Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: Cowboy Lingo by Ramon F Adams

Cowboy Lingo
Ramon F. Adams
Houghton Mifflin, 1936, 2000

Cowboy Lingo, which is an introduction into the vocabulary and culture of the cowboy, is one of those little gems that every lover and writer of the West should have on their bookshelf. First published in 1936, it was republished in 2000. This newest version has a stand up introduction by Elmer Kelton, who introduces us also to the fascinating world of its author, Ramon Adams.

Cowboy Lingo is divided up into themes. Adams covers all of the topics that may touch a cowboy's life at one point or another. The chapter on The Cowboy and his Duties covers what a cowboy would normally be responsible for while working on a ranch. He then discusses his clothes, his saddle and other riding equipment, ropes, guns, brands, nicknames, and so forth.

Being a horsewoman, I had a really hard time reading the passages on the various training and restraint instruments that were used on cattle and horses, such as various spurs, quirts and severe bits. But I know that if you're a student of the West, you just can't avoid these topics. Adams discusses them matter of factly and does point out in some cases that cowboys disapproved of such equipment due to their cruelty.

I am glad I discovered Cowboy Lingo. The book just gets more interesting the more you read. But I think that I am even more thankful that it has introduced me to the world and many other writings of Ramon Adams.

Adams, who was born in 1889, originally trained to be a musician and went so far as to become head of the violin department of the University of Arkansas. Then his life changed in the late 1920s when he broke his arm and wrist while cranking a model T Ford - a common mishap in those days. Adams was faced with not being able to do the one thing he had loved and trained for his entire life. In 1969 Adams recalled his fondness for music: "I loved the music Business. I hated to leave it, it got so that every time I went to a movie after that, it brought tears to my eyes because I had to get out of the Business. So I just quit going."

Adams and his wife eventually opened a candy store in Dallas in 1929, a business that would eventually become very successful, selling candy wholesale to retailers such as Neiman-Marcus. But during the next twenty years, Adams pursued another interest: his love of the West and the cowboy way of life.

Adams had first been exposed to the cowboy way of life when he was a young boy. The family home was near a cattle trail, and Adams, listening to cowboys tell tales when they stopped for lunch, became enthralled, and eventually became one of the most respected and well-known of historians of the cowboy.

The following is list of publications from the web page for the Ramon Adams collection at the University of Texas.

Cowboy Lingo(1936), a book focusing on the language of the cowboy
Western Words(1944), a dictionary of words used by the Cowboy
Charles M. Russell: The Cowboy Artist (1948), the first book-length biography of Russell
Come An' Get It (1952), a monograph about the almost forgotten cowboy cook
Six Guns and Saddle Leather (1954), an annotated bibliography of books about western outlaws and gunmen

After retiring, Adams was even more prolific. Before his death on April 29, 1976, he had published many more books, including:
The Best of the American Cowboy (1957), an anthology of passages from what he considered to be the best books about the cowboy
The Rampaging Herd (1959), his bibliography of the range cattle industry
A Fitting Death for Billy the Kid (1960), a critical account of the kid and the literature about him
The Old Time Cowhand (1961), a book focusing on the cowboy, his life and his work Burs Under the Saddle (1964), a hard hitting look at the inaccuracies in some 400-plus books about the West
From the Pecos to the Powder (1965), a biography of cowboy Bob Kennon
The Legendary West (1965), an exhibit catalog for a Dallas Public Library display of the same title
The Cowman and His Philosophy (1967), a book of the cowman's philosophical sayings The Cowboy and His Humor (1968), a volume discussing the jokes and pranks of the cowboy
The Cowman and His Code of Ethics (1969), a book about the unwritten ethical laws of the range
Western Words (1968), a revised and expanded edition of his 1944 publication
Six Guns and Saddle Leather, a revision of his earlier book by the same title
Cowman Says It Salty (1971), a book of the cowboy's earthy language
Horse Wrangler and His Remuda (1971), a look at the wrangler in cow work
The Adams One-Fifty (1976), Adams' checklist of the 150 most important books on Western outlaws and lawmen.

There's enough there to keep any armchair historian/writer/Western buff busy for quite a few lonesome nights on the range.

The University of Texas, which holds his records, says on their web site: "Never a cowboy himself, he befriended countless of them and has become perhaps their most important chronicler."


David Cranmer said...

I very well may have to get Cowboy Lingo. I am currently reading a Zane Grey Western magazine from 1951 and I'm thrilled with all the phrases and culture it contains. I have a notebook that I'm jotting down lines like a lingo detective. An assembled work like the Adams reference sounds perfecto!

Matthew P. Mayo said...

Hi Laurie,
Not only a fine post, but a fine book. I bought it a couple of years ago and use it often--most informative. Plus it's just plain fun to read.



Now that's something I'd like to get. Not only your review but Mathew reckons its hot too. OK I'mm of to Amazon.