A “tenderfoot” (or “tender foot") is a “greenhorn” or a “pilgrim”—someone new to the West, often fresh from the East. The name comes from someone new to the territory, who steps with tender footing. The name was earlier applied to cattle.
Old West Glossary
tenderfoot A person who is new to a job, one who hasn’t yet developed calluses
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[f. tender foot: for sense 1, see quot. 1887.]
U.S. and Colonial.
a. A name given, originally in the ranching and mining regions of the western U.S., to a newly arrived immigrant, unused to the hardships of pioneer life; a greenhorn; hence, a raw, inexperienced person.
1881 L. P. BROCKETT West. Empire I. vii. (1882) 72 (Funk) Slang expressions of this mining dialect… New-comers are ‘Tender-feet’. 1887 L. SWINBURNE in Scribner’s Mag. II. 508 ‘Pilgrim’ and ‘tenderfoot’ were formerly applied almost exclusively to newly imported cattle.
b. attrib. or as adj.
1888 San Francisco Wkly. Bulletin (Farmer Dict. Amer.), The boys were of the tenderfoot kind.
Making of America
August 1866, Atlantic Monthly, “A Year in Montana” by Edward B. Nealley, pg. 246:
And miners illustrate their conversation by the various terms used in mining. I have always noticed how clearly these terms conveyed the idea sought. Awkwardness in comprehending this dialect easily reveals that the hearer bears the disgrace of being a “pilgrim,” or a “tender-foot,” as they style the new emigrant. To master it is an object of prime necessity to him who would win the miner’s respect.
19 June 1873, Indiana Democrat, (Pennsylvania, IN), pg. 4, col. 4:
Among our own hunters was a trapper named Shep Medary—a lively, roystering mountaineer, who liked nothing better than to get a joke upon any unfortunate “pilgrim” or “tender foot” who was verdant enough to confide in his stories of mountain life.
-- “The Ascent of Mountain Hayden,” by N. P. Langford, Scribner’s for June.
30 December 1875, Burlington (Iowa) Weekly Hawk-Eye, pg. 9, col. 6:
The Wild Men of the West—Their Manners
From the Denver News.
Some tenderfoot who has been coaching through Arizona was intensely shocked by the company of a party of Texas rangers, and thus delivers himself of accumulated disgust:...
Making of America
October 1879, Scribner’s Monthly, “The Camp of the Carbonates” by Ernest Ingersoll, pg. 815:
A “tenderfoot,” that is, a new arrival from the East, green in the ways of mountain life, they consider fair game for tricks and chaff. Usually they attempt to frighten him, and his behavior at such initiatory moments determines, to a large extent, his future standing in the camp.
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Wednesday, January 03, 2007 • Permalink