Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Prospectors needed grub, they looked for grubstakers


You can’t watch too many old Westerns or read a few Western novels without running into these two words somewhere — “grub” and “grubstake.”

The first was used most commonly as sling for food, “grub” — but it didn’t get that meaning from the Old West. According to Winfred Blevins’ “Dictionary of the American West” (which I reference a lot around these parts), “grub” started as a cattle term. It was “an earmark that consisted of cutting off the whole ear of the critter.” The use of it for food came from slang dating from mid-17th century Britain, according to Blevins’ book.

Of course, once you got to “grub” for food, it was a small step to “grubstake” for the start-up funding and food supplies needed by a prospector, and on to the person who supplied that start-up — a “grubstaker.”

Are you in the market for a grubstake or grubstaker? Perhaps those terms should have been kept alive for investors and venture capitalists in today’s world. Yet in a way, those terms are still useful, as there are many people who still do gold prospecting throughout the modern West — though most as a hobby rather than for living income. Still, when life’s pressures get hard and heavy, have you ever thought of putting together a grubstake and heading for the gold in those Western hills and rivers? Go ahead and dream, and maybe you’ll run onto the wife and me alongside a mountain stream somewhere one of these days!