Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading of frontier fiction, 1880-1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”
B&S = brandy and soda. “Let's go somewhere for a B & S, and find out about each other.” Stewart Edward White, Arizona Nights.
back channel = the smaller of two channels in a river that diverge to form an island. “The next island below Split-up was known as Roubeau’s Island, and was separated from the former by a narrow back channel.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.
back-firing = running someone out of the country. “‘They ain’t only one thing’ll stop him.’ Tough Nut looked cunningly suggestive…‘Say, back-firin’. Savey?’” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.
back log = a large log at the back of a fire in a fireplace. “Now, you see this back log in the center of my blankets is the dead line between us.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.
Back of Beyond = any real or imagined remote region; first put into print by Sir Walter Scott in his novel The Antiquary (1816). “How absurd you are! Who ever dreamed of such a thing? This isn’t the Back of Beyond.” John H. Whitson, Justin Wingate, Ranchman.
back-setting = turning broken sod back to its original place with additional fresh soil to cover it. “I was back-setting the thirty acres down by the lake when I heard a shot an’ a yell.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.
backcapper = someone who openly or quietly maligns others, and is therefore despicable. “Some of the backcappers will be telling you presently that I was a train despatcher over in God’s country, and that I put two trains together.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.
backing it = to be laid up, ill. “The cook was mighty good to me while I was backin’ it; he used to deal out fussy little fixin’s ’at kept the appetite and the fever both down.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
bad cess to = may evil befall. “‘Red Slavin, bad cess to him!’ and her eyes regarded her questioner with renewed anxiety.” Randall Parrish, Bob Hampton of Placer.
Bad man from Bodie = a mythical hell raiser from Bodie, California, a gold mining boomtown, 1878-1880. “Like ‘the bad man from Bodie,’ fear to him is an unknown quantity, and the greater the danger the more desperate he seems to become.” Chicago Daily Tribune, 30 July 1881.
bail = an arched handle, such as on a bucket or a teapot. “The bread was cut and spread, the coffee put in a small bucket, and a string of tin cups was tied to its bail.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.
Bain wagon = a high-wheeled utility wagon produced from 1840 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “A number of saddle-horses and Bain wagons and lighter vehicles were hitched to the rail fence in front of the house.” Frances McElrath, The Rustler.