Monday, March 18, 2013

Old West glossary, no. 59


Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms 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 Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, Cowboy Lingo, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Robert Alexander Wason’s Happy Hawkins, Charles Alden Seltzer’s The Two-Gun Man, Cyrus Townsend Brady’s The West Wind, and Vingie Roe’s The Heart of Night Wind. One I could not figure out is at the bottom of the page.


Besom
besom = a broom made of twigs tied around a stick. “The Indians would undoubtedly line the banks with riflemen and the island would be swept by bullets as with a besom without delay.” Cyrus Townsend Brady, The West Wind.

bosun’s chair = a seat suspended by ropes, originally used to lift a navy ship’s officers on board. “Murphy had rigged up a sort of a rude bo’s’n’s chair out of the largest piece of wood he could find.” Cyrus Townsend Brady, The West Wind.

bullets = in the game of poker, aces. “Jabez had queens full on Jacks, Piker had three bullets an’ a team o’ ten-spots, Dick had a royal straight flush, an’ I had a nervous chill.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

bunch grasser = a range horse living upon bunch grass, a dense turf grass of the West. “Why didn’t you let him climb his own way? He knew,—he’s a bunch-grasser.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

Loggers using choker, 1941
choker = in logging, a short steel cable with a loop at one end and a hook at the other, used for looping around logs. “Sandry was standing beside it, but the girl passed him without a glance, running to where the foreman set a choker.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

cure = to air. “The scant bedding was ‘cured’ in the white sunlight.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

dopey = stupefied by sleep. “It don’t take as much sleep for me now as it used to, an’ I never was dopey.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

drill = to walk. “One mornin’ I noticed that I was dead broke; so I drilled down to the dock an’ sat on a post.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

even bones = a tied score. “They played the five hands an’ it was even bones at the fourth show.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

Flail
flail = a threshing tool consisting of a wooden staff with a short heavy stick swinging from it. “The gun barrel rose and fell like a flail beating down the heads of grain.” Cyrus Townsend Brady, The West Wind.

flat head = a stupid, foolish person. “I enjoyed myself first rate, an’ upset a couple o’ delivery wagons because they wouldn’t make way for me, roped a runaway steer ’at had the whole town scared, an’ chased a flat-head clear into the Palace Hotel.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

flicker out = to die. “She had married a good man, an’ had come out to the coast with him on account of his health, an’ he had flickered out without leavin’ her much but a stack o’ doctor’s bills an’ little Maggie.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

from wire to wire = from start to finish. “They would fuss an’ stew an’ revile each other an’ keep it up all through dinner; an’ then go off in the afternoon an’ scrap from wire to wire.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

hash herder = a cook. “Supper time hove in sight and nairy a report from the substitute hash-herder.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

hitch = a knot (throwed, not tied), e.g., pack hitch, diamond hitch. “‘You, Jim Anworthy,’ she called sharply, ‘you’ll ruin that pump if you don’t quit jerkin’ it so. ’Tain’t no hitched choker.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

hooked = bitten. “Ferguson got hooked by a rattler!” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

jimcrack = a cheap and showy object of little or no use. “Jabez was buoyant as a balloon, an’ sent here an’ there for nick-nacks an’ jim-cracks an’ such like luxuries.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

keeno = excellent, wonderful, first-rate. “‘Keeno!’ shouts back Ches, some exasperated.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

keep up the stroke = to labor without resting. “‘How do you manage to keep up the stroke?’ ‘Law bless you!’ she laughed easily, “I ben trained into it.’” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

mighty sight = a great deal. “You have give me a mighty sight of heartaches in my time.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

mockish = counterfeit, sham. “Right at the time it didn’t sound so empty an’ mockish.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

red up = to tidy up. “That night as soon as I had my dishes washed an’ the kitchen red up, we caught the goat an’ took him to the barn.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

on the queer = acting dishonestly. “Dick may have been on the queer all right, but he was smooth enough to hide it.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

ride sign = to do the work of a line rider, that is riding the perimeter of a ranch’s range to prevent straying; also pulling cattle out of bogs, doctoring them, and discouraging predators. “He’s been ridin’ sign on Radford an’ says he’s responsible for all the stock that we’ve been missin’ in the last six months.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

saccatone = a wiry grass native to the southwest US and Mexico, used in making brushes and paper (from Spanish zacatón). “He had come down through a little gully that led into the flat and was loping his pony through the deep saccatone grass toward the cabin.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

shoot one’s bolt = to give everything one has, to be incapable of further effort. “Colonel Knowlton says he can hold them now, sir! He thinks they have shot their bolt.” Cyrus Townsend Brady, The West Wind.

