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Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) has this brief entry for the word dogie:

dogie n {origin unknown} (1888) chiefly West : a motherless calf in a range herd

In seeking an explanation of the origin, I came across the following proposed etymology in Ramon Adams, The Cowboy Dictionary (1968/1993):

dogie A scrubby calf that has not wintered well and is anemic from the scant food of the cold months; also dogy or dobie. It is, in the language of the cowboy, "a calf who has lost his mammy and whose daddy has run off with another cow." Although the word is commonly used in the West and is understood by all cattlemen, there has been some controversy over its origin. One version is that during trail days, when it was discovered that the northern range was good cow country, especially for fattening beef, there arose a a demand for young animals. It became the usage to call them dogies, especially yearling steers, to distinguish them from the steers that were fat enough for market.

Another, more likely version is that the term originated in the [eighteen-]eighties after a very severe winter had killed off a number of orphan calves. The bellies of the survivors very much resembled a batch of sour dough carried in a sack. Having no mothers whose brand would establish ownership, and carrying no brand themselves by which they might be identified, these orphans were put into the maverick class. The first to claim them was recognized as the owner, no matter where they were found.

One day on roundup a certain cowman who was trying to build up a herd drove in a bunch from along the river.

"Boys, there's five of them dough-guts in that drive, and I claim every damn one of 'em!" he yelled.

During that roundup all orphan calves became known as dough-guts; later the term was shortened to dogie, which has been used ever since throughout cattle land to refer to a pot-gutted orphan calf. The term became popular through western songs, though a great percentage of the singers pronounce it doggie, as if they were singing of a pup.

The first etymological explanation that Adams presents isn't an explanation at all, as far as I can tell. The second and, according to Adams, "more likely" one strikes me as far from persuasive, despite the exact quotation that Adams attributes to the "certain cowman" who is credited with coining the alleged antecedent term dough-guts.

My questions are as follows:

  1. What is the etymological origin of the term dogie?

  2. When and where did the word first appear in print?

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  • 2
    Hey, this looks like a perfect question for a Sven Yargs answ.... oh ;)
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 20 at 22:03
  • I’d love to answer this question if I had enough hours in the day. But so far, I would say... Starting with the OED, we see that the term dogie first referred to an “unacclimatized” calf — and not until later did it mean a sick one. Given that, I think we can rule out the “dough gut” angle. The calves were unacclimatized, as well as motherless, because they were captured unbranded or brought to market and sold for cheap or poached (all of which might have been the easier for their being young, small, or runty), and relocated. Jan 21 at 3:46

2 Answers 2

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Dictionary discussions and etymological speculation

Dictionary of American Regional English (1991) cites a first occurrence of 1888 for dogie (spelled doughgie in that instance, as I will discuss later on this answer) and offers this cautious etymological note:

dogie n Also sp[elled] dogee, dogey, dogy, doughgie {Orig[in] uncertain; perh[aps] from doggie [in the sense of "dog"]; perh[aps] infl[uenced] by dobe 6 ["=dogie 1 ; transf.: a small child [citations to as early as 1897]"]} West

1 also dogie calf: a young often runty calf, usu one that has no mother.

Mitford Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (1951) is likewise guarded on the subject of dogie's etymology:

dogie n. W[est] A motherless calf. ... The origin of this term is unknown. Bentley's suggestion that it is probably an adaptation of dobie q.v. seems improbable.

"Bentley" is Harold Bentley, A Dictionary of Spanish Terms in English, with Special Reference to the American Southwest (1932). Although I have not been able to find a searchable copy of this book online, Doris Seibold, "Localisms in the Spoken English of the Cattle Industry of Santa Cruz County, Arizona," a Master's Degree thesis submitted at the University of Arizona in 1946, quotes the following relevant sentence from it:

A scrubby or anemic calf or other animal which is called dogie received this name because of an adaptation of 'dobe or dobies.

In making a connection between dogie and 'dobe or dobie, Bentley presumably has in mind dobie in the sense of "Mexican silver dollar," not in the sense of "sun-dried mud brick." Dictionary of American Regional English finds instances of dobe or dobie in the sense of "silver dollar" dating to 1906, but Elephind newspaper database searches turn up relevant instances of each form of the term from as early as 1881.

From "Editorial Notes," in the [Yuma] Arizona Sentinel (October 8, 1881):

It is aid that a flour barrel will hold 678,900 silver dollars. I someone will contribute the flour barrel we may verify this statement.—Nugget.

