Saturday, January 11, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: H
(habit – hickory shirt)

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.”

habit = a costume designed to be worn by a woman on horseback; riding-habit. “You’re not going to try to ride Ginger in a habit!” William Lacey Amy, The Blue Wolf.

Woman in riding habit
habitaw = a backwoods dweller, e.g. trapper, hunter (French, habitant). “Why, she’s hotter now ’n Billy Buell got last October when that loony haibtaw cook o’ ourn made up all our marmalade and currant jelly into pies.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

hackle = an instrument with steel pins used to comb out flax or hemp. “Upon either thigh he had countless scars, as though he had been whipped with a flax hackle.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

hair brand = a brand made by burning the hair but not the hide. “You ponder on that and get it fixed proper in you—no hair-brand—but plumb well in.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

hair mattress = a beard. “Have you seen that there feller up ’t the casa? Him with the hair mattress on his face?” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.

Hair wreath, 1800s
hair wreath = decorative wreath made from the hair of dead and/or living people. “And I suppose there is a hair wreath and perhaps some worsted flowers in deep frames on the wall.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

hairpin = a fool, simpleton. “I’m my own boss, as I say, and I’m goin’ to stay my own boss if I have to live on crackers an’ wheat coffee to do it; that’s the kind of hair-pin I am.” Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads.

half-calf = leather book binding. “He waved a hand at the formidable rows of half-calf and circuit bindings in his bookcase.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

half-hitch = a knot made by passing the end of a rope around the rope and then through the loop thus made. “All the time Llano had been throwing half-hitches of his rope at the flying hoof.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

Half hitch knot
half-seas over = drunk, intoxicated, inebriated. “Tryon came down a few minutes ago, considerably more than half-seas over, and said he was ready to take his engine and the first section of the east-bound midnight—which would have been his regular run.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

halo = Chinook jargon for no, not. “Halo cuss word—no bad word—no. D-a-m, ‘dam’.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

halt camp = a stop on a route, a train station. “Its beginnings as a halt camp ran back to the days of the later Mormon migrations across the thirsty plain.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

Rembrandt, Haman Disgraced
Haman = a Persian adversary of the Jews in the Bible, hanged for plotting to take up arms against them. “When she, recognizing them, masked though they were, threatened them with the vengeance of the law, they hanged her with her man high as Haman.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Hamilcar = a general and statesman of Carthage, father of Hannibal. “It’s devilish exasperating, but it’s old as Hamilcar.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

hammer-headed = said of a horse with a short, stiff neck. “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.

hand logger = a logger felling and moving timber by hand. “And the idea came to me suddenly to go and visit Kendall—that solitary hand-logger who never came near Carter’s camp.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

hang out = to live. “You can run the place and I’m not hanging out like I thought I could.” Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn.

Hannah = euphemism for the deity; used in various mild oaths, e.g. so help me Hannah. “How in the name o’ Hanner they manage to keep so fat, I can’t see.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

Hannah Cook = something of little or no importance; from “hand or cook,” a nautical reference to the lowest worker on a ship. “This was the final word with Shed. When a thing beat Hannah Cook there was no more to be said.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

hand gallop = a slow or gentle galloping gait. “He rode off at a hand gallop.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

hand running = in a row, successively. “I’ve seen myself in my coffin four times hand-runnin’, when I was wide awake.” Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith.

hang out a boom = extend a chain of logs across a bay to hold felled timber. “They saw a boom or two hung out in little bays that opened from the channels.” Martin Allerdale Grainger, Woodsmen of the West.

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.

haps = events; fortunes (good or bad). “They smoked and revamped the day’s haps, its dips, jams, duckings.” Herman Whitaker, The Settler.

hard hat = a derby hat or silk hat, unlike the soft-crowned Stetson of the range and, therefore, much maligned. “A ranch foreman went to Kansas to get married, and report came back from the town that he had been seen wearing a ‘hard hat.’ It required many and elaborate explanations of his part to restore confidence in him after his return to the ranch.” Emerson Hough, The Story of the Cowboy.

harp = harmonica, mouth organ. “The men laughed loudly at his jokes, and one of them accompanied the singing with a ‘harp.’” Frances McElrath, The Rustler.

hash herder = a cook. “Supper time hove in sight and nairy a report from the substitute hash-herder.” Robert Alexander Wason, Happy Hawkins.

hasp = a contrivance for fastening a door or lid; a hinged metal plate with a hole which fits over a staple and is secured by a pin or padlock. “He slipped the heavy hasp of the door over the staple and secured it with the wooden pin.” James Hendryx, The Promise.

haversack = a backpack for carrying a soldier’s rations and personal items. “One of the men had a led horse, completely equipped for the field, with blankets, saddle-bags, carbine, canteen, and haversack.” Charles King, Two Soldiers.

Hawthorn in bloom
Haviland = porcelain tableware designed for the American trade and made by a factory founded in 1839 at Limoges, France. “At the dining-room door, she snatched and kissed Helene with all but fatal results to the tray of Haviland the housekeeper bore.” Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man!

haw = hawthorn. “There was unbroken silence between them until they reached the black-haw thicket where Red was to exchange his wet clothes for dry ones.” Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters.

