Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cowboy Round-Up

Us, in the olden days, 1983

I been studyin' up on cowboys, horses, saloons and such. I can't sound like some greenhorn writin' a novel, sayin' "she had his photograph in her locket" when they ain't even invented the photography yet. Why, I almost said "he wore a hemp necktie to church on Sunday," til I found out that's a hangin' noose. I got to watch my p's and q's and make sure I don't get 'em backwards.

Folks set a lotta store by newspapers. Here's some of what was goin' on back in the day:

"Beginning with a single room, the old Sanders house grew like a game of dominoes. As each of the seven sons brought home his bride, he added a small room to one end of the paternal dwelling. Every room had its own outside door and gave the couples all the privacy they could ever want."
—Roland F. Dickey, New Mexico Village

"There were forty-eight lynchings in California during last year, and only nineteen were legal ones."
—Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 1, 1856

"A couple came from Ohio, arriving in Leavenworth a few days since, and were married about noon. At 8 o'clock in the evening a bouncing boy weighing ten and a half pounds, was born to the blooming bride of less than ten hours."
—Sumner County Press, Wellington, Kansas, January 8, 1874

"A sore throat can be treated in several ways. Wrap the throat in red flannel, wrap it with a kerosene-soaked rag or place a poultice of fried onions around the neck."
—Dr. Francis A. Long, Madison, Nebraska, 1882

"The marriage of Miss Alice Tomlison reminds us that our premium school teachers are being gathered into the matrimonial net by men who place self above the public welfare. Suppose all the marrriageable female teachers in the world were to be married tomorrow, the country would go to rack and ruin."
—Times, Grand Island, Nebraska, September 15, 1883

"WANTED: YOUNG SKINNY WIRY FELLOWS not over eighteen. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. WAGES $25 per week. Apply, Central Overland Express, San Francisco, California."

They say to write what you know. I was brought up on pioneer stories, had a friend with a horse, and watched Gunsmoke every Saturday night—I thought I knew the old west. But I've realized I know nothing about cowboy days. Even so, I'm writing a western. It's takin' a heap of study.

Today I spent a few hours learning the parts of a horse. (It's hard to describe a horse when you don't know the vocabulary.) I found out that horses are measured "in hands, from their withers." I'd always thought palomino was a breed (it's a color) and that a colt was a baby horse. Actually they're called foals. Then they become yearlings and then, when they're two, the boys become colts, and the girls become fillies.

Afterward, I read up on Stetsons (the cowboy's umbrella,) bandannas (they were silk, not cotton,) chaps (protection from cactus spikes) and spurs. Do you know why a cowboy's spurs jingled? They attached little bells to make a tinkling sound, so the cows would hear them coming in the dark and not get startled. If a cow was spooked somehow, it could start a stampede, which always cost them money, time and a few lives.

"Read, every day, something nobody else is reading.
Think, every day, something nobody else is thinking."
—Christopher Morley

What random things have you been learning lately?


Raejean said...

I've been learning that Othello's not my favorite play in the world. I dislike Iago so much, I don't even want to read the play!

I can't wait to learn what the kids want for summer school :)

polly said...

i just learned about the bells on cowboys so they wouldn't spook their cows! thanks for the info.

Christie said...

Those newspaper bits are hilarious! Love the 10-hour old bride giving birth. Naughty...

I had no idea why the spurs jingled. Never really even thought about it. This is the kind of knowledge that Chase lives and breathes for. Bring some next week and share with him, will you?

Heather @ Alis Grave Nil said...

I admire your willingness to write something so far outside of your "zone." I don't even have enough courage to take on fiction that's within my sphere of familiarity. Maybe someday. I find that it's hard for me to transition from non-fiction. YEEEEEEEEEEEEHAW.

Diane said...

I am the queen of remembering all useless trivia. Unfortunately none comes to mind at the moment. Perhaps someday I'll have enough related useless trivia in my brain to add up to something that matters. Perhaps not.

I read about a lot of my ancestors in the White Cloud Kansas Chief. I can spend hours reading it - dating from mid-1800's. It's just fascinating. I bet researching this will be a blast for you.

Susan Adcox said...

Great stuff! When I was a kid, I was in love with horses. I never owned a horse, but I knew the proper name for every part of a horse's body, the different breeds, the winners of the Kentucky Derby, etc. Perhaps I should write a horse book!