The Magic Quirt 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.
American saddler: American saddle horse; composite of Thoroughbred, Morgan and Canadian breeds.
Arizona Ranger: a member of 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.
arroyo: (chiefly in southwestern US) a small, steep-sided watercourse or gulch with a nearly flat floor, usually dry except after heavy rains.
Billy the Kid: (1859–1881) a nineteenth-century American frontier outlaw and gunman, reputed to have killed twenty-one men, one for each year of his life.
Bird Cage Theater: also referred to as “The Bird Cage Opera House Saloon.” This was a fancy way in the 1880s of describing a combination saloon, gambling hall and brothel.
blue chip or blues: a poker chip having a high value.
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.
buckboard: an open four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with the seat or seats mounted on a flexible board between the front and rear axles.
buckin’ that tiger: bucking the tiger; the card game faro in which players lay wagers on the top card of the dealer’s pack. Some early faro cards and layouts also displayed a portrait of a Bengal tiger, inspiring the term “bucking the tiger” to describe playing the game. In later years, a framed tiger portrait hanging outside a gaming house announced the presence of a faro game within.
bunghole: the hole in a cask, keg or barrel through which liquid is poured.
Bunker Hill: the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775); the first major battle of the American Revolutionary War. Three thousand British tried to take over the hill held by Americans. The first two attempts failed with the British ranks being cut to pieces and the hill strewn with bodies. The Americans ran out of ammunition and on the third attempt the British took the hill. The British won that battle; however 1,054 men were killed or wounded.
burn the top one: after the dealer shuffles and cuts, the top card is “burned” by showing it and placing it face up on the bottom of the deck.
Cannonball Stage: Cannonball Express; in 1901, the Cannonball Stage was started and continued to run until about 1913. It used six horses rather than four, and carried the mail as well as passengers. The Cannonball earned its name by “shooting” seventy-two miles in twelve hours, considered terrific speed in those days, with stops every ten miles for fresh horses.
cantle: the raised back part of a saddle for a horse.
carbine: a short rifle used in the cavalry.
carnsarn: consarn; damn; confound.
cayuse: used by the northern cowboy in referring to any horse. At first the term was used for the Western horse to set it apart from a horse brought overland from the East. Later the name was applied as a term of contempt to any scrubby, undersized horse. Named after the Cayuse Indian tribe.
center-fire saddle: a saddle with a single cinch rigged at the midpoint.
century plant: a plant with grayish green leaves that takes ten to thirty years to mature and flowers just once before dying.
chaw: a wad of chewing tobacco.
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.
cock-o’-the-walk: a chief or master; one who has crowed over or gotten the better of rivals or competitors.
cold deck: a deck of playing cards arranged in a preset order, designed to give a specific outcome when the cards are dealt. The cold deck is typically switched with the deck actually being used in the game in question, to the benefit of the player and/or dealer making the switch. The term itself refers to the fact that the new deck is often physically colder than the deck that has been in use; constant handling of playing cards warms them enough that a difference is often noticeable.
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.
Colt .44: a .44-caliber, single-action, six-shot cylinder revolver, better known as the Peacemaker. The Colt Firearms Company, established in 1847 by Samuel Colt (1814–1862), made this version of their popular handgun to be compatible with the .44-caliber “Winchester Central Fire” cartridges used in Winchester rifles in the Old West.
copper it to lose: in faro, a copper is a small disk resembling a checker, which is placed on a stack of chips and is betting the stack to lose.
cowpuncher: a hired hand who tends cattle and performs other duties on horseback.
coyote: used for a man who has the sneaking and skulking characteristics of a coyote.
cracky, by: an exclamation used to express surprise or to emphasize a comment.
cripes: used as a mild oath or an exclamation of astonishment.
Digger Injun: Digger Indian; an Anglo name for an Indian of the Southwest, Great Basin (between the Rockies and Sierra Nevada) or Pacific Coast. Most of these Indians were Shoshones or Paiutes. They were often called Diggers due to their practice of digging for roots.
’dobe: short for adobe; a building constructed with sun-dried bricks made from clay.
double eagles: gold coins of the US with a denomination of twenty dollars. They were first minted in 1849. In 1850 regular production began and continued until 1933. Prior to 1850, eagles with a denomination of ten dollars were the largest denomination of US coin. Ten-dollar eagles were produced beginning in 1795 and since the twenty-dollar gold piece had twice the value of the eagle, these coins were designated “double eagles.”
false-front: a façade falsifying the size, finish or importance of a building.
fan: to fire 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.
foofaraw: an excessive amount of decoration or ornamentation.
foundered: went lame.
Gabriel: the archangel who will blow a sacred trumpet or horn to announce Judgment Day.
