Category: Wild West Research

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.

 

Outlaws Were Big Business

Wanted posters have a long history and they existed long before America was discovered. In England, I believe the first ones came about as the sheriffs sought to get their hands on Robin Hood. Most believe the thief’s name was an alias used freely by all thieves in England. But that time period is when the first wanted posters came about.

In America, the first was for the capture of John Wilkes Booth for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know how large a part the poster played in Booth’s capture but I do know they were used extensively afterward as a tool for catching criminals.

The money offered for the culprit was a great incentive and the amounts varied. If the crime was against railroads, stagecoach lines, or big banks, it was more because the companies put up the money. For smaller businesses for just low profile criminals, it was often around $50 or less.

Since photographs were extremely hard to come by for the most part in the 1800s, the posters usually only gave a brief description of the outlaw or maybe had a hand-drawn likeness.

The progression of cameras changed the landscape considerably. No longer were lawbreakers hidden in the shadows. Their faces were everywhere for all to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the poster used the phrase, “Dead or Alive” on it, that made it okay to just kill the wanted man or woman. The person got the reward either way and it was often safer to bring them in dead.

Jesse James had a $25,000 bounty on his head and the Governor of Missouri put up the money. That’s equivalent to $115,000  in today’s currency. A whole lot of dinero.

Most were lots smaller. In 1892, a poster offered $6,500 for The Sundance Kid. That same year, Bob, Emmett, and Grat Dalton had a $5,000 reward for all three, not each. In 1874, the Texas Rangers put out one for John Wesley Hardin and didn’t state an amount. One for Billy the Kid only offered $500.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2007, the FBI went a step further and began to use electronic billboards. In 2014, they claimed that 53 cases had been solved as a direct result of the billboards.

I’ve used wanted posters in quite a few of my books and in my upcoming To Marry a Texas Outlaw in November, Luke Weston has a $2000 bounty on his head for killing a federal judge. It’s fun to fantasize about living in that era and thinking about all that money. It would’ve been nice for someone who made less than a dollar a week come into a windfall like this for catching an outlaw.

Do you think you’d have been a bounty hunter back then? Lots to think about. I have one copy of To Love a Texas Ranger to give away to someone who comments. The drawing will be Sunday.

Updated: March 14, 2017 — 4:11 pm

Wild West Words: Ladies’ Night

Kathleen Rice Adams: classic tales of the Old West...that never forget the power of love.March is Women’s History Month in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. (Canada celebrates Women’s History Month in October.) Setting aside a special month to celebrate women’s history always has struck me as a mite amusing, because without women there would be no human history.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Women’s History Month traces its origins to the original International Women’s Day, March 8, 1911. In 1980, Jimmy Carter, then President of the United States, expanded the recognition of women’s roles in society to a week. In 1987, the U.S. Congress declared all of March Women’s History Month, but they didn’t make the designation permanent. Each year since (until 2017), the President has proclaimed March Women’s History Month.

Regardless whether Women’s History Month continues in an official capacity or becomes an informal observance, there is no doubt women have changed the world in ways too numerous to mention. Most of us would rather be called “the fairer sex” than “the weaker sex” — but we’ll let men call us whatever (polite) term they desire, because we know who’s really in charge.  😉

Women in 19th Century America knew who was in charge, too. Perhaps nowhere was that more evident than in new vocabulary that entered the lexicon during the period. (How’s that for a segue?) Here are some of the more colorful terms.

Women with "safety bicycles," 1890s

Women with “safety bicycles,” 1890s

California widow: a woman whose husband is away from her for an extended period. Americanism; arose c. 1849 during the California Gold Rush.

Call girl: prostitute who makes appointments by phone; arose c. 1900. To call someone, meaning to use a phone for conversation, arose in 1889 along with the telephone.

Catty: devious and spiteful; c. 1886 from the previous “cattish.” The meaning “pertaining to cats” dates to 1902.

