Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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One of the fun ‘Westernisms’: Let’s storm the puncheons

If you heard an “old-timer” back in the days of the Old West speak about “storming the puncheons,” would you guess it sounded like a battle — or perhaps some Saturday night fun in town? (Of course, old-time cowboys might have thought “battle” and “Saturday night fun in town” synonymous.)

In fact, what sounds like it should have been an attack on a fortress was actually old-time cowboy lingo for dancing, according to Winfred Blevins’ wonderful “Dictionary of the American West.” (My edition of Blevins’ comprehensive resource is copyright 1993, published by Facts On File, Inc., publishers, New York.) Blevins explains that floors in pioneer days were often made of puncheons — rough timbers split from logs and smoothed or leveled on one side. They were generally just one step up the scale of civilization from dirt floors. The “storming” came from the vigorous way many pioneers and cowboys approached the whole idea of dancing, with great enthusiasm set to some form of music.

So the next time the music plays and you’re ready to celebrate, when those feet feel like dancing, go ahead and storm the puncheons!

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