agitated - disturbed, excited or perturbed
ailed - caused pain, distress or discomfort
ajar - slightly open or askew
all comers - everyone who chooses to show up (especially to enter a contest)
aloof -  distant, reserved, removed
appended the saga - added to or updated the story or tale.
aura - an atmosphere or quality (usually of grandeur) that seems to rise from a person, surrounding him and engulfing those around him
barbarous - primitive, lacking in civilization, cruel or crude
bent - a tendency or propensity (or at least the appearance of such) toward a particular skill or area of expertise (such as scholarship)
bivouacked - camped or temporarily housed, usually overnight.
bloodbath - a killing of many people; a massacre
blood-curdling - extremely frightening, terrifying
bonanza - a source of great wealth or profit.
booty - goods or wares seized by force or robbery, or taken from an enemy during war or battle
bound & gagged - tied up and kept from talking or yelling out by putting something in or over the mouth
brace - a small group (usually a pair) of animals or objects (such as trees)
britches - colloquialism for trousers
brogans - heavy, high-ankled work shoes
buck - colloquialism (often contemptuous or derogatory) for a young male Indian
buff - an enthusiast or devotee of something
burning the midnight oil - colloquialism for working very late at night
by hook or by crook - in any way whatever; by any means, honest or dishonest
cavalier - casual or indifferent toward matters of importance
chelonian - a turtle
chops (set of) - slang for the technical skill of a musician (from the involvement of the mouth, cheeks & lower jaw in the playing of a brass or woodwind instrument)
coiffured - stylishly arranged (referring to the hair on one’s head)
conked - (slang) struck with a sudden, forceful blow (usually) on the head.
contrivance - something, such as a mechanical device, that is skillfully or ingeniously constructed
corpse - a dead body
cowered - crouched or huddled, as from fear
crestfallen - dejected, disheartened, or humbled
cup of tea - usually refers to one’s favorite thing or activity
curtsying - bending at the knees and slightly lowering the body, as a gesture of greeting or respect (usually done by girls or women, equivalent to bowing by men)
damper - anything that deadens or depresses something
dandy - a vain or affected man who pays too much attention to his clothes and appearance (also known as a “fop”)
dapper - trim, neat, smart, in dress & appearance
defiant - boldly resistant to opposition
delirious - wildly excited
demise - a ceasing to exist; death
derogatory - disparaging or belittling
destitute - lacking the necessities of life; broke or penniless
devastated - overwhelmed by sadness or despair
devil’s advocate - a person who raises objections to, or upholds the wrong side of, an argument, purely (or perversely) for argument’s sake
dilemma - a serious problem or predicament
discernable - easy to recognize or see clearly
discreet - careful about what one says or does; keeping confidences when necessary.
discrepancies - differences or inconsistencies
dismay - fear, discouragement, or consternation
dole (on the) - living on government relief funds (instead of working for a living)
draft - a current of air (or the device that regulates it) necessary to keep a fire going
duds - a colloquialism for one’s clothes
envisioned - imagined, or pictured in one’s mind
exhilarating - stimulating, invigorating, exciting
fickle - unstable, or quick to change, in matters of affection or loyalty 
fiddle - colloquialism for a violin (or other stringed instrument)
fidgety - constantly nervous, restless, or uneasy
fire-and-brimstone - a scorching or volcanic way of speaking; usually associated with old-time preachers who delivered a “repent or burn (in Hades)” type of message
flabbergasted - speechless; astonished
forded - crossed (the river) at a shallow place
fraudulent - phony; obtained by trickery, cheating or deceit
fuddy-duddy - an old-fashioned person
furrowed - deeply wrinkled, as the forehead becomes when one is worried
ghastly - horrible, frightful
gigs - appearances or performances, usually by a musical group
glum - gloomy, sullen, or moody
gregarious - sociable, outgoing, fond of the company of others
guffaw - a loud, coarse burst of laughter
gut - slang for the stomach or belly
heft - weight, heaviness
hermits - people who live in a lonely or secluded spot
hilt (to the) - thoroughly, entirely, as much as possible
hoity-toity - haughty, arrogant, condescending
homestead - the place where a family makes its home
hornswoggled - slang for being tricked or deceived; also an expression of surprise.
