Monday, June 30, 2014

Book vs. TV: Craig Johnson's Longmire

TV tie-in
Maybe it's my meds making me grumpy, but I’m not a great fan of the TV series Longmire. Whatever TV touches usually makes a mess of it, and its manhandling of Craig Johnson’s original Longmire novels illustrates precisely why. 

First off, the ebb and flow of a neatly constructed plot from Johnson’s pen is chopped into fragments to fit into a TV hour and then once again squeezed between commercial breaks. Then the generous complexity of his situations and characters (as in this one, Death Without Company) is dumbed down with sex, violence, and visual stunts. 

Lost are (a) the novel’s pacing that gradually builds the elements of a puzzling mystery (the death by poisoning of an elderly Basque woman), (b) the page-turning suspense that rivets a reader in the final chapters as all the chips finally fall and action turns life-threatening (a manhunt in a blizzard), and (c) the wry, smart humor and understatement that come with Longmire’s amused first-person narration, which to me is the greatest loss of all:

Victoria Moretti didn't like being called handsome, but that's how I thought of her. Her features were a little too pronounced to be dismissed as pretty. The jaw was just a little too strong, the tarnished gold eyes just a little too sharp. She was like one of those beautiful saltwater fish in one of those tanks you knew better than to stick your hand into; you didn't even tap on the glass. 

By comparison, the TV series makes Longmire seem darkly angry, weakened and unfocused in part by grief at the death of his wife and in part by what seems like dread and self-doubt. He is a wounded warrior in the fight against crime.

Johnson’s Absaroka County and Durant, its county seat (claimed by the town of Buffalo, Wyoming, as its fictional double), are faithlessly portrayed in the A&E series with all its location footage shot in New Mexico, which with the multi-season run of Breaking Bad seems to be aggressively gunning for TV production projects these days.

The irony at the center of a Walt Longmire novel is his being an aging white male surrounded by women with more than a feminist bias or two, and an Indian friend more than a little proud of his heritage and impatient with Longmire’s relative ignorance of it. Yes, Longmire has the authority and the responsibility that go with the badge he wears, and he wears it as gracefully as he can. But the series writers would have us see him instead as an old-time Western lawman, like Gary Cooper in High Noon, tough and stoic.

Craig Johnson
Johnson makes of him an enjoyable, affable character, who makes you smile and can get you laughing. He’s intelligent and capable of wisecracks, as when he utters a Nebraska Cornhusker cheer: “Go Big Red, and a Big N for Knowledge.” Beleaguered, yes he is, but not seriously so. 

His wry observations of human foibles are sprinkled with quotes from Shakespeare, which go over the heads of his bewildered associates. And you appreciate his ability to get things done, even if it means slipping around the rules and drawing on a lifetime of learning how to second-guess and outsmart people likely to run afoul of the law.

My advice if you like the A&E series is not to pick up a Longmire novel. You will see how poorly Craig Johnson’s skill at storytelling is served by the hash TV makes of it. I probably should say “slick” hash, because it’s all done so smoothly you don’t suspect how cunningly unfaithful it is to the original. Or, sample a novel and see what you’re missing. What’s the worst that can happen? You may meet a Sheriff Longmire you like better and forget to put the book down again.

Death Without Company is currently available in print and ebook formats at amazon, Barnes&Noble, and AbeBooks.

Image credit:
Author's photo,

Coming up: TBD

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Model behavior

Morning clouds
To be honest, there are days when I don’t feel like being a model cancer patient. This is one of them. The cause may be the meds I take or have taken. It may be lack of exercise or lack of sleep. Lately, evening movies from Netflix seem to have had a disturbing effect on sleep and dreams. Two, about people serving prison terms for crimes they did not commit, had me waking the next morning in a dark and troubled mood—one time with the weight of a heavy sadness in my chest. No arguing with that. Something was up.

