Cowboy Photographer: Erwin E Smith
About Erwin E Smith  Teaching ResourcesCollection Guide

teaching resources: glossary
A-E | F-J | K-O | P-T | U-Z

bed-ground: The place where cattle are held at night. This ground is chosen in a wide-open space, when possible, without obstructions that might spook the cattle and cause them to stampede. The day herders were responsible for having the cattle bedded down before dusk.

beeves: Full-grown steers that were separated out from the rest of the cattle and driven to market. The heavier the steer, the greater the price paid to the rancher. (See Trail Drive.)

Bois d'Arc: A tree known for its strong, yet flexible, wood. Charles Goodnight used Bois d’Arc to build his chuck wagon. This wood was also used by Native Americans to make bows.

brand: Each ranch had a marking that identified cattle belonging to its herd. This mark, applied to a calf’s hide with a red-hot branding iron, discouraged theft.

brander: After the roper had snared the calf and the flanker was holding it on the ground, the brander would use a hot iron to mark the calf’s hide with the owner’s brand.

bridle: This head harness, used to ride and control a horse, includes the bit (made of metal), reins, and headstall (commonly made of leather). The bit is a metal bar that fits into a horse’s mouth and is attached to the reins. The rider can tell the horse which direction to turn by gently pulling left or right on the reins.

broken: When a wild or young horse finally allows a rider to sit on its back, often a rough ordeal for both horse and rider, the horse is said to be broken. The degrees of a broken horse are halterbroke, greenbroke, and saddlebroke.

busted: Another term referring to breaking a horse or a cow. The term usually refers to when the animal stops bucking, rearing, or charging; also the point when the animal changes its attitude and accepts a human on its back—such as in bronco busting.

chuck box: A box that was added to the chuck wagon to hold supplies for the cook.

chuck wagon: A wagon that carried the food (such as canned milk, vegetables, and dried fruits), as well as the bedrolls and water barrel for an outfit. Extra firewood was kept in a tarp or green cowhide and tied up underneath the wagon to protect it from the elements. On the trail drives, the tongue of the wagon was pointed toward the North Star at night so that the trail boss could use it as a compass when the herd moved the next day.

chuck wagon cook: Ranked next to the foreman or trail boss, cooks were elder cowboys or ones who had been injured and could no longer work with the cattle. They prepared food for the cowboys three times a day and were the first to rise each morning to prepare breakfast and roust the wrangler. The cook was often referred to as “the old woman,” “cookie,” or “coosey” from the Spanish cocinero. (See Chuck Wagon and Horse Wrangler.)

cinch: A woven cotton or horsehair strap that holds the saddle on a horse’s back and is positioned to front or rear barrel (body) of the horse. The forward cinch is the primary strap holding the saddle on the horse, whereas the flank cinch (at the back of the horse’s barrel) was a secondary, looser cinch used to displace the rider or cattle’s weight or stress in roping, etc. Also called girth (girt), flank cinch, or cincha.

cutting horse: A horse that “cuts” individual cows (beeves or calves) out of the herd, one at a time. Cutting horse riders indicate to their mounts which cow to get, and the horse maneuvers it to the edge of the herd. To a cowboy, the cutting horse is the smartest of all animals.

dally: A turn, or series of loose turns, with the tail of the rope to allow slack and pull during roping, as opposed to tying the rope “hard and fast” to the horn of the saddle. The dally can be tightened and released like a fishing line. From the Spanish dar le vuelta meaning “to make the turn.”

dugout camp: Residence of line riders who were stationed on the southern edge of the range to keep the cattle from drifting. Most had earthen walls on at least three sides, and some were actually dug into the hillside like caves. This protection allowed the cowboys to survive the extreme weather on the high plains, where no wood was available to build walls.

flanker: At branding time, two flankers would catch a calf, throw it to the ground, and hold it.