Oh yes; that's easy enough. If our one silver dollar will occupy a give space, 678,900 silver dollars will occupy 678,900 times that much space. Tucson editors cannot make the same calculation, as the rule does n't apply to "dobes."

And from "Scraps," in the Indianapolis [Indiana] News (October 12, 1881):

Attempts at Tucson, Arizona, to make United States coin the standard of values, and to discount Mexican "dobies," or silver dollars, has not been successful. All the merchants and saloon keepers agreed to the plan, but after the first day’s effort it was conceded on all hands to be a miserable failure. The leading business establishments now sport the sign: "Dobies taken at par, and d——d glad to get them."

Robert N. Smead, Vocabulario Vaquero/Cowboy Talk: A Dictionary of Spanish Terms from the American West (2004) offers some insight into the question of why adobe or dobie as an adjective might have acquired negative connotations in English:

adobe: ... (4) as an adjective, several English sources note that the term denotes Mexican origin and usually connotes inferiority. For instance, the Mexican dollar or silver peso was called the "dobie dollar" or "dobie," for short.

Eric Partridge, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1958) seems more inclined than Mathews to entertain the Bentley hypothesis:

dogie (AE), motherless calf in a range herd, (esp of cattle) an inferior animal: o[f] o[bscure] o[rigin]: perh[aps] a blend of dobie (later-recorded in this sense)+doggie, pet-form of dog.

Winfred Blevins, Dictionary of the American West, second edition (2001) has this:

DOGIE (DOUGH-gee, with a heard g) An orphan calf, usually runty, usually unbranded; sometimes simply any calf. On trail drives, dogies weren't strong enough to keep up well and so were a nuisance. A dogie was also called a bum calf and a buttermilk. ...

Since the word was variously spelled in the early days (doughie, dogy, doge, dogey) lots of folks both ordinary and academic have speculated about its origin. Some note that starved calves have swollen bellies and so were sometimes called dough-guts, which could have become dogie. Linguist J.L. Dillard in All-American English says dogie may have come from the Creole dogi-man, meaning "short man," or from doga, a term Owen Wister heard in the West and recorded as meaning any "trifling stock."

As noted in DjinTonic's answer, Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms (2000) cites a number of etymological hypotheses. However, Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origin, fourth edition (2008) concludes an extremely similar entry for the term with this rather deflating comment:

Your guess is as good as any etymologist's.


Early occurrences of 'dogie[s]' in the wild

The earliest relevant matches for dogie[s] in Elephind searches are from 1885. Here are seven of the earliest eight instances (the eighth instance is the very interesting one from the March 5, 1855 issue of the [Chicago, Illinois] Breeder's Gazette, reprinted from the [Dodge City] Kansas Cowboy, and cited in DjinTonic's answer).

From "Latest from the Range," in the [Miles City, Montana] Daily Yellowstone Journal (January 10, 1885):

Furthermore the Major [Logan] expressed the opinion that the mild weather has fortified cattle, both dogies and natives, so they can stand another cold spell easily if it should come and that the stock growers of eastern Montana will be none the poorer at the end of the next round-up than they would had warmer weather been experienced.

From "On the Range," in the [Chicago, Illinois] Breeder's Gazette (January 29, 1885), reprinted from the Dodge City [Kansas] Globe:

R.E. Steele, manager of the Cimarron and Crooked Creek Cattle Company, arrived in the city Thursday, Jan. 16, and informs us that outside of a few dogies there has been no particular loss of stock in his section. Cattle that were in good flesh last fall are doing remarkably well.

From "Musselshell Dogies," in the [Miles City, Montana] Daily Yellowstone Journal (January 31, 1885):

Some of the cow boys from the Musselshell arrived here from Junction City last night and brought good reports concerning the condition of cattle in the Musselshell country. ... They have heard of but few losses, on stock and gave the Journal reporter a different idea regarding dogies than has generally been received. They say the dogies are doing well: they don't travel as much as the natives, and on that account, they have kept in better flesh, but at the same time they have little difficulty in finding feed, especially on the north side of the river. They were positive regarding this state of affairs so far as dogies are concerned and said that they could show plenty that were looking far better than he natives and that very few losses had occurred among them up in that country. They do not take much stock in the reports that have been received here of there being considerable loss on dogies on the Musselshell.