Meanwhile, our doctors encourage both of us in the practice of mindfulness meditation. Sitting in the patio of a morning, I’m surprised how 30 minutes of it pass so quickly, when there was a time that a half hour of just paying attention to my breathing would have seemed interminable.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: S
(straddlebug – syringa)

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.”

straddlebug = tripod commonly constructed of three planks of wood with a settler’s name attached to notify others that a plot of land was being claimed by a homesteader. “And so at last they came to the land of ‘the straddle-bug’—the squatters’ watch dog—three boards nailed together (like a stack of army muskets) to make a claim.” Hamlin Garland, The Moccasin Ranch.

straddling = in poker, a bet made before cards are dealt. “Let us have a regulation ‘ante.’ No ‘straddling.”’ Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

straggle = to wander off, stray. “It’s a day straggled from heaven, ain’t it?” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

strangler = killer. “I don’t want no strangler work on this range, nor shootin’—unless deputy sheriffs do the shootin’.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West.

strapper = a big, strong person; a notably hard worker. “Man alive, jes’ look at that air gal’s shape! Ain’t she a strapper?” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kate and Virgil Boyles,
The Homesteaders (1909)

Brother and sister writing team, Kate and Virgil Boyles, followed their first novel Langford of the Three Bars (1907) with this one, both set on the South Dakota prairie near the Missouri River. The homesteaders of the title are also a brother and sister, Josephine and Jack Carroll. 

It’s the early 1890s, and their story concerns their difficulties as newcomers from the South, invading the open grazing lands of a nearby ranch, the 7-Up, whose foreman, Tom Burrington, takes an interest in them and falls in love with Josephine.

Plot. The central conflict in the novel involves a villainous troublemaker, LaDue, who lives on a wooded island in the river and cuts timber, as well as operating a ferry crossing. He takes a dislike to the Carrolls and tries to drive them away, stealing a cow and a calf and then hiring a Texas cowboy, Henry Hoffman, to shoot Josephine as she brings her brother’s small herd of cows in from pasture for the night.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Morning coffee in my cowboy cup
This week saw a five-day course of chemo again which passed with no particular ill effects, and an increased dosage of anti-seizure meds. I’ve continued to get something called focal seizuresan ants-under-the-skin sensation in the left side of my face, which can develop into a throbbing in my neck and arm. 

One evening on another drug, to be taken in the event of a stronger seizure, I was knocked out so totally that I woke from the effects hours later with no memory of how I happened to be in bed, where my wife found me to remind me to take my chemo meds. I still have no memory. It was not a faint, but a complete blackout. Yikes.

Otherwise, the week saw me out walking in the mornings for 30 to 40 minutes, once with just the dog for company, and I stopped using the walker, relying on a walking stick for support. While my wife also reminds me that it is rattlesnake season, I ventured a ways into the desert, where I found another dog-walking friend from the neighborhood, and we were able to catch up on a lot of news.

Morning moon
My weight continues to jump under the effects of the steroids I’m taking to counter the swelling in my brain from radiation. At under 160 pounds when I left the hospital four months ago, I tipped the scales this week at 181.6, an increase of well over 20 pounds, and this despite the fact that food for me has basically no taste.

I saw the Cancer Center psychologist again this week, for an hour. She put me onto Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is an articulate advocate of mindfulness meditation, with numerous videos at YouTube. Yesterday I spent an hour with his talk to a room full of Google employees, taking them through a guided meditation that made the practice more accessible and less confusing for me.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: S
(sponge gold – strabismus)

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.”

sponge gold = a noncohesive form of pure gold, used for dental restoration. “McTeague turned to her suddenly, his mallet in one hand, his pliers holding a pellet of sponge-gold in the other.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

spoon = a fishing lure. “Whether it’s with flies, spoons or minnows, castin’ or trollin’, or spearin’ or nettin’, Warry’s the expertest fish-catcher that ever waded the rapids.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

spoon = foolish, sentimental affection. “Stuart had a bad case of spoons.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.

spoony = a fool or silly person. “Mr. Bruin fell dead; and the spoonies are handing down his hide to a numerous posterity.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

sporting gentleman = a gambler. “Our sporting gentlemen are also men of education; you may find gentlemen of such education on every one of our steam-packets.” Charles Sealsfield, The Cabin Book.

