Most Asked Questions About the Old West


I picked up an interesting book at a swap meet titled 1001 Most-asked Questions About the American West by Harry E. Chrisman. The book is out of print but there are a few left on Amazon.   I bet you didn’t know there were that many questions to ask about cowboys.  Here are some samples from the book:

Did Indians have any special word to describe the covered wagons they saw on the plains?

They called them “teepees on wheels.”

howdySo many western people say “howdy” when they meet you on the street. Where did the term originate?

Howdy is short for “How-do-you-do?” You don’t have to tell the inquirer how you feel, for he doesn’t care anyway! A cowboy once advised a friend never to say “Howdy” to a talkative, glib Easterner whom they both knew. “Why not?” the second cowboy asked. “Because he’ll tell you,” came the answer.

Is there any record of a woman riding in a cattle stampede?

Old cowboy Anderson from Sequin, Texas told of seeing a lady ride side-saddle being swept into a longhorn stampede. He wrote: “Seeing the cattle gaining, that woman swung herself astride and pulled off a race that beat anything I ever saw.” This is what they called riding “clothespin” style.

Was marijuana used to any extent in the settlement of the Old West?

Marijuana was not used as a drug. However one Western expert has noted that even Bibles and wagon covers were often made from the Devil’s weed, in addition to some of the clothing the pioneers wore and the hemp rope they used.

What was a “pitcher and catcher hotel” in the early West?sign

It has nothing to do with baseball. A pitcher was what they called the washbowl, and the catcher (or thundermug) was the chamber pot. Margaret here: Whoever thought up the name thundermug must have had a real problem.

What was the usual bounty offered for an outlaw when the posters read, “Wanted, dead or alive.”

$500 would bring a man in dead or alive. That was a lot of money back in the 1870-80s.

What did the term “grubline gossip” mean?

Cowboys laid off during the winter months would ride from ranch to ranch looking for odd jobs. In exchange for free food they reported whatever news they heard on their travels and this was called grubline gossip.

What were the worst factors pioneers had to contend with?

Blizzards, Indians, fleas, snakes, cholera, small pox, diphtheria, lice, bedbugs, prairie fire, falls into deep wells, accidents from livestock, cyclones, runaway horses, stampedes, heat sunstroke, silence of the plains and loneliness. Many women thought the latter two the worst.


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26 thoughts on “Most Asked Questions About the Old West”

  1. Margaret, Howdy reminded me of an old timer around here who always greeted people with Howdy do…which is so easy to imagine being a shortened version of How do you do.
    Then Howdy is just the next step. No cowboy says a phrase when one word will do.

    • Hi Linda, sounds like you have a little bit of cowgirl in you.

      I should mention that cowboys never say goodbye. They say so-long or see ya or something like that. Some just tip their hats. I guess they always expect to see you again.

  2. Honestly, nothing on that list would be a factor I would want to contend with. I don’t do snakes and the hardships and diseases they had to face back then were scary. But of course, there is a lot we face today that would probably scare them!

  3. Hi Margaret! I wasn’t sure if it would be polite for me to laugh but then I had mo control lol. First with the tepee on top and worse, the chamber pot name. Lol the worst for me would have been having to use that thundermug during the trails. But all the bugs and fleas would make me have a breakdown. Lol. Thanks for the fun and to meet you. Have a good day. Cathie

    • Cathie, it’s always polite to laugh–at least it is here. The thundermug made me laugh, too. Can you imagine? Have a great day and thank you for stopping by!

  4. I find the Marijuana topic interesting. There was a while in our history where farmers had to grow it – it’s been found that it is a wonderful plant for making things. I also read that the main reason it was outlawed was when plastics were invented they wanted to get rid of the competition. I wish I could remember where I just read that.

  5. Sounds like an interesting book.
    Cholera, small pox, and diphtheria would have been my biggest fears. The others could be dealt with, maybe not successfully, but you had a fighting chance. Diseases could be dealt with too, but since medical knowledge and care were lacking, you didn’t know what caused them, how they were spread, or how to fight them. Admittedly, you would be just as dead from an indian attack or prairie fire as you would be from smallpox. It just would have been more of a “fair fight” against the first two.

    Best wishes for a successful release for PETTICOAT DETECTIVE. Know it will be another good read.

    • Patricia, I agree that diseases would probably have been he most challenging. So little was known about them and how they were spread. We have much to be grateful for today.

      Take care,

  6. Illness and accidents that left women with the choice to find a man to marry, return home (to her parents) or sell herself.

    My in-laws came over from Hungary. Marijuana and poppy plants were raised by most of the people for use in their everyday lives. Hemp for ropes and clothing and the opiate for sleep and pain relief.

    • Hi Laurie,

      Yes, women didn’t have a lot of choice back then. If she was out west and something happened to her husband she would have been in a real mess.

      That’s interesting about Hungary. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Wow so much they had to deal with back then. I can see when women were not that thrilled to head west back then.

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