Friday, January 11, 2013

Jacquie Rogers: A Fun Tour of Idaho History

Most westerns are set in Texas, Arizona, or Wyoming, a few others set in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Montana, then comes Colorado, and New Mexico.  The other states are for the most part ignored, only getting a book set in their neck of the woods on rare occasions.

Of course, every single state I listed is back East to Idahoans.

First, I thought it would be fun to do a glossary.  Ron Scheer does one every now and again in his blog, Buddies In The Saddle, and he always comes up with some interesting terms.  (Great resource--you should check it out!)  Some terms I know, some I never heard of and would like to try, some aren't of much use to me, but fascinating nonetheless.  I thought it would be fun to list a few terms and phrases still in use when I lived in Owyhee County, Idaho, where my ♥ Hearts of Owyhee ♥ series is set.

Bazoo: Late 1880s word for "mouth."  probably from Dutch bazuin meaning "trumpet."  Example: Shut your bazoo before I shut it for you.

California widow: A product of the 1849 gold rush, and referring to the men who left to find the mountain of gold, leaving their wives and children behind.  Some of the men took West Coast wives but were still married to their East Coast brides. Example: If Jeb hadn't opened his big bazoo, his new housekeeper never would have found out about his California widow, but he did miss his son.  In contemporary use, it refers to a woman whose husband is gone a lot because of his job--a long-haul truck driver or something like that.

Crowbait: Originated around 1855-1860, meaning an emaciated horse (or could be a mule, cow, or oxen) that isn't much good for work anymore.  Example: Jeb wants to sell me some crowbait for fifty dollars.  I doubt that critter would make it halfway home before he gave up the ghost.

Dry gulch: From the early 1870s, this term means to ambush.  It probably stems from bandits luring their victims into a box canyon or dry gulch to kill and rob them.  Can be used as a noun or verb.  Example: Jeb's hair stood on the back of his neck.  He had a strong feeling bandits were waiting in the next arroyo, and they had a mind to dry gulch him.

Hard case: This phrase comes from the 1830s and is used to refer to a man (sometimes a woman) who is prone to felonious behavior and who has few moral scruples.  Generally a very dangerous person.  Example: Jeb pursued a hard case wanted for murder, rape, and painting a puppy.

Hell-bent for leather: Late 1800s saying meaning to ride as fast as you can, more than likely wrecklessly.  Original saying is "hell-for-leather" and was a favorite phrase of Rudyard Kipling, who probably picked it up from the British troops in India, so not exclusive to Western at all.  Example: Jeb rode hell-bent for leather to stay out of rifle range of the mudsills waiting to dry gulch him.

Mudsill: According to Etymology Online: 1680s, "lowest sill of a house," from mud + sill. The word entered U.S. political history in a speech by James M. Hammond of South Carolina, March 4, 1858, in U.S. Senate, alluding scornfully to the very mudsills of society, and the term subsequently was embraced by Northern workers in the pre-Civil War sectional rivalry.  Example: Ready to draw, Jeb rode through the camp of mudsills, never turning his back to a one of them.

The whole kit and caboodle: Mid 1800s.  From  Etymology Online: "also kaboodle, 1861, from kit (n.1) in dismissive sense "number of things viewed as a whole" (1785) + boodle "lot, collection," perhaps from Dutch boedel "property." Kit also was paired with other words in similar formations."  Jeb rode hell-bent for leather out of the box canyon where the whole kit and caboodle of mudsills had tried to dry gulch him.

Idaho Territory
Not for the faint of heart

Before the Europeans, residents of the Idaho area were the Lemhi, Shoshone, Bannock, Nez Perce, Salish, Paiutes, and Piegan Indians.

British fur trappers roamed Idaho in search of beaver pelts and other animal furs as early as 1809, but in 1814, the trading post in southern Idaho was destroyed by the Bannock.  Still, trappers and traders came from the East Coast, Britain, Russia, and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).  In fact, the later provided the name for Owyhee County.  From Wikipedia:
The name "Owyhee" derives from an early anglicization of the Hawaiian term "Hawaiʻi." When James Cook encountered what he named the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands) in 1778, he found them inhabited by Native Hawaiians who Anglo-Americans referred to as "Owyhees." Noted for their hardy physique and maritime skills, numerous Native Hawaiians were hired as crew members aboard European and American vessels. Many Owyhees sailed on to the American Northwest coast and found employment along the Columbia, where they joined trapping expeditions or worked at some of the fur trade posts.
In 1819, three Owyhees joined Donald Mackenzie's Snake expedition, which went out annually into the Snake country for the North West Company, a Montreal-based organization of Canadian fur traders. The three Hawaiians left the main party during the winter of 1819-20 to explore the then unknown terrain of what since has been called the Owyhee River and mountains and disappeared. They were presumed dead and no further information regarding their whereabouts has been found. In memory of these Native Hawaiians, British fur trappers started to call the region "Owyhee" and the name stuck.
Up to 1846, the area was  considered part of the Oregon Territory, and the primary industry was the fur trade.  Trappers and mountain men were the ones who laid out the Oregon Trail (and all the rest of the major trails, too).
Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville and Joseph Rutherford Walker crossed South Pass with twenty wagons and one hundred and ten men on July 24, 1832. On a two-year leave from the army, Captain Bonneville and Walker led the first wagon train over South Pass on what became the Mormon and Oregon-California Trail.
We always think of the Spaulding/Whitman wagon train as the first, but not.  Eliza Spaulding and Narcissa Whitman were the first Euro-American women to make the trek west--the Spauldings to Northern Idaho and the Whitmans to Washington State.  Henry Spaulding also brought the first printing press to Idaho in 1839.

