Cowboy Jargon Again

Jul 06, 2023 by Tempe Javitz
It’s always fun to share with you the historical use of 
many words from the West.  I’ve learned a great deal from 
Win Blevins fascinating “Dictionary of the American West.” 
It must have taken him years of research to create his 
dictionary.  I love it that the publisher is Sasquatch
Books of Seattle, Washington. 

Cache:  A hole in the ground where furs or other valuables
are hidden for safekeeping.  From the French, meaning a
“hiding place.”

Cahoots:  To be partners with another person, or to be 
thrown in with him or her.

Calf Puller:  A winching device to pull a calf when a
cow is having difficulty birthing her calf.

Camas:  A plant (Camissa Esculenta) with an edible bulb,
which was an important food of the Norwest US and Canadian
Native Americans.  The early Oregon settlers ate it also
and were often referred to as camas-eaters.  Not to be 
confused with Zigadenus Elegans, or death camas which is
a poisonous plant.  Photo by Walter Siegmund via Wikipedia.

Camp Robber:  The Rocky Mountain or Canadian jay bird
that loves to steal your scraps when you are out camping.
This bird is gray and black in color.

Canned Cow:  What the cowboys used to call canned milk.

Cap Rock:  An erosion resistant rock topping mesas, buttes,
and small rock formations.

Carbine:  A light and short rifle used horseback.  U.S. 
cavalrymen used Sharps, Spencer and Springfield carbines
during the Indian fighting days.

Cash in your chips:  To quit a game of poker or faro when
you trade your chips for money.  Also “to die,” or cross 
the great divide, hang up your saddle, or go to the last 

Catch as catch can:  In any manner that you can finish the 
job.  This comes from a calf-roping contest wherein the roper
is allowed to throw his/her rope anyway possible as long as
they snag a calf  and hold it.

Cattle baron:  A man with a cattle empire, especially in 
the days of the open range.

Catwalk:  A narrow walkway above the shipping chute.  The
cowboys or cowgirls would stand on the catwalk and push the
cattle up and into the rail cars.

 Loading cattle on the railcars, Spear Siding, 1922

Chew the dog:  To visit, talk and pass the time of day.

Chief's Blanket:  A blanket worn at ceremonies with a design
of triangles that become diamonds when the blanket is wrapped
around the wearer.  The custom began among the Navajos and
became “pan-Indian.”

Chinook:  When a warm dry winter wind moves in from the west
and raises the temperature so that the snow will melt away even 
in the middle of winter.  There is also a variety of salmon called 
Chinook salmon.

Choke the Horn and Claw the Leather: What a rider does who
is desperately trying to stay on a bucking horse that is moving
sideways, or round and round, or up and down too fast.

    A hard ride, Lodge Grass Rodeo 1927

My book, “Bighorn Visions, the Photography of Jessamine
Spear Johnson,” is available at:

I will be back home in Wyoming and Montana in late August through
September.  Meet me at the Sheridan Stationery Store, Sheridan, 
Wyoming, for a book signing on August 26th.