Saturday, October 26, 2013

Glossary of frontier fiction: C
(collar box – Cousin Jack)

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.”

collar box = a round cardboard box with a lid, for the storing of collars. “Bill says she was wearin’ one of them fancy collar-box hats, with a duck-wing hitched on to it.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

Collar box, c1890
collar tie = a board or beam fastened between pairs of rafters in a peaked roof, like the crossbar of the letter A, to prevent the rafter ends from forcing the walls outward. “Next came the disguising of the rafter and ‘collar-ties’ of the building.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Story of the Foss River Ranch.

collarette = a woman’s ornamental collar of lace or fur. “The editor chose to refer to the pineapple pattern, No. 60 cotton, collarette which Mrs. Jackson had crocheted between beers in the good old Dance Hall days as an ‘exquisite effect in point lace.’” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

Colorado-claro = light brown (said of cigars). “She made a good, mild, Colorado-claro wife.” O. Henry, Heart of the West.

coma mott = small grove of trees. “I used to see her in that coma mott back of the little horse corral.” O. Henry, Heart of the West.

combination car = a railway car containing two or more compartments used for different purposes. “They run a combination car each way every day—two cars when business is brisk.” Samuel Merwin, The Road-Builders.

combing = a straightening out. “I gave him a combing just now; but it’s no good, I think.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

come-all-ye = a popular narrative ballad, folk song. “Great Scott, Jack, where did you pick up that old come-all-ye?” A. M. Chisholm, The Boss of Wind River.

come to taw = to meet a requirement or expectation. “In some way he or his partner, Clark, came to taw with additional funds.” Charles King, Two Soldiers.

comfort tacking = a process similar to quilting in which the layers of fabric, filling, and lining are tied together rather than sewn. “She agreed that if Cornelia would tack some comforts, and cut some carpet rags for her, that she would yield her objections.” Emma Ghent Curtis, The Fate of a Fool.

compound = a locomotive steam engine. “Th’ man that invinted dynymite should have a set iv goold medals th’ size iv a compound’s dhrivers.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

con = to study, learn by heart, 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.

Concord wagon = a four-wheeled, horse-drawn wagon or coach for one, two or more passengers; made in Concord, New Hampshire, and widely used in the Old West; the coach body rested on bull hide strips instead of steel springs. “I brought the Concord wagon for the women folks and the light spring wagon for the boys and Tisha.” Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don.

Concord stagecoach, 1869

congé = dismissal, permission to depart. “Father will be furious when he knows that I’ve given Mr.Burroughs his congé.” Alice Harriman, A Man of Two Countries.

Congress gaiters = a covering of cloth or leather around the ankle or lower leg, with elastic sides (also Congress shoes, Congress boots). “She was wearing Congress gaiters, comfortable but not ‘dressy.’” Caroline Lockhart, The Lady Doc.

continental = coin issued by Congress during the American War of Independence, of no monetary value after 1783; also continental cent, continental cuss. “I didn’t give a continental who heerd me.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

convasman = carnival employee. “Stalwart convasmen rushed to their chief’s call till Circuit’s bunch were outnumbered three to one by tough trained battlers on many a tented field, armed with hand weapons of all sorts.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

cookee = a cook’s assistant. “His greenish face aglow with insolence, he was holding an empty platter out to the nearest cookee.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

cook’s bitch = cook’s helper. “What was you doing at the Diamond K? Cook’s bitch?” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

cook’s police = general assistant to the Army cook, dish washing, peeling potatoes, carrying coal, washing windows, dining room cleanup. “It was not long before the young scout could tell a colonel from a cook’s police at a glance.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

cooler = a jail, prison. “His shack was over behind the town cooler.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

coon = to crawl stealthily (like a raccoon). “When the time came, instead of goin’ to bed, we went out an’ cooned up a big tree.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

cooncan = a game of rummy played with two packs of cards including two jokers (from Mexican Spanish conquián). “The stud-poker players cut for the stakes and quit; coon-can was called off, and by the time Number Nine slowed down for the station the entire floating population of Bender was lined up to see her come in.” Dane Coolidge, Hidden Water.

coon song = popular song mimicking songs sung by Blacks. “They were sheets of gaudy coon songs and ragtime with flaring covers, and they seemed to give off odors of cheap perfume.” Frank H. Spearman, Whispering Smith.

