Monday, February 18, 2013

Old West glossary, no. 57


Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms and forgotten people gleaned from early western fiction. 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, Vocabulario Vaquero, I Hear America Talking, Cowboy Lingo, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Harry Leon Wilson’s The Lions of the Lord. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “grass stomach,” “composition tea,” “chitcup,” or “on the bark,” leave a comment below.


baize = a bright green fabric napped to resemble felt; used to cover gaming tables. “The little man arose and came hesitatingly forward to the baize-covered table that served as a pulpit.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

beat the cars = to surpass in every way. “And her paw—though Lord knows who her maw was—a-dressing her to beat the cars.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

beau catcher = a small flat curl of hair worn on the temple. “My mother was making a company for me, putting up my waterfall and curling my beau-catchers.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

blind = of a way or path that is confusing, uncertain. “You have to take a long squint, like when you’re in the woods on a path that ain’t been used much lately and has got blind.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

cavayard = a group of saddle horses, remuda. “They’d go right out and make Amalon look like a whole cavayard of razor-hoofed buffaloes had raced back and forth over it.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

daystar = the morning star, the sun. “It was his day-star and his life, the one pleasure that brought no suffering with it.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Dick’s hatband = anything improvised, makeshift. “Of course, he’s closer than Dick’s hat-band, but she’ll have the best there is until he takes another.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Dutch gilt paper = a type of highly decorative papers that were printed by means of blocks of wood or metal, or by engraved rollers, and dusted with gold. “She was taught these verses from a little old book bound in the gaudiest of Dutch gilt paper.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Caroline Norton
“Fair Bingen on the Rhine” = a sentimental poem by British poet Caroline Norton (1808-1877) about the death of a soldier in Algiers. “By his side was his wife, Amelia, the reigning favourite, who could play the piano and sing ‘Fair Bingen on the Rhine’ with a dash that was said to be superb.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord. Full text here.

froe / frow = a cleaving tool for splitting thick pieces of wood into thinner slabs, used for making wooden roof shingles. “I had my mallet and frow up there two days now, just beyond the lower dry-fork, splitting out shakes for my new addition.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

gamboge = a gum resin used as a purgative. “If I’m sick and have to depend on myself, all right. I’ll dose up with lobelia or gamboge.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

go to hell across lots = a curse sending someone directly to eternal punishment. “He was ready to ‘usheathe his bowie knife’ and send apostates ‘to hell across lots.’” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

“Gone With the Gypsy Davey” = a traditional ballad about a married woman who takes a gypsy lover. “Tonight I shall lie on the cold, cold ground / In the arms of a Gypsy Davy-O!” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord. Listen to Woody Guthrie sing it.

J. Murphy = a very large covered wagon developed by Joseph Murphy of St. Louis, used by freighters on the Santa Fe Trail. “They’re coming back light, and we can have a J. Murphy that is bigger than a whole lot of houses in this country.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord. Learn more here.

lapstone = a stone held in the lap for beating or shaping leather in the making of shoes. “At every halt of the wagons a shoemaker would be seen searching for a lapstone.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

From Leaflets of Memory, 1846
Leaflets of Memory = an annual illustrated anthology of verse and prose. “And there was her book; not the book of Mormon, but a secular, frivolous thing called ‘Leaflets of Memory, an Illuminated Annual for the Year 1847’.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord. View example here.

lickety-brindle = very fast. “They fuss through a chapter here and there, and rush lickety-brindle through another.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Sheet music, 1853
“Little More Cider, A” = a popular 19th-century song, published in 1853. “In the early days of the march they sang with spirit, to the tune of ‘A Little More Cider,’ the hymn of the hand-cart written by one of their number.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord. Full lyrics here.

