A Glossary of American Mountain Men Terms, Words & Expressions
A Glossary of
American Mountain Men Terms, Words & Expressions
- The shortest and
straightest line between two points. This term was in use long before
the invention of aircraft.
- A large, padded
packsaddle designed to handle awkward, heavy loads. Very likely the
first type of packsaddle, Unlike the sawbuck, panniers cannot be handled
with this saddle.
- A saddle pad, often
made of hair.
- An early camp food
made by skewering alternate pieces of lean meat and fat on a sharpened
stick and roasting over a low fire. When it was possible to get them,
pieces of potato or vegetable, were intermixed with the fat and the
meat. This method of cooking was much used by many tribes of
Indians, as well as the Mountain Men.
- ARKANSAS TOOTHPICK
- A large, pointed
dagger used mostly by river men.
- AS THE CROW FLIES
- See "Airline"
- AUX ALIMENTS DU PAYS
- French for "nourishment
of the land'. All the free trappers and many engages were required to
live "aux aliments du pays", surviving by using the provisions
- AVANT COURIER
- A French word
meaning "scout". This word was used by both voyageurs and
Bullet. (The actual
BARK ON, HE HAS THE
Said of a courageous
To skin an animal.
To scalp a man. a squirrel by shooting the tree bark from under him.
The .50 caliber
Sharps rifle used by the buffalo hunter.
A fallen tree used
for fleshing hides. This was also called a graining beam or a fleshing
A type of trap in
which the fall acts as a lid over a pen, thereby catching the animal
A lamp made by
filling a tin cup with bear or other animal fat, then inserting a
twisted rag or piece of cotton rope to act as a wick.
An unexpected cold
storm in late spring.
A term used by
voyageurs for a new man who had yet to travel the Missouri past the
Platte River. As with many voyageur terms, this was later adopted by
some Mountain Men with much the same meaning.
BOIS DE VACHE
Buffalo chips used
A despised human
scavenger who hunted for, and sold, the bones of dead animals, mostly
The leader of a
party of mountain men. The word comes from the French "bourgeois",
used by the voyageurs.
A trapper or hunter
The real treat of
the mountain man. A buffalo gut containing chyme, which was cut into
lengths about 24 inches long and roasted before a fire until crisp and
A person of Indian
and White blood. A half-breed.
A keelboat crew.
Tanned deerskin from
which much of the clothing of the Indian and mountain man was made. If
Indian tanned, buckskin was usually a very light dolor, often almost
white. Darker color was usually obtained by smoking the skin over an
A boat made of raw
buffalo skins, much used by traders. This boat differed from the Bull
Boat in that it was larger and had a normal boat shape.
dried and used as fuel.
The fluid found in
the stomach of the buffalo. Used by both mountain men and Indians to
An Indian dance used
to insure success on a buffalo hunt.
See "Big Fifty".
A natural saltlick
used by buffalo and other game animals. Usually a very good place to
feeding area used by buffalo.
The skin of the
buffalo, tanned with the hair on. Used by traders, Indians, and mountain
men as ground covers, robes and blankets,
The depression made
by buffalo rolling and dusting themselves. The same wallows were used
year after year often becoming quite deep.
A large, gray wolf
found around buffalo herds. Young buffalo calves were the natural food
of this animal.
A derisive term used
to mean any company official who tended to think that he was more
important than he actually was.
A bowl-shaped boat
having a willow frame-work covered with green hide. Easy and quick to
make; but very difficult to handle.
A safe place, often
hidden, for storage of food and other supplies.
To put or store
something in a safe place.
CAHOOTS, TO GO IN
To go into
A form of Mexican
trousers often worn by traders.
CANOT DU MAITRE
A 35- to 40-foot
long canoe propelled by fourteen men, (voyageur)
CANOT DU NORD
A 25-foot long canoe
propelled by eight men. (Voyageur)
A bundle of tobacco,
wrapped in linen, then whip-wrapped with cords thus forming a
crescent-shaped bundle. An early method of packaging and selling
A horse. Also a
tribe of Indians in Oregon.
To make fun of
someone. To rub someone the wrong way.
To haggle over
prices or trade goods.
A thicket of scrub
oak and other brush.
CHEF DE VOYAGE
A party leader.
A warm wind, usually
in the spring. This is a common term in the Northwest.
The hammer of a
rifle or pistol.
COLD FEET, HE HAS
He is a coward.
Someone who seeks shelter when the going gets tough.
The nipple on a
percussion rifle or pistol.
A raccoon. Also a
friendly name early mountain men called each other.
