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.”
thorough braces = strips of leather cured to the toughness of steel and strung in pairs to support the body of a coach and enable it to swing back and forth. “In rolled the old thorough-brace coach and its puffing, steaming team of six.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.
three cheers and a tiger = cheers followed by a long, drawn-out shriek, often of the word “tiger.” “At the grave we turns in an’ gives three cheers for King, an’ three for Doc Peets; an’ last we gives three more an’ a tiger for the camp.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.
through-other = disordered, untidy. “I been too through-other in my housekeeping’.” Grace and Alice MacGowan, Aunt Huldah.
throw down = to cover someone with a gun, to shoot. “He had sat up and leveled a finger at me with the throw-down jerk of a marksman.” Owen Wister, Lin McLean.
throw twine = to rope, lasso. “The cutting out from the herd of some eighteen or twenty horses for the day’s work, involving much ‘throwing of the twine,’ in cowboy slang, was full of excitement for all concerned.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.
thumb = to jab a horse with the thumbs to provoke bucking. “When the man from Shoshone country mounted, his steed was too jaded to attempt resistance. ‘Thumb him! Thumb him!’ the audience cried.” William MacLeod Raine, Wyoming.
thumby = unskilled. “One day we was kiddin’ him about bein’ so thumby.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.
thunder barrel = a barrel used in theatrical productions to produce the sound of thunder. “A know his kind o’ thunder-barrel bravery, that makes the more noise the emptier and bigger it is.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.
Thunderer, The = nickname for The (London) Times. “If The Thunderer should ever send less than thirty-two pages I’m afraid I’d have to read the advertisements in the Medicine Hat Times.” William Lacey Amy, The Blue Wolf.
tick = a case or cover containing feathers, etc., forming a mattress or pillow. “On a straw tick, covered with blankets, lay a woman.” Peter B. Kyne, The Three Godfathers.
tick shop = a store where goods can be bought on credit. “He would be back in time to settle. But the unfeeling man of pork and beans ‘wa’n’t keepin’ no damned tick shop.’” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.
tidy = a small covering, usually ornamental, placed on the backs and arms of upholstered furniture to prevent wear or soiling; an antimacassar. “It’s more fun than working red poppies on tidies—that’s about all they’ll let you do back East.” Hamlin Garland, The Moccasin Ranch.
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.
tile = a hat. “He took off his new silk ‘tile,’ walked forty yards or so toward the river, and set it down—behind the stump of a big cottonwood.” Charles Lummis, A Tramp Across the Continent.
Tillie-on-the-spot = a reliable person. “When I was in trouble you were always the staff on which I leaned, the calm-eyed Tillie-on-the-spot who never seemed to fail me!” Arthur Stringer, The Prairie Wife.
tillikum = Chinook jargon for friend. “And I’ll bet it was his tillikum, Cross, that took the first crack at us.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.
“Tim Toolan” = a song popular about an Irishman at the turn of the last century. “’Twould make you laugh when Kelly sang, the ‘songs my mammy sang,’ / Or the song about ‘Tim Toolan,’ when he was an alderman.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.
timber = personal quality or character. “She had moods when his simple foolishness was as unbearable as her own frivolity—dangerous moods for a woman of her light timber.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.
timber cruiser = a person who examines a stand of timber to determine its potential value. “Hundreds and hundreds of men—experienced loggers, inexperienced youths from town—blossomed as ‘timber-cruisers’.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.
timber scaler = a person who measures cut trees to determine the volume and quality of wood to be used for manufacturing. “A timber scaler, sent down by the Portland firm, was constantly in attendance.” Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind.
time about = alternately. “‘One of your side, then,’ said he, ‘can take the next guard—share and share—time about, I guess.” Frederick Niven, The Lost Cabin Mine.
time check = notice of termination of employment. “I took the time check from him, tore it into little pieces and dropped it in the sand.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!
tin = money, silver. “What did yer do with all yer tin? Ya-s, blew every cent of it in.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.