Herculean - calling for great strength (after the mythological Hercules, son of Zeus).
hush-hush - top secret, confidential
hustle & bustle - busy, noisy activity or commotion found on the streets of a large city
incriminating - making one appear guilty of or confirming one’s involvement in a crime
ingenious - extremely clever, resourceful, original, inventive
injunction - a court order prohibiting a person or group from carrying out a given action
inta thin air - colloquialism for the act of disappearing as if vaporized
interrogate - to ask questions of, usually as part of a formal investigation
kinfolk - relatives; extended family
lopped - removed by cutting
magnitude - greatness (usually referring to size or extent of something)
mane - long hair on the back of the neck (as on a lion or a horse)
marvel - to wonder with astonishment, often out loud
massacre - the slaughter or (often merciless) killing of a number of human beings
meandered - followed a winding, rambling, often criss-crossing course
mixed marriage - a marriage between persons of different races, or religions
mortised - locked together by cutting a hole or slot in one piece of wood to receive the projecting part (called a tenon) of another piece of wood
moseyed - strolled, shuffled, walked aimlessly
naïve - lacking in wisdom, while being foolishly unaware of it
new-fangled - a humorously derogatory term for something that is newly made
noggin - a colloquialism for the head
oglers - curiosity seekers who stand by or mill around, staring
panorama - an unlimited view in all directions
parcel - to break something (such as land) into parts and sell it piece by piece
perceptive - having keen insight or intuition
perplexed - puzzled or confused
persistence - the act of enduring or stubbornly continuing, refusing to give up
pokey - slang for a jail
pounce - to spring upon or leap at someone or something
prickly old porcupine (like a) - an alliteration and a simile; likening a quinzhee (with twigs and branches sticking out) to an animal with quills
prissy - cross between prude & sissy
procure - to obtain or acquire
prowess - superior ability or skill, 69.
regalia - splendid clothes, complete with emblems and decorations
reshod - to have a horseshoe replaced
residency - refers to living in a place long enough to qualify to legally vote there.
reverie - a daydream, usually of something pleasant or agreeable.
rigged - to have “fixed” (or dishonestly manipulated) the outcome of an election
rez - slang for reservation, where Indians lived
rub - an obstacle, hindrance or difficulty
ruckus - a noisy disturbance
ruddish - (variant of ruddy) having a healthy, reddish-brown color (a  subtle reference to Sam Brown’s part-Indian heritage).
rue - regret, or feel remorse over
runt of the litter - the smallest among several animals (dogs, cats, pigs, etc.) from the same birthing
scalawag - a scamp or rascal.
scoop - to beat the competition by being the first (newspaper) to  report the story, or certain details of it
sham - a process that is false or deceptive, rather than real or genuine
shambles - a scene of great destruction
shenanigans - deceitful trickery
shuddered - shook or trembled suddenly, as in horror
skedaddle - to run off or leave in a hurry; the phrase came from the Civil War, where it was used to refer (derisively) to the military “formation” of retreating enemy soldiers
skirmishes - brief fights or encounters between small groups (usually as part of a larger battle)
slogged -  plodded; toiled; made (one’s way) with great effort
spoils - goods or wares seized by force or robbery, or taken from an  enemy during war or battle
squaw - an offensive and contemptuous word used to describe an Indian woman
squeal - to act as an informer; to betray a secret
steel-trap mind - a metaphorical phrase comparing the mind to a trap made of steel, from which nothing escapes
stoked - stirred up, or fed fuel to, a fire
symmetry - similarity of form or arrangement on either side of a dividing line
toad-stabber -  a small, mostly useless knife
toboggan-like - resembling a toboggan (a long, runner-less sled with a flat bottom)
traipsed - walked or wandered (often aimlessly)
tramp - slang for a promiscuous woman
trumped-up charge - a false or made-up charge of criminal activity
up in arms - indignant, prepared to fight
vittles - food or other provisions (variant of victuals)
wrackin’ my brain - slang for thinking so hard your brain hurts
wrangle - to acquire or arrange something, usually through smooth talking or clever argument
wriggle - to twist & turn, squirm, wiggle & writhe
yokels - a term used to refer (often contemptuously) to a person living in a rural area; a rustic, or a country bumpkin

