Monday, November 14, 2011

Old West glossary, no. 21

Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms garnered from early western novels. Definitions were discovered in various online dictionaries, as well as searches in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The New Encyclopedia of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from a fiction by Hugh Pendexter, John Neihardt, James Oliver Curwood, and Harold Bell Wright about a world-roaming showman, frontiersmen and Indians, a splinter group of Mormons, and reclaiming California’s Imperial Valley. Once again I struck out a few times. If anybody knows the meaning of  “buzzle,” “cuggy,” or “picture-general hat,” leave a comment.

bobtail flush = a poker hand with four cards of the same suit. “You win; I pass; mine’s a bob-tail flush; but you stacked the deck!” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

bourgeois = master of a trading post. “We were loaded with supplies for the American Fur Company’s posts on the upper Missouri, and carried a number of engages of the Company, and a certain Frenchman, Jules Latour, who had been appointed bourgeois of the old Fort Union.” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

branch house = branch office. “Tib selected a young fellow that was coming out to hold down a stool in his father’s branch house in Melbourne.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

brownie = a (racist) term for a brown-skinned person. “But these volunteers will never get her by hunting the brownies with a brass-band.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

brunette = a (racist) term for a Black person. “I reckon the brunettes never before gazed on such wags as we must have appeared to be.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

cordelle = a ship’s towing line. “Worked on a cordelle gang, handled mackinaws, hammered pack mules, fought Indians, starved and feasted, froze and roasted, like all the other who come out here.” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

donkey engine = a small auxiliary steam engine, esp. on a ship. “The donkey-engine was mounted in a trice and the big crates containing the mowing-machines were yanked out on deck.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.
elevate = to execute by hanging. “‘We’ve got a half-breed here,’ said he, ‘who’s got to be elevated.’” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

elflocks = tangled hair. “‘To be sure you’re not the man,’ he said, nodding his head until his elf-locks danced around his face.” James Oliver Curwood, The Courage of Captain Plum.

footpad = a highway robber operating on foot; figuratively, a villain. “I knew he must have ducked when enfilading my footpad.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.
Fresno = a horse-drawn scraper used for excavation. “The acres of land untouched by grader’s Fresno or rancher’s plow were many more than the acres that were producing crops.” Harold Bell Wright, The Winning of Barbara Worth.

green goods men = con men selling supposedly counterfeit currency. “The men who engineered this thing look to me like a bunch of green-goods men who live on the confidence of the people.” Harold Bell Wright, The Winning of Barbara Worth.

herring floater = swimbait; a fishing lure that looks like a fish in the water. “Will be dead as herring floaters if they show up.” James Oliver Curwood, The Courage of Captain Plum (1908).

jasper = a man, esp. a rustic simpleton. “Just as everything began to look cosey and home-like my pair of Jaspers decided they were afraid of the ocean.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

lyed corn = corn steeped in weak lye to remove the husks; hominy. “The deep snow made it impossible to get much game, so that in less than two weeks our little supply of lyed corn was almost exhausted.” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

Mackinaw boat = a flat-bottomed boat used by fur traders on the Great Lakes and the Missouri River. “Unfortunately, the last steamboat had left Fort Union for the South, making it necessary that the trip be made in a mackinaw boat.” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

mourners bench = a bench for mourners or repentant sinners placed at the front in a revival meeting. “I edged over your way, plumb edified by your remarks, and when the rush for the mourners’ bench come I  unlimbered an’ headed the stampede pronto.” Harold Bell Wright, The Winning of Barbara Worth.

Mrs. Rorer's Cook Book, 1886
Mrs. Rorer = Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849-1937), nationally recognized cooking expert. “‘Shade of Mrs. Rorer!’ exclaimed the would-be Congressman in a whisper to his companion; ‘is that the soup?’” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

pink = to nick with a sword or bullet. “I had been expecting one of them to draw to that card, and while his arm was pulled back I pinked him from the hip.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

sharper = cheater, swindler, trickster. “You’re a nobody, sir, without a place or a name in the world; a common, low-bred, ignorant sharper.” Harold Bell Wright, The Winning of Barbara Worth.

smoke wagon = revolver, pistol; figuratively, a lethal weapon. “We had laid them to rest as easily as a laughter-loving chauffeur runs down a crippled beggar with a sixty-horse-power smoke-wagon.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

snapshot = a quick, hurried shot fired without deliberate aim, especially at a moving target. “But Tib, ignoring his annoyer and after foolishly chanting some lines about ‘Lions to right of ’em, lions to left of ’em,’ pivoted and raked my villain by a neat snap-shot.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

strabismus = lack of focus. “I wanted to get my back against the stockade, but Tib, with less strabismus in his intellect, restrained me.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

zanjero = water master; a collector of assessments for a canal company and controller of the allotment of water to fields (from Spanish zanja, irrigation ditch). “Newly located settlers forsook their ditching and leveling, zanjeros deserted their water gates and levees.” Harold Bell Wright, The Winning of Barbara Worth.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
Skull, Frederic Remington

Coming up: The Quick and the Dead (1987)


  1. Such colorful langage and Deadwood would have us think all they said was F***.

  2. Another fine addition to the lexicon, and those two terms at the beginning are Greek to me.

  3. Always interesting terms... If I'd come across "bourgeois" I would have just assumed the writer was a Western Marxist! As for "mourning benches," I've always wondered how they got people to sit in them. It wouldn't happen today.