show-me = skeptical; believing nothing until is it demonstrated. “He belonged to the show-me club, an’ had all his facical muscles spiked fast for fear they’d come loose an’ grin before he saw the point himself.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

sky piece = any form of headgear. “I started out in a tin suit with a sort of kettle turned upside down an’ covered with feathers for a sky-piece.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

slaunchways = diagonally, slantways. “When night would come, Cupid would go through his lessons, eat his supper, an’ fling himself slaunch-ways on the wide bunk.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

sleeper = an unbranded calf whose ears have been cut by a rustler and given a bogus brand after weaning. “Ferguson took a sharp glance at its ears and then drove it off to get a look at the brand. There was none. ‘Sleeper,’ he said quietly.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

Stew
slum = slumgullion, a stew of meat and vegetables, especially potatoes and onions. “He rolled up his sleeves an’ started to peel spuds for the evenin’ slum.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

soap weed = any one of several plants in the West and Southwest used by Indians and Anglo pioneers to make soap, especially yucca. “On the broad levels were the yellow tinted lines that told of the presence of soap-weed.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

sping = to strike. “The bullet tore through the slack o’ Dick’s vest an’ spinged into the wall behind him.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

spring wagon = a light wagon whose wheels were set individually on springs. “He had brought with him a light spring wagon and a couple of the best saddle horses beside, so that she could ride or drive at her pleasure.” Cyrus Townsend Brady, The West Wind.

stagger = an effort, a try. “The ol’ man had me make a stagger at fillin’ Dick’s shoes; but it wasn’t what a truthful man would call a coal-ossal success.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

starting eyes = eyes that bulge so as to appear to burst out of their sockets. “Bill, he was troubled some with startin’ eyes.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

steam beer = a highly effervescent, traditional-style ale that was brewed in the goldfields of California. “I got so blame disgusted drinkin’ steam beer through a straw that if anyone would ’a’ dared me I’d ’a’ signed the pledge.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

straw boss = a ranch foreman who works under the superintendent; any boss who is second dog to the top boss. “I wonder what the boys of the Lazy J would think if they knowed that a guy was tryin’ to make a gunfighter out of their old straw boss.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

stray man = a rider assigned to visit ranges or roundups outside the outfit’s usual territory and bring back stray cattle. “I heard something about some trouble between Dave Leviatt an’ the new stray-man.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

string = to fool or deceive someone over a period of time. “She’s told me that she’s goin’ to make him a character in the book she’s writing. Likely she’s stringing him.” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.

Standing timber, 1939
stumpage = standing timber. “And of course you know she’s mortgaged to her neck,—the East Belt and all the northeast stumpage.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

tie-rope = a lead rope attached to a horse’s hackamore or bridle. “It was plain as day that she had jerked up her tie-rope; an’ the next time Cast Steel used the spurs he was goin’ to be dumped off.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

turkey = a pack of bedding or clothes. “The three irresponsibles packed their turkeys, tightened their belts, slung the packs to shoulders calloused by years of strap-wear, and hit the trail down to Toledo.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.


Here’s one I was unable to find a definition for. Feel free to comment below if you have any ideas.

plum man = “‘I reckon you think you’re a plum man,’ he said quietly. ‘But if you are, you ain’t showed it much.’” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Two-Gun Man.


Image credits:
Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: The Sundowners (1950)

8 comments:

  1. More great additions to Ron Scheer's Authentic Dictionary of the American West. Great fun, Ron. The only references for "plum" I found was it meant "entirely;" or "completely." Another meaning I ran across was: "to deceive."

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    1. Tom, I think that's close for "plum," though it usually shows up in a phrase like "plum crazy" or "plum ridiculous."

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  2. I have always wondered about where "Anchor Steam" name came from and maybe your glossary has answered that. Interesting list.

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  3. Heard quite a few of these. Tie-rope. cure, a few others. Always fun when you do the words!

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  4. Great selections. Just heard James Bond say "Well, you've shot your bolt," on Sunday --to the villain in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

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  5. These are great. I love the word sping. I could hear the bullet when I read the word. Thank you, Ron. You're a treasure -- or are you a treasure trove?

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