From "The True Reason" in the [Miles City, Montana] Daily Yellowstone Journal (February 20, 1885):

We acknowledge that we have in eastern Montana a great many poor cattle, bit this is a result of which the country is not at fault. If certain tenderfeet persist in shipping to this country late in the autumn the poorly fed yearlings from the short pastures of the states of Iowa and Kansas and turn them out in the river valleys where the feed is short without further attention during the winter, and then curse the country if some of their dogies die, they ought to go back to their homes in the east and take primary lessons in the art of cattle growing. If the writer to the New York Sun based his letter upon the faults of the tenderfeet in the management of their dogies we have not much fault to find, but if he or any other writer persists in saying that the native herds or other range cattle, except a few that hold to the river bottoms, are poor and dying he speaks falsely and his letters to eastern papers are not worthy of notice.

From an untitled item in the [Miles City, Montana] Daily Yellowstone Journal (February 28, 1885):

W.B. Dow, manager of the Iowa & Montana Cattle Co., returned yesterday from the states where he has been spending the winter. During his absence and while at his home in Rockford, Ill., his family was increased by the advent of a son heir who already knows a dogie from a native and will ere long ride the range with the best of 'em.

From "Blanco County: Stock Matters—Cotton and Con—Fencing Lands, etc." in the Austin [Texas] Weekly Statesman (April 23, 1885):

Cattle buyers have gradually increased their offers for trail stock. Commencing three weeks ago at $6 and $9 for yearlings and twos, they have now reached $8 and $11, but sellers still refuse to deliver at these figures. The impression prevails that at least $2 more per head will be offered by May. Whether this is authorized by anything more than the idea that such ought to be the price I know not. A large percentage of the yearlings are "dogies" owing to a dry summer and hard winter.

From "Live Stock News" in the St. Johns [Arizona] Herald (September 3, 1885), reprinted from the Dodge City [Kansas] Globe:

The northern countries are now rolling into Chicago their 1,200 and 1,300 pound beef steers, while Texas proper are supplying the market with 800 to 950 pound dogies. Thus it may be observed, while Texas is the boss breeding country, the northwest is by a large majority the best beefing and maturing section in the United States for range beef. It takes a climate even to raise a beef steer.


A very early instance of 'doby/dobies'

A Google Books search for doby (and the plural form dobies) turns up a match in the sense of "motherless calf" from 1880—five years earlier than the earliest match I am aware of for dogie[s]. From The Texas Vendetta; or The Sutton–Taylor Feud (1880), an account of a fourteen-year feud between two families in DeWitt County, Texas, running from 1866 to 1880:

The stockmen [in Texas] brand their calves and colts every spring and autumn, and for this purpose they hunt in parties of from ten to one hundred, and brand and release the animal wherever found. As many calves and colts escape the closest scrutiny, they are, when weaned, called "dobies" and "mavericks," and afford an exciting emulation to the enterprising youth, who holds with undisputed title all that he may succeed in branding. Thus was a door left wide open to theft, through which, alas! too many have entered, some to experience the rigors of justice in the penitentiary, others to seem refuge in flight, and still others to escape detection and revel in their ill-gotten gains.

Another implied invitation to earn money, at the expense of honesty an the bona fide owner, was discovered in the loose manner of selling beeves. A man often assumes an "agency" for men living at a distance, and proceeds forthwith to sell their beeves indiscriminately with his own. True, each animal sold must be inspected by an officer, who records the brand and mark ; but it is no exaggeration to say that thousands of beeves thus sold were entirely lost to the rightful owners.These two species of theft were considered to have somewhat of legitimacy thrown round them by the sanction of immemorial custom. But, as "dobies" and "agencies" did not pan out fast enough, the enterprising "boys" devised other means through which to attain regal eminence of cattle sovereignty.

...

I may add, in concluding this portion of the subject, that the appropriation of "dobies" was a universal custom among stockmen. And though it was regarded not exactly square for one who had no "claim" on the prairie to indulge in this lucrative pursuit, the easy, good-natured rancheros generally forebore, and many well-to-do stockmen of West Texas to-day never paid a dollar for cattle, but "got their start" from a "doby" foundation.


