|Texas "groanin' cart"|
Not exactly the most heart-warming call to dinner, is it? Hopefully, you won't be invited to your next meal with such biting enthusiasm. (If you are, I want to hear about it!) But to a cowpuncher runnin' on four hours sleep, this was just one of the dough wrangler's many colorful calls to the grub-pile.
The groanin' cart, or the chuckwagon, was the center spoke of a cowboy's harsh and lonesome world. While the wagon meant dry bedrolls and warbags, the chuckwagon meant grub.
Grubwagons housed barrels, sacks and air-tights, or canned goods. It was the belly-cheater's job to cook for ornery cowboys bent on breaking the monotony of trailin' cattle with playful tricks and jokes. Belly-achin' wasn't tolerated around the cook's camp, for his sensitivities were easily tramped upon. Swearing around or at the cook was generally avoided, (no matter that he could exercise his own tongue at will), an offended dough-roller made for lousy eats.
Cooks were often older men, those who had been thrown by a bone-crunchin' bronc one too many times. Stoved up and surly, "coosies" were often rough in nature...as rough as the backside of sandpaper. Quick to take offense and slow to forgive, spite often reared its ugly head around a cowpuncher's meal. Grudges meant succulent morsels would be shaved off a roast to be fed to cook himself, the leavings going toward the men. Syrups would be hidden, and an exhausted cowpuncher, eager for a good dose of Arbuckles, might find his coffee sweetened with molasses instead of sugar, meager portions or "altered" foodstuffs.
The cowhand's day started 30 minutes before daybreak, regardless of how late they had stayed up nighthawkin' the herd. If grub was slim, a call of humiliation might be heard: "Here's hell, boys!" Chants, songs and diddies might be sung if the outfit's grubline was well funded. Either way, most of those calls are worth hearin', but probably not printin'.
Coffee, probably Arbuckles, awaited the cowman. But before you nod your head in agreement, here's a gem you may not have thought of. Cowboy coffee, on the trail, was often brewed with bog water...a bog being a stream dammed off to collect rain for range stock. This water, more often than not, was tainted by the bloated bodies of cows that had staggered into the mud, got stuck and died. A volunteer, (never the cook, for that would make him surly) would "pull bog" and yank out the offendin' critter. Later, the boys would straddle their haunches, drinkin' a stout cup of Arbuckles without battin' an eye.
|Arbuckles on the boil at a cowboy camp|
A lean outfit's menu consisted of arbuckles, (with or without the bloated cow and meat grinder brown sugar), beans, bacon and hoecakes. Wealthier outfits afforded a much more satisfying spread, consisting of anything between beans and barbeque. Frijoles, also called whistleberries, were a cowhand's staple. Sour-doughs or hot rocks, were a close second. Air-tights, maybe canned peaches or other canned goodies would be pulled out - if that dough-roller was in a good mood.
Ever one for a good wollop of sarcasm, the cowboy's "fried chicken" was actually fried bacon. Canned cow held the stamp of the Eagle Brand", and sow bosom or chuckwagon chicken was salt pork.
In discussing an outfit where the cook fed salt pork exclusively instead of beef, one cowboy stated that he "lived on hog side 'til he near starved to death." He further stated that his system was "so saturated with hog fat that he sweated straight leaf lard and his hide got so slick he could hardly keep his clothes on." His friend added that he "et so much hog belly that he grunted in his sleep an' was afraid to look for fear he'd sprouted a curly tail."
(from Cowboy Lingo by Ramon F. Adams)
In the spirit of fine dining, family gatherings and "fluff-duffs" - cowboy terminology for fancy, throat-ticklin' grub - I urge you to remember the wreckpan code of the west...and perhaps, your guests at the next gathering will even hear the call of the coosie:
"Boneheads, boneheads, take it away...wake up, snakes, an' bite a biscuit!"