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In Annie Proulx's short story, the phrase "three-up outfit" appears, used to describe the ranch of one of the characters. I do not know what "three-up" means.

  • I suspect the close-votes are because you didn't document the research you've done. Since your term does not appear in any 'standard' dictionaries (at least in the context of ranches or cowboys) just noting that inside the question may be enough, rather than having that implicit. – k1eran Apr 8 '16 at 9:42
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three-up outfit A small ranch which, as one cowboy said, "Don't own 'nough beef to hold a barbecue."
Western Words: A dictionary of the Range, Cow camp and Trail by RAMON F. ADAMS
Pub. 1945 by University of Oklahoma Press.

EDIT:

That same dictionary also has:

top screw — The foreman.

so presumably screw = cowboy. And it defines :

three-up screw — Said of a cowboy working on a small ranch where three horses are considered enough for a mount.

and

mount — The number of horses assigned to a rider for his personal use during his stay at the ranch...The number of horses assigned a rider depends largely upon the size of the ranch and the kind of country to be worked. Seven to ten head is an average mount..

so extrapolating I think we can say three-up outfit could be regarded as a small ranch where each cowboy/rider only needs three or so horses.

I think the three-up is unrelated to the number of cowboys and indeed from snippet below, it seems the hero is running the ranch alone, initially at least.

For reference, below is quote in context from Close Range: Wyoming Stories - Page 98:

He bought and stole half a hundred cows, and with pride in this **three-up outfit**, declared himself a rancher.

  • 1
    Why three? Is it a reference to the (small) number of animals on the ranch? – Lawrence Apr 7 '16 at 8:50
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    @lawrence see edited version – k1eran Apr 7 '16 at 10:16
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    +1 Good find. I was trying to make it into a cattle brand. There are brands that take the form (number)UP. – MetaEd Apr 7 '16 at 16:41
  • @alancarmack thanks. I have updated to include your comments. – k1eran Apr 7 '16 at 19:50
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    In sum, it's just a phrase meaning a small outfit (ranch), and three does not have to be taken literally, in my opinion. A paraphrase might be 'a ranch barely worth the name ranch'. – Alan Carmack Apr 7 '16 at 20:05

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