Frank: “A reader asks, ‘Dear Ernie, why was the world
made to have so much pain and suffering?’”
Ernie: “So we could have lyrics for country and western music.”
—Frank and Ernest cartoon, Tulsa World, 08-13-96
In my preceding post titled “You Might Be from the Country If . . . Part II” I examined some of the Country-Western terms I learned as a child and youth while working in my father’s cattle business in the Ark-La-Miss region in the 1940s and early 50s.
In this post, the continuation of that series, I offer a brief introductory list of Country-Western language items and activities that indicate that you might be Country-Western. That list is followed by the first part of a longer section titled “Twenty Telltale Signs That You Might Be Country-Western,” which is continued in the next post, Part IV. I had meant for this third post to be the conclusion to the series; however, due to its length I had to separate it into new posts.
So the next post in this series, titled “You Might Be from the Country, If . . . Part IV,” will be published in two or three weeks. It will complete the twenty-question quiz on Country-Western terms and film and TV cowboy stars. The final post in the series, Part V, will be composed of another quiz on 1950s and 60s TV Westerns, a list of some false or mispronounced French terms, and some of my favorite French quotations that I collected during my career as a “French cowboy” teacher, translator, and interpreter.
Country-Western Language and Lifestyle
“Everybody wants to be a cowboy.”
—Director of Cowboys Who Care,
an organization that provides cowboy hats
to hospitalized children to help cheer them up
“In our family we were really earthy.
Why we bred cattle at the breakfast table!”
As noted by my mother above, in my family our cowboy language was like our lifestyle . . . earthy. Based on that “down-to-earth” lifestyle and language I came up with the following test.
You might be Country-Western if you have ever . . .
- Milked a cow, branded a steer, or castrated a calf.
- Candled eggs (to see if they are fertile and will produce baby chicks) or wrung a chicken’s neck.
- Churned butter in an old-fashioned churn.
- Scalded a hog to remove the hairs from its skin and then used that skin to make “cracklin’s” (pork rinds).
- Bailed hay.
- Picked cotton.
- Plowed behind a horse or mule.
- Chopped heater wood (from such a wood heater I still bear large burn marks on the backs of my thighs from backing up too close to it) and/or kitchen stove wood (from which I still bear a scar under my right eye caused by a wayward falling jagged piece).
- Used an old-fashioned “heat up on the stove” flat iron to press clothes.
- Used an outdated Sears Roebuck catalog for toilet paper in an outdoor privy.
To that earthy language/lifestyle list I have added the following “signs” section on it.
Twenty Telltale Signs that
You Might Be Country-Western
“I see by your outfit
that you are a cowboy . . .”
—traditional Western song
“I was feeling real good and manly. Until a real cowboy walked by
and told me that I had my hat on backwards.”
—Michael Biehn, quoted in
Celebrity Cipher, Tulsa World 12/1/14
You might be Country-Western if . . . (see answers section below):
- You know the origin and meaning of the term “quarter horse.” (See photo in answers section below.)
- You know what the parents of a mule are called and what the offspring of a mule is called.
- You know why the saying, “sweat like a hog” is inaccurate.
- You know what the offspring of a goose is called and what a guinea is. (See photo in answers section below.)
- You know what a stile is and have ever used one. (See photo in answers section below.)
- You can name another type of hay besides alfalfa.
- You know what a Georgia stock and a singletree are. (See photos in answers section below.)
- You know what a year-old calf is called and what book and movie bore this same title . . . and the name of their author.
- You know what a cow chews and how many stomachs she has.
- You know what the meat from a cow, a calf, a sheep, and a pig is called and why each is different from the name of the animal.
- You know the difference in the way cattle and hogs are marked for ownership.
- You know how to judge the age of a cow or horse.
- You know how to determine whether a cow is pregnant or not.
- You know what a colt, mare, and stallion are and what they are each called in thoroughbred horse racing.
- You know how long the period of the Western cattle drives like those from Texas to Kansas lasted and can name at least one famous trail.
- You know how to tell whether a saddle shown in movies and TV shows about the time of the Western cattle drives is authentic to the period or not. (See photo in answers section below.)
Below are the answers to the first sixteen questions in this quiz. The rest of the twenty questions and answers will appear in the following post.
1. A quarter horse is a horse that is especially bred to run at top speed for the distance of a quarter mile or less. (For more, click here, and see photo below.)
- The parents of a mule are a horse and a donkey. There is no offspring of a mule because as hybreds, mules cannot reproduce. (For more, click here.)
- The expression “sweat like a hog” is inaccurate because hogs have few sweat glands, which is why they wallow in mud to try to keep cool. (For the origin of this term “sweat like a hog,” click here.)
- The offspring of a goose is a gosling. (For more, click here.) A guinea is a barnyard fowl something like a “fancy chicken.” (For more, click here and see the photo below). When Mari’s father was overseas during WWII he informed his family where he was located by writing in a coded and censored letter that he was “where we found that nest of eggs.” His family then knew that he was in New Guinea.
- According to Wikipedia, “a stile is a structure which provides people a passage through or over a fence or boundary via steps, ladders, or narrow gaps.” (See photo below.)
- Another kind of commonly known hay besides alfalfa is lespedeza. (For other types, click here.)
