Saturday, May 10, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: R
(rimfire – ruth)

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.”


rimfire = a saddle with a single cinch, placed well forward. “A rim-fire, do you call them? Well, do you know, Major, I should say this saddle was better adapted to carrying a sack of corn than a man.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

ring of Gyges = a mythical ring giving its bearer the power of invisibility. “The solitude, the glimpses from the window of great distances full of vague possibilities, made the abused ring potent as that of Gyges.” Bret Harte, Frontier Stories.

ring in = to substitute fraudulently. “You-all can’t ring in Mexicans an’ snake no play on us.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

ringey = riled up, nervous, high-strung. “We was keyed up to a high pitch by this time, an’ was beginnin’ to get thin and ringey about the eyes.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

ring-tail =  an uncooperative horse, marked by tail swishing. “Many of the government horses and polo ponies in the country at that time were considered ring-tails, sharp spurs having caused the condition.” Frank Collinson, Life in the Saddle.

Rio = Brazilian coffee, commonly with a strong, rank flavor. “She poured herself a cup of the Rio, strong as lye, with which she saturated her system, to keep off the fever.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

rip up the sod = have a good time; go on a tear. “When we make a stake, we’ll go to Billings and rip up the sod!” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

rippet = disturbance, mix-up, fight. “The terrible rippet about the morphine plumb skeered the sickness out o’ the little feller.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.

riprap = a breakwater constructed as a foundation of loose stone. “They rode to where the forces assembled by Lance were throwing up embankments and riprapping.” Frank H. Spearman, Whispering Smith.

rising = a swelling, tumor, boil, abscess. “I felt he was layin’ it on to me, somehow. And if I’d ’a’ been shore of it, I’d ’a’ put some more risin’s on to his face.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

rising = insurrection, rebellion, uprising. “I would have been all right if the boys hadn’t entertained me with stories of the rising, but they were dreadful to hear.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

river-hog = one who drives logs down a river. “You an’ your river-hogs that you pass as loggers! Rotten outfit, ye are!” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.

roach = to clip or cut off (a horse’s mane). “He may be riding a sorrel horse with a roached mane, branded 93 on left hip.” George Pattullo, The Untamed.

roach-backed = said of a horse with a convex or up-curving back. “Their gaunt, hammer-headed, grass-bellied, cat-hammed, roach-backed ponies went with them when they took their departure.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

roadster = a horse for riding (or pulling a carriage) on roads. “She glanced up at the sound of wheels. It was Pierce Eldreth driving his high-checked roadster, Brownie.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

Robert Macaire = 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.

rock = a dollar. “And we dealt and played and put up our rocks, / And we nailed up a thing called the parson’s box.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

rock and rye = a bottled drink made with rye whiskey, rock candy, and fruit. “Len, loosening his nimble tongue with rock-and-rye, read their histories from feature and get-up, satirizing each with a playful cynicism.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

Roc's Egg, R. Gifford
Rocky Mountain dead shot = a pancake, flapjack. “They ate their bannocks—‘Rocky Mountain dead shot’ Westerners call the slap-jacks—in silence.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

roc’s egg = the egg of a giant mythical bird. “‘I am sure they have not’ said the girl, with a sinking heart, the name to her suggesting nothing more likely than a roc’s egg.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

Rogers Group = one of the scores of mass-produced cast plaster statuettes by American sculptor John Rogers (1829-1904), popular in homes during the 19th century. “They bore it into a large, unheated room that smelled of dampness and disuse and furniture polish, and set it down under a hanging lamp ornamented with jingling glass prisms and before a ‘Rogers group’ of John Alden and Priscilla, wreathed with smilax.” Willa Cather, The Troll Garden.

“Roll on, Silver Moon” = a popular 19th-century song. “One of Aunt Huldah’s favorite songs was Roll on, Silver Moon; and despite her protests, Mrs. Patterson fastened upon it as an excellent one for exhibition purposes.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.


Rogers Group
roll one’s trail/tail = to leave in a hurry. “Y’u better roll your trail, seh; and if y’u take my advice, you’ll throw gravel lively.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

roller = a dollar. “But don’t forget the eight rollers and four bits. I need ten, but eight-fifty will do.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

roller = a thief, especially one whose victims are drugged, sleeping, or drunk. “There was the Alabama Kid, and beside him Shorty Broach, stage robber and thug, Beef Jones, the horse-thief, Gas, a tin-horn crook, Thimble-Rig Phipps, and two or three other sure-thing gamblers, rollers, and thugs.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

Rollo books = juvenile fiction for boys, written by American author Jacob Abbott (1803-1879). “The respect for gray hairs, I’ve noticed, is not as strong to-day as it was in the Rollo books.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

Jacob Abbott
rollway = a slope where logs were rolled into a river. “With the foreman he went over most of the job, from the first slashings to the river rollways.” A. M. Chisholm, The Boss of Wind River.

