Thursday, September 22, 2011

ABC of the Western Mysteries

A basic GLOSSARY for British children reading the Western Mysteries who might not know what a Desperado or a Stagecoach is... or where Nevada and Utah are.

America in 1862

A is for America - the country across the Atlantic Ocean where people speak English with funny accents. It is also known as the United States, but in 1862, the states only went halfway across America with a few on the west coast. A great chunk of land in the west was called "Territory". Towns in the Territories were often lawless and wild.

Is P.K. a Desperado?
B is for Ball & Blackpowder - this is what old-fashioned bullets were made of. You also needed lint and a tiny little metal cap that you put on the back of each hole in the cylinder of your Revolver to make a spark which set off the powder and get the ball flying towards its target. Later on they put the cap and ball and powder in one metal case called a cartridge. This is what we now call a Bullet.

A Chinese Youth
C is for Chinese (not Cowboys) - in the early 1860s, when The Western Mysteries are set, there were far more Chinese out west than Cowboys. Cattle drives did not begin in earnest until 1866.

D is for Desperado - a desperate person who is usually on the run after committing murder, robbery or other serious crime.

E is for Emigrants - most of the people who flooded to America in the 1800s were emigrants from Euorpean countries like England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, Russia, etc. And, of course, the thousands from China.

F is for Frontier - the place in the American West where settled land gave way to wilderness populated by wild animals and Native American tribes.

A Gunslinger
G is for Gunslingers - almost everybody carried a firearm in the 1860s out west, even women & kids.

H is for Horses - The West in the early 1860s was a world mostly driven and powered by animals with hooves: horses, mules & oxen.

An Indian Tomahawk
I is for Indians or Native Americans - the tribes of people already living in North America when the emigrants arrived were as varied as the people from European countries, sometimes more so.

J is for Jackrabbit, also coyote, grizzly bear, prairie dog, buffalo and all the other unique wildlife found in the West.

A Kerosene Lamp
K is for kerosene or coal-oil, which is what folk used to light their lamps. They used candles, too. In 1862 gas had not quite reached Virginia City.

L is for Lincoln - who was president between 1861 and 1865 when America was fighting a terrible Civil War over slavery and freedom.

26-year-old Mark Twain
M is for Mark Twain - his real name was Sam Clemens and he was one of America's greatest authors and humorists. He joined the Civil War for about two weeks then headed west to Nevada Territory with his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the governor. After trying his hand at prospecting, Mark Twain became a reporter in Virginia City where he remained for two and a half years. Many years later he wrote Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, among others.

N is for Nevada - then a "Territory" and now the triangular state to the right of California, (see maps). It is full of deserts, mountains and minerals.

O is for Ore - rock and/or dirt containing precious metals or minerals. The Gold Rush in 1849 brought a huge wave of people to California, then ten years later the Silver Boom brought thousands Nevada, to the Comstock Lode beneath Mount Davidson.

P is for Pinkerton - the first detective agency in the world. The founder, a Scotsman named Allan Pinkerton, coined the phrase "Private Eye". Their head office was in Chicago, Illinois (one of the high-up states in the middle).

A Quartz Stamp Mill
Q is for quartz stamp mill - a machine with heavy iron pistons that crushed quartz so that silver and gold could be extracted.

R is for religious revival - America was going through a great Christian revival in the 1860s and almost everybody was deeply devout.

S is for stagecoach - a large, closed carriage pulled by four to six horses; it was used to carry passengers, goods and mail on a regular route. Sometimes you could ride on top.

T is for tobacco - like religion, almost everybody had tobacco. They either smoked it, sniffed it or chewed it. Those who chewed usually spit their tobacco-tinted saliva into vessels called spittoons. Ew.

A Stagecoach

U is for Utah - now the state to the right of Nevada on a map, then it was a "Territory", a part of America which did not yet have the full rights of the other states.

Nevada Territory 1862
V is for Virginia City - the mile-high city on a steep mountain above a buried "ledge" of silver called the Comstock Lode.

W is for Washoe - the region around Virginia City, named after a lake to the west (see map) and also a tribe of Indians who lived there.

X is for "X marks the Spot" - Prospectors were people who prospected or "looked out for" areas where gold or silver could be found. Then they "staked their claim" i.e. announced it as theirs. They guarded their claims with bowie knives, revolvers, rifles... and their lives.

Y is for Yankee or Yank - slang for somebody from the northern states or on the Union side of the Civil War. A person on the other (Confederate) side was often called a Reb or Rebel.

Washoe Zephyr
Z is for Zephyr - by definition a warm and gentle breeze. In Virginia City, a Washoe Zephyr was what people jokingly called the gale force wind that sometimes swept over the mountains and threatened to uproot trees and houses.

If you would like to read a book with all these words and a heck of a lot of adventure, get The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence. It is available in hardback, Kindle and unabridged audiobook format. Suitable for children aged 9+. Perfect for American history at Key Stages 2 & 3.

Thanks to Richard Russell Lawrence, who did the maps & drawings, all based on primary sources... 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:14 PM

    Now, now, we Canadians also live across the Atlantic and speak English with (arguably) funny accents . . . :)