Buchanan’s sloppy handling of the growing divide between the north and south led to the Civil War.

Fremont then fought in the Civil War and rose to the rank of General, yes this was after he’d been court martialed and drummed out of the military.

He also discovered and documented countless new species of plants and he has so many western places named after him it’s almost funny, including towns named Fremont in ten states, streams, canyons, counties, schools, on and on and on. Chances are if you named something in the west Fremont, the man had been there.

When I read about Fremont’s life after his exploring years, the man seemed like honestly a radical nut, always in trouble. He declared an emancipation proclamation before Lincoln did, in Missouri and he put the whole state under martial law. He had absolutely no power to do this, but he did it anyway. This is just a sample of some of his wild ways.

But I think a man living in the west, forging his own path, had to be so independent, such an individual and so used to being a in charge and going his own way, that he’d make a darned poor employees.

Long Time Gone

Do you have anything near you named Fremont? Can you imagine what it took to be a pathfinder? Tell me the bravest thing you’ve ever done. The wildest thing?

Could You Have Found a Path Across the West?

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a signed copy of Long Time Gone (Cimarron Legacy #2)

Long Time Gone 4 Star Romantic Times Review

Here is another amazing, fast-paced, suspenseful, page-turning novel by Connealy! Written in third person, this works as a stand-alone novel, but is the second in the Cimarron Legacy series. You will recognize characters from the first book as well as from a past series. This is a must-read that will stick with you long after you finish. Recommended for fans of historical suspense.

 

Updated: April 20, 2017 — 7:09 am

Wild West Words: That’s Downright Insultin’

Insults and pejoratives have been around since man’s first spoken word. Below are some that were popular in the 19th-century American west. (Terms for food are here, women here, outlaws here, and gambling here.)

Bigmouth: a person who talks too much, usually about something another doesn’t want discussed. American English, c. 1889.

Battle of Franklin, Nov. 30, 1864

Battle of Franklin (Tenn.) Nov. 30, 1864 (Library of Congress collection)

Bluebelly: from the early 1800s in the U.S. South, a derogatory term for a northerner; a Yankee. From about 1850, a pretentious, opinionated person. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), any Union sympathizer, especially a Union soldier. Union soldiers also were called blueskins, after the color of their uniforms.

Bottom-feeder: a reviled person, especially someone who uses a position of authority to abuse others; a lowlife. Originally used to describe fishes, the word became American slang c. 1866.

Dude: a fastidious man; fop or clotheshorse. The term originated in New York City c. 1880-1885; antecedents uncertain. Westerners picked up the word as derisive slang for any city dweller out of his element on the rough frontier. Cowboys used the phrase “duded up” to mean “dressed up.” Contemporary usage of “dude” as a minor term of endearment or indication of spiritual kinship arose in California’s surfer culture during the latter half of the 20th century.

Fiddleheaded: inane; lacking good sense; “possessing a head as hollow as a fiddle.” Arose c. 1854; American slang.

Grass-bellied: disparaging term for the prosperous (especially those whose prosperity had gone to their waist); originally applied to cattle whose stomachs were dangerously distended due to eating too much green grass. The word arose prior to 1897, when it appeared in Owen Wister’s A Journey in Search of Christmas.

Confederate soldier re-enactors charge into battle during 150th anniversary of Battle of Gettysburg July 6, 2013 (courtesy E.J. Hersom, U.S. Department of Defense)

Confederate soldier re-enactors charge into battle during 150th anniversary of Battle of Gettysburg July 6, 2013 (photo by E.J. Hersom, U.S. Department of Defense)

Grayback: Confederate soldier, based on the color of their coats. Arose during the American Civil War.

Greaser: derogatory term for a Hispanic of the lower classes. Arose in Texas before 1836.

Greenhorn: novice, neophyte, or newcomer; pejorative in the American west from at least 1885. In the mid-15th century the word meant any young horned animal; by the 17th century, it had been applied to new military recruits.

Heeler: unscrupulous political lackey. The U.S. slang meaning dates to about 1877, no doubt from the image of a dog following its master’s heels. The word “heel” took on that very meaning in 1810. Previously (dating to the 1660s), “heeler” described a person who attached heels to shoes.

Hellion: disorderly, troublesome, rowdy, or mischievous. Arose mid-1800s in the U.S. from Scottish and Northern English hallion, meaning “worthless fellow.” Americans may have changed the A to an E because “hell seemed appropriate, although the shift could as easily represent a simple mispronunciation that stuck.