To show bravery and
receive honor by touching an enemy, usually with a special stick used
for that purpose only. In some tribes, touching a living enemy had more
honor than touching a dead enemy. Touching a man had more honor than
touching a woman. The first to touch received more honor than the
second or third. Credit was seldom if ever, given after the third. When
feathers were awarded for coup, they were sometimes depending on the
tribe, cut or painted to indicate the type and amount of honor they
represented. Oddly enough, killing the enemy did not count for coup
the first to touch took the honor, be he the killer or not. When used by
the mountain man, the expression "I'll count coup on him"
usually meant "I'll kill him", after which, the taking
of the dead man's scalp was normal.
COUREURS DE BOIS
A woods runner or
hunter an early French trapper, (Voyageur)
A messenger, A term
used mostly by traders.
A very cold day.
Any river which is
filled with sand bars reefs, or actual bends.
A man who can brag
and is willing to back his talk with his fists or other means.
CUT FOR SIGN, TO
To walk or ride back
and forth across an area looking for evidence of a man or animal
A tree blown down by
the wind or other force of nature. Also, a trap which utilizes a falling
log or stone as the actual trapping mechanism.
A hitch (knot) used
to fasten cargo to a pack saddle.
DIG UP THE TOMAHAWK
Start a war. Often
the word "hatchet" was substituted for "tomahawk".
DRY, I AM
I am thirst, likely
for something stronger than water.
Flour. This term
originated from the early practice of mixing dough by pouring water in a
depression made in the flour while it was still in the sack, causing
small puffs of dust. Both the term and practice are still used by north
Any type of
temporary prop or support.
A large kettle with
three feet and a dished lid. It can be used for both cooking and baking.
Calm, smooth water
on a river or lake.
A 3-year agreement
between a trapper and a fur company.
bound for 3 years to sell all they trap to only one company.
Chief of a trading
post or trading party, authorized by the company to sell or trade
FATHER OF ALL WATERS
An Indian term.
Pitch pine, very
good for starting fires.
A young, female
horse; although just as likely to be applied to a young, shapely,
Whiskey. This term
comes from the Indian practice of throwing a cup of whiskey into a fire
to see if it would burn. If it would not flame up, it would not be
A very early soda
pop made by mixing a little vinegar and a spoon of sugar in a glass of
fresh water. Just before drinking mix in about a quarter of a spoon of
FLASH IN THE PAN
A misfire. Also a
man who spends a great deal of time bragging, but never seems to be
around when it comes to proving himself.
Any skin or hide
which had the flesh and fat scraped off before it was dried.
The process of
removing the excess flesh and fat from a skin or hide.
A large scow used to
float up to three tons of fur and skins to St. Louis.
A stick attached to
a steel trap used to show the location of the trap and the trapped
animal. From this comes the expression, "That's the way my stick
floats" , meaning , " That's the way I feel about it."
Any fancy clothing
or anything fancy on clothing. Just about anything used for decoration
FORK A HORSE (or
Mount the animal.
Get ready to fight a
A trapper who worked
for himself, trapping and selling where he wanted and to whom he wanted.
As free a man as the elements would allow.
As the mountain men
used the expression, The Rocky Mountains.
A fusil or trade
A basic flour and
water bread made into flat, round cakes and fried in fat or baked before
the open fire. (Voyageur)
Tighten up on a rope
GET YER BRISTLES UP,
To get angry.
Beads, bells, small
mirrors, etc. used for decoration.
GO UNDER, TO
Said of someone who
has been dead some time. He's about to go under; but once dead, he's a
GREASE HUNGER, I
meaning "I am hungry for meat."*
GREASE AND BEANS
A term used by early
traders meaning an inexperienced man,
Meat which still had
the animal heat in it.
A western river (see
any good map). The hilt of a knife (from the old GR trade mark up near
the hilt). A knife made by Russell Green River Works. A copy of a
Russell Green River Works knife,
GREEN RIVER, UP TO
Anything of quality
was said to be "up to Green River".
Food. This very old
term is still widely used.
A very hard downpour
HAIR OF THE BEAR, HE
The greatest praise
a mountain man can say of another.
A person of mixed
blood, Indian and White.
A floor less shed,
closed with poles on the back and sides, closed with skins and blankets
on the front. The roof sloped from the rear of the shed to the front.
This form of house or shed was greatly used by settlers until they
had time to construct a log structure.
Short for "Tomahawk".
A very old term
meaning "to lift and feel the weight of".
