Monday, September 17, 2012

Old West glossary, no. 43


Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of terms gleaned from early western stories. Definitions were discovered in various online dictionaries, as well as searches in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The New Encyclopedia of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Cowboy Encyclopedia, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from John C. Bell’s The Pilgrim and the Pioneer, about lawyering in Colorado mining camps, and Dennis H. Stovall’s The Gold Bug Story Book, about a western mining camp. Once again, I struck out on a few. If anyone has a definition for “shoot mouth,” “jaw service,” “whisky wheel,” “cold fritter,” “sky lighter,” or “gallon house,” leave a comment below.

Fireplace with wood fire
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.

blackjack = a common scrubby deciduous tree having dark bark and broad three-lobed leaves; tends to form dense thickets. “That fellow is the very trashiest of the poor white trash found in the blackjack thickets, where the ground is so poor that it won’t sprout a ‘goober pea.’” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

bracer = an alcoholic drink intended to prepare one for something difficult or unpleasant. “The expert took a bracer and a Havana, and soon someone proposed a game of whist.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

bull quartz = in mining, quartz of no appreciable value. “He knew the difference between bull quartz and pay rock.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

bullyrag = to intimidate by bullying. “Every time the owner of the gambling hall got the deal he gave Mr. Campbell a phenomenal hand and had bully-ragged him to bet until he was about to yield.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

Sapodilla
chico = a long-lived, evergreen tree native to southern Mexico and Central America, commonly known as sapodilla. “In a few moments they reached a long, meandering arroyo, with tall chicos on either side.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

clam = mouth. “Close your clams or you will be a cold fritter.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

con = to study, peruse, scan. “Slivers was studiously conning a horse book that he had lately become in possession of.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

Horse with crupper
crupper = a strap buckled to the back of a saddle and looped under the animal's tail to prevent the saddle or harness from slipping forward. “These indispensable burros have a little frame called a pack-saddle buckled upon their backs, covered with rings and ropes with which to tie the load securely, with a crupper under the tail.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

dead line = a boundary separating people, animals, or activities, e.g. a dividing line on the range between sheep and cattle herding. “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.

dead soldier = an empty bottle. “Then Buck took the flask and studied the constellations for a while, after which a ‘dead soldier’ was consigned to a sage bush.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

Scottish dirk
dirk = a short dagger of a kind formerly carried by Scottish Highlanders. “They go loaded down with six-shooters and dirk knives.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

duffle = equipment or supplies, especially those of a camper. “He piled Millie’s room with everything a girl ever wanted, together with a lot of useless duffle no girl could find use for.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

dyke = a long and relatively thin body of igneous rock that, while in the molten state, intruded a fissure in older rocks. “He described the mountains on the south with their mighty dykes, yawning chasms, grassy basins, snow-slide tracks, cataracts and water-falls.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

Four Hundred = the exclusive social set of a city. “If you go down there take your plug hat, patent-leather shoes, dress suit, and a book on London etiquette, and drop your H’s, if you wish to thrive with the Four Hundred.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

freeze out = a game of poker in which play continues until one player has all the chips. “Let’s put up ten dollars and play ‘freeze-out’ for it.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

gad = a sharp metal spike. “He kept at it and I warned him that if he wanted to live he’d have to drop the gad.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

Mine headframe
hanging wall = in mining, the wall or rock on the upper or top side of a vein or ore deposit. “Up in the maw, loose shale rattled down in a stream, or dropped by the bucketfull from the hanging wall.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

headframe = in mining, the structure surmounting the shaft which supports the hoist rope pulley, and often the hoist itself. “One night The Kid donned his rubber coat, pulled a candle stick from the head-frame post, and waited at the collar of the shaft for Jackson.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

T. Rice as Jim Crow
“Jump Jim Crow” = a song and dance from 1828, sung in blackface by white comedian Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) “Daddy” Rice. “‘The first two gents cross over,’ Peg Leg called, in tune to ‘Jump-Jim-Crow.’ ‘Honors to the right, honors to the left.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