2. Idioms, Colloquialisms & Slang

1. Queries, Theories & Curiosities

1. While trying to guess their visitor’s occupation (in Chapter 2), Petey says “explorer,” Ma says “scientist” and Pa says “surveyor.” What does this tell us about each of the three members of the Smith family? Follow-up questions: Do they remain true to these traits throughout the story, or do any of them change? If so, how; and, in your opinion, why?

2. As Petey’s father implies in Ch. 3, early Americans often recorded births, deaths, wedding anniversaries and other important dates in their Bible. Has anyone in your family ever done this? If not, where DO they keep such information? How do people from other cultures document important family events?

3. Discuss the relationship between coincidence, conjecture, conclusion and evidence, as explained by Mr. Baker (Sherlock Holmes) in Chapter 3. Follow-up: How do they come into play later in the story?

4. In Chapter 6, Petey describes three differences between “the white man’s world” and “the red man’s world.” What are they? Can you think of others? Be sure to discuss the “signs of mourning” (and their meaning or significance) that Petey observes in Chapter 13, as well as Red Thunder’s corpse.

5. Think of Spook standing on three legs in the cold (Ch. 8) and Pheebs building a quinzhee (Ch. 20). Why do you think the author included these two incidents, since neither has much to do with the outcome of the story? Now, think about the chapters on “Indian Ice” (Ch. 14) and “Buffalo Soldier Baseball” (Ch. 19). The author says each chapter serves at least two purposes. Can you figure out what they are?

6. At the beginning of Chapter 12, Mr. Baker assumes that Widow Brown is playing “an Ethiopian melody” on the piano. Is he right? Why or why not? Discuss the role that music plays in the story.

7. Two of the more “touching” moments in the book occur when Mr. Baker places his hand on the Widow Brown’s shoulder and she reaches up and puts her hand over his (Ch. 16), and when Petey pulls Little Guy’s hat down over his forehead and moves closer to the fire (Ch. 23). Discuss the significance of these two moments, and how they made you feel.

8. Whenever you have a first-person narrator who is also a participant in the story (as Petey is), keep in mind that you probably are getting a subjective, rather than objective, viewpoint. That is, you are hearing only ONE person’s side of the story, and the story you hear may be influenced by that person’s feelings and opinions. For example, when Petey calls Mr. Baker (Holmes) his “best friend” (in Ch. 23), how likely is it that Holmes shares that feeling? (Consider the many instances in which Holmes simply uses Petey to perform a service: to carry his bags, to introduce him first to the Brown family and then to Red Thunder’s survivors, to distract both Mr. Henderson and, ultimately, the killer, etc.). Are there other instances in which Petey might be guilty of exaggerating his role in their relationship and/or the story? How does this affect your feeling toward him? 

9. While it’s true that Browns Valley hired a detective to investigate voter fraud in November of 1886, his identity is unknown. Why do you suppose the author brought Sherlock Holmes into the story? Do you think it was a wise decision? Why or why not? 

10. Near the end of Chapter 17, Mr. Baker describes a number of basic codes he uses to send secret messages. The publishers of Sports Illustrated magazine used a similar code in their April 1, 1985 cover story about Hayden “Sidd” Finch, a mysterious New York Mets rookie who could reportedly throw a baseball 168 miles per hour. According to the story, Finch also played the French horn, and was studying to be a Buddhist monk. Author George Plimpton’s lead-in to the story appears below. Can you “crack the code” and decipher the secret message?
     “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent lifestyle, Sidd’s deciding about yoga -- and his future in baseball.”



3. People, Places & Thingamajigs

Book Club & Classroom Resources for: 

Sherlock Holmes & the County Courthouse Caper

1. Queries, Theories & Curiosities

(Suggested Discussion Topics for ‘Caper’)

2. Idioms, Colloquialisms & Slang

(Dictionary of Antiquated Terms in ‘Caper’)

3. People, Places & Thingamajigs 

(Glossary of Obscure References in ‘Caper’)

Copyright © Jeff Falkingham. All rights reserved.