spotted fever = typhus or meningitis; any of several diseases characterized by fever and skin spots. “The cook contracted spotted fever and died.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

spotted pup = rice pudding. “‘Close shave that,’ panted Glenister, feeling his throat gingerly, ‘but I wouldn’t have missed it for spotted pup.’” Rex Beach, The Spoilers.

spotter = a detective, an informer. “Know an engineering chap tramped the Sierras for a hundred miles dogged by a spotter from one of the railroads.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border (1917)

First edition
Being a Nebraska farm boy, I grew up on a middle border between Midwest and West many decades after Garland. Yet I found much that was familiar in his memoir of rural life during the period of Western expansion, 1865 – 1900. By the 1940s, not that much had changed. 

Farm work was more mechanized, and gas-powered tractors had taken the place of horses. Improved roads and automobiles had shortened distances. But farm work was still hard, often grueling labor at the mercy of the elements. There was dust, manure, and mud, and whether bumper years or drought and crop failures, farm life was isolated and lonely.

Realism. Garland’s realistic portrayal of it—the beauty as well as the ugliness—collided with two different streams of thought about rural America in the early 20th century. One was a pastoral, bucolic, and picturesque vision of simple, wholesome living far from the corruptive influence of the city. Another was the go-west boosterism that coaxed settlers from the East and abroad to snap up free land and get rich as agricultural producers. Garland saw in his own family’s example the empty promise at the heart of both visions.

The Garland family
He came to understand that a nation’s culture thrived in its major cities, where books were published, talented artists gathered, and there was intellectual stimulation for freedom of thought. Those with heart and mind for such pursuits were deprived of them in rural backwaters. For Garland, there was only one such city, Boston, while Chicago was no more than a huge commercial center, and New York had yet to emerge as more than a crowded port of entry.

The lure of the West, as Garland came to see it, was even more devastating in its effect. His pioneering father moved west a total of five times, with time off to serve as a Union soldier during the Civil War. As a boy, Garland went with his family from their farm near La Crosse, Wisconsin, to a homestead community near Osage, in northeast Iowa. At the age of 10 he was plowing virgin sod there with horses.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Family musicale, c1870

Illustration from A Son of the Middle Border
I just read Hamlin Garland’s moving and wonderfully detailed memoir, A Son of the Middle Border (1917). It describes better than any book I’ve read the impact of western expansion on the lives of men and women who cast their fate to the wind on the frontier in the decades following the Civil War.

An acute observer of rural life, Garland lost faith in the lure of westward immigration, especially as he saw how it tore apart his family, scattering them across isolated distances, from Dakota to California. In the early chapters of the book, he recalls their gatherings in a small town in Wisconsin, before the promise of the West uprooted them.

Without TV, radio, and digital media, they bonded around music, passing the time singing songs and listening to a favorite uncle play his violin. Garland describes this world of his youth with affecting nostalgia, already long passed into mists of history by the time he was writing about it.

I’ll be reviewing this book here shortly, but until then, I’ve put together a sample musicale from those family gatherings to evoke the period and the sensibilities that enlivened the spirit of ordinary people and hard but simpler lives. Following quotes from the book, you’ll find song clips from youtube. Take a few moments to listen to even just parts of them and let yourself be transported to another time.

The only humorous songs which my uncles knew were negro ditties, like “Camp Town Racetrack” and “Jordan am a Hard Road to Trabbel” but in addition to the sad ballads I have quoted, they joined my mother in “The Pirate’s Serenade,” “Erin’s Green Shore,” Bird of the Wilderness,” and the memory of their mellow voices creates a golden dusk between me and that far-off cottage.

Camptown Races

Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bump in the road

Morning sky
Breaking news: After about three months, the TV remote has been found, by chance, in a drawer of the coffee table, and we are both wondering how neither of us ever thought of looking for it there…

A half dozen blood draws over the past couple of weeks reveal that my platelet count has been dropping. This means I bleed easily, as is evident from the purple bruises in my arms where blood was taken for the lab tests. It also means delay of the next round of chemo. The oncologist seems otherwise satisfied with my “progress,” but it is progress without improvement, and that unexpected bump in the road has produced more disappointment than I’m comfortable with. 