HELLO THE CAMP
greeting given before entering any strange camp. Better given at a
slight distance or the visitor may not leave in the same manner that he
A rather low breed
of man who killed buffalo for the hides only. Usually despised by all
who came into contact with him. "Buffalo skins for the belts of
mountain man. One who had lived many years in Indian country. (First
Voyageur, later Mountain Man)
A large wooden
barrel or cask capable of holding from 100 gallons up.
A stick and earth
lodge used by the Navaho Indians,
HOLLER CALF ROPE
Give up, surrender.
An expression used by river boatmen.
After the first night or two at the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous many a
mountain man faced the horrors.
The small ribs which
support the buffalo's hump. Roasted they were another favorite of the
Payment given to
Indians as part of a treaty agreement. More often than not, a sizeable
portion went into the pocket of some bureaucrat.
Corn meal bread.
Medicine man. Also,
a White man well versed in natural medicine,
Trade goods. Often
just trinkets of little value to the White man, but of great value to
An Indian on
scouting duty with the U.S. Amy.
Evidence of Indians
in the area.
To sneak up on
someone or something.
Dried meat made by
cutting meat into strips about one inch wide, 1/4 inch thick, and as
long as possible. This was then sun-dried on racks often with a small
hardwood fire under the meat to smoke it and to keep insects off it. In
good, hot weather the meat would be dry and ready to use in 3 to
A day's journey. A
journey between pre-determined points.
A 60- to 80-foot
long flat-bottomed boat about 16 feet wide. In wide use before
A man who is an
A firm of smoking
tobbaco made from the leaves of the tobacco plant plus the leaves and
bark of other plants, the actual formula depending on the tribe making
A rawhide box
designed to be strapped to a pack saddle.
To eat in a hasty
and sloppy manner
Anything which has
an extra fine flavor.
The rope used to tie
a load to a pack saddle.
Time to roll out of
bed. This expression, usually given in a good, loud voice, was used to
awaken a partner or a whole party.
The buckskin, later
blanket, trousers of the Indian.
LIGHTS WENT OUT, THE
LOCK, STOCK, AND
In total; the whole
thing. For examples "He sold his shop, lock, stock, and barrel".
This expression comes from the 3 major parts needed to construct a
muzzle loading rifle or pistol.
The living quarters
be it house, cabin, tipi, hogan, tent, or lean-to, of the Indian or
cross-supporting pole of a lodge.
Once one of the most valued trees in the Rocky Mountains, due to its
many uses. Also known as "Screw pine" and "Tamarack pine".
A crude bench long
enough to seat three or more people.
An early pudding
made by stirring dry flour into boiling milk until thick, then serving
with sweet milk and molasses or sugar.
A boat approximately
40 feet long, 10 feet across the beam, and 4 feet deep, pointed at both
ends. This boat, widely used on the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio
River systems, was capable of holding a cargo of approximately 10 tons.
Often these were used for downstream travel only.
MADE WOLF MEAT, HE
A dead man left
where he fell, for the wolves to dine on. An act of contempt.
MAKE BEAVER, TO
To get a move on, to
travel in a hurry.
MAKE MEAT, TO
To hunt for and lay
in a good store of meat.
MAKE MEDICINE, TO
To hold a pow-wow or
meeting. To pray for spiritual guidance. To hold a religious service. To
actually look for and find herbs, etc. to be used as medicine.
MAL DE VANCHE
An illness common to
the mountain man and voyageur, It was caused by eating too much fat or
fatty meat and not enough vegetable matter.
MANGEUR DE LARD
Voyageur term for a
fur company recruit. These men, considered useful for common labor only,
were usually fed salted pork, hence the name. The term was later adopted
by the mountain men to mean any man new to the fur trade.
A shawl used as a
trade item with the Indians,
MEAT BAG, THE
The human stomach.
The magic, secret
charms of the Indian. Also the bait used in trapping.
The small bag, used
to carry the medicine of the Indian. Adopted by the mountain man and
used to carry anything small, especially the "secret" bait he
used near his traps.
The sacred pipe of
the Indian. This pipe was used only during special ceremonies, was kept
in a special, sacred bundle, and was NEVER allowed to touch the ground.
A sacred lodge used
only for religious ceremonies. In some tribes it could also be used as a
meeting place for the secret societies of braves. The sweat lodge (an
early American form of sauna bath) used by many tribes was also
considered a "medicine lodge".
A table-top (flat)
mountain or hill.
The stone mortar
used for grinding corn and other grains. The word is Spanish, not
The buckskin or
moose hide shoe of the Indian and mountain man. Light, quiet, and
A postal system
devised by the mountain man. It consisted of leaving messages concerning
the condition of the trail ahead, time and place of a rendezvous, etc,
in trees, hollow logs, etc. Such messages were quite often put in
an old moccasin so they would be easy to see.
