Death Waits at Sundown Glossary
Stories from the Golden Age reflect the words and expressions used in the 1930s and 1940s, adding unique flavor and authenticity to the tales. While a character’s speech may often reflect regional origins, it also can convey attitudes common in the day. So that readers can better grasp such cultural and historical terms, uncommon words or expressions of the era, the following glossary has been provided.
alkali: a powdery white mineral that salts the ground in many low places in the West. It whitens the ground where water has risen to the surface and gone back down.
Arizona Rangers: a group of mounted lawmen organized in 1901 to protect the Arizona Territory from outlaws and rustlers so that the Territory could apply for statehood. They were picked from officers, military men, ranchers and cowboys. With maximum company strength of twenty-six men, they covered the entire territory.
Battle of the Marne: the name of a battle of World War I that took place near the Marne River in northeastern France in the summer of 1918. It was there the US 3rd Division joined British and French forces to stop the advance of the Germans into France. In two scorching hot days of bloody, hand-to-hand fighting, the US 3rd Division proved themselves to be brave and aggressive and helped to tip the balance of power in favor of the Allied forces. Through the ranks of the German troops ran the rumor, “The Americans are killing everyone.”
batwings: long chaps (leather leggings the cowboy wears to protect his legs) with big flaps of leather. They usually fasten with rings and snaps.
beeves: plural of beef, an adult cow, steer or bull raised for its meat.
border roll: to spin a gun, with the forefinger slipped through the trigger guard, so that the gun butt is spun back into the palm of the hand, ready to fire.
border shift: the throwing of a gun from one hand to the other, catching, cocking and, if need be, firing it without seeming to pause.
buckaroo: a cowboy of the West known for great horsemanship and horse-training techniques. Buckaroos distinguish themselves by their open-crowned hats with short flat brims, silk scarves, chinks (shorter leather chaps), high-heeled boots, dark wool vests and white, long-sleeved, button-down shirts.
buckboard: an open four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with the seat or seats mounted on a flexible board between the front and rear axles.
bull’s-eye lantern: a lantern with one or more sides of bulging glass. Dark until it was suddenly switched on by opening its door, it focused its light to some extent.
bulldogger: one who bulldogs, to throw a calf or steer by seizing the horns and twisting its neck until the animal loses its balance and falls.
chaw: a wad of chewing tobacco.
chute: a passage between fences or rails, sometimes narrowing, in which horses or cattle are driven into rodeo arenas, corrals, onto trucks, etc.
Colt: a single-action, six-shot cylinder revolver, most commonly available in .45- or .44-caliber versions. It was first manufactured in 1873 for the Army by the Colt Firearms Company, the armory founded by American inventor Samuel Colt (1814–1862) who revolutionized the firearms industry with the invention of the revolver. The Colt, also known as the Peacemaker, was also made available to civilians. As a reliable, inexpensive and popular handgun among cowboys, it became known as the “cowboy’s gun” and a symbol of the Old West.
concha: a disk, traditionally of hammered silver and resembling a shell or flower, used as a decoration piece on belts, harnesses, etc.
Cordilleras: a mountain system in the West, including the Sierra Nevada, Coast Range, Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains.
Curly Bill Spin: used when handing a gun over to someone. As the gun is handed over, butt first, the forefinger is slipped through the trigger guard and the gun butt is spun back into the palm of the hand, ready to fire; so named because Curly Bill Graham, a nineteenth-century outlaw, used this maneuver to kill a marshal during an attempted arrest.
’dobe: short for adobe; a building constructed with sun-dried bricks made from clay.
dogs and children: referring to the old saying that one cannot fool dogs and children: “If dogs and children like you, then you must be okay.”
dons: Spanish gentlemen or aristocrats.
Ellensburg Rodeo: Ellensburg is located just east of the Cascade Mountain Range in central Washington. The Ellensburg Rodeo was founded in 1923 by ranchers, farmers, Native Americans and community-minded citizens with the desire to celebrate a vanishing frontier way of life and to promote their community. Ellensburg lies in the heart of the cattle region, and roundup competitions were commonplace with the cowboys of the region.
fall guy: an easy victim.
fanned: 1. fanning; waving or slapping the hat against a horse’s sides while riding a bucker. Using the hat in this manner serves as a balance and when a rider loses his hat, he is usually not long in following it to the ground. 2. fired a series of shots from a single-action revolver by holding the trigger back and successively striking the hammer to the rear with the free hand.
forked leather: mounted a saddled horse.
forty-five or .45: a six-shot, single-action, .45-caliber revolver.
Fry, Elizabeth: (1780–1845) an English prison reformer, social reformer and philanthropist. She was the driving force in the legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane.
ginger: with great care or caution.
G-men: government men; agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
hackamore: a halter with reins and a noseband instead of a bit (a metal bar that fits into the horse’s mouth and attaches to the reins), used for breaking horses and riding.
hair pants: chaps (leather leggings the cowboy wears to protect his legs) made with hair-covered hide.
half-breed: a person with parents of different races, usually a white father and Native American mother. The term originated in the East, not the Western frontier.
hazing: driving from horseback.
high-hatting: treating in a condescending way; showing haughty disdain for.
hog leg: another name for the popular Colt revolver also known as the Peacemaker.
hoof, on the: a cow that is still alive.
hoosegow: a jail.
hornswoggle: to trick, deceive or cheat.
hostler: a person who takes care of horses, especially at an inn.
