In the cowboy song “Old Paint,” the singer sings, “I lead an old Dan,” that he’s on his way to Montana to “throw the hoolihan” and that the “fiery and snuffy are a-rarin’ to go.” What do hoolihan, Dan, fiery and snuffy mean?
Cowboy lingo is an esoteric language all its own and understood by few, but here goes.
An old Dan is believed to be cowboy jargon for a pack animal. Sometimes the words sung were, “I lead an old dam,” meaning a mare.
Fiery means temperamental, ardent or intensely passionate; snuffy means wild, spirited and likely to cause trouble.
A hoolihan means going to town and raising hell or “painting the town red.” It’s also a roping term used by the cowboys to describe a quick, backhand loop thrown to make a head catch on a horse or cow in a crowded corral when the animal was facing you. I compare it to a backhand versus a forehand in tennis.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org