"An East-Side Politician" (Frederic Remington, 1894)

“An East-Side Politician” (Frederic Remington, 1894)

High-binder: swindler, confidence man, cheat (especially of the political variety). Americanism; arose 1800-10.

High yellow: offensive term for light-skinned person of mixed white and black ancestry. Arose about 1808 in the southern U.S. The term and the notion are reflected in popular songs of the mid-1800s, including the original lyrics for “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

Hustler: in 1825, a thief, especially one who roughed up his victims. By 1884, meaning had shifted to “energetic worker.” The sense “prostitute” arose c. 1924.

Lead-footed: slow and/or awkward. Arose as American slang c. 1896. By the late 1940s, thanks to the burgeoning interstate highway system in the U.S., the term had taken on the opposite meaning — “fast” — as a reference to a heavy foot on a vehicle’s accelerator.

Loco: Borrowed from Spanish about 1844, the word has the same meaning in both languages: “insane.” “Loco-weed,” meaning a species of plants that make cattle behave strangely, arose about 1877.

Loony: short for lunatic; possibly also influenced by the loon bird, known for its wild cry. American English. The adjective appeared in 1853; the noun followed in 1884. “Loony bin,” slang for insane asylum, arose 1919.

Lunk: slow-witted person. Americanism; first documented appearance was in Harper’s Weekly, May 1867. Probably a shortened form of lunkhead, which arose in the U.S. about 1852.

Alexander W. Monroe, prominent Virginia lawyer and politician,1875. (courtesy West Virginia Division of Culture and History)

Alexander W. Monroe, prominent Virginia lawyer and politician,1875. (courtesy West Virginia Division of Culture and History)

Mouthpiece: from 1805, one who speaks on behalf of others. The word first became tied to lawyers — especially of the slimy variety — in 1857.

Mudsill: unflattering Confederate term for a Yankee. In the 1680s, the word meant “lowest sill of a house.” In March 1858, it entered American politics when James M. Hammond of South Carolina used the term derogatorily during a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Yankees embraced the term as a way of flipping Rebs the proverbial bird.

Nuts: mentally unbalanced; crazy in a negative way. From 1846, based on an earlier (1785) expression “be nuts upon” (to be very fond of), which itself arose from the use of “nuts” for “any source of pleasure” (c. 1610). Oddly, “nut” also became a metaphorical term for “head” about 1846, probably arising from the use of “nuts” to describe a mental state. “Off one’s nut” as a slang synonym for insane arose c. 1860. The adjective nutty, i.e. crazy, appeared about 1898; nut as a substitute for “crazy person” didn’t arrive until 1903. (The related British term “nutter,” meaning insane person, first appeared in print 1958.)

Panhandle: to beg. Americanism c. 1849 as a derogatory comparison of a beggar’s outstretched hand to a pan’s handle. The noun panhandler followed in 1893.

Rawheel: newcomer; an inexperienced person. Exactly when the term arose is uncertain, but diaries indicate it was in use in California’s mining districts by 1849.

Redneck: uncouth hick. First documented use 1830. Originally applied to Scottish immigrants who wore red neck scarves during the American Colonial period, the word shifted meaning as it traveled west, possibly in reference to the notion farmers’ necks became sunburned because they looked down as they worked in their fields, leaving the backs of their necks exposed.

Secesh: short for secessionist. First recorded 1860 as a pejorative for Confederates during the American Civil War.

Sidewinder: dangerously cunning or devious person. Arose American west c. 1875 as a reference to some species of rattlesnakes’ “peculiar lateral movement.”

Son of a gun: politer version of the epithet “son of a bitch,” indicating extreme contempt. It’s unknown when the American figurative connotation arose, but the literal meaning appeared 1705-15 among the British navy, during a period when officers’ wives accompanied them to sea. Babies sometimes literally were born in the shadow of a gun carriage.

"The Squatters" by George Caleb Bingham, 1850 (courtesy The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston )

“The Squatters” by George Caleb Bingham, 1850 (The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, collection )

Squatter: settler who attempts to settle land belonging to someone else. Arose in Britain in 1788 as a reference to paupers occupying vacant buildings; first recorded use in the American west 1880.

Tenderfoot: newcomer; inexperienced person. Arose c. 1866 among miners, apparently in reference to an outsider’s need to “toughen his feet” in order to walk among rocks and stones where mining typically took place. Tender-footed, originally said of horses, leapt to humans in 1854 as a description of awkwardness or timidity.