Cute: pretty, 1834 from American English student slang. Previously (1731), as a shortened form of acute, the word meant “clever.”

Drag: women’s clothing worn by a man. 1870s theater slang from the sensation of long skirts trailing on the floor.

A working girl of the late 1800s

A working girl of the late 1800s

Fancy woman: high-dollar whore or a kept woman; possibly from the 1751 use of “fancy” to mean “ornamental.”

Fast trick: loose woman. Of unknown origin, but possibly related to the 15th Century use of the noun “trick” to mean “trifles,” or pretty things with little value. By 1915, “trick” had come to mean a prostitute’s client.

Feathered out: dressed up.

Filly: a young, unmarried woman (literally, a young mare).

Frump, frumpy: cross, unstylish person; sour-looking, unfashionable. The noun arose c. 1817, possibly imitative of a derisive snort. The adverb followed c. 1825. The slang etymology is a bit obscure, although earlier uses of the noun frump meant “bad temper” (1660s) and “cross-tempered” (1746), both of which may have derived from the verb frump, which in the 1550s meant “to mock or browbeat.” All senses may have descended from the late-14th-Century verb frumple, “to wrinkle; crumple.”

Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young's 19th wife. She divorced him.

Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young’s 19th wife. She divorced him.

Grass widow: divorcee

Gyp: female dog; more polite form of “bitch.” American slang from about 1840 as a shortened form of gypsy, presumably in reference to stray dogs’ wandering nature. By 1889, gyp’s meaning had shifted to “cheat or swindle,” also based on gypsies’ perceived behavior.

High-strung: temperamental, excitable, nervous; c. 1848. Evidently based on earlier (1748) musical term referring to stringed instruments.

Hot flashes: in the menopausal sense, attested from 1887.

Hysteria: mental disorder characterized by volatile emotions and overly dramatic or attention-seeking behavior. When the word arose in 1801 (based on the Latin medical term hysteric), it was applied solely to women and often resulted in their confinement to an asylum. In 1866, clitoridectomy was proposed as a cure.

Lightskirt: woman of questionable virtue. American slang. Date unknown, but most likely from the notion loose women’s skirts lay over fewer petticoats than traditional skirts of the time and therefor were easier to raise.

Dolly Adams, exotic dancer in San Francisco, 1890s

Dolly Adams, exotic dancer in San Francisco, 1890s

Painted lady: any woman who wore obvious makeup, primarily entertainers and prostitutes. From the 1650s use of “paint” to mean makeup or rouge.

Scarlet woman, scarlet lady: prostitute. From the 13th Century use of scarlet to mean “red with shame.”

Soiled dove: prostitute; generally considered the kindest of such terms. Most likely a conflation of the 13th Century definition of “soil” (to defile or pollute with sin) and the Christian use of “dove” to indicate gentleness or deliverance.

Sporting house: brothel. Arose latter half of the 19th Century as a combination of “sporting” (early 1600s for “playful”) and “house.”

Sporting ladies, sporting women: prostitutes. Shortening and modification of 1640s “lady of pleasure” by substitution of early 1600s “sporting” (playful). Arose in America during the latter half of the 19th Century in conjunction with “sporting house.”

Vaulting house: brothel. Conflation of “vault,” meaning a vigorous leap (mid-15th Century), and “house.”

 

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Give Me a Cowboy and the Rodeo

For Christmas my wonderful son-in-law bought tickets to the PBR in Wichita, Kansas, which will take place in a couple of months.  This isn’t the first bull riding event he’s taken me. They are all a treat and brought to mind the backstory to my $.99 eBook release of the first book in the Kasota Spring Romance series The Troubled Texan. Since this contemporary series takes place several generations later than one of the six Texas anthologies I was fortune enough to be included in with Fellow Filly Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, and the late DeWanna Pace, Give Me a Cowboy, about a Texas Panhandle rodeo in the late 1800’s, I decided it might be fun to give you all a glimpse into how we developed this book. Without it, there would be no Troubled Texan.

