The word "peckerwood" originated as an African-American slang term for "woodpecker" in the 1800s, but by the early 1900s began to be applied as a racial epithet against whites, with a meaning similar to the term "white trash." In the second half of the 20th century, in prison environments in Texas, California, and possibly elsewhere, the word peckerwood, originally used to refer to white prisoners generally, began to develop a more specific association with members of racist prison gangs and cliques, as well as their associates and hangers-on. This association is strongest in California and Texas, and fairly strong across the West and South in general, but less common in the Midwest and Northeast. In California, the term spread from the prison to the streets in the form of so-called peckerwood gangs, white gangs that mix elements of street gang, prison gang, and racist skinhead gang. Their white supremacy is more often crude than sophisticated and they have a high association with traditional criminal activity, such as drugs. They tend to organize geographically, such as San Fernando Valley Peckerwoods, Inland Empire Peckerwoods, High Desert Peckerwoods, etc.
Symbolically, the term peckerwood is often represented by various woodpecker images, sometimes in conjunction with other hate symbols. It is also common for white supremacists to use the word itself for a tattoo, or its common shortened version, "Wood," as in "100% Wood." Collectively, peckerwoods in a particular prison or geographic range are often called the "Woodpile." Female peckerwoods are referred to as "featherwoods."