The Ranching Frontier Glossary
Abilene, Kansas---rail head town established by Chicago meat packer, Joseph McCoy, in 1867 for cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail; within a few years, more than 1 million head of cattle had been loaded onto railroad cars and sent east. James B. "Wild Bill Hickok" was town marshal in 1871.
Arbuckles---popular brand of coffee which cowboys drank on the trail or ranch; many cowboys referred to all coffee as Arbuckles.
Bandanna---square or rectangular cloth which could be folded and tied around the neck to absorb perspiration and to protect a cowboy against breathing in dust from the trail.
Barbed wire---strong steel wire with small spikes or barbs attached to keep cattle either inside pastures or out of farm lands and crops.
Beans---common part of the cowboy’s diet, whether for breakfast, lunch or supper.
Bedroll---bedding that is rolled up for carrying on horseback or in the chuckwagon or hoodlum wagon.
Biscuits---a popular food item along the trail, the cook placed sourdough in a cast iron "dutch oven" and covered it with hot coals to cook.
Bison---commonly called buffalo in North America, these huge shaggy beasts at one time roamed from Canada to Mexico, and from Oregon to the Carolinas; in the 1870s the "great slaughter" of the animals almost led to their extinction and ended the Plains Indians’ previous way of life.
Blizzard---severe and prolonged snowstorm.
Boots---footwear used by cowboys; Not until 1he 1860s did the cowboy boot as we know it appear. A high instep and heel resisted sliding through the stirrup, but made walking difficult.
Branding iron---iron or steel tool used for "branding" or marking cattle; the end of the iron was placed in a fire until hot, then placed against the hide of the calf to mark it as belonging to a particular ranch.
Bridle---headgear for a horse, including bit and reins.
Bronco---a small, half-wild horse
Buckaroo---another name for cowboy, from the Spanish word, vaquero.
Bull---male of the bovine species.
Cactus---the widest assortment of species of this plant live in Texas; the prickly pear variety is used for food for humans and for cattle.
Calf---the newborn or young of cattle
Cattle car---railroad car designed for transporting cattle in the 1860s; later, Gustavus Swift developed a refrigerated car to transport beef from slaughterhouses.
Cattlemen’s Associations---organizations formed beginning in the late 19th century to protect the interests of ranchers and cattle raisers; these associations sought to provide uniform guidelines and laws for round-ups, marking cattle, and fencing.
Chaps---from the Spanish word, "chaparreras," these leather leggings were used by the Spanish and later Mexican vaqueros to protect a man on horseback from the thick brush sometimes encountered while rounding up cattle, especially in South Texas.
Charles Goodnight---cattleman and pioneer trail blazer, Goodnight teamed with Oliver Loving to trail cattle from Fort Belknap to the Pecos River and north to Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1866 to provide beef to the government for Indians there; for this trip, Goodnight assembled the first chuck wagon; in 1869, Goodnight began running cattle on his ranch west of Pueblo, Colorado, then returned to Texas and ran cattle in the Palo Duro Canyon region of the Panhandle.
Chisholm Trail---cattle trail which led from South Texas to Abilene, Kansas; the most famous of the cattle trails, the Chisholm connected the open range with the railroad; the trail was named for Jesse Chisholm, a trader who traded with cattlemen, American Indians and soldiers who traveled the area.
Chisholm Trail---principal cattle trail which began south of San Antonio and crossed Texas, Oklahoma, and ended in Abilene, Kansas, the trail was named for trader, Jesse Chisholm, who for years had driven his wagon up and down the trail between Wichita, Kansas and the Washita River in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
Chuck wagon---reinforced wagon with a chuck box on back and pulled by horses during a trail drive or round-up; credit for invention of the wagon is given to cattle pioneer, Charles Goodnight.
Chuck---a portion of a side of dressed beef; generally, the food on a trail drive.
Cobbler---a favorite dessert of cowboys on the trail or ranch.
Coffee---staple of the cowboy’s diet, the drink was made very strong; often it was referred to as Arbuckle’s, a popular brand during the days of the trail drives and after.