Aside: Roosevelt's 'doughgie' variant

The variant spelling doughgies also appears fairly early—in this instance from Theodore Roosevelt, "Frontier Types," in Century Magazine (October 1888):

While sitting up late with them [two cowboys from Texas], around the sputtering fire, they became quite confidential. At first our conversation touched only the usual monotonous round of subjects worn threadbare in every cow-camp. A bunch of steers had been traveling over the scoria buttes to the head of Elk Creek; they were mostly Texan doughgies,—a name I have never seen written; it applies to young immigrant cattle,—but there were some of the Hash-Knife four-year-olds among them.

Interestingly John Farmer, Americanisms--Old and New: A Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Colloquialisms Peculiar to the United States, British America, the West Indies, &c., &c. spells the word doughies instead of doughgies (as Roosevelt did), even though he cites Roosevelt's article as the source:

DOUGHIES. Explained by quotation.

At first our conversation touched only the usual monotonous round of subjects worn threadbare in every cow-camp. A bunch of steers had been travelling over the scoria buttes to the head of Elk Creek; they were mostly Texan DOUGHIES—a name I have never seen written, it applies to young immigrant cattle—but there were some of the Hash-Knife four-year-olds among them.—Century Magazine, October, 1888

Roosevelt again uses the term doughgies in Hunting the Grisly (1889):

In the spring and early summer of 1888, the bears killed no cattle near my ranch; but in the late summer and early fall of that year a big bear, which we well knew by its tracks, suddenly took to cattle killing. ... It seemed to attack the animals wholly regardless of their size and strength; its victims included a large bull and a beef steer, as well as cows, yearlings, and gaunt, weak trail "doughgies," which had been brought in very late by a Texas cow-outfit—for that year several herds were driven up from the overstocked, eaten-out, and drought-stricken ranges of the far South.


Assessment

The eight matches for dogies that Google Books, Hathi Trust, and Elephind newspaper searches produce from the period January 10, 1885, through September 3, 1885, break out as follows: four originated in a Miles City, Montana, newspaper; three originated in two different Dodge City, Kansas, newspapers (and were subsequently spread to a national audience by a Chicago, Illinois, trade newspaper); and one originated in an Austin, Texas, newspaper.

The Montana and Kansas instances focus on dogie in the sense of "scrubby, underfed yearling, recently arrived from down South." The Austin instance focuses on dogie in the sense of "orphan calf." This makes sense because in Texas in the 1880s the category of interest was locally born calves whose mothers had subsequently died or vanished from the scene, whereas in Kansas and Montana the category of interest was imported cattle that were too runty to sell for a good price to the slaughterhouses—meaning that cattle dealers had to sell them instead to ranchers in the north who were willing to take a chance that they might survive the winter and grow into valuable animals over the next year.

The wildcard in all of these search results is The Texas Vendetta (1880), with its multiple references to dobies and doby as unbranded and, therefore, unclaimed calves. This book, although published in New York, seems to be the work of a well-informed (but unreconstructed) Texan, as witness his opinion that the "direful proportions" of the Sutton–Taylor feud "were evolved from the pernicious enforcement of the cruel 'Reconstruction Acts' of Congress."

The occurrence of the spellings dobies and doby at this early date invites two explanations. One is that dogie[s] began as dobie[s] and transformed into dogie[s] as a result of imperfect oral transmission—perhaps as the term moved northward and away from Texas (and Mexico). The other is that dogie[s] reflects the original pronunciation, but the author of The Texas Vendetta (and perhaps others in south-central Texas as of 1880) misheard it and consequently transliterated it incorrectly at that early date. I think that the former explanation is more probable, although the latter is by no means impossible.

One thing that seems quite clear from Theodore Roosevelt's 1888 spelling doughgies of "a name I have never seen written" is that in the far north of the United States (at least) the term was pronounced with a hard g from an early date; Roosevelt's ranches were in North Dakota, and he evidently arrived at the spelling doughgies without ever having seen the spelling dogies that the Daily Yellowstone in neighboring Montana had adopted in early 1885. It also seems quite significant that the Austin Statesman used the spelling dogies in April 1885. Cuero, the county seat of DeWitt County, is less than 100 miles from Austin.

If the original form of the term was indeed dobie[s], the word may have originated as the adjective form of adobe noted by Robert Smead in Vocabulario Vaquero/Cowboy Talk, with its pejorative connotation (in English) of inferior quality. This was Harold Bentley's conjecture in 1932, although he seems to have arrived at it without reference to The Texas Vendetta.