coony = sly, cunning. “‘Ketched Jim, hev’ you,’ said the sheriff; ‘well, you must hev’ been pretty cooney to hev’ done that.’” Frances McElrath, The Rustler.

cop out = to steal. “The gamblers down-town cop out the few aigs and green vegetables that stray off the ships, so they never get out as far as the creek none.”  Rex Beach, The Spoilers.

copenhagen = a children's game in which one player is enclosed by a circle of others holding a rope. “There is nothing like copenhagen or any of the similar old-fashioned rural games of the East.” Charles Lummis, A Tramp Across the Continent.

copper = to bet against (a term from faro). “If we’d asked for potatoes they would have coppered us to lose, I reckon.” Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith.

copper-stick = a truncheon. “There had been some debate, and for a while matters hovered in the balance, but a sudden contact with a copper-stick, which took Shaggy in the left eye, seemed to decide matters.” Ridgwell Cullum, The Sheriff of Dyke Hole.

copperhead = a northerner with southern sympathies; against Lincolns war policy. “Colonel Thompson had served in the Union army, but he was a copperhead. To sum it up, he hated the Republicans on general principles.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

cordelle = a ship’s towing line. “Worked on a cordelle gang, handled mackinaws, hammered pack mules, fought Indians, starved and feasted, froze and roasted, like all the other who come out here.” John Neihardt, The Lonesome Trail.

Marie Corelli, 1909
Corelli, Marie = a British novelist (1855-1924), whose melodramatic novels were widely read. “It’s kind of tiresome sometimes in winter; lying on your bunk reading magazines or them dime novels by the Duchess and Mary Corelli.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

corking = excellent, wonderful. “The Mollie Brown crowd was rushin’ ’round and lookin’ corkin’ shore.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

corn-dodger = cornbread made in a skillet. “He uncovered the fire, set on the coffee-pot, and, with Rachel’s help, had, in a very short time, a steaming-hot dinner of broiled bear steaks and ‘corn-dodgers.’” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.

corn-fed = excellent; plump, substantial, good-looking. “It shore strikes me now, when years is passed, as some marv’lous how a han’some, corn-fed female like Tucson Jennie manages to found a fight with Dave over this yere towerist woman.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

corn juice = whiskey. “You’ll find lots uv pore corn-juice, canned goods, ig’nance, and side-meat.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

corn pone = a type of bread made from a thick cornmeal dough and baked in an iron pan over an open fire. “He resumed his cooking, moving his coffee pot from the coals, turning his corn pone out on the palm of his hand, and blowing the ahses from its crust.” George W. Ogden, The Long Fight.

corpse candle = a will-o’-the-wisp; a ghostly light seen at night or twilight over bogs, swamps, and marshes; when seen in a churchyard, believed to portend a death or funeral route. “A light—an unmistakable, inappropriate light—had flashed out from the darkness of the hole in which the cave ended. Corpse-candles were the only things Halliday thought of.” S. Carleton Jones, Out of Drowning Valley.

Thomas Corwin
Corwin, Thomas = Congressman and Senator from Ohio, known for his extravagant humor (1794-1865). “I have a lawyer friend here who has more imagination than John Bunyan, more pathos than John Calvin, more eloquence than Wendell Phillips, and more fun in him than there is in Tom Corwin.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

cough up = reveal, confess. “The way you made us cough up about Dead Horse! The Big Swede chaws her teeth every time she hears Dead Horse.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

counter-jumper = a store clerk, a male shop assistant. “He was scared he would miss Jim, and get the counter-jumper who pranced around behind.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

country rock = a geological term referring to the rock native to an area. “I’m all right now. I’m on country rock.” Frank Lewis Nason, To the End of the Trail.

coureur de bois = a woodsman or trader of French origin. “Factors of the Hudson’s Bay Company, coureurs de bois, and voyageurs, had come among them at times.” Gilbert Parker, Northern Lights.

Cousin Jack = a Cornishman. “The other seemed unsatisfied. ‘Are you a “cousin Jack? The dentist grinned. This prejudice against Cornishmen he remembered too.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Next: C (cove – cymlin)


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: W. R. Benton, James McKay, U. S. Army Scout


  1. I still hear corn-fed being used down here, mostly for athletes, though.

  2. I'm looking to come to taw on a few projects.

  3. I remember hat boxes but not collar boxes.