Cowboy and Rodeo Glossary | Print |

Bandana - a cloth made of silk or cotton, usually worn around the neck to protect against winds, rain, and sunburn.
Bedroll - the cowboy's bed, made up of blankets and quilts wrapped up in a tarp, which fastens with hooks or snaps on the sides. The bedroll also serves as the cowboy's suitcase.
Broke - trained. A horse that has been given some education is called a broke horse; a green-broke horse is partially trained; a well-broke horse is well-trained.
Boom town - a town that grew up rapidly, usually a mining town or a town where a cattle trail met a railroad line.
a cowboy on a broncoBranding - marking cattle or horses with a hot iron that imprints the symbol of the owner on the animal's hide.
Bronco - a wild horse
Bronco buster - a cowboy who had special skill in taming wild horses
Cattle drive - the movement of a herd of cattle from ranches and grazing lands to the railroad lines for shipment to meat-packing plants farther east.
Chaps - long leather leggings worn by cowboys over their pants for protection against cactus and other range plants.
Chuck wagon - the cooking and supply wagon used by ranch cooks during roundups and cattle drives.
Clove hitch - a knot used by cowboys to tie a rope or lariat to a post.
Cutting horse - a ranch horse specially trained to single out (or "cut") a steer or horse from a herd.
Half-Hitch - a knot often used by cowboys to tie a lariat to the saddle horn.
Hobbles - restraints that fasten around a horse's front legs below the ankle, to keep him from running off while the cowboy is out of the saddle.
Jerky - strips of dried meat that could be stored for long periods.
Lariat - a braided rope used by cowboys.
Lasso - a lariat tied with a special knot so that the lariat could be tightened when thrown over the head of a steer or horse.
Mustang - a wild horse.
Outlaw - a horse that cannot be broke or ridden.
Poke - a pouch or bag used by cowboys to carry small personal items.
Pulling Leather - holding onto the saddle horn to keep from getting thrown when a horse is bucking.
Quirt - a weighted, short-handled whip made of braided rawhide or leather.
Range - an open area of grassland where cattle and horses grazed.
Rawhide - the untanned cattle skin; a skin that has not been processed to make leather.
Rodeo - a display of skill in bronco busting and roping that began in the 1870s and remains popular in the West today.
Roundup - the bringing together of a ranch's cattle for branding or to start a cattle drive.
Spurs - made up of heel band, shank, and rowel, the spur is a tool used to persuade but not injure, the horse.
Stampede - a wild and uncontrollable run by a herd of spooked cattle.
Tenderfoot - a newcomer to the cowboy life; also called a greenhorn.
Wrangler - the person on a ranch or cattle drive who took care of the horses. 

This hand-out created for the Nevada Historical Society exhibition, Cowboy Up! One Hundred Years of Rodeo, May - September 2001.

Add these zippy cowboy phrases to your next conversation:
  • Above my huckleberry - too hard for me to do
  • All horns and rattles -someone who is very angry
  • Barkin' at the knot - wasting your time, trying to do something useless
  • Doesn't use up all his kindlin' to make a fire - someone who doesn't waste words on small talk
  • Don't go wakin' snakes - don't make trouble
  • He's a featherheaded loco! - He's a crazy fool!
  • I'm busted! -I've spent all my money
  • I'm sick of prairie strawberries every day! - Not baked beans again!
  • Let's hit the trail - Time to get going!
  • Looks like a goose-drowner - It's going to rain cats and dogs
  • Mad as a peeled rattler - very angry

Rodeo Bibliography for Children

  • Cowboy. By David H. Murdoch (Alfred A. Knopf: New York) 1993.
  • The Cowboy Life: A Saddlebag Guide for Dudes, Tenderfeet, and Cowpunchers Everywhere. By Michele Morris (Fireside: New York) 1993.
  • I Wish I Were A Cowboy. By Ivan Bulloch and Diane James (World Book, Inc. : Chicago) 1998.
  • Rodeo. By Ken Robbins (Henry Holt and Company: New York) 1996.
  • Roll On, Little Dogies: Songs and Activities for Young Cowpoke. By Meghan Merker with Nate Brown ( Gibbs-Smith Publisher: Salt Lake City) 1996.
  • The West: An Illustrated History for Children. By Dayton Duncan (Little, Brown and Company: New York) 1996.

The Connection between Vaqueros and Buckaroos

The first men to tend cattle with horses and ropes were the Mexican vaqueros (ba-KE-ros). These cowboys spoke Spanish, and vaca was their word for cow. Vaquero means "a man who herds cows." Say vaquero ten times fast. What do you hear? Old-time cowboys rolled vaquero around in their mouths so many times that it turned into buckaroo.

Many other cowboy terms started out as Spanish words. Most of the cowboy words for gear, cattle, and horses began as Spanish, but the cowboy promptly said the words his own way.

The vaquero says:

And the buckaroo replies:

bronco (BRON-ko: wild)

bronc (BRONK: an unbroken horse)

chaparreras (sha-pah-RAY-rahs: leg armor)

chaps (SHAPS: leather leggings)

pinta (PIN-ta: spot)

pinto (PIN-to: a spotted horse)

la reata (lah-ah-ta: the rope)

lariat (LAR-ee-eht: the rope)

estampida (es-tahm-Pee-da: a loud or sudden noise or movement)

stampede (stam-PEED: a wild runaway)

dar la vuelta (dahr la BWEL-la: give the turn)

dallywelter (DA-lee-wel-ter: to take a turn around the saddlehorn with the end of the rope)

cuarta (KWAR-ta: whip)

quirt (KWIRT: a short-handled whip)

rodear (ro-DAR: to round up)

rodeo (RO-de-o: a cattle round- up or contest of roping skills )

Spanish/Cowboy terms from: Roll On, Little Doggies: Songs and Activites for Young Cowpokes, by Meghan Merker with Nate Brown (Gibbs-Smith Publishers: Salt Lake City) 1996, and The Cowboy Life: A Saddlebag Guide for Dudes, Tenderfeet, and Cowpuchers Everywhere, by Michele Morris (Fireside: New York) 1993. This hand-out created in conjunction with the Nevada Historical Society exhibition, Cowboy Up! One Hundred Years of Rodeo, May -September 2001.