Sunday, April 02, 2017

Hats Off! The History of Cowboy Hat Etiquette

April 2, 2017
   A knock-down-drag-out brawl has ensued over my recent post about "Saloon Etiquette for Cowboys," where I made the case that you should not touch, or try to grab and put on your head, a cowboy's hat. This led to a spirited discussion, both online and in our house, about exactly where a cowboy should take off his hat. In a church, for sure, around women (see photo, below), but then the trail gets a little fuzzy. This led me to wonder if this "domesticated" version of hathood was instigated and, or influenced, by women. In many of the comments, you hear,"My mother said you take off your hat when you are in MY house."

   I'm wondering if the photos of all those cowboys in saloons with their hats on had more to do with no women being there. And, by extension, there were less women in the Old West (we're talkin' "respectable" women) so the cowboys were less concerned about taking their hats off for ANYBODY! Imagine someone in a remote bunk house saying, "Now Cody, take your hat off when you come in here."

   My theory is that women have influenced the Hats Off Rule more than any other factor.


Pie Town Cowboys do a half-tip of the hat during the saying of grace, 1940s

This is all just a hunch but I'm curious about this so I sent it out to my friends who grew up in the Old West (1940s and 1950s) and I didn't have to wait long to get my first response:


Women Rule The Rules
   Okay Bob,  you will probably have as many responses for true hat etiquette as you do the responders.  But, basically since I am a SW gal, born in Prescott (before it became a “cute”cow town it was a real cow town), raised in Arizona and NM and having lived with ranchers and cowboys in Lincoln, here is what I have to say. 


Lynda Sanchez, historian and straight up cowgirl.
Women no doubt had something to do with the manners and gentler and polite style of living.  We always have unless you are some tough wannabe bushwacker or shootest.  Religion also played a roll once the outlaws were lead away.  Men by themselves can be slobs in all kinds of ways...hygiene, clothing style, sloppy mannerisms, bad table manners, leaving the toilet seat up etc. Presence of women usually causes them to change their ways, ha ha.
I had seen your post about the hats and actually just smiled when I read it last week.  I thought the photos were interesting and it just kind of made me think, well when men are together and there are no women out and about to try and impress, well they will just wear their hats as they please.  But I bet those men in the photos would take their hats off inside a church or in a person’s home.  Maybe in the old days bars did not count in that polite atmosphere.
Now, sometimes when we go places and there is no place to put your hat, then you keep it on your head.  They used to have hat racks or hooks but now you hardly find those in restaurants and if there is no other place to put that special hat, you just keep it on your head.  Same for church or you hold it on your lap or put it under the pew.
I was always taught that real cowboys tipped their hats to a lady or female.  My husband does that as do most of the old timers.  I was taught that you take off your hat or cap in a home, church, restaurant or theater.  In a public building you can keep it on, but if you go into a court room, out of respect (something we have forgotten about today in many ways) you better take it off otherwise the judge will nail you. 
  When I taught school, in my classroom the boys had to take off their hats or caps.  In other classrooms the teachers didn’t care.  If a kid entered my room and forgot my rule, all I had to do was point to my head and the hat was swept off and placed out of sight.  Thus, some individuals just have no manners or they don’t care or understand hat etiquette.
So, your theory may be closer to the truth than you think.  We have gotten away from a lot of the politeness we used to have thus many of our rules have little meaning except in enclaves here and there.  Fewer people wear hats now.  Oh, and by the way, you better not mess with my husband’s hat.  That is still a no no.  A man who wears a Stetson treats it like gold and so should the rest of the world! Punch
My husband is hauling cattle at the moment to Roswell, however, when he gets home I will see if he has anything else to add!
—Lynda Sanchez, Lincoln, New Mexico

"Touch my hat and I'll kick your ass so hard you'll be wearing IT for a hat."
—Julie from Wyoming

22 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:06 PM

    I suspect men in the old West kept their hats on anywhere they could not otherwise keep immediate control of them, because good hats have always been rather expensive, yet were absolutely essential to men who always traveled exposed to the weather on horseback or wagon seat, and often worked outdoors as well. Similarly, I suspect many men wore guns, even in places they might have preferred not to, simply because they had no secure place to park them. Exceptions were made in churches, not only because it was considered disrespectful to wear either there but also because it was thought churchgoers were less likely to pilfer somebody else's hat. Also people parked both hats and hardware upon entering somebody else's home, as an expression of respect and trust for the homeowner. These remain approximately the rules today; I know several people, who have concealed weapon permits, who tell me they leave the weapon locked in an auto when visiting a private home.

