Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 9-2-13

Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.

Then there was the lady brand new to “Out West.” She wanted very much to “fit in,” she claimed somewhat anxiously. Her quandary? She was puzzled about cowboy customs as well as confused about puncher conversations. Tentatively, she asked for advice. Her questions reflect the views of many new to the culture Out West. Here’s a few hints in the form of question and answer.

Q: When does one see a cowboy, ranch hand or stockman wearing a short-sleeved shirt?

A: Mostly never.

Q: When do cowgirls wear glamour gowns, makeup or high heels (that aren’t cowboy boots)?

A: At her graduation prom, her wedding or when playing a Soiled Dove in the local Dirty Shame Theatre’s frontier melodrama.

In regard to speech patterns that may be mystifying, be advised that cowboys rarely use plain verbs. Instead of run, a cowboy might say skedaddle, light out, hightail it, full-bore-flat-out or faster than a rooster after a hen.

Making a big noise or being a pest means: To hang and rattle.

If you’re feeling ecstatically cheerful you could be: Happier than a peach orchard boar.

To the question, “How’s it going?” the answer might be: “Oh, could be worse, could be better.”

Disapproval of a person dating or marrying someone of questionable stability might elicit the comment: He/she sure drove his/her geese to a poor market.

Q: What might be said when two people of opposite opinions and excitable personalities get together?

A: Boy, if that’s not a monkey and a parrot situation!

Q: What might be said about two people oddly matched, off-beat or a little peculiar together?

A: Now there’s a pair to draw to.

Q: What might be said by a cowboy describing the athletic ability of a good cowhorse?

A: That horse is so good, he could cut a red ant away from the sugar bowl.

Q: What might a cowboy say when feeling sorry for an aged animal that is obviously failing?

A: That poor old skate hasn’t (or ain’t got) long to go. (In ranch country, ice-skate blades used to be made from rib bones of horses gone on to that Big Pasture in the Sky. Hence an “old skate” refers to any critter that appears about ready to cash in).

Regarding transportation: 4×4 pickup, always. There might be a second “town car” available for the wife to go to town or the kids to drive to the school bus stop, but the pickup is a way of life. No vehicle (with the possible exception of a snorting tractor) supplies as much emotional satisfaction as lifting the reins of a prancing four-wheel drive pickup. So deep is the Westerner’s attachment to his rubber-tired horse, that the two of them are spoken of in the same breath. “Joe Smith? He’s the guy that drives that blue and white Chevy. Sam Jones? He died last week. Drove that Ford with the wooden stockrack.”

Q: When do you borrow another person’s pickup, chain-saw, or horse?

A: Only if the owner originates an offer to lend it.

A pickup often becomes part of the family and earns a name such as: “Old Blue” or “Old Greenie” or “Old Clank and Rattle.”

Q: When do cowboys and ranchers shelter their trucks from inclement weather?

A: Never. In cold weather they plug in the head-bolt heater to an extension cord strung out a block or so across the barnyard.

Hopefully the above helps Puzzled Lady decode some of the perplexities of Out West culture. She should give herself plenty of time. After 10 or 20 years, much of her bewilderment will clear up. ❖