- According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a Georgia stock is “a plow beam with handles and a standard to which a moldboard, shovels, teeth, or sweeps are attached.” (When I say that I am of “Georgia stock,” I am referring not only to my rural upbringing but also to the fact that my rural ancestors migrated to Arkansas from Georgia. See photo below.) Mother Earth News: Glossary of Terms for Plowing with Horses defines a singletree as “the pivoted or swinging bar to which the traces of a draft animal’s harness are fixed. Also called ‘swingletree’ or ‘whippletree.’” (See photo below.)
To read more on this subject, click here.
- A year-old calf is called a yearling (but pronounced “yerlin’ in SEARK), which according to Wikipedia was the title of “a 1938 [year of my birth] novel written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.” It was adapted into a movie in 1946 starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. (For more, click here.)
- A cow chews a cud and has four stomachs. (For more, click here.)
- The meat from a cow, a calf, a sheep, and a pig are called respectively: beef, veal, mutton, and pork. The reason the names of the animals vary from the names of the meat taken from them goes back to the time after the 1066 invasion of Saxon (Germanic) England by the Normans (Vikings turned French) from Western France. Since the Normans were the ruling class for several hundred years, both languages, Saxon and Norman, existed at the same time. When the Saxon serfs slaughtered the animals they called by the names they knew them in their Germanic language, the meat they served up to their Norman lords was called by French names: boeuf, veau, mouton, and porc.
- Cattle are marked for ownership by branding their hides with a red-hot iron. (See my earlier post titled “My Father’s Brand and Seal.”) Hogs are marked for ownership by making distinctive cuts in their ears (hence the expression about funds being “earmarked” for certain special uses).
- The age of a cow is determined the same way as the age of a horse, by examining the animal’s teeth for degree of wear. (I saw my father perform this simple procedure hundreds of times, and he was seldom wrong in his estimate.) Thus the expression, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” (i.e., in order to determine its age and value.)
- In the days of my childhood and youth a simple way of determining whether a cow was pregnant was by bumping a fist against her stomach and feeling for the rebounding fetus. (Again, I saw my father perform this procedure hundreds of times, and he was seldom wrong.)
- In thoroughbred horse racing the common terms colt, mare, and stallion are called: foal, dam, and sire. (For more, click here.)
- According to Wikipedia, the Western cattle drives from the ranges of Texas to the railheads in Kansas lasted only about twenty years, from 1866 to 1886, much less than the amount of time these famous drives have been portrayed in modern Western films and TV shows. One of the most famous and best known of these drives was the Chisholm Trail. Another was the Goodnight-Loving Trail. (For more and other drives, click here.)
- You can tell that a saddle shown in Western movies and TV shows is authentic to the time of the cattle drives from Texas to Kansas and other railhead locations by the cantle (back rest) of the saddle. If it is high, then it is true to the period. If it lies flat against the top of the saddle, it is a modern saddle. (See photo below.)
While preparing this post I received this message from my longtime friend and McGehee (Desha County) High School classmate Pat Scavo who (like me) has Selma (Drew County) roots:
Dr. Curtis Merrell, one of Drew County’s leading historical preservation representatives, has passed away. He was instrumental in the college’s being able to obtain the land with the Taylor house and cemetery [featured in a couple of my previous blog posts on Arkansas Delta plantations], which has been united with the AR Historic Preservation. Just as his dream of saving the pre-Civil War, two-story log house has come about, we lost him. It will be a great loss for historic preservation in Drew County.
According to his obituary Dr. Merrill was also instrumental in establishing the Bayou Bartholomew Alliance which works to restore and preserve this historic stream. To read his full obituary, click here. To read my earlier post on Bayou Bartholomew, click here.
To view a twenty-minute video of the history of the Taylor house and the Hollywood Plantation, click here.
On the subject of Arkansas Delta Plantations, here is a photo of a Delta cotton boll Christmas tree sent to me by my longtime friend and McGehee High School classmate Pat Scavo. The source of the photo is found in the sources section below.
Incidentally, Mari and I have two cotton boll Christmas ornaments on our tree plus a special Christmas tree decoration with the symbol of Lakeport Plantation featuring a stylized cotton boll on it (see photo below).
Merry Christmas, y’all!
The photo of an old-fashioned butter churn was taken from:
The photo of the cotton pickers on an Arkansas plantation of the 1930s was taken from: A Photographic Legacy by I. Wilmer Counts Jr., copyright © 1979 by I. Wilmer Counts Jr., Bloomington, Indiana.
The photo of an antique flat iron was taken from: http://www.featurepics.com/FI/Thumb300/20070823/Antique-Clothes-Iron-426043.jpg
The photo of an outdoor toilet was taken from:
The photo of a quarter horse was taken from:
The photo of a guinea fowl was taken from:
The photo of a stile over a fence was taken from:
The photo of a Georgia stock plow was taken from:
The photo of a singletree was taken from:
The photo of a high cantle trail saddle was taken from:
The photo of the Taylor house on the Hollywood Plantation was provided by Taylor Prewitt.
The photo of the cotton boll Christmas tree was taken from:
The photo of the Lakeport Christmas tree ornament was taken from an email offer from Lakeport in 2011. For more information, visit the Lakeport Web site at: http://lakeport.astate.edu/