Glossary | Selected Bibliography
The terms in this glossary are ones that are used in the interviews and explanatory texts in this online collection. They are part of the lexicon of the cattlemen in northern Nevada, southeastern Oregon, southwestern Idaho, and northeastern California, whose techniques, gear, and language owe a great debt to the vaqueros, the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century horsemen of Hispanic California. Some terms are in widespread use throughout the West while others are peculiar to this region.
alligator pliers -- device used for clinching off nails in a horse's hoof.
BLM -- Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
batwing chaps -- a once-popular style of leather chaps, loosely fitted but fully covering the legs, waist to ankle, wrapped around the rider's trouser legs and strapped or buckled behind; see also chaps.
bell mare -- a female horse outfitted with a bell, used to aid ranchers on the open range; rancher Les Stewart explained that male horses naturally follow the female and thus the ringing of the bell indicates the location of the entire cavvy, even in the dark when the
horses cannot be seen. See also bell mule.
bell mule -- a mule outfitted with a bell; see also bell mare.
bit -- the metal mouthpiece of a bridle, used to control or direct the horse.
bosal -- a small braided rawhide hackamore serving as a nose band.
brand -- special mark or identifying design owned by a rancher and used in registering and identifying his cattle and horses; see branding, branding iron.
branding -- the act of marking an animal; see also brand, branding iron.
branding iron -- the handmade iron or steel tool that applies the identifying mark to the beast. The end with the owner's brand is heated to red hot in a fire in the corral and then pressed against the side of the animal. Branding irons are read from top to bottom, left to right, and from outside in. Because some irons are similar, ear notches and throat wattles are also cut onto the cattle to aid in identification. Rights to use a certain brand or iron may be sold separately from ranch property. Branding irons came from Hispanic Mexico, where they developed before 1600. Also referred to as an iron. Each iron is the creation of an individual blacksmith-buckaroo.
bridle -- a harness, consisting of a headstall, bit, and reins, fitted to a horse's head.
bronc buster -- a special buckaroo who starts colts (break horses); also known as a bronc
bronc peeler -- see bronc buster.
buckaroo -- cowboy; Anglicized from vaquero, which derives from the Spanish word for cow, vaca.
bucking roll -- cushion attached behind a slick fork on a saddle that helps hold a rider's legs in place. See also slick fork.
buckle roping -- semi-formal roping event at which the first rider ropes the calf's head and the second the calf's hind legs; first prize is a large decorated buckle. See also head-and-heel roping.
bunchgrass -- the general name for assorted hardy forage grasses of the genus Andropogon and other genera which grow in tufts.
bunkhouse -- a small house on the home ranch that houses buckaroos and ranch hands, with space for cooking, eating, sleeping, and storing horsegear and equipment.
calf fries -- cooked calf testicles; also called mountain oysters or Rocky Mountain oysters.
cat hats -- hats made of synthetic fabric, shaped like baseball caps with a bill on the front, and emblazoned with some sort of emblem such as Caterpillar (hence "cat hat"), John Deere, Powder River, or Eagle Claw Hooks. Cat hats are worn almost exclusively during periods of work on the ranch, but usually not when riding and tending cattle.
caviata -- the group of saddle horses used during the roundup; each rider owns or is assigned specific mounts that make up his string. Term prevalent in northern Nevada. See also cavvy, remuda.
cavvy -- see caviata; see also remuda.
center-fire saddle -- saddle with a single cinch rigged at the midpoint between the fork and the cantle. The cinch on eighteenth-century Mexican saddles hung directly below the saddle forks but the design changed as it moved north. In his book Trail Dust and Saddle Leather (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946, p. 103), writer Jo Mora reports that vaqueros in Spanish California "moved the cinch ring back and hung it at the middle of the [saddle] tree, but still held to one cinch only. This was called the California or center-fire style. Then, a little later, they commenced certain variations in the exact hang of this single cinch, moving it forward a trifle. So now we have the center fire, the 5/8, the 3/4 and the 7/8 rig." Mora contrasts the center-fire design with the two-cinch rig favored by cowboys who tie ropes to the saddle horn: "For the hard and fast roper the double rig is the only thing; and the single cinch for the dally man." See also dally.
chaparral -- tough, thick brush; from the Spanish chaparro, for dwarf evergreen oak.
chaparreras -- see chaps.
chaps -- pronounced "shaps"; leather leg coverings of various styles worn by working buckaroos when riding in brush or sage, for warmth in the winter, and for "show" in rodeos or parades. The word comes from the Mexican-Spanish chaparreras. There are several different styles: shotgun chaps, hair chaps (woolies), batwing chaps, stove-pipe chaps, and chinks, reflecting different regional traditions as well as changing fashions and personal preferences within the same region.
