[Ads-l] antedating "peckerwood"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 18 19:03:35 UTC 2021

OED: 1928

These are from African-American papers:

1915 _Topeka Plaindealer_ (Sept. 24) 1: The good citizens, both white and
colored, should get busy and get their eyes open for the sacred soil of
Kansas is about to be desecrated by a lot of red necks and peckerwoods from
the South [who] are invading Kansas and bringing their prejudice.

1915 _Kansas City (Mo.) Sun_ (Oct. 2) 4: "Peckerwoods"...are too poor and
shiftless to keep up with their own race.

Otherwise, the word was used earlier (in contrast to "Jaybird") to
designate (seemingly) members of the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party
and, from 1892, of the Populist Party.  I can't say how these designations
arose. Many of the following are potentially ambiguous:

1884 _Evening Republic_ (Columbus, Ind.) (Oct. 15) 3: Has the Democratic
Central Committee...not heard of Hartsville Crossing?  No speaker has been
billed for this place yet. They ought to...have a rally. The
Possumglory "peckerwood" band would furnish music and the[y] could have a

1885 Ibid. (July 25) 2: The Possumglory Democrats have reorganized their
pecker-wood band and are ready to make campaign music.

1888 _Burden [Kans.] Eagle_ (Sept. 8) 3:  We don't care anything about
being called a Red-headed Pecker-wood or the paper we publish being called
"Jay bird."

1889 _Ft. Worth Gazette_ (Aug. 19) 2: The Jaybirds...represent the regular
Democrats. ...The first shot was fired by the Peckerwood party.

1893 _Democrat-Republican_ (Linden, Ala.) (March 2) 3:  He should have run
for Congress instead of being scared off the track by a lot of howling
dervishes led by the pecker-wood saint of Bibb [County].

1897 _Weekly Advertiser_ (Montgomery, Ala.) (Aug. 20) 3: The legislatures
of the land are too prone to fritter away precious moments on local matters
and peckerwood legislation.

1898 _Marion County Herald_ (Palmyra, Mo.) (June 23) 1: The "Bryan
Democrat" (who I shall call "Double Tongue Peckerwood").

1898 _Southern Standard_  (Arkadelphia, Ark.) (Sept. 2) 2: A lot of little
pin-headed peckerwoods is sayin' that I ain't fitten to make laws.

1901 _Topeka Plaindealer_ (March 8) 1: GOLORED [sic] VOTERS BEWARE Of the
Hypocritical Gush of a Lot of Peckerwood Politicians....THE PECKERWOOD
CANDIDATE ...[represents] the class of people posing as prohibitionists,
teetotalers, and everything that pertains to [the] good and moral.
...Hughes...is secretary of a fashionable drinking club.  Ibid._ 2: The
peckerwood, resubmission candidate...seems to think that Chiles and
Townsend ought to leave town until he is elected.

A red-headed person:

1873 _Daily Illinois State Journal_ (Springfield, Ill.) (Nov. 1) 3: "Two or
three others...had not red heads, and when the question was asked, "which
Adams?" the answer would be, "why, Peckerwood Adams, of course."

1900  _ Denver Post_(Jan. 10) 6:   "Go it, my peckerwood!" Vest's hair was
very red.

1900 _Daily Ardmoreite_ (Ardmore, Okla.) (March 11) 5: Listen to the
Peckerwood's Song...Porter Staples, The Red Headed Grocer.

This ex. could illustrate any of those three senses:

1897_Tuskeegee News_  (July 8) 3: In the recent Populite convention at
Nashville, one of the leaders called another a "red-headed peckerwood," was
in turn called a "buzzard," and then a fight followed.

Finally - is it alluding to poor whites or to actual woodpeckers (which
make a few wood chips)?

1900 _Weekly Herald_ (Wetumpka, Ala.) (March 1) 6: Johnston sneers at
people whose property is "covered by mortgages" and we heard him allude to
the saw mill at Coosada the other day as "a little peckerwood saw mill."
Johnston "don't like no cheap man." See?


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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