I’ve been reading Elmer Kelton’s The Day the Cowboys Quit. What does he mean by the word “tawline?”

George Banks

Jenks, Oklahoma

A tawline was a term used in playing marbles. A “taw” was a shooter, and a “tawline” was the line the shooter stood behind. I figure it’s something akin to taking a stand: “when it comes to push and shove,” “drawing a line in the sand” or “when your back’s up against the wall.”

Elmer Kelton was nice enough to respond to our query, and this is what he had to say: “The word ‘tawline’ as I know it is used in shooting marbles. It is in essence the line of scrimmage. The shooter must place his taw on the line before shooting it. To move beyond the tawline would be to take unfair advantage, or in adolescent marble-shooter parlance, to ‘fudge.’ I don’t remember just how I used it in The Day the Cowboys Quit, but probably in the context of someone moving up to the tawline and taking on whomever or whatever faced him. William Barrett Travis’s legendary line drawn in the sand at the Alamo was an example of the tawline in fighting terms. The men stepped up to and over it, signifying their determination to fight.”

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