Colt---the young of the horse.
Comanche---Native American people who inhabited the Great Plains from Kansas deep into West Texas and into Mexico; 18th century contact with the horse brought by the Spanish made these nomadic hunters and raiders an extremely powerful fighting force until the demise of the buffalo and U.S. army pressure in the 1870s.
Cookie---name used for the cook on a cattle trail drive; often paid more than other cowboys, the cookie drove the chuck wagon and selected campsites in addition to his cooking duties.
Cow---mature female cattle
Cowboy hat---used to protect the cowboy’s head from the harsh sun, rain and other weather he might face on the trail or ranch.
Cutting horse---small, quick horse trained to cut cattle out of a herd.
Dodge City---Kansas cow town on the Western Trail which stretched into western Nebraska; Dodge City had a wild reputation, attracting not only cowboys from Texas but outlaws and gamblers as well.
Dogie---a motherless calf in a range herd.
Drag---the position at the rear of the cattle herd as it was driven north; cowboys who rode drag had to keep stragglers with the herd, but avoided bunching the animals too closely together; because of the dust created by the cattle, cowboys in the drag position had to shield their mouths and noses with bandanas.
Drought---period of dry weather when little rain fell.
Drover---one who drives sheep, pigs, cattle or other domestic animals to market.
"Dutch" Oven---iron kettle for baking, with a rimmed cover to hold burning coals; often used by trail cooks for biscuits and cobblers.
Fence-cutting Wars---conflict that erupted in the early 1880s between landless cattlemen who wanted to retain practices of the open range and ranchers who bought barbed wire to establish themselves permanently; a drought in 1883 intensified bitter feelings because many water sources were fenced off and cattle could not get to it; some ranchers enclosed public land along with their own, while others enclosed other people’s farms and ranches; these conflicts caused many to cut their neighbors’ fences until the Texas legislature provided penalties for fence-cutters.
Filly---female foal or colt.
Flank---the position to each side of the cattle herd as it was driven north; a pair of cowboys might ride on each flank of the herd.
Ft. Worth---begun as a military camp in 1849, the town’s economic boom really started with the developing cattle industry in the 1870s when cowboys trailing cattle to Kansas stopped in Ft. Worth’s "Hell’s Half Acre" for entertainment; northern cattle buyers established their headquarters in Ft. Worth, and the construction of stockyards in the 1890s led to the town’s nickname of "Cowtown."
Gear---equipment used, for example a lasso, bedroll, hat, branding irons, and so forth.
Goodnight Trail---named after cattle pioneer Charles Goodnight, the trail began northwest of San Antonio and crossed the Pecos River in far West Texas at Horsehead Crossing, proceeded into New Mexico and followed the Pecos until the river turned west, and stretched across eastern Colorado and into Wyoming near Cheyenne.
Grazing---a pasture; growing grass.
Greenhorn---a tenderfoot or someone new to the cattle or cowboy business.
Guitar---stringed instrument often played by cowboys on the trail drive or ranch.
Harmonica---musical instrument played by cowboys on the cattle drives.
Heifer---a young cow; a cow which has not given birth
Hoodlum wagon---wagon which was used to carry bedrolls and other supplies for a big outfit.
Horsehead Crossing---a famous cattle and horse crossing on the Pecos River not far from Ft. Stockton, Texas, the crossing had been used for hundreds of years by Native Americans; Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving and other cattlemen trailed cattle across the river at this point, and many cattle and horses died here due to drowning or from drinking too much of the salty water.
Horse---the cowboy’s best friend on a cattle drive or ranch, these animals arrived with the Spanish in the and 16th century; Native Americans like the Comanche became powerful warriors with the use of the horse.
Hunker down---the position cowboys used to eat, by squatting on the ground.
Indian Territory---the lands lying within what is today the state of Oklahoma which were the home of many Native American groups relocated there due to westward expansion; cattle drives following the Civil War passed through this territory.
