Malachite’s Big Hole
Beeve or Beeves: Beef. Mountain men often described buffalo and buffalo meat as beef or beeves. "A few beeves were killed during the chase" (Rufus Sage)
Big 50: Fifty caliber rifle.
Black Your Face Against (to): To be at war with. From the Indian custom of blacking the face to show the tribe is on the warpath.
Black Water (also Muddy Water): Indians (Cheyenne) referred to coffee this way. (Lewis Garrard 1846-47. Reference)
Buck: From the prevalent exchange rate equating one buckskin to one dollar.
Bug’s Boys: also Children of Satan; the familiar name for the Blackfeet.
Bourgeois: Voyageur term for the Wintering Partners or Clerks. The word came from the French and described a "new middle class people" in Europe. Bourgeois were usually educated men of various nationalities. Many were Scottish, French, or American. Clerks were almost always French until the end of the era when more Americans and English held Clerk Positions.
Bury the Hatchet: Originally from Iroquois tradition in which weapons of war were actually buried in the earth. The first mention of this practice in English is by Samuel Sewall in 1680 “I writt to you in one [letter] of the Mischief the Mohawks did; which occasioned Major Pynchon’s goeing to Albany, where meeting with the Sachem they came to an agreemt and buried two axes in the ground; one for English another for themselves;which ceremony to them is more significant & binding that all Articles of Peace” By the end of the 18th century the phrase had expanded from the physical act to the process of coming to a peace arrangement.
Capote: A long coat of simple design with a hood. It was made from wool blankets and could be cut and assembled in the mountains. Capotes were also available for trade at rendezvous and at forts and posts.
Cavendish Tobacco: originated in England in the late 16th century, when Sir Thomas Cavendish, an admiral in Queen Elizabeth's fleet, discovered that by dipping tobacco leaves in sugar it produced a milder and more mellow smoke. Subsequently the name Cavendish has been used to identify any tobacco treated with sweetners such as maple syrup, figs, rum, molasses and honey.
Child, Coon, Crittur, Beaver, Niggur: Interchangeable terms for person, either one's self or someone else. They did not necessarily carry a charge of denigration; for example the term niggur was applied freely to white, red, and black men, both friend and foe.
Copper Mines: This location is mentioned in numerous accounts of Santa Fe and Taos based trappers. Located at what is now Santa Rita N.M., the copper mines were used as a starting point or staging area for many trapping expeditions along the Gila River and into the southwest. The attraction of this location for trappers was that it was well beyond the reach of the Mexican bureaucracy.
Coureur de Bois: French for bush loper or woods runner. These were the French-Canadian equivalent of the Free Trapper. Generally operating without a license or official sanction, these men lived and traded out among the Indians, often for years at a time. They would sell their furs to whoever offered the best prices, whether they be French or English.
Crambo Combs: A common type of comb frequently listed on fur trade inventories. According to the Museum of the Fur Trade Encyclopedia 3Tools and Utensils of the Fur Trade, a crambo comb is equivalent to a ridding comb. A ridding comb is a small, 3 1/2 inch to 5 1/2 inch comb with fine teeth intended for the removal of hair lice and their nits.
Dearborn: A four-wheeled country carriage.
Depouille: It is a fatty substance that lies along the backbone of the buffalo, next to the hide, running from the shoulder blade to the last rib, and is about as thick as one’s hand or finger. It is from seven to eleven inches broad, tapering to a feather edge on the lower side. It will weigh from five to eleven pounds, according to the size and condition of the animal. This substance is taken off and dipped in hot grease for half a minute, then is hung up inside of a lodge to dry and smoke for twelve hours. It will keep indefinitely and is used as a substitute for bread, but it is superior to any bread that ever was made. It is eaten with the lean and dried meat, and is tender and sweet and very nourishing, for it seems to satisfy the appetite. When going on the warpath, the Indians would take some dried meat and some depouille to live on, and nothing else, not even if they were to be gone for months. See also “Fleece”
Dropsy: An abnormal accumulation of watery fluid in certain tissues of the body.
