Old West Slang: Grab the rookus juice, let's go to the Texas Cakewalk!


By: John Miller

5 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

In the Old West, cowboys, saloon owners and hardened frontier women all spoke in a creative and colorful lexicon. How much do you know about Old West slang?

"Bronc busters" were really good at what?

Cowboys who were skilled at busting broncos (wild horses) were "bronc busters." They were the men you called when you had a horse that was too hard to handle.


After a long day in the saddle, cowboys would often "bend an elbow." What does that mean?

The long, dusty work days meant that cowboys worked up a thirst. They'd follow up the day by "bending an elbow," or having a drink.


If you wanted someone to keep a secret, you tell them what?

"Now, I know that buried gold is up in them there mountains. Keep that dry and don’t let no one else find out about it!" "Keeping it dry," meant keeping a secret.


On the frontier, what was another word for cowboy?

The Old West deserts were chockful of cowboys. But back then, you might have simply called them "buckaroos."


What was a "dead man's hand"?

A dead man's hand was a poker hand that included a pair of eights and a pair of aces. It's the hand that Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot to death.


Why would you "jump the broom"?

In the Old West, there were a lot more men than women. But when couples made a good match, they'd "jump the broom," or get married.


What was wrong with a "two-handed horse"?

"Two-handed horses" were the kind that you needed two hands to control. In other words, they were a lot of work, and sometimes more trouble than they were worth.


What was yet another term for every cowboy's favorite drink, whiskey?

"Whoo-eee, Sammy, gimme some more of that dynamite!" Rough Old West whiskey probably tasted like dynamite, and in excessive amounts, it could have an explosive effect on a cowboy's life, too.


What did "owl headed" horses tend to do?

Like owls, "owl-headed" horses constantly turned their heads from side to side and also backward. For the cowboys riding them, this was an annoying habit.


What did it mean if a cowboy got "grassed"?

Getting "grassed" sounds like a hippie phrase. But in the Old West, it meant that you hit the grass … because your horse threw you from the saddle.


In the Old West, what was a "knuckleduster"?

A knuckleduster was a small pistol. In the outlaw-ridden lands of the West, you were foolish to travel without some sort of weapon.


What was NOT a nickname for an Old West camp cook?

So no one called them gut slaves. But the cooks were often called bean masters and dough punchers, among other things probably not appropriate for a family quiz.


What did people do with "weed" in the Old West?

They smoked it, of course! But weed didn't refer to marijuana. It was tobacco.


In the Old West, what did it mean to "bed him down"?

If an enemy rancher crossed you, you might "bed him down." It sounds innocuous, but it really means that you're going to kill the man.


What did people in the Old West call men who arrived from the East?

People on the frontier were often unimpressed by "dudes" from the East. Dudes often had no idea how to behave in the wildness of the Old West.


A "brand artist" was essentially what?

"Brand artists" were people who altered the brands on livestock. They were essentially rustlers, or thieves.


A "Rocky Mountain canary" was actually what type of creature?

A Rocky Mountain canary was a burro, often used to haul goods through rough terrain. Miners, in particular, relied heavily on Rocky Mountain canaries.


On the frontier, what was another name for deer meat, particularly deer that was poached out of season?

If you were eating goat meat, it meant that you shot a deer out of season. Some people ate "goat meat" out of desperation … others, out of laziness or a criminal mentality.


What did it mean if you were "going heeled"?

To "go heeled" meant that you were armed with pistols. If you didn't go heeled in the Old West frontier, you were a goner.


"Running against a pill" was a very bad thing.

If you went "running against a pill," you were shot by a bullet. In a gunfight, you wanted the other guy running against the pill.


If you were talking too much you were WHAT?

"Tell Buck to shut up! I’m sick of his yammerin'!" If you were far too chatty, you were yammerin' away like there was no tomorrow.


What was a "widow maker"?

Widow makers were the worst kinds of horses. They were unpredictable, mean-spirited beasts that could kill a careless cowboy at any moment.


What did one do with "coffin varish"?

"Coffin varnish" was a nickname for whiskey, which of course was one of the standard drinks of the Old West. Drink too much of it, and you'd be preparing yourself for an early grave.


A really wild horse might also be called what?

A "bang tail" was a really wild horse. A "six-shooter" horse meant that the horse was extremely fast -- like the bullets from a pistol.


If you were on the "hurricane deck," what were you doing?

If you were on the "hurricane deck," you were astride an unmanageable horse. The horse's uncontrollable nature made it feel like you were trapped in a life-threatening storm.


What would you do with "axel grease"?

Axel grease was another name for butter. Back in Old West days, nobody worried about the health consequences of eating too much axel grease.


What did Old West types do with a "railroad bible"?

A "railroad bible" was a deck of cards. Many iterant gamblers rode the railroads from town to town, hoping to find suckers in an easy game of poker.


What did it mean if something was "two whoops and a holler"?

If the nearest town was only "two whoops and a holler" away, it was nearby. As in … nearly within shouting distance.


What was a "waddie"?

"Waddies" were hired men who helped out on ranches and farms. The term was used particularly for cowboys who tended to wander from job to job.


What was another term for pistols?

Most everyone on the frontier wielded pistols. Sometimes they drew their "barking irons" to ward off threats from mean-spirited bandits.


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