Proponents of the view that the word originated in English as dobie[s] face the task of explaining why that term occurred so infrequently in published texts of the 1880s and why English speakers in Texas, who were especially likely to be aware of the Spanish roots of the term (if it did come from adobe) so readily abandoned it in favor of dogies. Proponents of the view that dogie[s] came first in English face the task of explaining how and why the dobie[s] variant arose and why dobie[s] appeared in print five years before the earliest attested instance of dogie[s].

Maybe the answers lie in even earlier instances of the term that have not yet been uncovered.

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dogie The American cowboy has been shouting “git along, little dogie” for more than a century, but etymologists differ about the origin of the word dogie for a motherless calf. Some think it derives from “dough-guts,” referring to the bloated bellies of such calves; other think that dogie is a clipped form of the Spanish adobe (mud); possibly it referred to cows so small that they were playfully called "doggies," and the pronunciation changed. Since some American cowboys were black, there is also the possibility that the Bambara dogo (small, short) is the source, or the Afro-Creole dogi, meaning the same. A dogie can be a calf, a yearling, a motherless calf, a poor worthless calf, a steer, or even a lamb or horse. See also DOUGH GUT.

Robert Hendrickson; Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms p.474 (2000)

dogie: (origin uncertain, see below). (1) West: 1888. A motherless calf; a young, scrawny calf; a runt. Alternate forms: doge, dogee, dogey, doghie, dogie calf, dogy, doughie. (2) Arizona, California: 1921. By extension, a motherless lamb. also dogie lamb. (3) Adams indicates this term sometimes means a laced shoe. (4) According to Blevins, also used adjectivally in a humorous way for anything doomed to failure or "unlikely to survive." The origin of this term is uncertain, but there are many theories. Hendrickson provides several possibilities. The term may be from "dough-guts," referring to the swollen bellies of orphaned calves, or it may derive from "doggie," a playful way to refer to young calves. This latter etymology does not explain why the stem vowel of dogie is never pronounced [a] (as in doggie) but as [o]. Hendrickson, among other, also claims that it derives from the Spanish adobe or "dobie." Both he and BLevins also note that it may have derived from Bambara dogo or African Creole dogi, both of which mean 'short' or 'small.' Hendrickson hypothesizes that the term was originally applied by black cowboys. Belevins cites Owen Wister, who believes that the term comes from doga, a term meaning "trifling stock.' Dale Jarman (personal communication) presents the most convincing etymology. He derives the term from dogal (see above) since these young orphaned calves could be led by a rope tied around the neck. It's is possible that some cowpoke who knew enough Spanish to mistakenly identify -al as the common collective suffix, may have coined the blend: supposed Spanish root dog plus the English diminutive. Spanish sources do not reference a similar term.

bucket dogie: According to Adams, orphaned or stray calves purchased by stockmen to restock a rancher's range.

[entry above:] dogal (Sp. model spelled same [...] < Late Latin ducalem 'halter for leading horses'). Referenced by Watts as a verb meaning to place a rope around the neck (of cattle)...

Robert N. Smead; Vocabulario Vaquero/Cowboy Talk: A Dictionary of Spanish Terms from the American West p.82 (2004)


The OED entry and earliest citation are:

dogie (n.)

U.S. regional (western).

Originally: an unacclimatized young heifer or steer on a range. Subsequently: a neglected or undernourished calf, esp. one without a mother.

1886 Unity & University (Chicago) 3 July 263/1 Of the dogies (the unacclimated Texas yearlings and two-year-olds) that were turned upon the range last fall, over 75 per cent are dead.

The earliest example I have found so far is from 1885:

What is called a "dogie" is a scrub Texas yearling. Dogies are the tailings of a mixed herd of cattle which have failed of a ready sale while on the market. They are picked up finally by purchasers in search of cheap cattle; but investments in such stock are risky and have proven to be disastrous this winter. It is among dogies and through Texas cattle—that is, cattle from southern Texas and the gulf regions—where deaths have generally occurred in this vicinity this winter.—Kansas Cowboy. The Breeder's Gazette, March 5, 1885

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  • Thanks for this illuminating answer. The sources are excellent—especially Robert Smead's dictionary and the excerpt from The Breeder's Gazette.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 23 at 3:42
  • @SvenYargs Glad I could help your research.
    – DjinTonic
    Jan 23 at 4:18

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