Typically, the publisher matches up authors in a short story collection or an anthology and each author writes their own story based on the house’s criteria. In our case, our editor matched the four of us up and all but this one book had a theme and each of us wrote an individual story.

For our second book, we tried something different. We decided we’d all intertwine our stories around one rodeo.  This was really gonna be fun and challenging, so we got together and went through all of the historical facts. The first date chosen had to go because there was no rodeos in the Texas Panhandle until the summer of 1888. Our story changed dates to the 4th of July 1890. The Pecos, Texas, competition occurred on July 4, 1883. One thing about historical writers, particularly writing about your home town, you must stay as authentic as possible.  So we needed the name of a fictional town.  I was coming back from Dallas, and looked over and low and behold there was a railroad crossing a few miles from Amarillo … West Kasota.  In the 1800’s seemingly everything had a Springs attached, thus Kasota Spring, Texas, came to fruition.

Now for the next problem, since there were only four official events in the rodeo at that time, we all had to select one for our story.  We were sitting around the work table.  Jodi and Linda selected their events, so that left DeWanna and me.  I’ve always loved bull riding. Although it was an unofficial event, taking place somewhere far away from the rodeo grounds, we decided to include it.  I’d really been watching and studying up on bull riding because I had a fantastic story in mind or at least that was how I saw it.  Well, guess what?  DeWanna was the next in line to select; and, of course, what did she choose but bull riding and the reason, her brother was a bullrider!

I tried not to act disappointed when the only choice left was wild-cow milking!  Yes, just like today in our rodeos. The reason was simple, the ranches had to bring in the mama cow to take care of her youngster who was participating in calf roping.  Eventually, someone came up with the idea that if they hauled both mama and calf in why not make an event out of it … so I got wild cow milking.

To tell you the truth, I think my scene in the rodeo was so much fun to write.  It rains, so my hero and heroine who were undesirably teamed up, really got to know one another by the end of the scene!

In The Troubled Texan I borrowed, with her permission, several of Linda’s character’s families as founders of Kasota Springs.  Two pioneers out of my stories I truly loved were Teg Tegler and Edwinna Dewey (from the Christmas anthology). Here is a picture I took at the Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas, a few years ago. This couple is exactly how I envisioned Teg and Edwinna.  I know it’s okay to use their photo, since I got their permission and they asked me to autograph my stories to them as Teg and Edwinna!

The fictional Teg’s great-grandson works on the Jack’s Bluff ranch in The Troubled Texan and Edwinna’s great-great granddaughter lives in Kasota Springs still and has a book of her own as heroine that’s under contract.  It’s so much fun for me to write about these folks and their dreams.

How about a few fun facts about the rodeos of the 1800’s.

  • Before the 20th century, rodeos were called “Cowboy Competitions.”
  • Bragging rights for an entire year were at stake.
  • Cowboys tuned up their horses, shook the kink out of their ropes and made final decisions on who mugs and who milks.  That was my story. My hero did the mugging and my heroine did the milking in the rain.
  • Today, the cowboy winning events earn huge purses; however, in the original rodeos, they won a small purse and blue ribbons from the trim of a girl’s dress or bonnet.
  • Jail cells were used as boarding house rooms, since even prisoners were let out of the hoosegow for the rodeo.
  • The opening was full of “speechifying”, but the crowd never let it last very long.
  • They had chuck wagon competitions, just like today.  Fares included beef, potatoes, biscuits and bread pudding.
  • There was a lot of music competition.  Singers and pickers: guitars, fiddles, and poetry.
  • The oldest cowboy in the area always had the honor of shooting the pistol to begin competitions.
  • There were no rules that governed the rodeo, like there is today. The grounds were typically near the railroad and/or stock yards, because the main street was needed for parades and competitions.

When the evening was over, usually after a dance, everyone climbed aboard creaking buckboards, dusty buggies, and faithful horses and scattered to resume the tasks of their normal lives and to work on their skills for next year’s competition.