John B.: Stetson; as the most popular broad-brimmed hat in the West, it became the generic name for hat. John B. Stetson was a master hat maker and founder of the company that has been making Stetsons since 1865. Not only can the Stetson stand up to a terrific amount of beating, the cowboy’s hat has more different uses than any other garment he wears. It keeps the sun out of the eyes and off the neck; it serves as an umbrella; it makes a great fan, which sometimes is needed when building a fire or shunting cattle about; the brim serves as a cup to water oneself, or as a bucket to water the horse or put out the fire.
lariat: a long noosed rope used for catching horses, cattle, etc.; lasso.
lights: mental ability, knowledge or understanding.
livery stable: a stable that accommodates and looks after horses for their owners.
lobo: wolf; one who is regarded as predatory, greedy and fierce.
locoweed: any of a number of plants widespread in the mountains of the Western US that make livestock act crazy when they eat them.
lynch mob: a group of people who capture and hang someone without legal arrest and trial, because they think the person has committed a crime.
Major Reno: Major Marcus Albert Reno (1834–1889); a career military officer in the American Civil War, most noted for his role in the Battle of Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, on June 25, 1876. Custer split his command of the US Cavalry Regiment, numbering 650 men, into three battalions. Reno commanded one battalion and crossed the river to attack the southern end of the Indian camp. Realizing a trap had been set, he ordered his men dismounted and went into a defensive formation. Colonel Custer, originally intending to support Reno, attacked the middle of the encampment instead, where he and all 197 of the men in his battalion were killed. Major Reno’s battalion of 134 had 36 men killed and 26 wounded.
Marshall, John: a book by John Marshall (1755–1835), an American statesman and jurist who shaped American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court a center of power. He was the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, serving from 1801 until his death. He participated in over one thousand Supreme Court decisions and wrote 519 of the opinions himself.
old saw about “dogs and children”: referring to the old saying that one cannot fool dogs and children: “If dogs and children like you, you must be okay.”
outlaw: a wild or vicious horse.
Overland: Overland Stage; stagecoach line in the mid-nineteenth century that transported mail and passengers.
papooses: Native American infants or very young children.
physiognomy: the features of somebody’s face, especially when they are used as indicators of that person’s character or temperament.
pinwheel: a movement or trick with a gun; the gun is held in virtual firing position except that the forefinger is not in the trigger guard. The gun is flipped into the air so that it revolves and the butt drops naturally into the palm of the hand.
plugged centavo: a worthless coin. A plugged coin was counterfeit or had a plug of metal removed from the center. Centavo is Spanish for a cent or penny.
plug tobacco: shredded tobacco leaves pressed into a block.
polecat: skunk; a thoroughly contemptible person.
pulled leather: grabbed onto the saddle while riding a bucking horse. It shows a lack of skill or courage, or both. A cowboy hates to have to grab the saddle horn to stay on, and most will allow themselves to be thrown off before they will pull leather.
puncher: a hired hand who tends cattle and performs other duties on horseback.
quirt: a riding whip with a short handle and a braided leather lash.
repeater watch: a pocket watch that chimes every one, twelve or twenty-four hours.
roweled: having used the small, spiked revolving wheels at the ends of spurs, rolled across the horse’s side.
rowels: the small spiked revolving wheels on the ends of spurs, which are attached to the heels of a rider’s boots and used to nudge a horse into going faster.
running iron: a branding iron that is not bent into the shape of the mark, but rather requires the user to write the desired brand.
sap: dumb guy; a fool.
Scheherazade: the female narrator of The Arabian Nights, who during one thousand and one adventurous nights saved her life by entertaining her husband, the king, with stories.
serape: a long, brightly colored woolen blanket worn as a cloak by some men from Mexico, Central America and South America.
shucks, wasn’t such: was of little value.
sombrero: a Mexican style of hat that was common in the Southwest. It had a high-curved wide brim, a long, loose chin strap and the crown was dented at the top. Like cowboy hats generally, it kept off the sun and rain, fended off the branches and served as a handy bucket or cup.
sorrel: a horse with a reddish-brown coat.
Stetson: as the most popular broad-brimmed hat in the West, it became the generic name for hat. John B. Stetson was a master hat maker and founder of the company that has been making Stetsons since 1865. Not only can the Stetson stand up to a terrific amount of beating, the cowboy’s hat has more different uses than any other garment he wears. It keeps the sun out of the eyes and off the neck; it serves as an umbrella; it makes a great fan, which sometimes is needed when building a fire or shunting cattle about; the brim serves as a cup to water oneself, or as a bucket to water the horse or put out the fire.
sunfish: a way of bucking; the horse throws its middle violently to one side, then the other, so that it seems its shoulder may touch the ground, letting the sunlight hit its belly.
swap ends: a movement peculiar to a bronc where he quickly reverses his position, making a complete half-circle in the air.
thirteenth step: gallows; traditionally, there are thirteen steps leading up to a gallows.
Tipperary: a town of south-central Ireland, southwest of Dublin. The song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” was used as marching music by the British Expeditionary Force in World War I.
vigilantes: citizens banded together in the West as vigilance committees, without legal sanction and usually in the absence of effective law enforcement, to take action against men viewed as threats to life and property. The usual pattern of vigilance committees was to grab their enemies (guilty or not), stage a sort of trial and hang them. Their other enemies were then likely to get out of town.
waddies: cowboys, especially those who drift from ranch to ranch and help out in busy times. In the spring and fall when some ranches were short-handed, they took on anyone who was able to ride a horse and used him for a week or so; hence the word waddy, derived from wadding— anything to fill in. Some cowmen used the word to mean a cattle rustler; later it was applied to any cowboy.
whippersnapper: an impertinent young person, usually a young man, who lacks proper respect for the older generation; a youngster with an excess of both ambition and impertinence.
Winchester: an early family of repeating rifles; a single-barreled rifle containing multiple rounds of ammunition. Manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, it was widely used in the US during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The 1873 model is often called “the gun that won the West” for its immense popularity at that time, as well as its use in fictional Westerns.