Jerky---dried and seasoned meat, usually beef, which was easily carried by cowboys on long trail drives as a snack or when a cooked meal was unavailable.
Joseph Glidden---man given credit for the invention of barbed wire in 1873; the invention helped to bring the open range to an end.
Joseph McCoy---Chicago meatpacker who convinced the railroad to extend its line to Abilene, Kansas, where McCoy built corrals and loading pens to load cattle driven from Texas onto railroad cars to be shipped back east.
Land Promotion---the advertising of lands for sale, oftentimes exaggerating the merits of the lands and their potential for raising cattle or growing crops; many land promotion companies promoted former ranch lands in West Texas and the Texas panhandle beginning in the late 19th century and continuing into the 20th.
Lariat---from the Spanish, "la reata," this rope was used to lasso cattle; early lariats were made by vaqueros by staking a cowhide to dry in the sun and cutting the entire hide into a long thin strip. The vaquero then braided four or more of the strips into a rope. Grass or hemp ropes became standard followed by polyester or nylon versions.
Lasso---a rope or long thong of leather used for roping cattle or horses.
Liniment---an oil applied to skin rashes caused by heat and friction like those caused from long stretches in the saddle.
Livestock---horses, cattle, sheep and other animals kept or raised on a farm or ranch.
Longhorn---breed of cattle which ran wild in the South Texas brush country; descendants of Spanish cattle brought to America by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries. Following the Civil War, cowboys rounded up these cattle and drove them north to Kansas railheads.
Marksman---person who is an expert at shooting a gun.
Marshal---an officer of a U.S. judicial district who performs duties similar to a sheriff.
Maverick---an unbranded animal, especially a motherless calf which has escaped branding during roundup.
Mesquite---tree or shrub of the southwestern United States, with beanlike pods that are rich in sugar; the plant is common throughout Texas but originally grew only along streams and rivers and in open groves; reasons for the mesquite’s spread include overgrazing, trail drives, wagon trains, and drought; the beans and other parts of the mesquite were used extensively by Indians in the state.
Mustang---small, hardy, half-wild horse.
Nesters---name used for farmers by cowboys; the name implied that farmers tended to stay in one place and were rooted to the ground, whereas cowboys wandered widely.
Ordinance---law or regulation.
Outfit---group of people who work together; the different ranches or companies hired cowboys to work for them; these "outfits" from different ranches came together during roundup to gather and brand their cattle.
Pecos River---river which begins in the high mountains outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, heads east, southeast, then turns and moves due south through eastern New Mexico before entering Texas; in Texas, the river moves southeast once again, eventually dumping into the Rio Grande near Langtry; the river was once perilous to cattle because of its rapid waters and salt content.
Plains---mostly treeless, level area of land with fertile soil and covered with grasses.
Quahadi Indians---Comanche Indian group whose name means antelope; named for the animals which were numerous in their homeland, the Llano Estacado of West Texas.
Quanah Parker---last chief of the Quahadi Comanche Indians, son of Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker (his mother was a white captive from the Comanche raid on Parker’s fort in 1836), Quanah Parker was born about 1845; Quanah’s adopted band, the Quahadi (antelopes) ranged across the Llano Estacado and were very warlike into the mid-1870s, but following the killing off of the buffalo, Parker and his followers surrendered to reservation life. Thereafter, Parker worked with whites to protect his people and encouraged them to adopt white ways. Parker himself became very wealthy. He died in 1911.
Railhead---the farthest extension of a railroad line or spur line where cattle or other products could be loaded for shipping back east; Abilene, Kansas served as a railhead for Texas cattle beginning in the late 1860s.
Range---area of open land used for a particular purpose, as for cattle grazing.
Rattlesnakes---along with cottonmouths (water moccasins), these snakes could cause problems along the trail and ranching frontier; sometimes a bite from a rattler could cause death.
Remuda---a herd of horses taken on a trail drive or used on a ranch to round up and manage cattle herds; a remuda was usually confined by use of a rope corral, and cared for by a wrangler.