accomplice  - a person who helps another commit a crime.
Antietam - a creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War in Sept. 1862
apex - the pointed end or tip of something, such as the area lying in the tip of the “funnel” formed by Big Stone and Traverse Lakes
Appaloosa - a horse distinguished by black & white spotted marking  on the rump and loins; so prized by some American Indian tribes that only chiefs and top warriors were allowed to ride them
Arthur, Chester - the Vice President who became President after Garfield was assassinated; he’d been a last-minute addition to the ticket, to ensure the backing of powerful New York Senator Rosco Conkling and his “Stalwart” Republicans
backwaters - water (usually stagnant) that has moved away from a lake or stream, and is now held back from returning to its natural place
ballast - something heavy carried by a ship, aircraft or other vehicle, to balance the load and/or to provide stability
Birch Coulee - site (in Renville County) of one of the most deadly battles of the Dakota War of 1862
buckboards - four-wheeled open carriages, with the seat on a flooring of long, flexible boards whose ends rest directly on the axles (thus giving a bouncy, “bucking” action)
buffalo soldiers - Negro soldiers who trained at Fort Sisseton; so called because their short, curly hair reminded the Indians of the matted hair of a buffalo
Bull Run - site, near Manassas, Virginia, of the first major battle of the American Civil War, in July of 1861
bulrushes - marsh plants, such as cattails, with long, rigid stems and brown tips, 123.
caboose - the final car on a freight train, home to the crew  
calabash - a pipe with a bowl made from a large, bottle-shaped  gourd
Canucks - a colloquialism for French Canadians
cellar - a below-ground area beneath a building, often used for storage
Chinooks - a Native American tribe now living mainly in the Columbia River Valley of the Pacific Northwest
chute - an inclined trough down which something is slid
Cleveland, Grover - in 1884, Cleveland became the first Democrat elected to the Presidency since the Civil War; he won by barely 29,000 votes, many coming from “Mugwump” Republicans who opposed their own party’s nominee, Senator James G. Blaine
cobbler - a person who makes or mends shoes
conductor - the person who collects fares or tickets from passengers  on a train
confidante - a close, trusted friend to whom one confides secrets
confluence - the place where two rivers join together to form a larger one
contraband  - goods or wares seized by force or robbery, or taken from an enemy during war or battle
cowcatcher - a triangular metal frame on the front of a locomotive, to remove obstructions from the track (also called a pilot)
delta - a triangular deposit of sand and soil found at the mouth of rivers, often overgrown with brush, reeds and small trees
duck blind - a place for concealment, in which the hunter would not be detected by the ducks until it was too late
dugouts - shelters dug into the side of a hill, often reinforced by timbers
fifer - someone who plays a small, flute-like instrument, usually seen in a military setting, marching with a drummer & a flag-bearer
First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry - the very first unit to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops at the outbreak of the War Between the States in 1861; famous for their gallantry in battles from Bull Run to Antietam to Gettysburg
Foster, Stephen - American songwriter, best-known for his minstrel music and “songs of the South”
Garfield, James A. - an unexpected compromise nominee at the 1880 Republican Convention, after 35 ballots failed to produce a winner between former President U.S. Grant and Maine Senator James G. Blaine; Garfield was shot four months after his inauguration, and died three months later
Gettysburg - Pennsylvania site of famous battle in July of 1863
ghost town - a deserted town, usually abandoned for economic  purposes (its name coming from the fact that it is currently occupied only by ghosts of its former inhabitants
gully - a small, narrow channel or hollow in the earth’s surface, usually caused by running water
Hayes, Rutherford B.  - in the 1876 Presidential election, Samuel Tilden, a Democrat, won the popular vote by a margin of over 247,000; but Hayes, a Republican, took the electoral vote 185-184 and assumed office
headwaters - small streams or lakes at the beginning of a large river
Hill, James J. - the “Empire Builder,” owner of many major railroad systems
homestead - a legal term for the tract of public land (usually 160  acres) granted to a settler by the U.S. Government (under the  Homestead Act of 1862) to be developed as a family farm
hurdy-gurdy house - an establishment featuring loud music and boisterous behavior
injunction - an order from a court, prohibiting a person or group from carrying out a given action, or ordering a given action to be done
isthmus - a narrow strip of land, with water on both sides, connecting two larger land bodies
Johnny Reb - from the Civil War, a Union nickname for (rebel) Confederate soldiers
Koskada Okadiciye - Native American name for Sioux Young Men’s Christian Association, founded at Fort Bennett (in South Dakota) by Thomas Wakeman
Liberty nickel - a 5-cent piece featuring Lady Liberty’s image
Little Crow - given name Taoyateduta, a chief of the Mdewakanton Sioux tribe during the Dakota War of 1862
livery stable - a place where horses & carriages are kept for hire