Hawken rifle
Hawken rifle = a black powder long rifle used on the prairies and in the Rocky Mountains during the early frontier days; synonymous with the “plains rifle,” the buffalo gun, and the fur trapper’s gun. “The last I sees of the old man he’s buckin’ an’ pitchin’ an’ tossin’, an’ the females a-holdin’ of him, an’ he reachin’ to get a Hawkins’s rifle as hangs over the door.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

Hayoka = the Sioux god of contrariety. “According to the legends, he sat naked and fanned himself in a Dakota blizzard and huddled, shivering, over a fire in the heat of summer. Likewise the Hayoka cried for joy and laughed for sorrow.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

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.

headlights = false or capped teeth. “The gold headlights suffered eclipse behind a pair of tightly perked lips.” Agnes C. Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness.

headpiece = brain, mind. “‘I suppose you know, anyway,’ the latter finally said, with a very good assumption of contempt, ‘Anybody with a headpiece might, whether he’s a lawyer or not.” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.

heady = judicious, exercising good judgment or common sense. “He was a heady fellow, and in drinking had an oak-tan stomach.” Andy Adams, The Outlet.

Healey’s Bitters = a patent medicine. These advertising bulletins could be seen in heaps on the counter at the drug store especially in the spring months when ‘Healey’s Bitters’ and ‘Allen’s Cherry Pectoral’ were most needed to ‘purify the blood.’” Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border.

hearse driver = the case-keeper for a faro dealer. “When a card is removed from the faro box by the dealer, the ‘hearse driver’ moves a button opposite a corresponding card on his little machine, in order that the players, at a glance, may tell what spots have been played or are still in the box.” Rex Beach, The Spoilers.

Heart and Hand, The publication of a matrimonial agency of the same name. “She lives back East, and him and her took up their claims in each other’s affections through a matrimonial paper known as The Heart and Hand.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

Hebe = goddess of youth, cupbearer to the gods; a barmaid, waitress. “A Hebe-like creature, blond and pink-cheeked, in a blue-checked apron besmeared with grease and flour, came sulkily into her mother’s presence.” Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains.

hedge up = to confine, obstruct. “The way to the smoking-den on the floor above was hedged up.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

heel = to make a loan or provide with money. “I came away from ’Frisco in a deuce of a hurry, and without heeling myself properly.” G. Frank Lydston, Poker Jim, Gentleman.

heel fly = a large, bee-like parasite that deposits its eggs on the legs of cattle; also called cattle grub and warble fly. “He learned to eat grass, of which accomplishment he was at first inordinately proud, and he throve on it; and he had but one worry in the world—heel flies.” George Pattullo, The Untamed.

heeled = armed, wearing a gun. “Maybe he’d ’a’ got me if I’d been heeled.” Bertrand Sinclair, Wild West.

heliograph = solar telegraph that signals using Morse code flashes of sunlight reflected by a mirror. “The thing was a heliograph making talk, as it supposed, to the preacher, and Jim watched harder than ever.” Roger Pocock, Curly.

hell-a-ta-tilt = at full speed. “Here came the Brulés, hell-a-ta-tilt, quirts pounding on straining shoulders, moccasined heels drumming on heaving flanks.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

hell-tooter = a parson, preacher. “This preachin’ gent ain’t none of you’ ev’ry day, tenderfoot, hell-tooters.” Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher.

Hell’s half acre = a disreputable area or place, a low-class dancehall or bar. “In fell the roof with a crash, / That sounded as if ‘Hell’s half acre’ / Had tumbled upon us kermash.” William De Vere, Jim Marshall’s New Pianner.

hello girl = a female telephone operator. “The entire meal was enlivened by her efforts, in the person of a hello girl, to expurgate his language, and she ended by trying to get him to swear—politely.” Dane Coolidge, Hidden Water.

helve = a handle of a tool or weapon. “Leaning the head of his ax against a rock while he braced his elbow against the helve and looked around him.” Frederick Thickstun Clark, In the Valley of Havilah.

hematite = a very common mineral, iron oxide, occurring in steel-gray to black crystals and in red earthy masses; the principal ore of iron. “The sun was just coming up over the low red hummocks of hematite.” Peter B. Kyne, The Three Godfathers.

hen = to act cautiously. “She used to be coming out here ’most every day, just henning around, offering to make the dessert or a salad or something.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

hep = understanding, aware. “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her game and get hep to it.” Henry Herbert Knibbs, Overland Red.

herd-rode = beaten in a fight; overcome. “Herd-rode him, the damned sneaks! Beat him up so’s his own mother wouldn’t know him!” Charles Alden Seltzer, The Coming of the Law.

herring floater = swimbait; a fishing lure that looks like a fish in the water. “Will be dead as herring floaters if they show up.” James Oliver Curwood, The Courage of Captain Plum.

Alexander Herrmann
Herrmann, Alexander = a French magician (1844-1896). “It disappeared so mysteriously that it shrouded the young Missourians in as complete confusion as Hermann could have done in the days of his most clever legerdemain.” John C. Bell, The Pilgrim and the Pioneer.

hewgag = a toy musical instrument, like a kazoo. “So Dave twists away for five minutes an’ me a timin’ of him, and then leans the hewgag up ag’in a ’doby an’ starts in to make a round-up.”Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville Days.

hickory shirt = A coarse, durable shirt worn by laborers, made of heavy twilled cotton with a narrow blue stripe or a check. “They teach their girls to choose their husbands for their clothes rather than for their characters, and to think that if they can get a blackleg that keeps his pants brushed and wears a canary neck-tie, and has a rich daddy, to be their husbands, that they’ve done better than if they’d got an honest man that wore a hickory shirt and worked for a living.” Emma Ghent Curtis, The Fate of a Fool.


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: Julia Robb, Del Norte

1 comment:

  1. Hawken Rifle. I remember hearing of those in the Leatherstocking chronicles, I think. Hair brand. read about that just recently in a Max Brand book. cool stuff.