Whippersnapper:
young, presumptuous and/or impertinent person. The term arose in England c. 1665-1675, possibly as a variant of the much older (and obscure) “snippersnapper.” Modern Americans have Hollywood westerns to thank for inexorably associating the term with cranky elders in the Old West: The word was virtually unused in America prior to the popularity of western “talkies.”

Windbag: person who talks too much, especially in a self-aggrandizing way. First appearance in print 1827. Originally (late-15th C.) “bellows for an organ.”

Yellow-belly: from 1842, a Texian term for Mexican soldiers. Origin obscure, but possibly from traditional association of yellow with treachery or the yellow sashes that were part of a soldado’s uniform. Yellow became slang for “cowardly” c. 1856, but yellow-belly didn’t become synonymous with coward until 1924.

Yellow dog: contemptible person. First recorded use 1881, based on the earlier meaning “mongrel” (c. 1770).

 

Linda Broday: Cattle Drive and Trouble

Are you ready? THE HEART OF A TEXAS COWBOY (#2 Men of Legend) is galloping into bookstores and online on May 2nd! I’m so excited. Houston Legend has tons of adventure, romance, and suspense waiting. This book has more twists and turns than a roller coaster.

After his father, Stoker Legend, gambles away half of the Lone Star Ranch, he tells Houston they can get it back—if he marries the new owner’s daughter. Houston reluctantly agrees but makes one thing perfectly clear—love is out of the question.

Yet, all Lara wants is a name for her baby. And kindness.

He’s never met or seen Lara so he has no idea what to expect, but marry her he does. Two weeks later, he leaves on a cattle drive, taking two thousand head of longhorns up to Dodge City. At the last minute, his cook quits so Lara steps in and goes along. Of course, the baby who’s just started crawling has to come too.

Trouble starts two days out when Houston sees riders trailing them. Soon, he discovers that Lara is unsafe and it turns into an all-out fight. Houston will do whatever it takes to protect his wife.

As they struggle to stay ahead of Yuma Blackstone, love blossoms between them and passion flares under the looming threat.

But, the baby, Gracie, crawls into a dangerous situation and they have to find a doctor…somewhere in Indian Territory.

That took some research and I had to contact Dr. David Ciambrone for help. A very nice man by the way and also a mystery/suspense writer.

I also had to see if anything was available to relieve Lara’s severe discomfort while Gracie is unable to nurse.

Lo and behold! There were breast pumps in 1878. In fact, I discovered that these mechanical devices dated back to Ancient Greece. I couldn’t believe it. In the U.S. they operated like a hand pump. Problem solved.

Here’s a short excerpt following their short marriage ceremony:

Her vivid green eyes held misery. “It’s just that I don’t know what you expect of me.”

Her statement caught him by surprise. What did he expect? Certainly not a wife, given they were utter strangers. But not a cook and housekeeper either. That wasn’t right. No wife of his would ever fill the role of a maid to be at his beck and call.

Hell! He yearned for a stiff drink.

 “A friend.” His answer surprised him probably more than it did her. “I expect you to be a partner. We both have gaping wounds that have to heal and things in our past to forget. I need someone who’ll stand with me in good times and bad.”

 A smile transformed Lara’s face. She was a beautiful woman. He felt the urge to let his fingertips brush her delicate cheekbones and drift along the curve of her jaw.

 “I can use a friend,” she said. “I’ll try not to ever make you sorry for your decision.”

“You won’t.” The words came out gruff and he didn’t know how he could say them with such confidence. Yet, somehow deep in his being a calm surety settled like disturbed silt back to the bottom of a riverbed.

He felt a tug to his trouser leg and glanced down. Gracie had crawled to him and gripped the fabric in her tiny fist. He picked her up. They would face lots of ups and downs but they’d survive. For no other reason than the little girl giving him a toothless, slobbery grin.

The babe needed a father. Lara a husband.

And Houston desperately needed some reason to keep living.

* * * *

I’m giving away three copies of the book before release day. Just tell me if you have a favorite marriage of convenience story, either book or movie. Mine is Sarah, Plain and Tall. Maybe it’s yours too.

* * * *

Oh, and I almost forgot…TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER (#1 Men of Legend) is on sale for .99 until next Saturday, April 22, 2017!  Just click on the cover.

Wild West Words: It’s a Gamble

Kathleen Rice Adams: classic tales of the Old West...that never forget the power of love

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.

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

“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

“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

“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.

 

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Wild West Words: An Outlaw by Any Other Name

Kathleen Rice Adams: classic tales of the Old West...that never forget the power of love

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?

The Outlaw

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.

The Law and the Outlaw

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)

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.

 

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