Frontier Slang for Moderns: Part Two

As we get ready for Halloween, I thought it would be appropriate to put together a short list of more morbid or supernatural terms from the American frontier. I had hoped to include "haint," my favorite old-timey word for ghost, but so far I have only found the word appearing as a cowboy version of "ain't."

Bark: A scalp.

Example: "Scalping is not merely a savage custom of cruelty, but a sacred rite. Among the Tigua tribe the scalp is known as the 'sacred hair,' or 'bark of the oak.' In the secret niche in the wall of the estufa the sacred 'barks' are treasured and taken out when the season for the 'dance of the sacred bark' comes." — Missionary Review of the World, Volume 18, Part 1, 1895

Bone orchard: A cemetery.

Example: "Any conveniently located spot, which does not interfere with the water supply of the camp, will answer for a graveyard, technically known as 'bone-orchard.'" — Harper's Weekly, Volume 33, 1889

Gone beaver: Died.

Example: "'Wagh!' he exclaimed, ' if them poor devils of Mormons ain't going head first into the Rapaho trap they'll be gone beaver afore long. '”  — Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly - Volume 9, 1880

Old Nick: Satan.

Example: "About the time we were getting ready to lariat Hinks, Bill Barnes, the customs river guard, rode into the post one day as if the old Nick was after him, and reported to old Pecos Bill that a crowd of Pendencia cowboys had just run a bunch of cattle across the river without permission of the Greaser, whose brand was on them, and without consulting Uncle Sam." — The Illustrated American, 1983

Queersome: Odd, strange

Example: "'Is the top-knot gone, boy,' asked Killbuck; “for my head feels queersome, I tell you.” — Life in the Far West, 1849

Raise hair: Scalp.

Example: "If the hunter is out after scalp, he calls it going to raise hair." — Americanisms; The English of the New World, 1872

Strangulation jig: A hanging.

Example: "'Necktie sociable,' ' strangulation jig,' and many such euphonious names the people of Montana had for hanging." — Popular tribunals, 1887.


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