cheek plates -- the parts of a bit that line the inside of a horse's cheeks.
chinks -- short, fringed chaps that reach below the knee and are often open behind the leg. Rancher Les Stewart said that chinks may have originated when a buckaroo's well-worn old chaps were cut back in an attempt to salvage something of value. Whatever the origin, chinks are easy to pack and more comfortable than full-length designs in hot weather.
choreboy -- see ranch hand.
chuck box -- box containing dishes, utensils, and some food, serving as a portable kitchen while moving camp. Rancher Les Stewart said chuck boxes are an offshoot of the horsedrawn chuck wagons employed in trail drives and roundups in the old days. See also grub box.
cinch -- a girth for a saddle or pack.
corral -- an enclosure that confines livestock.
cricket -- roller on the bar of a steel bit intended to ease its movement on the horse's tongue.
cuff -- a band that protects a buckaroo's shirt and wrists; often made of leather and brass.
dally -- a roping technique that involves winding a rope around the saddle horn and relying upon friction to secure it; as opposed to the hard-and-fast roping technique. From the Spanish dale vuelta, "give it a turn." Compare to hard-and-fast.
ditty bag -- handy pouch for personal items; could be hung from the saddle or a bunkhouse nail.
dry cow -- a cow that does not have a calf, and thus no milk in her udder.
fiador -- a thin rope knotted to a hackamore, running under the horse's lower jaw, to add stability; also called theodore.
grub box -- see chuck box.
hackamore -- a headstall or a halter used for breaking a horse, usually made of braided rawhide with associated leather strips and a macardy. Derived from the Spanish jaquima, meaning halter.
hair chaps -- a semi-shotgun style of chaps, hair chaps of Angora goat skin with the fleece out were widely used in northern Nevada from early times into recent years. In their time, hair chaps or Angora woolies were popular for their warmth and comfort, their appearance and ability to "turn the storm." See also chaps.
hair twister -- a device that twists horsetail hair into a cord when the block is rotated on the spindle. The cord is braided or twisted into a rope. Sometimes called tarabilla.
hame -- a curved support connecting the collar of a draft horse to traces.
hard-and-fast -- a roping technique that entails tightly tying one end of a rope to the saddle horn. Compare to dally.
harness horse -- see stitching bench.
harobed -- a mechanized piece of farm machinery that picks up individual hay bales and arranges them on a platform. At the end of a run, the platform tilts to a vertical position and the bales are set down in a stack. The machine was invented in the late 1950s by Gordon Grey, who named it by spelling his daughter Deborah's name backward. In 1962, Grey and his partner were bought out by the Sperry-New Holland company, who began marketing the machine under the name Stackcruiser.
hay derrick -- one of several devices used in the West to stack loose hay. The northern Nevada derrick featured a tall mast secured by cables, with a pivoting boom used to raise batches of hay to the top of the stack. These labor-intensive devices have been largely supplanted by machines that bale and stack hay.
haying hook -- tool used to handle bulky bales of hay. Also called hay hooks.
head-and-heel roping -- see buckle roping.
headstall -- the part of a bridle that encircles the head of a horse.
helper -- see ranch hand.
hobble -- a device fastened to the front legs of an animal likely to wander off.
iron -- see branding iron.
jumper -- a blue cotton denim jacket.
ketch lot -- the Ninety-Six Ranch term for a small lot with a system of fences and gates used to sort steers and strays from the rest of the herd.
lariat -- rope used to lasso livestock. Lariat and riata are both derived from the Spanish la reata (the rope). The classic nineteenth-century lariat was made from the fibers of the maguey plant (genus Agave), sometimes called a "magee" or "grass rope," and was generally used by cowboys who tied their ropes hard-and-fast. In contrast, the classic riata was made of braided rawhide and used by buckaroos who dallied. Today, most cowboy ropes are made of nylon, are generally called "lariats," and may be used in either the hard-and-fast or dally style of roping. See also riata, hard-and-fast, and dally.
latigo -- the leather strap used to tie the cinch to the saddle's rigging straps.
leppy -- an orphaned calf.
line camp -- temporary base of operations for buckaroos; may have a cabin or other shelter.
macardy -- long rope of twisted horsehair pulled from the mane or tail; also known as McCarty, it derives from the Spanish word mecate, meaning maguey-fiber rope.
maverick -- an unbranded cow running loose; see oreanna; compare with leppy.
McCarty -- see macardy.
mother up -- reunite calves and cows after branding or other activity that separates them.
mountain oysters -- see calf fries.
neckerchief -- see wild rag.
oreanna -- an unbranded cow running loose. Prevalent in Nevada; see also maverick.