tin cow = canned milk. “On most cattle ranches, the milk comes from ‘tin cows’ and the butter from oleomargarine tubs.” Robert Ames Bennet, Out of the Depths.
tip the wink = to warn. “By merely tipping them the wink, they’ll have you out of this.” Paul Leicester Ford, The Great K&A Train Robbery.
tires = clothes, attire. “Men and women with wrinkles in their tires whose smoothing out must be the work of divine hands.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.
titubate = to stagger, reel, rock; to stammer, stutter. “The Virgin had sprawled head and shoulders on the table, amid overturned mugs and dripping lees, and Cornell was titubating over her, hiccoughing.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.
tizwin = a fermented beverage made by the Apache Indians. “He was badly hurt, with a ball in his shoulder, and he was half drunk with tizwin, as well as being cut in a dozen places.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.
toe calk = a device added to a horse shoe to enhance or increase traction. “Put a toe-calk on that foot and he’ll stumble badly.” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.
toe fenders = leather hoods covering the stirrups of a saddle. “I learned too that I needed toe fenders, or ‘tapaderas’ as the Mexicans call them, to protect my feet from the thorns.” Frank Collinson, Life in the Saddle.
toff = a rich or upper-class person. “From her limited experience she had been led to understand that it was not good form among ‘toffs’ to shake hands.” Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows.
token = a physical object that a locomotive driver is required to have or see before entering onto a particular section of single track. “The amateur flagman allowed the light to bob about in an awkward, unseemly manner that caused the man on the leading locomotive to mistrust the ‘token.’” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.
tollon = ornamental evergreen treelike shrub of the Pacific coast having large white flowers and red berrylike fruits. “When Miller returned he bore a mass of freshly cut tollones, the ripening berries turning red.” Charles Duff Stuart, Casa Grande.
tongue-loosener = spirits. “Some devilment makes me throw a lariat of friendship over him and corral him over into the ho-tel and put tongue-loosener into him.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!
|1911 Cadillac Demi Tonneau|
tonneau = the back seats of an automobile; a motor or horse-drawn vehicle, with rear seating for passengers. “Ormsby waited, and a little later was whisked away to the hotel in the tonneau of the guests’ automobile.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.
too dead to skin = unquestionably dead. “If he commits any further atrocities ag’in this innocent Willyum child, I’ll shore leave him too dead to skin.” Wolfville, Alfred Henry Lewis.
too green to burn = inexperienced, a tenderfoot. “He’s either plumb locoed, or else he’s too green to burn, or else he’s lookin’ for trouble.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!
toot ongsom/onsong = the general effect (tout ensemble). “The toot ongsom was calculated to make an escaped lunatic homesick.” Eugene Manlove Rhodes, “The Numismatist.”
toothpick = small trees. “Toothpick logging it was called then, and H. D. Appleton was contemptuously referred to as ‘the toothpicker’.” James Hendryx, The Promise.
top boot = a high boot usually having its upper part made of a different material or with leather of a contrasting color or texture. “The shaggy picturesqueness of the prospectors in colored flannel shirts, top boots and corduroys, with hands ever on gun or pistol, their odd phrase and lurid expletive, touched the silly streak of romanticism in her.” Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted.
toper = heavy drinker. “Some of them being as lavish of promises as a toper on the road to reform.” Lewis B. France, Pine Valley.
toppy = of an animal, being of superior quality. “He was riding a vivacious sorrel stallion, and leading a nimble, toppy, diamond-eyed, bay mare.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.
tornillo = a shrub or small tree native to the Southwest and northern Mexico, having twisted pods used as fodder; the screw bean. “Then the drive up the wide, level valley of the Pecos was begun, through thickets of tornilla and mesquite.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.
tot = a small glass of alcohol. “John yawned, and poured out a ‘tot’ of whisky for his friend.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.
Previous: T (taboret – Thomas, Seth)
Next: T (touch a hunchback – tyro)
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
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