lobelia = an herbal remedy for respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cough; also called Indian tobacco. “If I’m sick and have to depend on myself, all right. I’ll dose up with lobelia or gamboge.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Macaire, Robert = an archetypal villain, appearing in popular melodramas and comic opera in the 19th century. “More fondly did she recall two wonderful evenings at the theatre. First had been the thrilling ‘Robert Macaire’.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

play the hob = to do something devilish or cause trouble for someone or something. “It weakens the spirit, and it plays the very hob with the women.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Sappers, 1916
sapper = a soldier who digs trenches to undermine fortifications or builds and repairs them. “They went down the Weber, then toward East Cañon, a dozen of the bearded host going forward with spades and axes as sappers.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

scratch gravel = to work hard, leave in a hurry. “The rest of the two thousand men on Ezra Calkins’s pay-roll would come hanging around pestering you all with Winchesters. They’d make you scratch gravel, sure!” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

sent over the rim of the basin = a 19th-century Mormon euphemism for taking the life of someone who was out of favor with church authority. “Any informer was to be ‘sent over the rim of the basin’—except that one of their number was to make a full report to the President at Salt Lake City.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

sideline = a line for tying together the fore and hind legs on one side of an animal. “Just picket him or hobble him with a good side-line.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

surround = a method of hunting wild animals by driving them into a trap. “Did you make that surround you was going to make, Rool?” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

sweeny = atrophy of the shoulder muscles in horses. “Well, now, since these valleys of Ephraim have got a little fattened a whole lot of us have got the sweeny.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

taglock = a matted lock of wool or hair. “This is a large flock of sheep that has come up into this valley of the mountains, and some of them have got tag-locks hanging about them.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

unbolted flour = unsifted flour containing all parts of the grain kernel. “No more homespun for ’em, no more valley tan, no more parched corn for coffee, nor beat molasses nor unbolted flour.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

wady = dry riverbed. “I worked in the other direction by spells till I got to a little wady.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

warped up = disturbed, bent out of shape. “He had a plumb ornery fighting look in them deep-set eyes of his, and blame me if I didn’t someway feel sorry for him,—he’s that warped up.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Chignon, c1898
waterfall = a chignon; a hairstyle with hair pinned into a knot at the nape of the neck; also a wave of hair falling down the neck. “My mother was making a company for me, putting up my waterfall and curling my beau-catchers.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

whacker = a shortened form of bullwhacker. “I told them I’d be back with the whackers if I didn’t find you.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

Two men with whipsaw, c1896
whipsaw = a saw with a narrow blade and a handle at both ends, used typically by two people. “Late in October there was finished for him on the outer edge of the town, near the bank of a little hill-born stream, a roomy log-house, mud-chinked, with a water-tight roof of spruce shakes and a floor of whipsawed plank.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

wrong side of the blanket = born out of wedlock. “I was aiming to save her to a crown of glory,—a girl that’s thought to have been born on the wrong side of the blanket!” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

York shilling = a monetary unit used for currency in New York before introduction of the dollar in 1792; worth about 12.5 cents. “Not a York shilling of my money could they have for such persuasions of Satan.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.


Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Monte Walsh (1970)

7 comments:

  1. I've heard "Dick's hat band" several times before, but in a different context— somebody being called as queer or odd as Dick's hat band. I took it to mean eccentric.

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    1. The meaning is not dissimilar, Elisabeth. Something makeshift is more than likely going to appear odd or eccentric.

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  2. I used "froe" in the novel I'm writing about logging in Idaho during World War I, when I had a woman homesteader split shingles for the roof of her root cellar (yes, they had roofs). I can't find grass stomach, but I wonder if it refers to bloat in cattle or horses from eating wet grass. Why, oh why did I get rid of my 1917 enormous Websters Dictionary - those words are probably in it. This is fun; I guess I'll have to go back through your previous Old West Glossaries.

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  3. seen Baize before but didn't know what it meant. Daystar is not uncommon in fantasy as well.

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  4. The Navy used "chits" all the time, like you had to fill out a pay chit, liberty chit, etc. Maybe a chitcup was where you put it for someone to draw from. The Navy ones you would put it in a box in the ship's office or give it to your superior.

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    1. Oscar, I get the idea from the context in the novel that it's an Indian word.

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