Keep in mind that Idaho wasn't called Idaho yet.  That didn't happen until 1863, when Idaho Territory was carved from Washington Territory.  When I was in school, we where taught that Idaho was from the Shoshone "Ee-da-how," meaning "sun over the mountains," or "gem of the mountains."  This turned out not to be true and as far as we know, the name was simply made up by George M. Willing.  Yep, a hoax.  Good thing we Idahoans have a sense of humor.

Because of modern-day boundary shifts, Owyhee County is no longer the largest county in Idaho, but it's still large--the size of New Jersey.  The population is growing by leaps and bounds and is now 1.5 people per square mile.  Even so, a lot of the old ways are preserved there, both because of the remote location and because the people like it that way.  The latter is what a whole lot of city people don't understand.

So it's with the spirit of those hearty Owyhee pioneers that the Hearts of Owyhee series was born.

Where the Old West really happened!
Much Ado About Marshals
Much Ado About Madams
Much Ado About Mavericks

 Hearts of Owyhee ♥ 
A fun short story: Willow, Wish For Me (Merlin’s Destiny #1)


Caroline Clemmons said...

Jacquie, Now I can figure out how to pronounce Owyhee. ☺ What a fascinating post with lots of interesting facts new to me.

Unknown said...

Gee -- a whole 1.5 people per square mile. Idaho's gettin' a mite crowded lately, ain't it? :-D

I always enjoy your posts, Trail Boss -- but then, everyone's posts here at CK are must-reads. Thanks for another fascinating history lesson and some mythbusting! Idaho's one of the few U.S. states I haven't visited, but now I have a powerful hankerin' to mosey on up there one of these days. :-)

Jacquie Rogers said...

It never occurred to me that the pronunciation might be puzzling but now I do see that it could be pronounced in a variety of ways. It's o-WIE-hee. People from there are called Owyheeans. (That would be me, although now I'm a Seattleite, too.)

Jacquie Rogers said...

I know, you can't drive ten minutes without seeing a car or a rider. Every time I go back to visit, it seems more crowded. I'm sorry to see it. The town where I went to high school is the largest in the county--was population 1,381 then. Now it's probably close to 3,000. And they put a stop sign on Main Street, which messes me up every time I drive there.

HurricaneReads said...

just let me know I will play tour guide

Jacquie Rogers said...

You'd make a great tour guide! I bet you still remember your whole spiel about the lava beds. :)

Devon Matthews said...

Terrific post, Jacquie! I'm surprised but I've actually heard someone say, shut your bazoo. Where? When? Who knows. :)

I luuuuve the new covers you have on the series!

Jacquie Rogers said...

I love the new covers, too, so thanks. It's always a time of breath-holding to see how others like them.

About bazoo--who knows, maybe some Kentucky dude brought it out west. :)

Gerri Bowen said...

That was an interesting post, Jacquie, thank you. I always figured Owyhee was pronounced as it's shouted/called out. That's how I hear it in my mind.

Jacquie Rogers said...

You're welcome, Gerri, and thanks for stopping by! I plan to have a few more tidbits on Idaho history as we go along.

Ron Scheer said...

Enjoyed your glossary. It's curious that among so many terms and phrases that have died out, a handful live on. I heard "dry gulch" in a western a couple days ago. i've known some Idahoans, who have a way of correcting my pronunciation of Boise. I believe I'm supposed to say "Boy-see," not "Boy-zee." Is that right?

Ellen O'Connell said...

I was through Idaho many years ago on a cross-country trip, and what remains with me is the impression the people there have quite a sense of humor. What left that impression were the signs - "Sagebrush is free. Fill up your car and take some home."

Jacquie Rogers said...

Thanks for stopping by, Ron. I always enjoy your blog.

You are correct--there is no Z in Boise; hence, "BOY-see." (You can always tell a "furner" by how they say Boise. Or Kuna.) And by the way, they talk a whole lot differently in Boise than we do in Owyhee County. Or used to. That's one thing that the wonders of modern communication is messing up. I love those wonderful regional dialects.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I love those signs--Fearless Ferris. I think they're mostly gone now.

How about the one in a bed of river rocks: "Petrified watermelons. Take one home to your mother-in-law."

Or a sign on the way to Murphy: "Watch for white horses in snowstorms."

Of course, California sued the State of Idaho over a sign and it went all the way to the Supreme Court: "Don't Californicate Idaho." I think that happened in the '60s. Yes, I thought the sign was funny, but I didn't see any Idahoans turning down the Californian's money, either, so I was sorta on the fence.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Yes, it should be Californians', plural possessive. And now, blogger doesn't let you edit. Thbbbbt.

Anonymous said...

Fun blog, Jacquie. I always like learning where sayings come from. And it's a valuable thing to know, writing historicals. Loved
"Californicate". Californians are disliked in a few other states besides Idaho. Oregonians hate them and they aren't too popular in Utah either. Being from California, it makes me feel bad, but I understand.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Idaho's wishy-washy that way. Growth is seen as a desirable thing, yet they like having a low population. Plus, they're politically conservative so the only way they can pay for infrastructure is through growth, creating a larger tax base. And of course, the higher population requires more infrastructure, which costs more.

Why Californians are picked on is because they're used to paying more for real estate, so they buy an $80k house for $100k, thinking they're getting a great deal. That (plus supply and demand) drives up the cost of property. But the same could be said for other high-valued real estate areas, so the prejudice is still a mystery.