Cancer, I’m learning, has all these wonderful lessons for a person. A lifelong perfectionist and for-your-own-good rule-follower, I’m having to learn how to welcome and celebrate each day’s many imperfections. The payoff when I can follow the rules for leading an orderly life has been the reassurance (or fantasy) that I am in control of it. Well, that’s another item on a lengthening list of beliefs I have to let go of. I see that I need a new appreciation of what may not be perfect, but is nonetheless good enough.

New residents on the patio
An outburst of frustration one night, too embarrassing to describe here in detail, got me to see I wasn’t coping at all well despite all my rules and expectations. So I made an appointment with the Cancer Center’s psychologist, who turned out to be a practical practitioner, full of reasonable advice about respecting my limits. She pegged me for an “academic,” temperamentally inclined to push toward goals of productivity that most people would not be tempted to achieve. (Like spending four years researching and writing a book on early frontier fiction, I suppose.)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: S
(snap a cap – spondulix)

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.”

snap a cap = to fire a shot. “The watch officer had caught him in the act, followed him into his lodge, leveled his pistol, and snapped a cap in the Crow’s face.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

snapped corn = corn that has been removed from the stalk but remaining in the husk. “As Elizabeth started to the house, she noticed her father and the boys coming from the cornfield with a wagon-load of snapped corn.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

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.

snoozer = sheep or sheep man. “Hed been raised a cow pony and didn’t much care for snoozers.” O. Henry, Heart of the West.

snoozer = a person. “They played the thing up to the limit, and took in each snoozer and bloke.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

snow wreath = snow drift. “To be sure, there be times when one canna stir for the snow wreaths, but that’s to be allowed for.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Alethea Williams, Walls for the Wind

Review and interview

I frequently puzzle over the gender divide in western and frontier fiction. Actually, it’s there in most fiction, a fault line between novels written mostly by and for women and those written by and for men. 

I don’t have statistics to support the claim, but I believe it’s generally agreed that women read more fiction than men, while women’s fiction has a harder time finding an audience and being recognized. For westerns, any measure of excellence is usually to male writers: Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, Elmore Leonard.

Background. Part of this owes to the nature of the genre. The traditional formula western is itself dominated by male characters, and women are typically only secondary to their stories. The men get most of the action, while the women lack what can be called “agency.”

If a character holds interest for the reader, it’s because they have the ability and opportunity to overcome obstacles and exert control over whatever difficult situation they happen to find themselves in. That may involve firmness of resolve and a fearless form of risk-taking that go against gender stereotypes for women, which generally ask of them to remain feminine, soft, and vulnerable.

When they figure into the plot of a western, they are there typically to be rescued or cause trouble. Since Owen Wister’s Molly in The Virginian (1902), they are also present to provide a plot thread involving romance. At novel’s end, they are often headed for matrimony with the male hero, who has fallen in love with them.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

BITS is four years old

Buddies in the Saddle began on May 26, 2010, with a birthday observance for John Wayne. It has grown since then to 1,051 posts with a total of 475,000 page views. As for content, not a lot has changed since my update a year ago. I’ve been reviewing western and frontier fiction and movies, usually 2 – 3 per week, with a weekend edition of glossaries of words and idioms drawn from early novels set in the West.

A year ago, I was also in the latter stages of writing a book on early frontier fiction published during 1880 – 1915. Since then, the first volume of that project, How the West Was Written, has been published by Beat to a Pulp Press, and volume 2 is now in the finishing stages. Together they cover the first novels and short story collections of over 100 writers (see side panel for more details).

