About a cowboy's sanctuary - the cowboy hat
Reading time: approx. 6 minutes.
Sunday, August 01, 2021
Nebraska Territory, 1862. In the midst of a snowstorm, a certain James Butler Hickok rumbles into a snowed-in horse station. The at that time 25 years old good-for-nothing, gambler and day laborer has not yet taken his role in the just begun war of secession. That's when he meets five outlaws by pure chance in this godforsaken outpost. One of these unlucky ones makes the mistake of brushing Hickok's fur cap off his head. - What follows is a sequence of 20 seconds; between minute 8:37 and minute 8:57; in the cult western "Wild Bill"; starring Jeff Bridges ... - At the end of the scene the outlaws have all been busted and a bone-dry 'Wild Bill' Hickok speaks the famous sentence and at the same time the credo of every Old West buff;
Never touch another man’s hat!
– James Butler Hickok in “Wild Bill“ with Jeff Bridges
An old STETSON cowboy hat from a 'Movie-Town' in New Mexico, U.S.A.; in its heyday STETSON sold 3 million hats a year.
The cowboy hat as a mark of personality
Nothing else identifies the Western hobbyist - in the cowboy section - as clearly as the hat he wears! When I took up the hobby in the 1970s, the advisors who helped me put together my outfit overwhelmed me with their expertise. But there was only one thing these 'old timers' agreed on: the hat had to fit me and my 'alias'! And, of course, it had to be a STETSON ! And since I wanted to portray a simple, nameless cowboy, I got to know the archetype of the 'US-American Cowboy Hat': the 'Boss of the Plains'; or, as it is also called, the 'Austral', the 'Mormon Hat' or simply the 'Open Crown'.
Two STETSON hats: a brown, low 'Open Crown' in "Scout Style"; and a black 'Boss Of The Plains' in 4x buffalo quality.
Two further 'Open Crown' examples; the black hat comes in "Preacher Style"; the light one in typical, worn "Drover Style".
The shape of the hat - reflection of a hard life
Due to the constant use of the hat, the permanent effects of weather and the use for other purposes - it had to serve both as a 'watering bucket' for the horse and as a 'pillow' for the exhausted cowboy - the good piece lost its original shape quite quickly. However, the easy to reshape felt made it possible for the Drovers to bring their hats into shape over and over again. And this is how the various shapes of hats came into being, each of which was ultimately used as a distinctive mark of its owner.
'What'll it be!?"-The countless opportunities of customizing the shape of a hat; © Craig Staker, STAKER Hats.
Many hats found their way from the military into the bunkhouses of the ranches. These were often wide-brimmed officers' hats with crowns that were also notable for their height.
Imposing brim widths of 4 ½" and crown heights of 6 ½" give their owners plenty of room to 'style' these hats individually.
John B. Stetson - Hat fashion for cowboys & gentlemen
After John B. Stetson began to manufacture hats, among other things, in his company in Saint Joseph, Missouri, starting in 1865 and threw them on a 'hungry market', the triumphal march of the 'STETSON' cowboy hat was unstoppable. Cattle drives from the South to the Midwest slaughterhouses of the fledgling U.S. had begun in the 1850s. And the young 'drovers' - or 'cow boys' - initially still wore the headgear of their fathers, for example, that they had brought with them from the 'Old World/Europe': caps, knitted woolen hats or hats of townspeople and farmers. There were also hats of Mexican origin.
A traditional company on the rise
However, all of this equipment lacked the size and the expansive brim of the hat that protected its wearer from the weather-related elemental forces on a cattle trek. - John B. STETSON had the solution. His products offered a hat-crown whose height ensured 'plenty of fresh air under the dome'; and a brim that protected the face from direct sunlight and allowed rain to drip off. Far beyond the end of the legendary Cattle Drives that ended at the beginning of the 20th century, 'his' company still sells and continues to sell the legendary Stetson as loved by the cowboy and the hobbyist; but with changing production numbers; with changing quality; and with ever-changing sales philosophy:
In the 1880s, the target audience was the 'cowboys'; after the turn of the century, it was the movie industry and the fancy crowd; and today, the STETSON Co. seems to be looking for a way to reconcile tradition with today's consumer behavior and bring it to a reasonable level ...
Especially Western ladies attach importance to a neat headgear! Many a cowboy can take a leaf out of their book!
A cross-section of Western hobbyists' 'hat fashions'; in the center, legendary German Old West saddler Willi Baumann, † 2015.
The saloon as a catwalk. The pictures were taken by me (authorized reporter) at the 'Western Council 2004' and carry my copyright.
The cowboy hat - it's more than just a "hobby
Since I have been active in the hobby, hundreds of hats have passed through my hands. I have collected them, I have traded them; and I have given them away to friends. The whole "dilemma" continues to this day!
The slideshow shows a cross-section of the common hat shapes in the Western hobby. Allowed is what pleases ... and what you want to pay!
If you'd like to learn more about the hip and current hat manufacturers, felt qualities, 'self-made' hat restoration, or how to handle and appreciate 'all things Western Hat', let me know. I would love to continue to share, your
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About the author
Peter Jakob Klein
Pete has been at home in 'Western Reenactment' for 50 years; he is a freelance radio and TV journalist and is now retired; he has worked for the German ARD stations.
When it comes to topics of the 'western hobby' or 'cowboy action shooting', you can find his contributions in the VISIER, among others.