Cowboy Bob's Dictionary


A roper gets hornswoggled

The roper above had his loop over the steer's head -- until the critter shook free and "hornswoggled" the cowhand!

As attested to by Peter Watts, author of A Dictionary of the Old West, the word originated from the tendency of a cow to wildly swing its horns from side to side until it shakes itself free of a lasso; in other words, doing a "horns-waggle." Many modern lexicographers scoff at this derivation, but the two occurrences of the word on the Library of Congress "American Memory" website both point to this as the true source:

1. George Bede, (born April 1, 1876) was one of a family of oldtime Texas cowhands. As Bede reminisced, "The top roper was Joe Posey, who worked for the Slaughter outfit that had a ranch a piece out of San Angelo. He could handle a rope the best of any man I ever lamped do rope work. That fellow could do a loop with his foot, which I never saw anyone else do. He would put the loop over the toe of his boot, then flip it over a critter's head as pretty as you would want it done. It was seldom that a critter could hornswoggle Posey out of a loop."

Yosemite Sam 2. Another oldtime Texas cowhand and horse wrangler, Avery N. Barrow (born in Jasper County, Texas, March 1, 1865), also put "hornswoggle" in its proper context:
"Booger Red was the best roper, with Sandy Smith, on the Roberts outfit, right next to him. I never saw him miss, or a critter hornswoggle him."

Among cowpunchers, "hornswoggle" is commonly used in a manner such as this: "Well, I'll be hornswoggled; I don't know how that critter got away!" Or as Warner Brothers cartoon character Yosemite Sam would say, "Ah been, I say, Ah been hornswoggled!"

Photo by Bob Lemen. All rights reserved. Yosemite Sam character adapted from publicity still © Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.