Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Treeing and being treed

Frontier slang


"The Cow Boy"
Sturgis, Dakota Territory, c. 1888
Photographed by J.C.H. Grabill
Source: Library of Congress

Every occupation has its slang, and the cowboys of the American frontier were no exception to the rule. The Dictionary of the American West by Winfred Blevins (1993, Facts on File Books, New York) lists hundreds  of colorful phrases cowboys used to describe their lives on the open range. The website "Western Slang, Lingo, and Phrases" is another large collection of cowboy talk.

The men of the saddle were, of course, familiar with the idea of "treeing" a wild animal -- that is, pursuing the animal until it ran up a tree to escape . According to Blevins, the cowboys took this term and gave it a Wild West twist -- "treeing a town".

When cowboys "treed" a town, they were on their worst behavior -- drinking, shouting, fighting, shooting their guns, and riding wildly down the streets. The residents, terrified for their safety, took refuge in their homes, refusing to come out until the cowboys left. If the sheriff was too intimidated to interfere, the cowboys said they had "treed the sheriff" too.

They also used the phrase "up a tree" to describe situations where someone was in trouble without a way to escape.

I looked around the internet this evening for a story where a cowboy was up a tree in the literal sense of the words. I thought I might find a story of a cowboy who climbed a tree to escape a herd of stampeding cattle.

Instead I found an 1889 account of a couple who were treed with their minister. A young man and his lady were engaged to be married, but were quarreling badly at a dance. When the dance ended at 4:00 a.m., their preacher decided to walk them home so he could help them work out their problem.

As they walked along, an aggressive Texas steer charged them. The young man went up one tree, and the preacher boosted the lady into a second tree before he scrambled into a third tree.

With the steer menacing them from below, the two young people feared for their lives. They settled their differences quickly and asked to be married.  The preacher agreed, so they joined hands from their respective trees and said their vows. Soon thereafter, a wagon came by and they were rescued.  Source: "Papers Past."

I also read the story of modern-day cowboy David George.  George, a 53-year-old ranch foreman in Australia, fell from his horse and probably suffered a blow to the head. He seems to have wandered for a time, in a semi-conscious state.

When George regained his senses, he realized that he was in a swamp and the sun was going down. He climbed a tree to spend the night and was treed there by a couple of large crocodiles for six days. He was able to improve his perch slightly by building a little platform with sticks, but he couldn't come down from the tree.

Meanwhile, his horse went home without him, and a search was conducted. He was finally rescued when a helicopter pilot spotted him waving his shirt. (Source: Indopia)

I have been treed in the figurative sense a few times (that is, unable to see a solution), but I truly hope I'm never treed in the literal sense. I'm too old to climb trees!

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com