Human feet. This
expression is still often heard among country people.
NOON IT, TO
To stop for the
mid-day meal and rest.
the common name of the myocaster coypusv many mountain men used it to
A friendly nickname
used between mountain men.
See "Ol' Coon".
ON HIS OWN HOOK, HE
A free trapper.
A very effective
Indian weapon made by attaching a 2- foot long leather-covered handle to
a 3-pound stone. Used as a club.
An Indian word used
by many frontiersmen and mountain men to mean any Indian child.
Rawhide made from
buffalo hide. It is exceedingly tough. In fact, its name (French) comes
from the fact that it could not be pierced by arrows or spears. The word
also refers to a carrying case or envelope made of dried buffalo hide
and widely used by both Indians and mountain men in place of a
A passage through a
range of mountains.
Indian food made by
mixing powdered jerky with dried berries and hot tallow, then packed and
stored in skin or gut bags. Used by Indians and mountain men. This is a
high energy survival food.
Flour made from
people moving west. The term was also sometimes used by the mountain men
to mean any man new to the fur trade.
The pointed bow and
stern of a canoe. (voyageur)
The jornada of the
voyageur. The distance between rest stops, which were the only times his
pipe could be lit up and enjoyed.
Beaver pelt (skin).
frigid west wind. (Crow Indian word)
POOR BULL FROM FAT
COW TO KNOW
To know good times
from bad. Either term could also be used alone, such as: "Them days
war Poor Bull and that be a sure fact", meaning, "those days
food and plews were hard to get and that is a fact".
A trip between
waterways or around a waterway obstruction, carrying everything along
The trail used to
carry a canoe and supplies between waterways or around a waterway
property of the mountain man, Such items as a bullet mold, an awl,
knives, a tin cup, his buffalo robe or a blanket capote, his pipe and
tobacco, flint and steel, sometimes a small sheet-metal fry-pan, and
other accouterments he considered necessary. Firearms were
considered "pieces" or guns" and not possibles.
The leather bag in
which the mountain man carried his possibles. everything from his pipe
and tobacco to his patches and balls. What could not be carried in the
bag were hung on the bags shoulder strap. Shooting needs were given
first priority, kept where they could be found with ease and
Dry snow driven
through the air by a violent wind.
An Indian word
meaning a meeting followed by dancing and feasting. The mountain man's
term for any discussion between two men, or for a planned meeting.
The motto of the
Hudson's Bay Company, meaning "for a pelt, a skin".
A very religious
To turn tail and
READ HIM A PAGE FROM
THE GOOD BOOK
To give someone a
tongue, lashing, or perhaps something a little more forceful.
To steal from
another's cache. Any man found doing this was likely to become wolf
To scalp an enemy.
The dried, dehaired
but untanned hide of any animal, usually cattle or buffalo. Very strong
tracks, etc. when tracking.
hide of the buffalo. usually used to make buffalo robes.
Dead or killed. This
expression comes from the early attempts of the Indian to learn English.
To erase is to rub out, anything rubbed out no longer exists, so must be
dead. Adopted by the mountain man with the same meaning.
SANTA FE TRAIL
A well-used route
between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A cross-frame used
for cutting wood. Also a pack saddle.
A time for counting
coup, feasting dancing, and chanting over battles won.
A challenging lock
of hair grown on the crown of the heads of the warriors of some Indian
The pole used to
display scalps taken from enemies.
second-in-command of a large party or company
percussion rifle invented by Christian Sharps.
Splendid. To shine
means to be extra good at something,
An early name for
the Rocky Mountains.
A form of tobacco
made from the bark of the red willow, sometimes mixed with Indian
tobacco plant leaves.
SKIN TRADE, THE
The fur trade.
Good. An Indian word
much used in mountain man slang.
A flat-decked sled
used for transporting provisions.
A method of securing
provisions to the back of a mule.
A dead tree in a
river. Capable of sinking a canoe.
SNOW EATER, A
Fermented dough used
for making bread, biscuits flapjacks, etc.
A term of respect.
Any man of courage, honesty, self- reliance, and devotion to what he
believed to be right was " square " and darn proud of-it.
SQUARE SHOOTER, A
A camp for women and
children while the men were away hunting or at war.
A simple hitch used
in place of the Diamond Hitch.
A White man married
to an Indian woman.
An unexpected warm
wind in the middle of a very cold spell. Like a chinook, but in the dead
Small dry sticks
used for starting a fire or tending a very small. hard-to-see fire for
Bread made from
flour, fat, and water. It was baked in a Dutch oven or on a stick placed
over or near a fire.
