Cowboys, Christmas, and Whittling
Just about every cowpoke had a pocket jack knife, and a good share of those men sat around the campfire and whittled. Judd Shaw, in How the Texan Stole Christmas (in Wild Texas Christmas—to be released the day after Thanksgiving from Prairie Rose Publications), is a cowhand who whittles. While writing him, I got to wondering why so many people whittled in the 19th century. So let’s take a look.
History of Whittling
I was surprised to find out that whittling wasn’t popular until the Civil War. Nearly every soldier, North or South, and a knife, and there was no shortage of wood. They might not have had sufficient food or blankets, but they always had wood. Once the war was over, these soldiers went about making a living—logging, punching cattle, farming, or whatever—and they took their newfound whittling skills with them. Whittling was a popular pastime clear up until the end of World War II.
Whittling vs. Wood carvingThis article is about whittling, not woodcarving. The latter requires a variety of tools and generally produces more elaborate artworks. Even with whittling, there’s plain whittling and then there’s chip carving.
Here’s a snippet from How the Texan Stole Christmas, my short story in Wild Texas Christmas. We meet Judd, and this is what spurred him to take out his frustrations by whittling.
He lifted his head after a moment. “I’m, uh, sorry.”
Winnie wasn’t sorry at all. No man had had his face on her bosom for a long time, and if she had to choose one to be there, Judd’s would be it.
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