Keeley Institute = a commercial medical operation that offered treatment to alcoholics, wildly popular in the late 1890s. “She, the first wife, sent for him, put him into a Keeley Institute, paid the expenses of his divorce proceedings against wife number two, remarried, him, and was caring for him.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

ki-yi = a whoop or shout, like the howl or yelp of a dog. “Don’t that sound mightily like the ki-yi of the Sewer Gang?” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

mucker = a workman in a mine who removes gravel, hardpan, etc., and loads and pushes cars to the mouth of the shaft or tunnel. “In due time The Kid forced himself up the line of promotion from mucker to drill carrier.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

on the water wagon = abstaining from alcoholic beverages. “Only one thing remained—that was to quit—get on the water wagon.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

plank up = to put money down, to lay out money. “He won next time. Won again, then went three times to the bad. Planked up the fourth time and won; the fifth time and won.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

pick a crow with = to pick a quarrel with someone. “If you’ve got a crow to pick with me, bring it out in the open, and we’ll pull feathers in daylight.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book.

pumble = to pound, thump, hit with one’s fists. “Mike grabbed Pat in his arms, chucked his sprangled fingers down his shirt-collar, nudged him in the ribs and pumbled him off toward the nearest saloon.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

"Roustabout Rag," 1897
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.

“Sally in Our Alley” = a song by English composer Henry Carey (1693-1743), popular in America in the 18th century. “When the miners called for more, she sang them of ‘Barbara Allen’ and ‘Sally in Our Alley.’” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book. Listen here.

skipper = small insect. “In the Old Dominion the farmers sprinkle a little clean hickory-wood ash over it when salted down so as to give it an appetizing flavor and also the keep the skippers off.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

sprangled = spread out. “Mike grabbed Pat in his arms, chucked his sprangled fingers down his shirt-collar, nudged him in the ribs and pumbled him off toward the nearest saloon.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

stagger = an effort, try, attempt. “You made a blamed good stagger for one who makes no pretense.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

Safety poster, 1940s
stull = timber used for various purposes in a mine. “Bearing a stull as big as a sawlog, Jerry ran under the bulging wall.” Dennis H. Stovall, The Gold Bug Story Book. 

telephone house = a hotel with walls so thin one must whisper not to be overheard in other rooms. "Those accustomed to what are termed 'telephone houses,' talked in whispers, but those coming into such houses for the first time, usually divulged to the public many of their serets and little personal chitter-chatter that was never intended for foreign ears." John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer. 

varsouvienne = a slow, graceful dance originating in Warsaw, Poland, combining elements of the waltz, mazurka, and polka, popular in 19th-century America, where it was danced to the tune Put Your Little Foot. “Afterward the old-time dances were called, such as Quadrille, Virginia Reel, Versouvienne, Heel and Toe Polka, Lancers, etc.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

whit leather = a leather that has been treated with alum and/or salt. “He is as sound as a dollar, as tough as whit-leather, and as to his gentleness he speaks for himself.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Fred MacMurray, Good Day for a Hanging (1959)

7 comments:

  1. Dead soldier is still used down south. I use it. I've heard con used that way. Good list, as always.

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    1. I know "dead soldier," too, and was interested to see it being used 100 years ago. Another I've come upon is "to be hip to," meaning just what it means today: to be aware of or well informed about something.

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  2. Every profession has their own vocabulary, but I didn't know mining had so many colorful words representing ordinary things.

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    1. This is the tip of the iceberg, Oscar. Check out an online list of mining terms: http://wells.entirety.ca/terms.htm

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  3. Always love these. Language seemed more colorful then although it may be it is now too but we are too enmeshed in it to realize it.

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  4. Hi Ron, the dirk is still carried by Scottish men when they wear the kilt on formal occasions. It's also called by its Gaelic name, sgian dubh. When we bought our son is adult kilt when he was 18 he spent a long time choosing what type of sgian dubh he wanted - handle of bog oak, deer horn, what type of carving....

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