locomotive - the wheeled steam engine that pulls a train
Long, Stephen - U.S. Army topographical engineer who explored  Red River of the North in 1823
Lower Sioux Agency - Indian reservation along the Minnesota River in Redwood County, just south of the town of Morton
Mayo, William Worrall - English-born medical doctor who, with his sons William J. & Clarence H., founded what became the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN
meerschaum - a pipe with a bowl made from a white, claylike mineral
mortar - a mixture of cement or lime with sand and water, used as plaster to seal logs together
muffler - a scarf worn around the throat for warmth (NOT the device used to deaden the sound of a car‘s exhaust!)
mustering place - a place where troops are gathered, usually either at their time of enlistment in, or discharge from, military service
Nicollet, Joseph -  French geographer who led three mapping expeditions to Minnesota & Dakota Territories in late 1830s
Ozawindib -  Anishinabe (Ojibwe) guide who led Henry Schoolcraft  to Lake Itasca in 1832 
pince-nez - eyeglasses without bows (those parts of the frame that extend beyond the temples and behind the ears); they remain in place by pinching the bridge of the nose
Pinkertons - employees of a detective agency that worked for the railroads
Pony Trail - a sand bar that runs all the way across Big Stone Lake, just a few feet beneath the water’s surface
quarry - something that is being hunted down or pursued
quinzhee - Indian name for a shelter made by hollowing out a large mound of snow
ravine - a long, deep hollow (or large gully) worn by the action of a stream
reeds & rushes - the tall, slender grasses and long, hollow-stem plants found on wet or marshy ground
Revere, Paul - American patriot who, in April 1785, rode from Boston to Lexington to warn colonists that the British were coming
rigs - carriages or carts hooked up (rigged) to horses
roan - a horse, usually reddish-brown in color, with a thick sprinkling of white hairs
runes - Old Norse poems and legends, handed down (orally) from generation to generation; also the characters of an early Scandinavian alphabet, or something inscribed in such characters
rutabaga - a turnip-like plant with a large yellow root that is edible when it matures in the fall
Salisbury & Gladstone -  in the late 1880s, the Marquess of Salisbury (Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil) and William Gladstone each served as Prime Minister of Britain four different times, with the office changing hands three times in 1886 alone. Salisbury, a Tory (Conservative), favored expansion of the British Empire and a strong central government. Gladstone, a Whig (or Liberal) advocated “home rule” (independence) for the colonies,    especially Ireland
Scandihoovians - Slang (sometimes derogatory) for persons of Scandinavian descent
scatter-gun - a gun, such as a shotgun, that disperses multiple shot in a broad pattern (as opposed to a rifle, which has spiral grooves  on the inside of the barrel that make a single projectile spin when fired, thus giving it more accuracy and distance)
Schoolcraft, Henry - man who is generally credited with discovering the source of the Mississippi River
Selkirk Colony - a Canadian settlement established by Scots in 1811 in what is now southeastern Manitoba
Sibley, Henry Hastings - long-time fur-trader who was Minnesota’s first governor (1858-60) before becoming a military leader
silt - sediment (or matter) picked up by moving water in one place, then carried to another before it is deposited on the riverbank or bottom
single-shot - a firearm that has the capacity to accept only one shell or bullet at a time
slough - a swamp, bog or marsh
sod houses - primitive forms of shelter in which a framework (usually of large tree branches) was covered with grass and dirt to keep out the elements
stockade - a barrier or enclosure made by driving stakes into the ground
sutler - the agent appointed by the Army to sell food, liquor and other supplies to enlisted men on the post
thicket - a thick growth of shrub, brush, or small trees
thresher - a person or machine that beats grain out of its husks
tipi - (Dakota for tepee) a cone-shaped dwelling made of animal skins or bark
tract - a continuous expanse of land that is later broken up into pieces and sold
travois - a crude sled consisting of a net or platform dragged along the ground on two poles that support it and serve as shafts to the horse or dog pulling it
tributary - a small stream or river that flows into a larger one
trunk line - now generally used to refer to the main line of a telephone system, in the past it implied just the opposite (i.e., not a main line or route) of the railroad system
turret - a small tower at the corner of a fort, used as a lookout point  or battlement
Uker - variant of euchre, a card game involving the taking of “tricks” (usually three, though sometimes four or five), with a predetermined monetary value assigned to each
Upper Sioux Agency - Indian reservation located along Minnesota River in eastern Yellow Medicine County, about 5 miles south of the town of Granite Falls
vise - a device with two jaws and a screw, used for holding or squeezing an object
wikiup - a small Native American hut, usually made of brush wood
Yellow Boy - a common nickname for the 1873 Winchester rifle, because it featured a breech mechanism made of brass (which was bright yellow, instead of the usual gunmetal gray)