Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases – A Writer’s Guide to the Old West

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Begins with “R”


Loading cattle in North Dakota, 1936, photo by Paul Carter.

Loading cattle in North Dakota, 1936, photo by Paul Carter.

Raft – A large quantity.

Rag Proper – Dress well.

Rail It – To travel by rail-road.

Railheads – Towns with facilities for loading cattle onto trains.

Railroad Bible – A deck of cards. This stemmed from the large number of card sharks working aboard the railroads.

Raise – To make a raise. Meaning to make a haul, to raise the wind.

Raise One’s Bristles – To excite one’s anger.

Raise Sand – Start trouble.

Raisin’ Cain – Loud, noisy boisterous.

Rake And Scrape – To collect.

Randy – Wanton or lecherous.

Ranny – A top cowhand, skilled cowboy.

Rantankerous – Contentious, a variation of cantankerous.

Rappee – An inferior quality of snuff.

Rattler – Freight train

Rattled – To become nervous, worried, uneasy.

Rattling – Jolly, excellent, smart

Rattle Your Hocks – Hurry up, get a move on.

Rat Trap – A woman’s bustle.

Raving Distracted – Stark mad.

Rebel Soldier – Rye whiskey.

Reckon – To guess or think. “I reckon that’ll do right fine.”

Reckoning up – Talking about something or someone in a slanderous manner. “I overheard them reckoning up the mayor.”

Red Eye – Whiskey, also called “red disturbance” and “red ink.”

Red Lane – A vulgar name for the throat, chiefly used by those drinking alcohol.

Reloading Outfit – Cowboy term for eating utensils, cups, and a plate.

Rench – A vulgar pronunciation of the word rinse.

Retch – Past tense of reach.

Retiracy – Sufficiency, competency.

Reverent – Strong, as, reverent whisky, not diluted.

Rib – Wife.

Rib Wrenches – Spurs.

Ride a Shank’s Mare – To walk or be set afoot.

Ride For the Brand – To be loyal to the ranch and rancher that pays a cowboy.

Ride Out on a Rail – To be forced to leave town.

Rig – Saddle.

Right as a Trivet – Right as rain, sound as a nut, stable.

Right as Rain – Fine. “After a good night’s rest, he’ll be right as rain.”

Right Smart – Many, much, good. “He got a right smart bit of work done.”

Ring – A group of businessmen or politicians form to advance their own interests, usually in such a way that places the public at risk. “The notorious Santa Fe Ring was an unscrupulous group of politicians in the 1800s.”

Ring in – To force or insinuate oneself into company where one is not wanted or does not belong.

Ringster – A member of ring, or group whose objective is to profit at the public’s expense.

Ringy – Ornery or angry man or animal.

Rip – Reprobate. “He’s a mean ol’ rip.”

Rip Out – Impatiently give vent to one’s feeling or opinions. “When he came upon the town bully, he ripped out what he thought of him.”

Rip-roaring, Rip-staver, Rip-snortin’ – An impressive person or thing.

Road Agent – A robber, bandit, desperado.

Road Ranch – A supply center or store, often located on the major trails headed westward, that supplied the wagon trains with provisions.

Rode Hard and Put Up Wet – Ugly, rough or hard looking. “She looks like she’s been rode hard and put up wet!”

Roastineer – Corn roasted over an open fire while still in the husks.

Rock – A piece of money.


Colorado burros were often called Rocky Mountain Canaries.

Rocky Mountain Canary – A burro used by the miners in the Rocky Mountains.

Rod – A revolver.

Rode Fence – Patrolled the range checking see if any areas of fencing needed repairs.

Roily Or Rily – Turbid, excited to resentment, vexed.

Rook – To cheat, to dupe, such as a cardsharper or conman might do in a poker game.

Rookus Juice – Liquor.

Roostered – Drunk. “Looks like those cowboys are in there gettin’ all roostered up.”

Roost over one – To get the better of.

Roping In – Cheating.

Rot-gut – Bad liquor.

Rouncher, roncher – Used to describe something extreme, powerful, large, fine, remarkable.

Round Browns – Cow chips.

Round Up – A gathering of sheep, cattle or pigs.

Rousing – Very great, commonly applied to a fire.

Round-Rimmers – Hats with a round rim, hence, those who wear them.

Row – A fight

To Row Up – To punish with words, to rebuke.

Row Up Salt River – Used generally to signify political defeat.

Rowdy-dow – Low, vulgar.

Ruckus – Loud noise, voices, a racket. “What’s all the ruckus about?”

Ruinatious – Ruinous.

Rumbumptious, rumbustious – Haughty, pompous, boisterous, making a great fuss about.

Rum-hole, Rum-mill – A small drinking establishment, saloon.

Run – A small stream or rivulet.

To Run – To press with jokes, sarcasm, or ridicule. ‘To get the run upon one,’ is to make a butt of him.

Run against a pill – To be shot, to take a bullet.

To Run One’s Face – To make use of one’s credit.

Russer, Rusher – A dashing, sensation-causing man, a heavy player – often applied to politicians and clergymen.


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7 thoughts on “Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases – A Writer’s Guide to the Old West”

  1. In an episode of “the life and legend of Wyatt Earp, the phrase ” I’ve been wanting to tree Wichita” was used, and I have heard this phrase in some “Death Valley Days” episodes. The phrase to tree a town is not defined in this web site. Can you find out what it means?

    1. Well, I think I got somewhat of an answer but I was a real cowboy quite a few times in my life..always country though but first Hollywood misuses phrases that I heard a lot..especially growing up in the Texas panhandle in the middle of no where so our kind of talk is becoming a thing of the past…but we said tree something fairly regular, using for things like..we were out hunting pheasant and a bobcat would tree us…as in run us up a tree..even though most of them cats can climb trees…I assure you…even with a shotgun in your hand…any kind of mountain lion or wild cat will leave you in fear and will do stupid shit…but you can imagine how we would use the phrase in a lot of other instances like you were scared and backed up or some such like that…but I’m on here trying to find a good word for a song I’m trying to write about Billy the kid so…if anyone’s got a good thought for shooting a gun slinger in the old West… That might sound better than shoot…I realize someone claiming to be one of the last country folk around writing a country song…but I’ve found a lot of them are musicians…we kind of were out off necessity from there not being anything to do in the middle of no where other than play music with each other so…I really would welcome any input any one on here might have for the song as I’m not great at navigating the internet

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