Cowboy Dictionary: An Illustrated Index

In ranching, we use many words and phrases that might confuse someone who doesn’t begin a day’s work by catching a horse in the dark. Here’s a basic dictionary of common cowboy terms.

Horse (n): A horse is a beast of burden, tool of the trade, partner and buddy all in one four-hoofed package. A cowboy will sometimes spend 10 hours riding a horse through the sagebrush, hills, draws, flats and back to the barn. The horse a cowboy catches for the day can determine if he enjoys his circle, gets a sore back, cusses the ranch and the dumb SOB who homesteaded it in the 1800s, or would like another 10 hours, please.

Two of our good geldings - Bob on the far left and Teaks, the PX horse, with his ears laid back. I kind of love that grumpy guy. Shorty is not in the picture, because he was chewing on the baby's stroller looking for grain. He's so standoffish it's ridiculous.

Two of our good geldings – Bob on the far left and Teaks, the PX horse, with his ears laid back. I kind of love that grumpy guy. Shorty is not in the picture, because he was chewing on the baby’s stroller looking for grain. He’s so standoffish it’s ridiculous.

Here's Shorty. He had no luck at finding grain in the stroller, but he found a baby who wanted to tickle his nose, which was just as good. I think these two will be great friends.

Here’s Shorty. He had no luck at finding grain in the stroller, but he found a baby who wanted to tickle his nose, which was just as good. I think these two will be great friends.

Circle (n, adj): When a cowboy crew gathers cattle in a certain area, the cowboss drops them off in strategic locations. Each cowboy has his own circle, which sometimes ends back at the starting point and sometimes ends at a distant gate or the next allotment. Some circles are more circular than others, but no matter what, you should always stay out of your neighbor’s circle.

To ride a circle, you catch a “circle horse,” a “knot head,” or a “Rock Creek colt.” Circle horses don’t need to be show horses; they just need to be rideable.

When gathering this many yearlings in country this big, each cowboy needs to gather his own circle, stay out of his neighbor's, but be ready to go help the guy next to him when he needs it.

When gathering this many yearlings in country this big, each cowboy needs to gather his own circle, stay out of his neighbor’s, but be ready to go help the guy next to him when he needs it.

A note to cowbosses: you should never change the circle as you’re dropping cowboys off. If you do, just plan on gathering the allotment by yourself and collecting your crew later, because they will have no clue where you are, where their neighbor is, or why the cattle you were supposed to be gathering are drifting slowly down the draw they’re supposed to be going up.

Cowboy crew (n): A group of cowboys working together can generally get more work done than one cowboy working alone. This sounds obvious, but it’s important. Horses can be dangerous and cows are the enemy, and nobody wants to go into battle alone. The antonym of “cowboy crew” is “cowboy individual,” which is a very lonely feeling during a run-back or while moving bulls who won’t stay together.

There's a reason it's "branding crew" and not "branding individual." Photo by Nels Arneson.

There’s a reason it’s “branding crew” and not “branding individual.” Photo by Nels Arneson.

Cowboy (n, v, adj.): These days, a cowboy can be either a male or female person who takes care of cows. Just because a guy is wearing a cowboy hat does not make him a hero, a worthy subject of ballads, or deserving of a free drink at the bar. But, I don’t know any who would turn down that last one.

Cowboy people take some (okay, a lot of) liberties with the English language and use the word “cowboy” as a verb. Example: “We cowboyed all over that country when we were younger.”

“Cowboy” can also be (surprise!) an adjective slash verb, as in “He sure is a no-cowboyin’ son-of-a-bitch.” This is not a compliment; it is an invitation to take up truck driving, fence building, school teaching, underwater basket weaving, or basically anything besides cowboying.

I love this picture of my sexy cowboy out cowboyin' on a jam-up-cool cowboy horse. Did you like how I used all the forms of "cowboy" right there? Those are the kinds of things I think about in my spare time. I need to get off the ranch more.

I love this picture of my sexy cowboy out cowboyin’ on a jam-up-cool cowboy horse. Did you like how I used all the forms of “cowboy” right there? Those are the kinds of things I think about in my spare time. I need to get off the ranch more.

Buckaroo (n, v, adj.) A buckaroo is a cowboy-type person who…this one is kinda tricky to define, really. The most general and widely-accepted definition of a buckaroo is a cowboy from the Great Basin, although since buckaroos became so dang trendy and popular in the ’80s, nowadays a lot of people traditionally assumed to be buckaroos prefer to be called cowboys. In any event, a buckaroo is not, as my grade school friend once thought, a pirate.

“Buckaroo” can be used as a verb much like “cowboy” can. Example: “We got our buckarooin’ done in the morning so we could ride colts in the afternoon.” It can also be an adjective, as in “Get in the buckaroo truck and shut up.”

Here, young Grace (actually, Grace Young...hardee har har) demonstrates the appropriate body size/wild rag ratio. We live in Oregon now, so we figured she better start dressing the part.

Here, young Grace (actually, Grace Young…hardee har har) demonstrates the appropriate body size/wild rag ratio. We live in Oregon now, so we figured she better start dressing the part.

Rain (n, v): This is the lifeblood of cattle country. Without rain, there is no grass, there are no cattle, there are no ranches, there are no cowboys/buckaroos/whatever you want to call them.

Ah, the beautiful sight of a tall, grassy meadow with cows and desert in the background. It doesn't get much prettier than this, unless it's a new full-flower carved Tip's saddle, my baby's smile or my wedding ring.

Ah, the beautiful sight of a tall, grassy meadow with cows and desert in the background. It doesn’t get much prettier than this, unless it’s a new full-flower carved Tip’s saddle, my baby’s smile or my wedding ring.

Look for the Nevada Rancher magazine on Facebook and call 866-544-5011 to subscribe. We’d love to have you as a reader!

Advertisements

About Jolyn Young

I grew up in California, way up north near the Oregon border. My family raised commercial Herefords long enough to get me hooked on cowboying, for better or for worse, but not for prosperity. I met my husband, Jim, when we were working for neighboring ranches in North Fork, Nevada. We fell in love, got married and had a baby - kind of in that order. We now live on the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona, where Jim works as a cowboy and I take care of our two kids and write a blog and various freelance assignments. I love the Lord and credit Him with all my victories and accomplishments. More important than anything I accomplish or don't accomplish, though, is the eternal salvation of my soul that believing in Jesus promises me. Thanks for your time. Have a great day!
This entry was posted in Life on the Ranch and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cowboy Dictionary: An Illustrated Index

  1. Bruce Bowers says:

    another good one. Gonna’ share

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s