A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 17, 2009
Wild and Woolly

"Wild and woolly” (often spelled “wild and wooly,” but almost never in the reverse as “woolly and wild") often describes an animal, but was used to describe cowboys and desperados by the 1870s. In 1891, a book was titled Tales of the “Wild and Woolly West.”

A more popular term for the “Wild and Woolly West” is simply the “Wild West.”


The Phrase Finder: Wild and woolly
Meaning
Lawless and uncultured.

Origin
This expression is of American origin and came into being to describe the ‘wild’ west of the country sometime after the Californian Gold Rush era of the 1850s. The US publication The Protestant Episcopal Quarterly Review and Church Register, 1855, included a reference to the “wild and woolly-haired Negillo”, which is almost there.

The first example I can find of the precise phrase in print is in the Missouri newspaper The Sedalia Daily Democrat, December 1875:
“W. A. Palmer, the South Bend, Indiana, murderer and paramour of Dolly Tripp, was for several years resident of Clinton. Bill always was one of the ‘wild and woolly’ kind and would associate with the demimonde.”

Wikipedia: Wild and Woolly
Wild and Woolly is a 1917 silent film which tells the story of one man’s personal odyssey from sophisticated Easterner to Western tough guy. It stars Douglas Fairbanks, Eileen Percy, Walter Bytell and Sam De Grasse.

The movie was adapted by Anita Loos from a story by Horace B. Carpenter. It was directed by John Emerson. It was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2002.

1931 version
Wild and Woolly is also the title of a 1931 documentary about rodeos

1937 version
The title Wild and Woolly was used again in a 1937 comedy western starring Jane Withers about a bank robbery during a town’s anniversary party.

1978 version
Finally, the title was misspelled in an unrelated 1978 comedy western TV movie, Wild and Wooly.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
wild and woolly, orig. applied to the Far West (WEST n.1 3b) of the United States of America on account of its rude and uncivilized character; hence gen. barbarous, lacking culture. Also transf., and as woolly simply.
1884 A. J. SOWELL Rangers & Pioneers of Texas xi. 330 Occasionally, in some Western village, you will hear a voice ring out on the night air..‘Wild and woolly’,..and then you may expect a few shots from a revolver. It is a cowboy out on a little spree.
1891 A. WELCKER Tales of the ‘Wild & Woolly West’ Publishers’ Note, Woolly..seems to refer to the uncivilized—untamed—hair outside—wool still in the sheepskin coat—condition of the Western Pioneers.
1891 M. E. RYAN Told in Hills III. iv. 191 Let us ‘move our freight’, ‘hit the breeze’, or any other term of the woolly West that means action.
1894 Westm. Gaz. 30 Aug. 2/1 How many Indians did you kill? Now, Cappen, I want something wild and woolly.
1907 S. E. WHITE Arizona Nights viii. 130 ‘Who’s your woolly friend’, the shiny Jew asks of the girls.
1940 R. S. LAMBERT Ariel & All his Quality viii. 197 [They] looked with scepticism upon a plan which they regarded as wild and woolly.

Google Books
July 1855, The Protestant Episcopal Quarterly Review, and Church Register, pg. 378:
...the wild and woolly-haired Negrillo, Alfouron, or Papuan;...

16 August 1873, San Antonio (TX) Express, pg. 1:
When Valentine regained his feet he threw a short piece of plank at Griffin, which he dodged, and yelled in return, “Wild and wooly and hard to curry.”

3 September 1874, Chicago (IL) Inter Ocean, “A Murder Expiated,” pg. 3:
A man named Oliver Vance, lately in the employ of Vail & Co., the new mail carriers, as stable hand, after having loafed about the hotel at Caldwell a few days after his discharge, principally distinguishing himself during the period for the amount of tarantula juice he could carry about without its burning through, conceived the heroic design, on Thursday last, of at once, by a brave coup d’etat, making himself one of the braves of the frontier—“wild and wooly, hard to handle” fellows—an opening being made for him through which he thought he saw clear, the victim being a poor old German cobbler whom the children about the hotel had made the butt of their fun until he got cross and chastised them.

27 January 1877, Dallas (TX) Weekly-Herald, pg. 3:
Now that the law is touched in the person of Mr. Jeffries, the wild and woolly cow-boys no doubt will be compelled to lay aside their weapons on entering the township in order that the more peaceable and respectable members of the community may have a show for their lives.

13 June 1877, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 7, col. 5:
Upon complaint being made, Deputy Sheriff Elliott and party started in pursuit of the “wild and woolly” boys, and, after trailing them several miles, surprised them in camp.

23 July 1877, Galveston (TX) News, pg. 7:
FRIO CITY, July 11, 1877.
Eds. News—I suppose it is rare for you to hear from this part of the country, and that the part of the Texas map occupied by Frio county, as you think of it, is either totally blank or inscribed as terra incognita, inhabited only by the “wild and woolly,” the cow-boy and desperado;...

12 December 1879, Atchison (KS) Globe, pg. 4, col. 3: 
A wild and wooly newspaper correspondent at Doniphan is now banking on Jay Gould, and has built up a city in his mind almost equal to the St. Joe vision.

19 October 1882, Galveston (TX) News, pg. 4:
There is a lot of wild and wooly steers among them that can’t be rounded up.

OCLC WorldCat record
Tales of the “Wild and Woolly West”
by Adair Walcker
Type:  Book; English
Publisher: London : Leadenhall Press, Simplin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd. ; New York : Charles Scribner’s sons, [1891?]

OCLC WorldCat record
Society out in Montana [microform] : printed to save you time and labor in describing life out in the wild and wooly West to your relations back East
by Hance Millien
Type:  Book : Microfilm : Master microform; English
Publisher: Choteau, Mo. : [s.n.], ©1892. 

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, January 17, 2009 • Permalink