Dupont: Gunpowder. From the name of the manufacturer. Click here to see a can of "DuPont."
Dutch Nightingales: Croaking bullfrogs in William Marshall Anderson 1834.
Engagee: A hired hand, sometimes French-Canadian. Of lower social status than a free trapper or a trapper contracted for part of his take; from the French.
EPISHAMORE: See APISHEMORE
Fall to the Kettle: Being made into meat. For example "During starving times our horse were made to fall to the kettle."
Fire Water: Whiskey with such a high alcohol content that it would cause a fire to flame-up when thrown on. Whiskey which had been substantially diluted with water would douse the fire when thrown on.
Fleece: A layer of fat between the backbone and the ribs on a buffalo. Considered to be a delicacy by the mountain men. It was often rendered in a fry pan or kettle until liquid and then quaffed. Rufus Sage describes preparing and consuming fleece here.
Go Under (To): To die or be killed, usually the latter.
Great Leg: Used as "A man of great leg" A great traveler; able to go a great distance in a day. and capable of enduring extreme privation and fatigue. (from Jim Beckwourth)
Green River: A knife. From the name of the manufacturer, not the name of the river. To shove it in "To the Green River" meant to shove the knife in to the hilt, where the trademark of the manufacturer was stamped. By extension, to do anything "Up to the Green River" meant to do it to the fullest extent. For more information regarding the "Green River Knife."
Grocer: A “grocer” in the parlance of the 1840’s was a saloonkeeper, contrasted to a greengrocer, who sold foodstuffs. (From Fairholme, page 66 footnote 49)
Hard Pulling (cordeling) to get a keelboat upriver. Said of anything requiring great physical effort.
Ha’r of the b’ar: To say that a man had the ha'r of the b'ar in him was a supreme form of praise. The expression probably came from the Indian belief that a man could become more brave by eating the hair of the grizzly bear.
Hawken: A rifle. A high quality rifle produced by the Hawken brothers in Saint Louis.
Hole: Sheltered location, such as a valley which has the four requisite necessities: food, fodder, wood and water, where a brigade or party of men would "hole up" for the winter. A hole was generally named after some individual of distinction associated with the location. Notable "Holes" include Pierre's Hole, Brown's Hole, Jackson's Hole and Jackson's Big Hole.
Hoss: Man remarkable for strength and courage (from Bartlett's Dicitonary of Americanisms 1859)
Humpribs: The small ribs that support the hump of the buffalo. - a choice cut of meat. See also meatbag.
In: Was to go back to or be back at the settlements, as in "He was in in '38." From Matt Field 1843.
Judy or Judy Fitzsimmons: To make a "Judy" or "Judy Fitzsimmons" of oneself was to be a fool or simpleton. The term was common American slang by the mid 1820's.
Largie: A word of French-Canadian origin meaning to take off across country, rather than following along the course of rivers or streams.
Leve’, Leche’ Lego; wake up, turn out. Usually used in combination (Possibly a corruption of the French.)
Loco-foco: A self lighting cigar, with a match composition at the end, invented in 1834. It then became applied to the Lucifer match. Later the term was applied to a radical wing of the Democrats, after an incident at a party meeting in 1835 at which opponents of the radical element within the party turned out the gas lights, but the radicals promptly produced candles which they lit with loco-focos.
Lucifer Match: A match made of a sliver of wood tipped with a combustible substance, and ignited by friction. Lucifer matches were invented in England in 1827. For a history of Lucifer Matches click here.
Mangeur de Lard: Literally, eater of pork in French. Figuratively, an inexperienced man. Said of a man who is used to the diet of the settlements (which would include pork) and not of the mountains (almost exclusively buffalo meat) Always a term of denigration and often applied to the least experienced engageés who were responsible for camp chores, butchering and cooking, tending the animals, etc. This is equivalent to the later term “Ned”
Meatbag: Stomach, of an animal or human being. The trappers frequently applied the terms they used for buffalo anatomy (fleece, humpribs, boudins) to human beings.
