A Bit Of Western Trivia


First an apology for being late.   My elderly dog was sick all night, and we went off to the Vet first thing this morning.  She’s okay now, but when I returned, my AOL would not cooperate.

All is well now, though, so here we go this Monday. 

You all know about my library. The library that grows like weeds and resists any effort to be culled. It’s a compulsion I share with so many of you. It makes us blood sisters and brothers. I naturally bond to anyone who loves the written word as I do.You always discover such interesting tidbits. For instance, did you know the origin of the phrase “jerkwater town.” Well, I discovered it yesterday. According to “Happy Trails, a dictionary of Western Expressions,” the following is the explanation.
Steam engines soften made stops in small Western stations for no other reason but to obtain water, the fireman jerking a cord attached to a long spigot extending from the water tower to fill the engine’s water tender. Similar practices, universal in the early days of railroading, gave rise to the Americanism ‘jerkwater town,’ first recorded in 1896 for any small, out-of-the-way place where no train stopped except to ‘jerk water.’

And then there’s this: “Jackass mail,” a stagecoach pulled by mules over rough terrain.

Ever hear the initials G.T.T.? It’s a historical term common in the 19th century, standing for “Gone to Texas,” apparently derived from G.T.T. signs that emigrants hung on the doors of their homes and businesses when they went West. It is also a designation for any disreputable man. According to this fine western dictionary, “Now finally the settlers over there began to organize for mutual protection. . . against the more overbearing ranch hands who were often Texas badmen, mostly GTT’s, meaning ‘Gone To Texas,’ men who had fled there from the law or other vengeance.”

A ‘trail waddy?” Hey, he’s nothing but a cowboy. It came to represent any honest cowhand, though waddy originally meant a cattle rustler.

But probably my favorite new found fact is the origin of Kangaroo Court. According to one story, the expression might have originated in Australia, although it was first recorded in the United States during the California gold rush. According to the story, the source for the term are kangaroos in Australia’s back country who when out of spear range sat staring dumbly at men for long periods of time before leaping off for the horizon. Their staring was thought to be similar to the dumb stares of jurors sitting on a mock jury, and their leaping away suggested the quick decisions of such an extralegal court.

There apparently are no quotations supporting the use of kangaroo court in Australia court in Australia at any time. One guess is that it was coined by an Australian emigrant. Another theory is that Americans familiar with the kangaroo’s jumping habits invented kangaroo court as a humorous term for courts that tried claim jumpers. Mustang courts means the same.

Just a few fun trivia facts for a rainy day.



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13 thoughts on “A Bit Of Western Trivia”

  1. Oh, Pat- sorry to hear your pup was ill. You feel so helpless when they suffer. Glad to hear, he’s doing well now.

    Loved the trivia. Especially the “jackass mail”. I’ve never heard that!

  2. Hi, Pat. Glad your dog is okay. Life can just get crazy can’t it? 🙂

    I like the jerkwater town. Funny how many phrases there are that we’ve never given much thought to.
    Kangaroo Court. Hmmmmmmmmm

    I think I heard once that ‘Gone to Texas’ was used to mean dead, too. Like ‘Gone and never coming back’ because so many pioneers would head west never to be seen or heard from again.

    Similar to ‘He bought the farm’ meaning dead.

  3. I like finding out the origin of words – fascinating. jerkwater is my favorite – not a meaning I think you could have guessed at.

    So gladd too that your dog is feeling better!

  4. What an interesting post.

    Brings to mind the word hooter. Of course, we all know the modern definition of the word, but here’s a bit of trivia about it:

    hooter – Definition: an atom; a tiny amount.

    1839: Now the Grampus stopt, and didn’t buge one hooter. “Major Jack on Board a Whaler,” Havana Republican, August 21

    1848: Politicians don’t care a hooter, so long as their own selfish ends are obtained. Dow, Patent Sermons, p.6

    1853: Let him be as dirty as the mortal in Missouri, who is assessed as real estate, still it makes not a hooter of difference. Dow, Patent Sermons


  5. I dunno, but it makes me wonder how on earth ‘hooters’ became the exact opposite. Unless of course, the person who started the ‘Hooter’ chain had his tongue in his cheek?

  6. Thanks, Patricia! So sorry about your dog–glad she’s better! That’s never fun when they’re under the weather! Thanks for the fun facts 🙂

  7. Thanks for the info Patricia! I always enjoy this sort of thing!!!

    Glad to hear your dog is doing better!

  8. Oh Pat, give your puppy dog some special hugs from me. We had to say good-bye to our Marley-girl (black Lab) who was diagnosed with cancer while I was at RWA. Still breaks my heart.

    I loved this post! Such great stuff here. I actually used the initials G.T.T. in Marrying Minda, so was especially exicted to see them today.

    Thanks again…and take care.

  9. Ting Ting is an elderly Shih Tzu. She was a rescue dog so I’m not sure how old she is, but the Vet thinks she’s around 13. She has to eat special food and is blind, but she’s happy as long as she’s close to me, and she goes to my mom’s nursing home every night. She stands at the door at 6:30 p.m. and won’t let me leave without her. I’ve feared losing her several times in the past year and thus am extra cautious. She’s doing well now. The vomiting has stopped and she’s snoring away.

  10. Glad to hear that your dog is doing better. They are such wonderful companions.
    The information on the terms was wonderful. Makes me smile sometimes to hear the different usage of words. Working in Jr High, I have learned not to call their shoes thongs!

  11. So good to hear that Ting Ting is doing better!
    They do become just like another family member,
    don’t they?

    Pat Cochran

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