My question to you all, do you like rodeos and what is your favorite event?

 

To five lucky winners who leave comments,

I am giving away copies of the eBook

The Troubled Texas!

 

Updated: February 27, 2017 — 8:03 pm

Newspapers of the Old West

Hi everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Whenever I go to an estate sale or thrift store, one of the things I like to check out are the book shelves. Over the years I’ve found some nice, eclectic research nuggets.

One such book is one I picked up recently call “Newspapering In The Old West.” I know most folks get their news via television or some form of online access these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that the morning paper was a fixture in just about everyone’s home.

This tome not only talks about newspapermen, printing presses and practices of the time, but it also contains a wealth of excerpts from the papers themselves including news stories, photographs and advertisements. Thumbing through this book provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of the old west from the perspective of the early news media.

One story, titled From Dodge City to Potato Hill reads as follows: “Embry, who shot Anthony, editor of the Leavenworth Times, has been acquitted. That’s just the way with some juries – they think it no more harm to shoot an editor than a Jack-rabbit.” Marion County Record, Marion, Kansas, 1876.

The book is also full of fascinating little tidbits, like this one: “Some frontier publishers printed on cloth because of paper shortages. In 1887, however, the Omaha Daily World printed just four copies of its October 12 edition on satin in honor of a visit to that city by President Cleveland.”

Another interesting little fact I learned was that many of the old west newspapers were not averse to hiring women as typesetters and linotype operators. And then there was this  side note: “Husband and wife publishing teams were commonplace on the frontier. Before 1900 the women were more often found in the back shop rather than in editorial positions.” These tidbits will undoubtedly find their way into a book of mine someday.

I was also fascinated by some of the colorful names these early newspapers had, names like The Solid Muldoon, The Tombstone Prospector, The Territorial Enterprise, The Epitaph, The Pick and Drill, The Colorado Chieftain, The Frontier Scout, The Thomas County Cat and The Red-wing Carrier Pigeon.

There was a whole lot more, and the photos were fascinating. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find copies at THIS LINK

So what do you think? Do you still get the newspaper delivered to your home? And do you know any fun or unusual names of newspapers to add to my list?

Updated: February 5, 2017 — 1:02 am

The Great Die Up

Today I’d like to share information on The Great Cattle Die Up, an ironic take on the term ‘cattle round up’.

Cattle grazing on open range.

During the early 1880s, the summers on the plains of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas had been wonderfully cool and winters had proven to be unusually mild, making it easy to feed livestock year around, thus lulling ranchers and beef speculators into a sense of false security. Cattle prices were high, and to increase profits, the ranges were overstocked and soon overgrazed. Beef prices started to fall and the summer of 1867 was unusually hot and dry, making it difficult to put up enough foriage to feed the stock in case the weather took a nasty turn…which it did.

It began to snow on November 13 and snowed every day for a month. The sparse food was hidden beneath the deep snow and the cattle, already in poor condition due to the summer drought, began to die. In January, the temperatures plummeted, perhaps as low as -63°F. A chinook came then, melting the top of the snow, then temperatures fell again, creating a hard crus on top of the deep snow. Stories tell of horses and cattle cut and bleeding from the knees down as they attempted to navigate the crusted snow. Cattle roamed into towns, bawling for food and eating shrubbery. Since little forage had been put up, ranchers had no choice but to watch their herds, their very livelihoods, starve and die.

By spring over 500,000 cattle—90% of the open range animals—had died. The carcasses covered the fields and clogged rivers and streams. The smell of rotting beef permeated the air.

Both small ranches and huge cattle companies declared bankruptcy. Thousands of cowboys were put out of work. Some ranchers tried to steal unbranded calves, leading to range wars. Ultimately, it was the end of open range in the area. Barb wire cut the range into smaller sections, changing the face of Montana ranching forever.