G-men: government men; agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
¡Gracias, amigo! ¡Gracias infinitas para todos mandados!: (Spanish) Thanks, friend! Infinite thanks for all you have sent us!
gray matter: brains or intellect.
grubstake: supplies or funds furnished a mining prospector on promise of a share in his discoveries.
hammer-headed: stubborn, mean-spirited (of a horse).
hard-boiled shirt: clean shirt; also called a “boiled collar shirt” as the removable collar was often boiled clean, separately, to allow for an extra day or two’s wear. The collars were often stiff and uncomfortable because they were heavily starched.
Henry: the first rifle to use a cartridge with a metallic casing rather than the undependable, self-contained powder, ball and primer of previous rifles. It was named after B. Tyler Henry, who designed the rifle and the cartridge.
Hickok, Wild Bill: James Butler 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.
ignorantipedes: humorous variation of ignoramuses; ignorants.
jingle bobs: little pear-shaped pendants hanging loosely from the end of a spur (small spiked wheel attached to the heel of a rider’s boot); their sole function is to make music.
Lady Luck: luck or good fortune represented as a woman.
lances: long weapons with wooden shafts and pointed steel heads, formerly used by horsemen in charging.
Laredo: a city of southern Texas on the Rio Grande.
lariat: a long noosed rope used for catching horses, cattle, etc.; lasso.
látigo: (Spanish) whip.
lit out: left in a hurry.
livery stable: a stable that accommodates and looks after horses for their owners.
Long Tom: in mining, a type of trough twelve to fifteen feet long and about two feet wide. Mainly made of wood, it has a metal bottom with a sieve and a riffle box at its end. It is placed on an incline to facilitate the water flow when washing the dirt through to find gold.
loon: a crazy person.
lucifer: a match.
Masterson, Bat: (1853–1921) a legendary figure of the American Old West during a violent and frequently lawless period. He was well known as a gunman and was also a buffalo hunter, US Army scout, gambler, frontier lawman and US marshal.
Mexicali: a city of northwest Mexico near the California border and east of Tijuana.
muy fuerte: (Spanish) very strong.
nesters: a squatter, homesteader or farmer who settles in cattle-grazing territory.
Old Hundred: a universally sung hymn in the US that has been known from the first settlements. The first book printed in the English colonies was the Bay Psalm book, and the ninth edition of this book, printed in 1698, included the Old Hundred psalm tune.
Old Mule: a brand of chewing tobacco.
plumb: extremely or completely.
poke: a small sack or bag, usually a crude leather pouch, in which a miner carried his gold dust and nuggets.
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.
rannies: ranahans; cowboys or top ranch hands.
remuda: a group of saddle horses from which ranch hands pick mounts for the day.
Reno stage: a stage line that ran from Oklahoma to Fort Reno.
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.
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.
¡Señor, su pago!: (Spanish) Sir, your payment!
serape: a long, brightly colored woolen blanket worn as a cloak by some men from Mexico, Central America and South America.
shootin’ iron: a handgun, especially a revolver.
sinks: depressions in the land surface where water has no outlet and simply stands. The word is usually applied to dry lake beds, where the evaporating water has left alkali and other mineral salts.
slouch hat: a wide-brimmed felt hat with a chinstrap.
soda: the card turned face up at the beginning of a faro game.
sorrel: a horse with a reddish-brown coat.
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.
spavined: suffering from, or affected with, a disease of the joint in the hind leg of a horse (corresponding anatomically to the ankle in humans) where the joint is enlarged because of collected fluids.
spiggoty: a Spanish-speaking native of Central or South America who cannot command the English language. It is a mocking imitation of “no speaka de English.”
squaw men: white men who marry Indian women.
stamping mill: a machine that crushes ore.
steer-fat cup: fat lamp; a simple candle made by filling a shallow dish with fat or oil and adding a wick.
Stellar’s Jay: a bird native to western North America that is closely related to the blue jay, but with a black head and upper body.
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.
tapaderos: heavy leather around the front of stirrups to protect the rider’s foot.
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.
tongue: the pole extending from a carriage or other vehicle between the animals drawing it.
trace: either of two lines that connect a horse’s harness to a wagon.
two spot: two-spot card; deuce card in a deck of playing cards.
veintiuna: (Spanish) twenty-one, also called blackjack; a card game in which the winner is the player holding cards of a total value closest or equal to, but not more than, twenty-one points.
walleyed: having large bulging eyes.
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, it is usually tied behind the saddle.
whiskey drummer: a traveling salesman who sells whiskey.
white: a white-colored chip having the lowest value, chiefly used in poker.
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.
wind devils: spinning columns of air that move across the landscape and pick up loose dust. They look like miniature tornados, but are not as powerful.