How did “being heeled” come to mean “being armed?”

atm-logoHow did “being heeled” come to mean “being armed?”

Bill Murray
Pleasant View, Utah

“Being heeled” is tied to the term “well-heeled,” which means having plenty of money (wearing quality shoes was a sign of prosperity). In the Old West, at least in theory, a person was better off carrying a firearm—and thus he (or she) was “heeled.” The term was first applied, in 1866, to gamecocks with spurs strapped to the heels, giving them advantage in a cockfight.


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

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