Oregon short line -- device attached under the horse's belly to the inner face of both stirrups to keep them down during rough rides.
pack saddle -- a saddle designed to support loads on the backs of pack animals.
parada -- the group of animals cut from the rodera. From the Spanish apartar, to set apart or separate. Also known as prada or paratha.
paratha -- see parada.
part the herd -- to separate specific categories of animals from the rodera; see also parada, rodera.
pommel -- the ball at the front of a saddle.
prada -- see parada.
quirt -- a riding crop.
ranch hand -- ranch worker who performs a variety of chores, less narrowly defined than buckaroo. See also helper, swamper, and choreboy.
rawhider -- a buckaroo who braids rawhide lariats, hackamores, quirts, bosals, and macardies.
reins -- straps fastened to the bit which the rider uses to control the horse's movements.
remuda -- the group of saddle horses used during the roundup; each rider owns or is assigned specific mounts that make up his string. See also caviata; cavvy.
riata -- rope used to lasso livestock. Riata and lariat are both derived from the Spanish la reata (the rope). The classic nineteenth-century riata was made from braided rawhide, was sixty or more feet long, and was generally used by buckaroos who dallied the rope. In contrast, the classic lariat was made from the fibers of the maguey plant and was generally used by cowboys who tied their ropes hard-and-fast. See also lariat, dally, and hard-and-fast.
rodera -- group of bunched cattle from which specific categories of animals are segregated. From the Spanish rodear, "to surround." See also parada.
romal -- extension to the reins that functions as a riding crop; see also quirt.
rowel -- a revolving disk with sharp pointed edges at the end of a spur.
running irons -- branding irons which are kept by ranchers and used to mark strays when necessary, or to put a neighbor's brand on his strays that drift into the wrong herd.
saddle blanket -- blanket placed under the saddle to cushion the horse's withers and to soak up sweat.
saw buck -- wooden braces used to hold wood when cutting. The term is also used to name a type of pack saddle.
shotgun chaps -- the traditional style of chaps, they are straight, plain, narrow, and completely enwrap the rider's legs from belt to boot sole; they have to be stepped into and pulled up over trousers. See also chaps.
single-cinch rig -- see center-fire saddle.
slick fork -- narrow style of saddle fork; can be padded with a bucking roll. Compare to swell fork.
snouted taps -- short stirrup covers; see tapaderas.
sougan -- a blanket or quilt for use on a bunk or on the range, where it and the occupant are protected by a canvas tarp.
squeeze chute -- device to hold a cow or calf for medication or branding.
Stackcruiser -- Sperry-New Holland brand name of automatic hay baler; see harobed.
stacker -- a ranch hand employed to stack hay.
stirrups -- a pair of rings attached to a saddle; they aid the rider in mounting and provide support while riding; may be covered with tapaderas.
stirrup covers -- see tapaderas.
stitching bench -- combined seat and clamp that holds saddlery leather for sewing; also known as a harness horse.
stock saddle -- a saddle used to work cattle. Working saddles, like all cowboy tools, see wide variation throughout the West.
stove-pipe chaps a style of chaps.
swamper -- see ranch hand.
swather -- a farm machine that cuts hay and lays it in windrows for the baler.
swell fork -- wide saddle fork; compare to slick fork.
tapaderas -- leather covers or hoods over the stirrups; also known as taps.
taps -- see tapaderas.
tarabilla -- see hair twister.
theodore -- see fiador.
vaquero -- Mexican cowboy; from the Spanish word for cow, vaca. Buckaroo was Anglicized from vaquero.
war bag -- a smaller version of the common duffle bag, used by buckaroos to carry clothing and personal gear; sometimes called war sack.
war sack -- see war bag.
wattle -- a flap of skin that hangs from the neck, jaw, shoulder, or brisket of a cow or steer, used by buckaroos to identify the ownership of animals at a distance. Produced when calves are branded by cutting away a short length of hide. Also used as a verb.
wattling -- cutting away a short length of a calf's hide to produce a wattle. See wattle.
weaner -- a weaned calf.
wild rag -- a large piece of soft cloth worn by a buckaroo wrapped around the neck twice and then tied in a small knot in the front. Also known as scarf, neckerchief, or bandanna, this basic item can be plain black or a brilliantly colored print.
windrow -- a row of raked hay that is drying before being baled; also used as a verb.
woolies chaps -- see hair chaps; see also chaps.
wrangler -- a ranch hand charged with caring for the horses; a wrangler herds the horses into the field to graze, then herds them back into the corral.
wrango -- see wrangler.
year irons -- branding irons which apply a single digit brand indicating the year; for example, "4" indicates 1974, "9" indicates 1979.
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