With Fan and Colt - Etiquette in the Wild West - Part 1

Social etiquette in everyday life, Arizona territory circa 1870.

Article contains unpaid advertising

Reading time: approx. 4 minutes.

Saturday, April 03, 2022

Social manners in the United States of America during the founding period were primarily shaped by English influences.

In addition, there were the rules and habits brought by other European immigrants, especially French, German, in the northeast also Dutch, and in the southwest Spanish or Mexican.

While some religious immigrant groups tried not to mix their native customs with others, for the vast majority of Americans it was precisely the breaking away from the traditional and embracing the new that made life in the U.S. so appealing.

The photography studio Maull & Polyblank from London provides some contemporary photographs of the fashion of the time.

The following overview comes from the Arizona territory and reflects etiquette in the Wild West circa 1870.

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Etiquette for the Lady and the Gentleman

Arizona Territory 1870

In a short video clip, we've summarized the Arizona Territory's etiquette rules for you. Rancher Chet McCay takes his future wife Gill out to dinner at Beaver Creek Valley's Frontier Tavern.

Many thanks to Robert Neuber, from Panorama Videoproduction for the motion pictures!

The rules of etiquette in the Wild West in an overview

Walking as a couple

The lady walks on the right hand or arm of the gentleman. The hands should be at least at hip level. The lady's right hand lifts the dress slightly off the ground. The gentleman's left hand rests at his side or on his back.

Exiting a vehicle

A lady does not leave a vehicle (e.g. carriage, railroad carriage) until her gentleman or an attendant has opened the door for her and can assist her in getting out. The door is not opened until the gentleman is confident that there is no danger to the lady outside the vehicle (riffraff, traffic, upturned dirt, etc.).

Entering / leaving a building or room

When entering or inside a safe building, the lady has the right of way.
When entering an unsafe room, e.g. a foyer or restaurant, and always when leaving a building, the gentleman goes first, secures and then holds the door open for the lady; the lady does not push behind the gentleman but waits until he has secured the door.

On the staircase

If it is not possible for a couple to walk up or down a staircase side by side (the lady leaning on the gentleman's right arm), the following applies:
The lady goes up first, the gentleman one step behind her. The gentleman goes down first, the lady one step after him.
Reason: If the lady steps on the hem of the skirt and stumbles, the gentleman can catch her.

Greeting / Farewell

At that time, one would greet the gentleman first and then the lady. To greet a well-known, familiar lady, an implied kiss on the hand by the gentleman is customary. If the lady is not so familiar, it is appropriate to shake hands and nod to indicate a bow. A lady in the same situation will extend her hand and make a slight curtsy.
When saying goodbye, the same applies.

At table

The seating order is that the lady always sits to the right of her companion.

If one has already taken a seat at the table and other table neighbors join in, then the gentleman stands up to greet, the lady remains seated.

If a lady wants to get up from the table, she signals this to her companion. The gentleman rises and moves her chair to the side; when she sits down, he adjusts the chair. If the lady is alone, a table neighbor takes over this activity out of courtesy and deference.

The gentlemen should always endeavor to take care of the wellbeing of the ladies.
Drinks are always brought to a lady's table by a gentleman if they are not served by a waiter.

If the food is not served, the ladies can choose their food from the buffet and take it with them or the gentleman accompanies the lady, plates her choice and carries the plate to her seat.

If something falls to a lady, there should always be a gentleman who feels honored to pick up the item.

To be continued...

In the next part of the series "With Fan and Colt - Etiquette in the Wild West", we devote ourselves to festive balls and also go into the secret fan language of the ladies!

Wolf H. Reblin – Beaver Creek Pioneer

Wolfgang Reblinsky aka Wolf H. Reblin

About the author

Wolfgang Horst Reblinsky

a.k.a.
Mr. Wolf H. Reblin, Esq., Arizona Justice of the Peace

He has been involved for many years with both the history of American colonization and the era between 1920 and 1980.

He publishes articles on this in the German Magazin für Amerikanistik the Gasoline-Magazine, and here in the Beaver Creek Pioneer.

He practices his historical representation as a justice of the peace in the Arizona Territory circa 1870 as Wolf H. Reblin along with his wife Eliza B. (Holl) Reblin.