I Is For Iron Horse


I is for the Iron Horse. IronHorseWe’ve all seen the Western film scene where the Plains Indian (hey, another I word) looks at the long track and smoke belching locomotive and says something stupid like, “Heap big Iron Horse bring more White Eyes.” I have to wonder if an Indian ever used the words heap and big side by side in a sentence before the first time it was read from a script. And the reason I make this point is that attributing the term Iron Horse to the Indians of the West is equally as ridiculous.

The term Iron Horse originated because in the very early days of railroading, locomotives were unreliable at best. In fact, the Tom Thumb, first US railroad locomotive and owned by the B&O line, lost a race to a team of (you guessed it) horses Iron_Horse_Posterpulling railroad cars along a parallel track. In the early days of railroading in both the US and Britain it was common to see horse teams pulling railroad cars. When the reliable locomotive evolved it was city folk who first dubbed the thing the Iron Horse, because it replaced these teams.

And, as in the case of the scriptwriter who first put heap and big together from out the throat of an Indian, the one who first described the railroad locomotive to an Indian standing next to him as an Iron Horse was, no doubt, a Pale Face. Again, do you think an Indian really invented the term Pale Face.

Indians were far more descriptive in their names for whites, such as hairy chests, hairy mouths, iron makers, long knives, and yellow hides, or as the Comanche called white men, Easterners. The truth is that Indians are far to sensible to have called a huge, wheeled, track riding smoke puffer a horse. I’ll give you an example of what I mean by sensible.

I asked a friend of mine, an Indian I spent six months with in school, if he was offended by the name Indian and preferred the term Native American. He cocked his head to one side, stared at me and asked me, “So, you think I worry about which of the words from your language the people who conquered and nearly wiped out my people use to name us?” Then he chuckled, shook his head and added, “Wow, you white folks got way too much time on your hands.”

Imagine that.

Thank you to the following people for commenting over the past two days:

  • Kirsten – ascenicroute.wordpress.com
  • Pat – rhymetime24.blogspot.com
  • Elsie – mockturtlemusings.com
  • Veronica – veronicasicoe.com
  • Jen – werelivingafulllife.BlogSpot.com
  • Lanise – lanisebrown.com

2 thoughts on “I Is For Iron Horse

  1. Wow, you’re welcome, and thank you for writing such interesting posts!
    I always stumble over the whole ‘Native American’ wording, and finally decided to make a point of finding out which tribe my particular Indian belonged to. That led to a lot of learning about Indians, and fascinating reading.
    Which of course is why I’m a fan of your blog is as well. 🙂

  2. As always another interesting post. I’ve always been fascinated by trains but other than an subway rides or an occasional trip on amtrak I don’t have much personal knowledge about trains ….oh except for how to put our old set under the Christmas tree; that I’m good at!
    Your insights on how Indians./native americans view certain words and phrases is quite interesting indeed.

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