I am certain many of you are familiar with Square dances, the Virginia Reel, and even today’s Line Dance and two step and so I know most of you are familiar with the dance caller who calls out the next move the dancers are to take. I recall doing this type of dance as part of the history class back in grade school.
The dances were often referred to by the cowboys in their own special lingo as “hoe-dig”, “shin-dig”, or “stomp”, and if anything was important to a cowboy, these dances were, indeed, of extreme importance. There were no invitations sent out or big announcements made, just word of mouth to let everyone know a dance is coming up. Everyone considered themselves invited to these affairs and they intended to be there even if they had to ride 60 miles to get there. Apparently, when a cowboy decides he wants to do something, no obstacle is too big to stop them.
Whoever gave one of these affairs, had to prepare in advance because there was a whole lot of work to be done. There were mountains of beef to barbecue and the women pitched in making dozens and dozens of pies, cakes, bread, and dough-nuts which they fried by the bucketfuls.
The cowboys dug deep to find their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ outfits to “slick-up” for the dance. They laundered their clothes and “greased” their boots, cut each other’s hair and shaved. None thought about the dusty trail to get there that was certain to discount their preening efforts. The women who lived a bit closer would bring their “party clothes” in a “go-Easter” to change into before the party started.
The first guests to arrive, whether it was by horse, buggy, or wagon, helped with the final preparations. By the time dinner was announced up to a hundred guests might be present. Most of the food was consumed at that meal, but there always seemed to be sandwiches, pies, dough-nuts and cake left throughout the festivities. Coffee was constantly available in a pot on the stove.
Once supper was finished, the furniture was removed and planks and boxes were lined along one wall for the convenience of the women folk. Since there weren’t as many women as men, there was no such thing as a wall flower. Women barely had a chance to get a rest between dances. Women were so scarce, some of the men tied a bandanna around their upper arms to indicate that they would take the place of a woman for dancing.
The old fiddler would fire up his fiddle to announce that the dancing was about to begin. The fiddler was usually a unique individual who was considered lazy, shiftless, and a person who rarely refused a drink of spirits. In the special language of cowboys these fiddlers were often referred to by their shortcomings with statements such as “He had more friends than fiddlers in Hell”, or perhaps they would say, “Lazy ‘nough to be a good fiddler” or “Drunk as a fiddler’s clerk.” No matter how little the cowboys thought of fiddlers on a daily basis, at a cowboy dance, the fiddler was king.
Another important person at the dance was the “caller”. The cowboys referred to this person as “leather-lunged” and “loud-mouthed.” He was usually a carefree fellow and unassuming. He often invented special new calls and they could be picturesque calls which he called out in a monotone voice in time to the music.
Here are a few examples of the colorful calls:
First couple to the right,
Cage the bird, three hands ‘round,
Birdie hop out an’ crane hop in,
Three hands ‘round an’ go it again.
All men left; back to partner,
An’ grand right an’ left;
Come to yo’ partner once an’ a half,
Yallerhammer right an’ Jaybird left,
Meet yo’ partner an all chew hay,
You know where an’ I don’t care,
Seat yo’ partner in the old arm chair.
The shyness of some of the cowboys who hadn’t been in the presence of the opposite sex for quite some time was soon forgotten in the noise and excitement. Self-consciousness was tossed aside as the men began to “jine” in the dancing. It was often said of these cowboys, “He danced himself out of church” and had to “be saved for the next revival.”
The dance usually lasted until dawn. The caller would leave hoarse and the fiddler worn out. Exhausted and sleepy, the guests would ride back to their ranches as the music and calls ran over and over in their heads and produced smiles on their faces until the next dance.
Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media: