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Coons

I'm reading a western novel by the well known writer Terry C. Johnston. It's called "Carry the Wind" and is about white trappers and Indians in the Rockies back in about the 1840s or so. Apparently those old mountain men routinely referred to each other as "coons." Every other paragraph has an "ole coon" or "that thar coon" in it. Who knew those old boys talked that way?