The steering oar on
keel boats, rafts, etc.
A whiskey made near
Taos New Mexico.
Fine, shredded Birch
bark or other highly combustible wood. Used for starting fire with flint
and steel, or with a fire drill. Charred cotton was also used as tender.
THERE GO HORSE AND
meaning "I just lost everything I owned or had with me".
The fringe on
buckskin or leather clothing.
THROW IN WITH, TO
To join a group or
party. To go into partnership with someone.
THROW SMOKE, TO
To shoot a firearm
A large, gray wolf
found at one time throughout the United States, now found only in the
A small hatchet used
by the Indians and mountain men for fighting and woodcraft.
Councils of war.
Treaty councils. The tomahawk was an important symbol in both war and
The conical lodge
used by the Plains Indians. (Teepee)
Unspun flax used for
cleaning firearms. Also used as tinder.
See " Fusees".
Marrow from the leg
bones of large animals.
especially for a horse.
A travois, a form of
sled made by fastening two long poles together over the back of A horse
or dog, then building a platform near where they drag to support a pack
or cargo of some sort.
UP TO BEAVER
meaning a very cunning persons one who can hold his own in any
The Spanish yard (33
inches); the unit of measurement used by many early traders.
A trapper for one of
the very early fur companies. Most voyageurs were French-Canadian.
An exclamation, used
by both Mountain Men and Indians, usually denoting admiration or
surprise. This grunt-like sound is supposed to resemble that made by a
bear. It is, in fact, believed to have ordinate from the sound made by
a bear when mildly surprised.
An Indian term for
belts of small beads or shells that were used as money. Many mountain
men adopted this term to mean all money.
WAR PATH. ON THE
A person spoiling
for a good fight is said to be "on the war path,"
The fine root of a
coniferous tree, used as thread or twisted into rope. (Voyageur)
See "Wagh "
A White man who went
native and joined a tribe of Indians. Many captured White children
became White Indians.
The lodge of some
southwestern Indian tribes.
lodge of some eastern Indian tribes.
The first real cold
spell of Fall. When the leaves all fall off of the willows due to the
cold, it is a sure sign that winter has arrived.
WIPE OUT, A
A massacre. Many a
so-called "massacre" was not really one at all, as both sides
had weapons and were able to and did fight.
A man who made his
living hunting wolves for bounty. The wolfer was only considered a
degree or two better than the hide hunter. Neither were ever considered
a part of the skin (fur) trade.
I am hungry.
YEAR AND LOCATION OF THE
ROCKY MOUNTAIN RENDEZVOUS, 1825 - 1840
- 1825 Henry's Fork of
the Green River, Wyoming
- 1826 Cache Valley
(near present Hyrum), Utah
- 1827 Bear Lake, Utah
- 1828 Bear Lake, Utah
- 1829 Upper Popo
Agie, east of South Pass, Wyoming
- 1830 Wind River
headwaters near South Pass. Wyoming. Very likely in the same area as the
- 1831 Supply train
dis not reach the rendezvous area in time, so no rendezvous was held.
- 1832 Pierre's Hole,
- 1833 Green River
near Horse Creek, Wyoming
- 1834 Ham's Fork,
- 1835 Green River
near Horse Creek, Wyoming
- 1836 Green River
near Horse Creek, Wyoming
- 1837 Green River
near Horse Creek, Wyoming
- 1838 Wind River at
the mouth of Popo Agie Wyoming
- 1839 Green River
near Horse Creek, Wyoming
- 1840 Green River
near Horse Creek, Wyoming. This was the last of the great Rocky Mountain
FAVORITE WINTERING- CAMPS OF
THE MOUNTAIN MEN
- Thompson's River,
- Yellowstone (now
- Taos, New Mexico
- San Luis Valley, New
- Brown's Hole
- Ogden, Utah
- White River, Utah
- Cache Valley, Utah
- Smoke River, Idaho
TYPES OF LODGES USED BY THE
- Trapper's cabin
- This was a small,
one-room log cabin, usually having a sod roof.
- The mountain man did
adopt the skin lodge of the Indian. These were often old tipi's the
Indian no longer wanted. Usually obtained through trading with the
- If caught in bad
weather, the mountain man would often construct a lean-to where he was.
Naturally, these were made from whatever could be found in the area.
- Trade fort
- Mountain men were
sometimes known to winter in a trade fort. More often than not they were
at odds with the factor and not really welcome.
- Buffalo robes green
earth, and open sky
- This was the
favorite lodge of the mountain man, the one he spent most of his life