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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

For your vocabulary pleasure
Words can have odd origins

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Historians continually write of nesters, settlers, settlements and free-range cattlemen. Exactly what were the origins of these terms?

Nester
The term "nester" was first applied to families who chose a plot of land clearing the brush for farming. They cut the large trees to build shelters, then piled the brush from this, plus the brush cleared from the land around the edges of their property, to act as a fence of sorts for protection for their crops. Others, like the cowboys, thought the new farms looked like huge bird nests, hence the title of nesters.

Settler / Settlement
The first white people in America were the explorers, trappers, Mountain Men and soldiers all leading mostly a nomadic life. When families began to arrive, the nomadic way of life ceased as people began to "settle down," thus the term "settler" was born. When settlers gathered in close proximity, it became a "settlement."

Free-Range Rancher
A "free-range rancher" was a product of a short period of time beginning when the Indians were placed on reservations.

There were no fences, except natural terrain barriers; land titles were scarce and hard to recognize. They considered all the range free to graze their cattle.

This all came to an end when barbed wire was invented. This product provided landowners an economical way to delineate their boundaries and protect their crops, thus ending the free-range concept.

Twister
The word "twister" can have many meanings. Which came first is debatable. In modern days, a twister can be a tornado twisting its way across the land. During the trail herd days of the early west, employees at the many cattle-loading points along the railroads were sometimes called "tail twisters," as they helped load cattle onto the rail cars. Many a balky bovine had its tail twisted, urging it to move along into the cattle car.

If you grew up during The Great Depression or in Dust Bowl country, a twister described an important home-made tool used to put food on the table. The food here is rabbits. When times got hard enough, both jack rabbits and cottontail rabbits were caught, fried and consumed.

A jack rabbit had to be shot or caught with dogs because of his speed and stamina. Not so with a cottontail. Usually, after a brief chase, they escaped into holes in the ground or in the nearest junk pile or weed patch.

At this point, the hunter used his twister made of a 6-foot piece of barbed wire. One end had the two wire ends bent outward a bit. The other end was formed into a crank for twisting. Insert the pointed end into the hole, find the rabbit, push the ends into the fur and begin cranking. When the points caught firmly, pull the rabbit out of the hole and supper was provided.

Many jokes about hard times were born. Some said, "I belong to the Ancient and Honorable Order of Rabbit Twisters." Another stated, "If my allotment check from the government doesn't arrive soon, I may have to dig out my rabbit twister."

A man who drove his wagon to Quanah for supplies was asked on his return, "How are conditions in town?" He answered, "Pretty good, I guess. I saw four cottontails crossing the road, and no one was chasing them."

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
December 7, 2009 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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