Goodnight, Charles: A legendary Texas Ranger and rancher, Goodnight was also the innovator who created the chuck wagon and JA ranch trail drive. One of the characters in Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove (1985) was modeled after Goodnight.

hackamore: The word is thought to come from the Spanish word jáquima, meaning “head stall.” It resembles a bridle and was often used as a halter for riding (with a pair of reins attached) and to handle and break broncos. Unlike the bridle, a hackamore does not use a bit in the horse’s mouth for control; instead, pressure is applied to a rawhide noseband to control the horse.

hobbles: Usually made of rawhide leather cuffs or rope, hobbles bind two of a horse’s legs together. This limits the animal’s movement and keeps it from wandering off, yet the horse can still graze. Hobbles were used on the range so that a cowhand could easily find his horse in the morning.

hoodlum wagon: Another wagon taken on a trail drive or roundup to carry items the chuck wagon once carried, such as bedrolls, food, firewood, and extra gear.This wagon’s extra space allowed the cook to carry more food. The hoodlum wagon was usually the mark of a well-to-do outfit or ranch, or an unusually large drive. (See Chuck Wagon.)

horse wrangler: A boy, too young to handle cattle, hired to herd the remuda (horse herd) on roundups or trail drives. The wrangler was also the cook’s assistant. He dried and put away dishes and took care of the camp gear. He gathered the wood for the evening fire when the entourage stopped for their noon meal. (See Chuck Wagon, Chuck Wagon Cook.)

latigo: The leather strap attached to the saddle that holds the cinch tightly. On other types of saddles, these are called billet straps. The latigo is attached to the right side (or “off side”) of the saddle, where it is called the “off billet” or “tug.” It is then tightened on the left side (the side from which a rider mounts).

line rider: The term comes from the job of riding the property line and, later, the fence line. These were cowboys who lived on the range in dugout camps, which were close to the cattle, with the goal of keeping the cattle from straying. In winter months, out-of-work cowboys would “ride the line” from camp to camp, always receiving a meal or shelter from fellow cowboys.

night herding: Each cowboy was required to watch the herd for two to four hours each night. Night work required a mount that was sure-footed, smart, confident, and fast (in case of a stampede); the cowboy would choose his best horse for this job. (See Remuda.)

oil skin slicker: A large overcoat that covers the cowboy while seated on a horse, protecting his legs and saddle from rain. The coat was made of cotton and treated with rubber to make it water repellent. It was often called a “fish” after a specific manufacturer’s brand name.

open range: A type of ranching on the open range rather than within fenced pastures or feedlots. (See also Range.) This type of ranching was popular in the Carolinas and Mexico before coming to the Southwest. It was done especially on the “staked plains” of the Southwest and the northern ranges before barbed wire came into use.

outfit: Any group regarded as a unit, such as the group of cowhands from a specific ranch.

puncher: The job of “punching” cattle through the slats of a cattle car to get them to move forward or stand up. This was a derogatory term since it was work anyone could do and was not done on horseback.

range: The land on which cows grazed and watered before it was fenced into pastures or fields. The era of open-range cattle grazing ended with the advent of fencing by separate ranches.

range boss: Person in charge of the roundup or range.

range, working the: The process by which cattle were gathered and sorted by brand. If different brands were found, the cattle were driven back to their owners. This gathering and sorting lasted several months. The remuda, chuck wagon, and crews would work together to accomplish this task. (See Roundup, Remuda, Chuck Wagon.)

remuda: A Spanish word for “relay of horses.” This was the term adopted to refer to the large herd of extra horses gathered for roundups or trail drives. Each cowboy had a string of six or more cowponies for his use. The remuda was a combination of all the cowboys’ horses. When they were not on the move with the herd of cows, the horses were penned in a rope corral. The horse wrangler watched the remuda and would have fresh mounts ready for the cowboys in the morning, at noon, and in the evening for Night Herding. (See Horse Wrangler, Night Herding.)

roper: At branding time, these were cowboys who snared the calves and dragged them to the fire.

roundup, fall: This roundup was to separate the cows through the process of cutting. Representatives from different ranches or outfits would participate. (See Cutting Horse, Outfit.)

roundup, spring: This roundup was for branding small calves before they got too large and wild. Representatives from different ranches or outfits participated.

steer: A male cow that has been castrated. Steers are raised for beef.

stray man: A cowhand sent to other outfits’ herds to gather his boss’ stray cattle. This man was also called a “rep.”

trail boss: On the trail drive north, the trail boss would select the spots where the noon break and evening campsite would be set up. He had complete responsibility, not unlike a sea captain. (See Trail Drive, Beeves.)

trail drive: The process of moving the cows from the range to the market. The entourage (cattle, riders, chuck wagon) would usually travel about twelve miles each day. (See Trail Boss, Chuck Wagon.)

wranglers: (See Horse Wrangler.)

yearling: A horse, cow, or other animal that is one year old.

creditscopyrightcontact usamon carter museum web site
Made possible through generosity of Erwin E Smith Foundation
ACM logo