What does it mean to "go heeled"? If you're a fan old Westerns, or of "frontier lore" (which is often more myth than lore), you probably already. If not, read on!
You may recall the scene in Tombstone where Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) braces Johnny Tyler (Billy Bob Thornton) in the Oriental Saloon. Remember that in this scene Earp was not wearing a gun, at least not openly.
Tyler, who is carrying a single action Army Revolver (Cavalry Model) says, "Well for a man that don't go heeled, you run your mouth kinda reckless don't you?"
What did he mean by that?
He meant that Earp was unarmed.
In "Old West" parlance, "going heeled" was to be carrying a weapon. Typically, though not necessarily limited to, carrying one or more (typically, though not always, visible) pistols.
Self-protection and self-reliance was far more common on the frontier than in today's supposedly "more polite" society.
How did that term come to be?
The blog Idiomation notes that the term was used by Mark Twain in April, 1866, going on to explain,
"A number of excellent dictionaries have pegged this expression to the early 1800s and as coming from the Wild West. Even Peter Watt’s Dictionary of the Old West,:1850-1900 has the expression pegged to the Wild West of the 1800s."
According to True West Magazine,
"Being heeled is tied to the term well-heeled, which means having plenty of money (wearing quality shoes was a sign of prosperity). In the Old West, at least in theory, a person was better off carrying a firearm—and thus he (or she) was heeled. The term was first applied, in 1866, to gamecocks with spurs strapped to the heels, giving them advantage in a cockfight."
INSP defines it very simply:
Go heeled – When you go out carrying a six-shooter, packing iron.