Highlights of the past year at BITS also include interviews with the following writers (click through for any you missed or would like to read again):

Changes. My health, as most reading this know by now, has undergone a big change in the last few months, and I’m currently dealing with cancer. It has meant a necessary slowing down for me as a blogger. I’m having to admit that being a cancer patient is a full-time job, and I can’t keep up the pace of book and movie reviews without unwanted side effects.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: S
(skive – snap)

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.”

skive = the action of cutting into something; shaving, paring, trimming. “Great yellow rolls of butter into which the knives of the men skived deeply.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

skookum = Chinook jargon for strong, powerful. “Bring dynamite – kiyu skookum powder.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

skookum box = a place onboard ship for confining troublesome passengers. “There too is the skookum box—that is, the strong room or lock-up. To it the first mate of the Cassiar is wont to shoot too noisy drunks.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

skunk = to defeat, get the better of. “All of Sprague’s boys an’ his gals had some spunk / an’ he bragged that none on ’em nobody could skunk.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

sky scout = a parson. “He was dressed all in black, a sky-scout of sorts, but dusty and making signs as though he couldn’t shout for thirst.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

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.

skypiece = brains. “If you only got a twice-by-two skypiece all the schoolin’ in the world won’t land you on top of the heap.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West.

slack water = a cessation in the strong flow of a current or tide. “Just beyond Church House we lay at anchor for an hour or two, waiting for slack water in the Euclataws.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

slant = an opportunity to seize an advantage. “Silas was more than pleased to be able to get a ‘slant’ (to use his own expression) at his old enemy, Sim Lory.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

slant = to move off or toward. “With these remarks he slanted away back to town.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

Slanting Annie = well-remembered prostitute who lived and died in Creede, Colorado. “All about were new-made graves, where Joe Simmons and ‘Slanting Annie’ slept side by side.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

slap-up = excellent, first-rate, lavish. “We’ll make it a dandy, slap-up affair as’ll par’lyze folk.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Sheriff of Dyke Hole.

slash = an area of debris left by logging. “He had something treed about a mile from the house, across a ridge over in some slashes.” Andy Adams, The Outlet.

slashing = very fine, splendid. “Immediately after dinner Casey brought up his road team, two wiry, slashing chestnuts.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

slat sunbonnet = a woman’s bonnet with deep, stiff brim surrounding the face and covering neck and shoulders. “The child was inside the house now, untying her slat sunbonnet, and setting away the precious pail of milk which had come too late for the invalid.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.

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 = a railroad tie. “He led Clara to some sleepers which lay piled below the railroad embankment near by.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

sleeper = a calf that has been ear-marked, but not branded. “Every owner has a certain brand, as you know, and then he crops and slits the ears in a certain way, too. In that manner he don't have to look at the brand, except to corroborate the ears; and, as the critter generally sticks his ears up inquirin’-like to anyone ridin’ up, it’s easy to know the brand without lookin’ at it, merely from the ear-marks. Once in a great while, when a man comes across an unbranded calf, and it ain’t handy to build a fire, he just ear-marks it and let’s the brandin’ go till later. But it isn’t done often, and our outfit had strict orders never to make sleepers.” Stewart Edward White, Arizona Nights.

slimpsy / slimsy = flimsy, frail. “Monday mornin’s and they’re sleepy and kind o’ dreamy and slimpsy, and good f’r nothin’ on Tuesday and Wednesday.” Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads.

slip = a railway switch, where one pair of tracks crosses another, allowing a train to change from one track to the other. “One line of wagons—laden with scrapers, ‘slips’ and ‘wheelers,’ tents and camp equipage, the timbers and machinery of a pile-driver, and a thousand and one other things—was little by little extricating itself from the tangle.” Samuel Merwin, The Road-Builders.

slip one’s wind = to die or cause to die. “What assurance could I have that once you had the sketch in your hands you wouldn’t slip my wind?” Frederick Niven, The Lost Cabin Mine.

slippy = agile, nimble, speedy. “If yer don’t move—an’ move mighty slippy—you’ll be dumped headlong into the muck.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

slope = to depart, move off; leave without paying; escape. “‘You know that is Bill Lawton’s wife?’ he said. Taylor nodded. ‘The one who sloped with the Greaser?’” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

slope = to move in a leisurely manner, amble. “Next day Oregon sloped into the office, asked for his time, was paid off.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

slouch hat = a wide-brimmed felt or cloth hat with a chinstrap, commonly worn as part of a military uniform. “He saw her, and without the hesitation of an instant raised his slouch hat and kept on.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

slough = a card game for 4-6 players, originating in Germany; also known as solo. “He no longer found diversion in his nightly game of slough’ in the card room of the Terriberry House.” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

slow bell = an order to a ship’s engine to proceed slowly. “The revenue vessel steamed on under slow bells toward Seattle.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

slow elk = cows being rustled. “The big non-resident cattle companies were the chief sufferers through losses of their ‘slow elk’.” Emerson Hough, The Story of the Cowboy.