Teddy Roosevelt, prior to the Great Die Up had proclaimed cattle ranching “the pleasantest, healthiest and most exciting phase of American existence.” After the winter of 1887, he wrote to a friend, “Well, we have had a perfect smashup all through the cattle country of the northwest. The losses are crippling. For the first time I have been utterly unable to enjoy a visit to my ranch. I shall be glad to get home.”

Not a very happy story, but a true one that forever changed the face of ranching.

Lottie Deno, Lady Gambler

Do you know who Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke was created from? If you said the lady gambler, Lottie Deno, you’d be correct. Born Carlotta Thompkins on April 21, 1844 on a Kentucky plantation, she created quite a stir everywhere she went.

Her parents were very well-to-do and Lottie didn’t want for anything. At her birth, she was assigned a nanny from among the slaves—Mary Poindexter. She was a giant of a woman—7 ft. tall—and she accompanied Lottie everywhere she went. Nobody messed with big Mary.

Lottie’s father taught her to play cards and she became an expert. When he was killed in the Civil War, Lottie played cards to support her mother and younger sister. For a while, Lottie worked on the riverboats and gambling houses along the Mississippi. She was a vivacious redhead with sparkling brown eyes and could charm the pants off any man—and his wallet too. I love this woman!

In 1865 Lottie arrived in San Antonio and a year later was offered a job dealing cards at the University Club. She fell in love several times but stayed single until later meeting a half-Cherokee gambler named Frank Thurmond. He left town very suddenly after killing a man and soon after, Lottie followed.

Lottie rode into the rough town of Fort Griffin, Texas on a stagecoach. She sat out in the open right on the very top where she could see everything. She caused quite a stir. It didn’t take long to get a job at the Bee Hive Saloon. One night she and Doc Holliday played cards all night long and by morning she’d won thousands of dollars of Doc’s money. She also played with legendary Wyatt Earp and many other notables of the old West.

It was in Fort Griffin where Lottie got the Deno part of her name. One of the gamblers who’d lost to her hollered out, “Honey, the way you play your name should be Lotta Dinero.”

Once when a gunfight broke out inside the Bee Hive Saloon all the people fled except Lottie. She got under a table and waited. When they asked her why she stayed, she said she wasn’t about to leave her money and besides, they couldn’t shoot straight.

She separated herself from the violent population of Ft. Griffin by taking a shanty in what they called The Flats on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. She only left it only to visit the local mercantile and to go to work. But Lottie lost her heart to Frank Thurmond and followed him to Silver City, New Mexico where they married and opened two saloons, a restaurant and a hotel.

Lottie got involved in charity work, feeding newly released prisoners and giving them a place to stay.

She and Frank eventually moved on to Deming, New Mexico where they got out of the gambling business and settled down to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Frank became vice president of the Deming National Bank and helped found the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

In 1908, after forty years of marriage, Frank passed away. Lottie outlived him by 26 years until she, too, died and was buried next to Frank. Those who knew her said she maintained her laugh and good cheer to the end. I’d like to have met her. I’ll bet she was a lot of fun.

She and Frank became models for characters in a series of books by Alfred Henry Lewis. Miss Kitty owed everything about her characterization to Lottie Deno.

I think I would’ve been friends with her. She was bold and daring in a time when women were told what to do and how. I like her rebellious spirit, maybe because I’m a little rebellious also.

If you could sit down and talk to one of the larger-than-life characters from the old west, who would it be? I’m giving away a copy of TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER (#1 Men of Legend series.) 

I’m so excited! I have a new release on February 7th–TEXAS REDEMPTION. This is a reissue of REDEMPTION (2005.)  It’s set in the swamps of East Texas four years following the Civil War. Brodie Yates and Laurel James are searching for redemption for things done in their pasts. Secrets abound–all threatening to come out. It’s a tale of two brothers who love the same woman. I’ll tell lots more about this in my next blog on release day, Feb. 7th. It’s available for preorder everywhere online.

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