Richard King---a New York jeweler’s apprentice, King stowed away on a ship headed to Alabama, eventually ending up on the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico where he became a steamboat captain and partner of Mifflin Kennedy; in 1853, King bought land along the Santa Gertrudis Creek near present-day Kingsville where he established the famous King Ranch.
Rodeo---competitions held between cowboys in the skills mastered during the roundup and on trail drives; skills might include calf roping and bronco riding; later rodeos became formalized and were held in arenas on set dates.
Round up---gathering of cattle together and driving them in for branding.
Rustler---someone engaged in stealing cattle or horses.
Saddle bags---bags which fit over the sides of a horse saddle for carrying belongings.
Saddle---leather-covered seat for a rider on horseback.
Shawnee Trail---the earliest and easternmost trail for taking Longhorn cattle to railheads in the north beginning as early as the 1840s; previously a trail used by Indians in hunting and raiding and by southbound settlers from the Midwest, it was sometimes called the Texas Road or the Sedalia Trail; beginning in 1853, settlers along the road in western Missouri forced drovers to turn back because Longhorns carried Texas Fever; following the Civil War, the trail was used heavily for awhile, cattle being re-routed around settled areas, but the Chisholm Trail gradually replaced the Shawnee beginning in 1867.
Six Shooter---most cowboys did not carry side arms, but preferred rifles; however, a pistol came in handy for killing snakes and sometimes moving stubborn cattle.
Spread---the expanse of property on a ranch.
Spurs---small bone, wood or metal spikes fastened to the foot by a leather strip used to guide a horse with pressure from the rider; early spurs date to about 700 BC. but American versions sometimes included elaborate designs such as playing cards or bare female legs ("gal legs").
Stallion---male horse not castrated.
Stampede---a sudden flight or running away by cattle; caused by any number of factors including lightening and thunder, a slip or whinny of a horse, a rattlesnake, or the smell of water by thirsty cattle, especially longhorns.
Steer---a male cattle animal castrated before sexual maturity and raised for beef.
Stockyard---an enclosure with pens and sheds connected with a slaughterhouse or market for the temporary keeping of cattle, sheep, pigs or horses.
String---a group of horses or ponies used during a round up or trail drive.
Tally man---the cowboy responsible for counting the number of calves and mavericks branded from each outfit during the roundup.
Tascosa---located on the Canadian River in northeastern Oldham County, the town’s first settlers were Hispanic sheepmen and freighters from New Mexico; in the mid-1870s, the cattle trail to Dodge City went through the town and it became the shipping center for large ranches which began operating in the area, including the XIT; the town had a wild reputation for saloons, dance halls, and violence and was visited by Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Charles Siringo and others during its heyday.
Texas Fever---disease carried by ticks which attached themselves to cattle originating in Texas; when the cattle were driven north on trail drives, farm cattle, especially in Kansas, became infected; Kansas farmers and townspeople established quarantines to keep Texas cattle out.
Trail boss---the leader of a trail drive; dependable and knowledgeable about cattle and dangers along the route, the trail boss was also able to command the men under him.
Vaquero---from the word "vaca," which means cow in Spanish, the first cowboys were Spanish and Mexican horsemen who worked the cattle herds on large Mexican ranches or "haciendas" in northern Mexico.
Western Trail---also known as the Dodge City Trail, the trail was first blazed by John Lytle who herded 3500 longhorn cattle along the frontier from South Texas to Nebraska in 1874; by 1879, the Western Trail was the leading trail for Texas cattle, replacing the farmer-covered Chisholm Trail to the east.
Windmill---device which relied on wind to pull underground water to the land’s surface allowing water for cattle and railways, and for the settlement of arid and semi-arid lands; this was especially important in Texas following the fencing off of range lands where the few surface water sources were located.
Wrangler---usually a younger or much older cowboy, the wrangler took care of the horse herd needed to drive cattle on a trail drive or during a roundup.
XIT Ranch---famous Panhandle ranch which included land in ten counties; lands were awarded to a Chicago company in exchange for building the state capitol building which was completed in 1888.