Gun Boss of Tumbleweed 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.
arroyo: (chiefly in southwestern US) a small, steep-sided watercourse or gulch with a nearly flat floor, usually dry except after heavy rains.
barbiquejo: (Spanish) chin strap.
batwings: long chaps (leather leggings the cowboy wears to protect his legs) with big flaps of leather. They usually fasten with rings and snaps.
Bird Cage Opera House: a combination saloon, gambling hall and brothel. The name was a fancy way in the 1880s of describing such a place.
boot: saddle boot; a close-fitting covering or case for a gun or other weapon that straps to a saddle.
Boot Hill: a cemetery in a settlement on the US frontier, especially one for gunfighters killed in action. It was given its name because most of its early occupants died with their boots on.
box: the driver’s seat on a wagon.
brand artist: a rustler, one expert at changing brands.
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.
buscadero belt: a broad belt for two guns, one on either side.
buttons: young people; youth.
California hat: a soft felt broad-brimmed hat.
Californy: California rig; a one-cinched saddle on a California tree. A tree is the wooden frame of the saddle that is covered with leather. The saddle usually takes its name from the shape of its tree, indicating where it was made.
casita: (Spanish) a small house.
caterwauling: making a harsh, disagreeable noise that sounds like the cry of cats.
cavvy: the herd of saddle horses from which ranch hands select their mounts.
chuck wagon: a mess wagon of the cow country. It is usually made by fitting, at the back end of an ordinary farm wagon, a large box that contains shelves and has a hinged lid fitted with legs that serves as a table when lowered. The chuck wagon is a cowboy’s home on the range, where he keeps his bedroll and dry clothes, gets his food and has a warm fire.
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.
concentrate: the desired mineral that is left after impurities have been removed from mined ore.
coyote: used for a man who has the sneaking and skulking characteristics of a coyote.
cripes: used as a mild oath or an exclamation of astonishment.
Derringer: a pocket-sized, short-barreled, large-caliber pistol. Named for the US gunsmith Henry Deringer (1786–1868), who designed it.
’dobe: short for adobe; a building constructed with sun-dried bricks made from clay.
’dobe wallin’: adobe walling; standing one against an adobe wall and executing by shooting. An adobe building is constructed of sun-dried bricks made from clay.
down at the heels: shabby; rundown; poor.
dry-gulch: to kill; ambush.
fanning: firing 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.
faro: a gambling game played with cards and popular in the American West of the nineteenth century. In faro, the players bet on the order in which the cards will be turned over by the dealer. The cards were kept in a dealing box to keep track of the play.
forefooted: roping an animal by the forefeet. A bronc roped by the neck is more likely to be injured and to fight back as he thinks his life is at stake. Forefooting is preferable and helps to convince the bronc that a man can and will handle him without much trouble and that the man is not trying to kill him.
G-men: government men; agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
green-gilled: green around the gills; to be pale or sickly in appearance from nervousness or from being frightened.
gunhawk: a wandering gunfighter.
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.
halter broke: trained to run with the remuda (saddle horses from which ranch hands pick mounts for the day).
hazed: 1. rode alongside a bronc and kept it from running into obstructions while the bronc buster tries to break it. 2. drove (as cattle or horses) from horseback.
Hickok: James Butler Hickok, better known as Wild Bill Hickok (1837–1876), a legendary figure in the American Old West. After fighting in the Union Army during the Civil War, he became a famous Army scout and, later, lawman and gunfighter.
hombre: a man, especially in the Southwest. Sometimes it implies a rough fellow, a tough; often it means a real man.
iron: a handgun, especially a revolver.
John B.: Stetson.
Kansas toothpick: variation of Arkansas toothpick; a large sheath knife; a dagger.
látigo: a long strap on a Western saddle, used to adjust the cinch.
Limited: a train line making only a limited number of stops en route. The full name for the line was often abbreviated down to simply Limited.
line camp: an outpost cabin, tent or dugout that serves as a base of operations where line riders are housed. Line riders are cowboys that follow a ranch’s fences or boundaries and maintain order along the borders of a cattleman’s property, such as looking after stock, etc.
lit: got off (a horse).
lucifer: a match.
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.
mesquite: any of several small spiny trees or shrubs native to the southwestern US and Mexico, and important as plants for bees and forage for cattle.
Navvy rugs: Navajo rug; Navajo weavers produced textiles that were extraordinary in terms of weave and design.
needle gun: Dreyse needle gun; a rifle used on the frontier and called this because of its 0.5-inch needlelike firing pin that detonates the powder by plunging through the paper cartridge to strike the primer at the base of the bullet. It was invented by the gunsmith Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse (1787–1867).
outlaw: a wild or vicious horse.
owl-hoot: outlaw; a lawless person.
papoose: a Native American infant or very young child.
plugs: worthless horses.
prickly pear: a cactus with flattened, jointed, spiny stems and pear-shaped fruits that are edible in some species.
puncher: a hired hand who tends cattle and performs other duties on horseback.
quirly: a cigarette that is rolled by hand.
quirt: a riding whip with a short handle and a braided leather lash.
ramrod: a foreman; a superintendent.
rannies: ranahans; cowboys or top ranch hands.
repeater watch: a pocket watch that chimes every one, twelve or twenty-four hours.
riata: a long noosed rope used to catch animals.
rimfire: a saddle with one cinch that is placed far to the front; also called a Spanish rig or rimmy.
rotgut: raw, inferior liquor.
saddle tramp: a professional chuck-line (food-line) rider; anyone who is out of a job and riding through the country. Any worthy cowboy may be forced to ride chuck-line at certain seasons, but the professional chuck-line rider is just a plain range bum, despised by all cowboys. He is one who takes advantage of the country’s hospitality and stays as long as he dares wherever there is no work for him to do and the meals are free and regular.
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.
Seco Hombre: (Spanish) dry man. Used here as the name of a saloon.
sougan: bedroll; a blanket or quilt with a protective canvas tarp for use on a bunk or on the range.
sowbelly: salt pork; pork cured in salt, especially fatty pork from the back, side or belly of a hog.
spring holster: a holster that permits the user to take the gun from it quickly by pulling out instead of up.
spring wagon: a light farm wagon equipped with springs.
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.
ten-spot: a ten-dollar bill.
Texas fever: a fever caused by ticks and spread by the immune but tick-infested cattle of the southern country to cattle of more northern latitudes. The prevalence of this fever was greatly responsible for stopping the old trail drives.
thirteen steps: gallows; traditionally, there are thirteen steps leading up to a gallows.
thunderation: an exclamation of annoyance or surprise.
vaquero: (Spanish) a cowboy or herdsman.
waddy: a cowboy, especially one who drifts from ranch to ranch and helps 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.
war bag or war sack: a cowboy’s bag for his personal possessions, plunder, cartridges, etc. Often made of canvas but sometimes just a flour or grain sack and usually tied behind the saddle.
whang leather: tough leather adapted for strings, thongs, belt-lacing, etc., commonly made from calf hide.
whistling post: whistle stop; a small town or community.
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.
wrangler: a cowboy who takes care of the saddle horses.