I love research, particularly about the old west. I could get lost in it and a lot of the times I do. Please don’t get me wrong, I love to write, but if I ever had to make a choice between researching for a book and writing one, I’m not sure but I think I’d go with the research.
I thought it’d be fun to blog about western terminology and some of the things I’ve learned from researching the Old West, particularly since I was born and raised in Texas. Now here’s my first comment … we’ve always used born and raised then when I began writing, I got heavily edited with “you raise corn, you rear children”. Now that’s changed back to born and raised.
Many of the jargon popular back in western times are still used today.
- Wild-cow milking: When sister Filly Linda Brody, Jodi Thomas, and the late DeWanna Pace and I began to write our anthology Give Me a Cowboy we had already decided that we’d have a 4th of July Rodeo take place in Kasota Springs, Texas, over four days. There were a lot of things that we had to iron out for consistency sake. I had to have a rainy day, so we had to make sure one day it rained. But, the funniest thing that happened was choosing events, so we didn’t duplicate. In the 1800’s there were only a limited number of events to choose from. I love the rodeo, so I had my mind set on bull riding. Linda and Jodi selected their events first … not bull riding, so I knew I had my event in the bag! But one problem, Dee selected hers next and since her brother was a champion bull rider … oh yes, you guessed it, she asked for bull riding. I took a deep breath and the only event left was wild cow milking. So, I smiled and enjoyed learning about this part of a rodeo. In the long run, I probably had more fun writing the scene where my hero and heroine were teamed up for this event and it began to rain. I’m not gonna tell you anything else, but if you haven’t read Give Me a Cowboy I think you’d enjoy what could happen in a wet arena with two people attracted to one another when they are trying to hold down a cow and milk her. Of interest, the wild cow milking event came into existence because they had to bring calves for roping and of course they couldn’t separate the mama’s and their calf, so thus wild cow milk came about.
- Chute Rooster: This was another term I learned through research and used for the same story. A chute rooster is a rodeo-wise boy who perched on top of the chutes and knew how everything should be done and didn’t mind telling about it.
- Doggone: A wild slang expression. Whenever he could think of it, a cowboy used this term around womenfolks. I still use it.
- Salty Dog: A man who was considered better than anyone else in his line, whether it was shooting, roping, riding, cattle rustling, holding up trains and stagecoaches, or just “plumb ornery”. Dog was also one of the old-time cowboy’s terms for bacon. When it was salty, it was “salty dog”.
- Dofunny: The cowboy’s expression for a useless object.
- Bible Two: A term used by Texas Rangers for the list of outlaws published every year by the Adjutant General’s Office. It was said that at one time the Texas Rangers had a list of over 5,000 desperadoes wanted by the law.
- Hog-tied: I love this one. When a cowboy got “hog-tied” by a female he was no longer a cowboy but a cowman. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
- Vamoose: The cowboy used this word several different ways, but basically it meant “to move on” or “let go”. The word came from the Spanish vamos, which means “we go”. It’s still used today in our neck of the woods.
- Cross Draw: The act of drawing a pistol with the right hand when it was worn on the left side. The sidearm was carried either in the waistband of the trousers or in a holster with the butt of the gun forward. The gunfighter had to cross his arm over to whip it out. When two guns were worn, both with butts forward, the gunfighter employed a “cross-arm draw” to take them out. This has been used many times in Westerns over the years.
- Critter: Chiefly a term for a cow, but it could be any animal. We still use it today.
- Road Brand: This was the light brand placed on cattle sufficient to “last up the trail” to the shipping point when different brands were in the same herd. Once the cattle were sold, the rancher would change to their own brand.
- Hollow Horn: I found this particularly interesting. It is a disease that puzzled the tenderfoot. Cows’ horns simply dropped off after a freeze. Of course, they were hollow, thus the term hollow horn.
- Liquored up: Has only been around since the early twenty century, but most everybody knows that it means “drunk”.
- Larruppin’: One of my favorites. Larruppin’ good means excellent, especially with food.
What old terms do you use in your daily life? What is your favorite?
To one two lucky readers I will send you an autographed copy of Give Me a Cowboy. If you already have one, I’ll give you an eBook copy of my latest western contemporary romance Out of a Texas Night, which have many of the founders of Kasota Springs, three to five generations later in it.
I wish to give credit to Bruce Grant and his book The Cowboy Encyclopedia because I mixed some of my own terminology with some of his. Thank you.