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

slumgullion = cheap food and drink. “Mace ain’t makin’ enough money passin’ slumgullion to them passenger cattle all day, so she’s a’goin’ over to Silverstein’s ev’ry night after this to fix up his books.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

slush lamp = a crude lamp burning tallow, grease, or fats obtained from boiling meat. “The slush lamp was burning low, and I saw Bella at the door.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.

smack = a sailing boat used for fishing during the 19th century. “The rival notes of an accordion floated over from a passing fishing-smack.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

smallclothes = men’s close-fitting knee breeches. “His ruffles were all of very fine needlework, his smallclothes of Genoese velvet, his jacket ropy with precious embroidery.” Mary Austin, Isidro.

smart as paint = exceedingly smart; a phrase apparently originating with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. “The girl is as smart as paint; at the first inkling of your purpose she’ll curl up—shut up like a rat trap.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

Smart Set, The = a literary magazine founded in 1900 and edited by H. L. Mencken. “The Boss’s son, deep in his June number of the Smart Set when informed, gave utterance to several expressive oaths.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

smilax = a slender vine with glossy foliage, popular as a floral decoration. “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.

smoke wagon = six gun. “As we drew closer we made our smoke-wagons ready, while his two Greasers kept their hands in plain view, and harmless.” Robert Alexander Wason, Friar Tuck.

smoking concert = social event for men only with a program of music and comedy and often including drinking. “He who worships a Goddess in spirit and in truth is not likely to slide too often from his chair beneath the table, at a smoking concert.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

smut = any of several fungal plant diseases characterized by the formation of black powdery spores. “He intended a visit to the barn, where his man was dipping seed wheat in bluestone solution to kill the smut.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

smutch = blacken, dirty, smudge. “Tillie had a great deal of charity for black sheep, but she believed in them having a corral to themselves, and not allowing them the chance of smutching the spotless flocks that have had good luck and escaped the mire.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.

snag boat = a steamboat with an apparatus for removing impeding debris (snags) from inland waters. “As I once said to Sidney Rigdon, our boat is an old snag boat and has never been out of Snag-harbour.” Harry Leon Wilson, The Lions of the Lord.

snake = to drag or pull forcibly, with rope or chain. “Here, ketch to my pommel, and I’ll snake you out.” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

snake feeder = dragonfly. “Here the gaudy-winged ‘snake feeder’ skipped from side to side, across the waters.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

snake weed = Any of various plants reputed to have the power to cure snakebite. “In a
land like New Mexico, what with barrancas, arroyos, waste sand hills, timbered land, and miles where there is nothing but snake-weed, it takes upon an average from eighty to a hundred acres to support a cow.” Jack Thorp, Along the Rio Grande.

snakeroot = an herb growing in rich, shady woods; taken as a stimulant and tonic and believed to be an antidote for bites of snakes and mad dogs. “Myrtle Swanstrom was askin’ me the other day what I thought of marriage. ‘It’s a quick jump,’ I says, ‘ from molasses to snake-root.” Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner.

snakes = alcoholic hallucinations, delirium tremens. “His groping brain grasped at the idea, and it gave him strength—better the ‘snakes’ than that!” James Hendryx, The Promise.

snap = a share, portion. “When any man offers you a gilt-edged snap, try to figure out why he doesn’t keep it all for himself.” A. M. Chisholm, The Boss of Wind River.

snap = a homesteading claim taken by a person, who proves up on it, gets a patent, and then sells out. “They don’t often come here to live. This here’s a snap.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.


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: Alethea Williams, Walls for the Wind