Medicine Dog: (Also Big Dog) Many western Indian tribes referred to horses as "medicine dogs".
Medicine Wolf: Many western Indian tribes referred to coyotes as "medicine wolf."
Mind yer Hair: To look out for ones scalp, or take care of oneself. From George Frederick Ruxton, end of Chapter 24.
Missouri River-Lower: Approximately the 660 miles between St. Louis and Council Bluffs (Corbin, 2000)
Missouri River-Upper: That portion of the Missouri River above Council Bluffs upward to the headwaters.
Napper: a term describing one who was scalped but not killed.
Ned: Farmers in the early 1800's commonly referred to pork as "Ned." Because pork and salt pork formed a principal portion of government rations, especially to the military, mountain men often also referred to the soldiers as "Neds"
Old Ephraim: Grizzly bear.
On the Prairie. Something freely given with nothing expected in return.
Pack: A bundle of skins pressed and bound to facilitate loading and unloading of the pack animals. A pack of beaver skins generally consisted of approximately 60 beaver skins and weighed about 100 pounds. According to Rufus Sage (reference) a pack of buffalo robes generally contained 10 robes and weighed about 80 pounds.
Poor Bull, Fat Cow: Figuratively, poor eating, living, or times, as opposed to good eating, living or times. A trapper might mention that he was forced to eat crickets and comment, "That was poor bull, sure." To know poor bull from fat cow was to know what was what, what was bad and what was good, to understand mountain ways. Derived from the fact that, except at calving time, the meat of the bull would be more muscular and less fatty than the meat of a cow, therefore tougher and less enjoyable.
Possibles, Possible Bag: sack for carrying equipment, usually small necessities such as fire steel and flint, balls, caps, etc.
Poudirie: French-Canadian for snowstorm, or blizzard.
Riband: A brightly colored ribbon used for decoration. Used as a trade item.
Shine (To): To suffice, to be suitable or good. As in, "Red blood don't shine." Shinin' suggested fine or splendid, as in, "Them was shinin' times."
Specie: Money in the form of coins, especially gold or silver. The value was determined by the weight of the metal in the coinage, and thus the coins of any nation were acceptable in trade. Specie was especially important in trade with Old Mexico and its colonies.
Spooning: is when one person lies on their side with their back to the other person. Usually with legs bent a little. In this position they fit together very closely with little dead air space between, maximizing body heat. The term originated in the mid 1890's although the practice of sharing body heat this way is much older.
Some: Remarkable, admirable. "That Jed was some, now. He had the ha'r of the b'ar in him. Wagh!"
Stroud: A large coarse blanket intended for trade with the Indians. During the 1600’s British stroud was considered superior and generally less costly than the blankets available from the French traders.
Taos Lighting: Mexican whiskey produced and shipped from Taos. This term didn’t originate until the mid-1840’s.
There Goes Hoss and Beaver: A mountain expression said about any great loss which is sustained. (Ruxton, Chapter 27)
Vide-Poche: Literally, empty-pocket. Usually said of French-Canadians, French speakers of Indian-white descent, etc. Figuratively, the equivalent of worthless no-good.
WAUGH: An exclamation of surprise, greeting, admiration, etc. Sounded like a grunt.
The Way the Stick Floats: To know which way the stick floats was to know what's up, what's what. Only an experienced mountain man would be said to know the way the stick floats. The expression came from the use of a float stick attached to a beaver trap to indicate where the trap was if the beaver swam away with it. Its meaning was extended to suggest being wilderness wise.
Mountain Man Glossary:
Samuel Parker's comments from the 1835 rendezvous: “They disdain the commonplace phrases which prevails among the civilized countries, and have many self-phrases, which they appear to have manufactured amongst themselves.“ This Glossary will aid the inhabitants of civilized parts in ciphering the language of the Mountain Man.