romance = to saunter, wander. “We’re white men, an’ I’m apt to come romancin’ up here with one of these an’ bust you so you won’t hold together durin’ the ceremonies.” Rex Beach, The Spoilers.

roof tree = the primary beam of a roof, the ridgepole; the roof. “She wore a pink sunbonnet, though the hour was one past sundown, and though she sat beneath her own roof-tree.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Rooney, Pat = a popular 19th-century vaudeville entertainer. “His calls of late, it seems, / Are like Pat Rooney’s serial tales, / Quite ‘few and far between.’” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

root hog or die = to work extremely hard or face inevitable failure. “‘It was root, hog, or die with me, Sally,’ he continued, ‘and I rooted.’” Gilbert Parker, Northern Lights.

rope = a cigar. “‘Have a rope?’ He took the cigar that Joe offered.” Robert Dunn, The Youngest World.

ropewalk = a long straight narrow lane, or a covered pathway, where long strands of material were laid before being twisted into rope. “He passed an empty ropewalk, the hemp strewn untidily about, as if the workers had left hurriedly.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

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

rosinweed = a plant native to North America with a resinous odor and yellow flowers. “Rosin weeds were collected and piled in heaps.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

Ross, Albert = pen name of popular American novelist, Linn Boyd Porter (1850-1916). “From the books of Archibald C. Gunter and Albert Ross: Kind Devil, deliver me.” Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane.

Rough on Rats = a poison, claimed to eliminate rats, mice, roaches, flies, beetles, moths, ants, skunks, weasels, gophers, moles, and muskrats. “It had been wolf-poison. It had been ‘Rough on Rats.’ It had been something in a bottle.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.

round = a rung of a chair or ladder. “Mrs. Rodney now put a foot on the round of an adjoining chair and shoved it towards Mary Carmichael.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

round on = to betray, inform on. “‘Damned scoundrel’ sliden’ from yer flannel face is like a coyote roundin’ on a timber wolf.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

round robin = a petition or protest on which the signatures are arranged in a circle in order to conceal the order of signing. “They want to quit badly. They’ve filed a petition to him—kind of round-robin.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

round up = to get or accumulate. “I’ll chip in now, and more when I round up.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

roundabout = a short jacket. “His dress seemed an acknowledgment of his grotesqueness: a short coat, like a little boy’s roundabout, and a vest fantastically sprigged and dotted, over a lavender shirt.” Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark.

rounder = vagrant, habitual drunkard or wastrel. “Indeed, Come-a-Seven bade fair to be a rounder. While the other cattle would be sleeping peacefully on the bed ground, the young red-and-white would go up and down through the herd, trying to start some excitement.” George Pattullo, The Untamed. 

roustabout = an unskilled laborer typically performing temporary work. “A half-mile from camp they came upon the sorrel team of Mickey, the roustabout.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

rubber = to look around, gaze at. “Some of your friends is likely to rubber down here to see what’s doin’.” G. Frank Lydston, Poker Jim, Gentleman.

ruche = a frill or pleat of fabric as decoration on a garment (also rooshing). “By rights, Harpe, you ought to cut out these piqué vests and manly shirt bosoms and take to ruches and frills and ruffles.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

ruffle it = to wager at cards. “The Mexican was enabled to ruffle it with the best in the settlement, whilst people wondered where he got his money from.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

ruffle it = to swagger. “Alas! as well expect a rabbit to ruffle it with wolves.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

run a blazer = to deceive, trick. “If those shorthorns attempt to offer any opposition, I’ll run a blazer on them.” Andy Adams, The Outlet.

Runabout, 1910
runabout = a small, inexpensive, open car, with a single row of seats, often with a tonneau for additional seating in the rear. “This is only a runabout. You can get one for twelve or fourteen hundred dollars of anybody’s money.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.

runner = a person employed to fetch and carry things, an assistant, messenger, courier, scout. “Mr. Smith, in addition to being a runner for the Planters Hotel was also the agent for the James and Miller Stage Line.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

runner = engineer of a railroad train. “I described to her how sometimes the train was flagged by a danger signal, and when it had slowed down the runner found himself covered by armed men.” Paul Leicester Ford, The Great K&A Train Robbery.

Rurales = name commonly used to designate the Mexican Guardia Rural (Rural Guard): a force of mounted police or gendarmerie that existed between 1861 and 1914. “It would take a whole reg’ment of Rurales to keep us from a breakfast if we seen one runnin’ around loose without its pa or ma.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

rush = to court. “Marcus had ‘taken up with’ Selina a little after Trina had married, and had been ‘rushing’ her ever since.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

ruth = a feeling of distress or grief. “Why, for instance, is it that pitilessness, ferocity, ruth, which were good in the youth of the world, should cause such evil in its old age?” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.


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Sources: Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, Cowboy Lingo, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and various online dictionaries

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Pinkerton en français

3 comments:

  1. Never heard of that type of rimfire. Only heard the term related to bullets.

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