May 30, 2007
Two weeks ago, I was on the Johnny Western Radio Show in Wichita (KFDI-FM 101.3) and while we were in commercial break, Johnny challenged me on one of my statements in a True West Moment that ran on the Westerns Channel a year, or so, ago. Here is the shooting script for the segment in question:
Hats Off to Ya
The traditional cowboy hat is known worldwide by its distinctive shape and style (I am holding a swept up brimmed modern cowboy hat in my hands). But did the cowboys in the Old West actually wear hats like these? The answer to this question may surprise you.
In looking at thousands of cowboy photographs from the 1870s and 1880s there is not one cowboy with a hat on that resembles this one. [photos flash by, of chuck wagon cowboys and in the studio, scanning quickly to the heads and hats. Gus, we need some good head shots of big, flat brimmed cowboy hats.] The modern cowboy hat with the swept up, curled brim was not favored by the authentic trail drivers and buckaroos of the Old West.
What they did wear, was this: a shapeless crown, perhaps with a haphazard dent, (I dent the hat in my hand), straight brims, sometimes pushed up in front seems to be the uniform style of the American cowboy in the Wild West era.
Now that’s not to say there weren’t hats out West that curled up on the sides, but they aren’t seen on cowboy’s heads [we run several photos of soldiers and even one of the Promitory Point railroad spike celebration where a guy has on a swept up sides hat, plus a famous photo of Custer with swept up sides hats].
Nope. Not a one. It wasn’t until the late 1890s and early 1900s that we see cowboys gravitating to the style of headgear that we today recognize as the cowboy hat.
[need a few good shots of cowboy hats evolving into the swept up sides style.]
Once the monster peaks and curled, or winged brims caught on, it became an integral part of the cowboy uniform to this very day. But it didn’t exist in the cowboy heyday of the Old West. Kind of ironic, don’t you think?
I’m Bob Boze Bell and this has been a True West Moment
Johnny claimed to have a photograph of a cowboy in the 1880s wearing a swept up sides, modern looking cowboy hat. I asked him if he was sure it was the 1880s, because me and my hat Nazi friends have studied thousands of photos and we have never seen a cowboy in a swept-up sides hat from the 1870s-1880s era. They start showing up in the 1890s, but not before. Johnny assured me he had one, and I was so cock-sure that he didn't, that I wagered him a free lunch at El Encanto, on me, if he could produce the photo, AND it was from the 1880s, or earlier.
Yesterday, Johnny sent me the photograph from a book "The Peacemakers" by R.L. Wilson and dated (in a caption) 1887 of Buck Taylor, a Buffalo Bill "cowboy" wearing a hat with definite swept up wings. I'll run that photo tomorrow with a full confession.
"If he works for you, you work for him."
—Old Vaquero Saying
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