Saturday, August 14, 2004

August 14, 2004
More comments from True West Maniacs. This one on a subject that is near and dear to my head:

“Loved the full page photo of Buck Taylor, ‘King of the Cowboys,’ [September issue of TW] but it put me in a quandary (which, I suppose, is better than being in a quarry). You date it circa 1890.

“But in Cowboys and the Trappings of the Old West, one of the SASS bibles, there's a picture of Buck Taylor wearing leopard skin chaps, and it's dated 1910-1915. The trouble is he doesn't look 20-25 years older. He looks the same age in both photos.

“So which is right? Or are they both right, and he found the fountain of youth and is still around somewhere?

“Here's the reason for the question. I do the men's costume seminar at the SASS Convention. In my seminar I cast doubt on the ‘Gus’ or ‘Tom Mix’ style hat being used much in the 19th century. Until now the earliest photo I'd found was 1896 or so that showed a Gus crease. And here's Buck wearing the predominant SASS hat style, a Gus crease. If it's 1890, I can tell them, yes, it existed as far back as 1890, but still the Boss of the Plains style was the most prevalent. If it's 1915, it's 20th century and out of my era.


Curt Rich
True West Maniac #244

Great question and one I obsess on as well. It's nice to see there are other "hat Nazis" out there besides me.

The cutline on Buck Taylor originally said turn of the century, but then I found a reference to him as a performer for Buffalo Bill as "King of the Cowboys" and it was dated 1890 on the program. We checked on another publication that ran the same photo and they said 1890, so I went with the date even though I'm suspicious, as you are, about the hat. If I had to bet, I'm guessing it's actually post 1900, so your theory is still intact.

However, I've been researching hats for an upcoming article and I've found two photos that show the so-called "Gus" or "Tom Mix" crease prior to 1880. One is in a street scene in Helena, Montana and the date on the photo is 1865. The guy is wearing a white hat, he's off about 40 yards, but he appears to have a crease right down the middle of his hat. Now, here's my new theory: virtually every style and shape of hat has existed for hundreds of years (there are paintings of the pilgrims wearing Hopalong Cassidy hats!) and I see even the winged, curled up on the sides hats on Civil War soldiers, but they were not favored by the cowboys. That's the difference.

There is a great photo of General Grant (I think 1864) in a John Ford-John Wayne style hat, a la 1950s and if I saw it in a modern Western I would be so indignant. But there it is, on Grant's head. Still. You don't see it on Cowboy's heads until the mid-1890s when they started to gravitate toward this style of hat. Cowboys have always been quite conservative in their styles. If one guy puts a dent in the side of his hat, they all did. It was really lock-step behavior. And it's still true today. Everyone is wearing what I call the George Strait look, Wrangler's, snap shirt, straw hat, same crease down to a gnat's ass. It's like an army uniform. Well, it was the same thing in the 1870s. Tucked in boots (which by the way went out of fashion with real cowboys in the 1940s when all the dude's on dude ranches started tucking in their boots), wide, unshaped brims, peaked or unblocked crowns with a haphazard-side crease, or dent (see Billy the Kid and others).

Like you, I can spot the era on most photos. I just got a new book and a photo is labeled 1880s but I can just smell 1904 or so. The collars, the hats, the leggings, the mustaches, or in many cases the lack of mustaches, and even the photo density (glass plate vs.modern film). It is an obsession, isn't it?


“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”
—W. Somerset Maugham{

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