More Love and Laughter in the Old West
When a man’s on his knees proposing, resist the urge to look triumphant.
—A Suitor for Jenny
Cowboys had a way with words so it’s not too surprising that they used some purty colorful terms to describe matters of the heart, and that included courting. “Gittin’ hitched” was serious business and spooning or sparking no less so.
Nothing changed the concept of marriage and courting as much as the westward movement. Marriage offered a semblance of security in an unsettled land. For a widow or widower with children finding a spouse was a dire necessity.
Rules that had defined courtships for centuries went out the window and marriages arranged by well-meaning parents were no longer the norm. The idea of romantic love was a novelty that was quickly embraced and encouraged young women to leave home and family behind and travel west.
Sun burned skin soon replaced delicate complexions and feathered hats gave way to sunbonnets. Vanilla took the place of French perfumes and muslin and lawn replaced bustles and trains.
Free of the rigors of Victorian mores, these “new” females changed in other ways; Women asserting their rights politically also demanded matrimony democracy. One woman came right out and said what others believed. “My husband’s got to make himself agreeable to me. If he don’t. there’s plenty will.”
Demographics in the west were on their side for women were vastly outnumbered by men. In the mid 1800s one man lamented that there was only sixty or seventy women in all of Houston. He never said how many of those women he’d be willing to take home to mom.
No longer under the watchful eye of chaperones couples took buggy rides, went on picnics, cuddled in the hayloft, and kicked up their heels at dances. A man having a fancy for a woman might give her a locket or coin. Couples financially strapped simply exchange locks of hair. One gift that was popular in the early 1800s was the courting mirror. A cowboy wanting to gift his lady-love in the latter part of the century might have hoarded coffee.
Yep, that’s right coffee. The coffee that won the west may have owed its popularity more to courtship than to taste or convenience. John Arbuckle came up with what at the time was a unique marketing plan; He added coupons or vouchers to packages of coffee that could be redeemed for goods. Arbuckle’s catalog contained thousands of items. 28 coupons was enough for a razor, which no man in love would be without, but the most popular item was the finger ring.
During the 1890s Arbuckle Brothers was the largest distributor of finger rings in the world. In “Arbuckles,” author Francis Fugate quotes a company official who bears this out: “One of our premiums is a wedding ring, and if all the rings of this pattern serve their intended purpose then we have been participants in eighty thousand weddings a year.”
Getting married wasn’t always that easy. Some communities didn’t have a regular preacher and had to depend on a circuit preacher who might not show up for months at a time. It wasn’t unusual for a saddle preacher to ride into town and find couples waiting to wed with toddlers in hand. As one old cowboy said, “There’s no cure for love—and nobody wants one.”
Anyone have a courting or dating memory to share?