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  2. Anonymous9:28 PM

    As a kid growing up on cowoutfits in Yavapai County in the early 50s, there was a "hat etiquette "
    At the K4 where my dad had a camp there were a couple single cowboys who lived in the bunk house and ate with us. It was always yes man and no man, they would remove their hat when they entered the house and stood behind their chair until my mother sat down. If she got up to get something from the kitchen, they stood up until she returned. No one told them to, they just did it. Once one cowboy named Joe Waterloo Lonewolf Waddell wore his spurs to Dinner (the noon meal) and Mom politely informed him she didn't serve meals in the house to men with their spurs on. He went outside and removed his sourst.

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    1. Reading that makes me miss those days of proper manners. I like having the man open the door for me, take off his hat when he greets me, and in proper places, Church, at home, etc.

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  3. Anonymous3:36 PM

    Hats are worn in Cowboy Church but are removed during prayer.

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  4. Tony.4:23 PM

    Very interesting and enlightening.

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  5. My Dad always told my brothers and I to remove our hats in the house,or he'd remove them for us. And some of our head might go with it. Didn't take but one lesson for me and the brother a little younger than ne. The youngest brother it took a long line of regular lessons for him though.

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  6. I was always taught to remove my hat when I entered a building. As an aside, Coach Bum Phillips never wore his hat inside a covered stadium.

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  7. You don't wear a hat in church. PERIOD.

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  8. Dana Teresa5:58 PM

    Having grown up with cowboys, some of them having been born before 1900 including my Grandpa, and having worn one myself most of my younger years. There is one thing I will elaborate on Restaurants. When seated at a table, the hat comes off just as it would at your mother's table at home. When seated at a counter or bar, the hat stays on.

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  9. Ben Green was an old-time cowboy and horse trader from Texas. He wrote a couple books entitled HORSE TRADIN' and SOME MORE HORSE TRADIN'. He mentioned that when entering a café, it was considered okay to wear your hat if you sat at the counter on a stool, but if you sat at a table you should remove your hat.

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  10. All one really has to do is look at some of the "early" silent westerns in which many of the players were all former cowboys such as William S. Hart. (Remember even Wyatt Earp was a consultant on many early western picture).
    Men always removed their hats in church. They tipped their hats when passing a woman on the streets and most would remove them when being introduced or talking to them but this didn't seem to be a hard fast rule. Removing them at the table and indoors seemed to be the same--It seems it was house, rooming house and bunk house rules that generally applied. Men would also remove their hats to show honor to someone or something such as the rising of the flag. The Men of the Union army including General Grant all doffed their hats to General Lee as he left after surrendering at Appommattox.
    One comment about Lynda Sanchez judgemental comment of men. I have lived long enough to have seen many women who are just a slovenly and have just as many bad manners as any man. And in a single man's home, shouldn't the choice be his on the position of the toilet seat? Is there some hard and fast rule written in stone by god about this somewhere we don't know about? Being polite and honering someones habits and rules within their home goes both ways.

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  11. When I was a teenager in southeastern Oklahoma, ta boy came by the house to pick me up for a date. I will never forget the black cowboy hat he was wearing. My Dad, a cowboy himself, said, "Son, don't you want to take your hat off?" "No, sir." Daddy repeated his question and got the same clueless response. I was advised that I should never let that boy take me out again, not that I would have. Hats off in the house!

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  12. Anonymous10:35 PM

    I witnessed a street fight between two cowboys in Gallup, New Mexico in the early 1960's. What brought it on? When one of them offended the other by flipping at his hat, knocking it off into the street.

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  13. Anonymous11:08 PM

    In the working SW with the "dust up" most (cowboys and cowgirls) (call a true cowgirl a cow woman at your own risk) will take their hats off before entering a house to smack the dirt off it and themselves. Bring the range in with you at my Grandmother's and you turn into a house cleaner real fast.

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  14. I've read some hat etiquette that says you should remove your hat when you go in to a room that is not counted as a common room. I would guess the Saloons would be common rooms, just like the waiting area at a hospital or an office building. But when you get in to an office or someones private house you take it off. And you also take it off as a sign of respect, like in churches and in court. I haven't grown up wearing a hat myself, so I've had no one to teach me the rules but I have tried to find out by searching the Internet and by talking to Americans who wear hats when I've seen them. Hope I am not too far off as I wouldn't like to offend anyone.

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  15. I was raised on a Ranch in central New Mexico. I have worn a cowboy hat all my life. This is what I was taught by the older cowboys I grew up around and of course my Dad.
    1. You walk into someone's house and their wife or daughters are present that hat better come off.
    2. No hats worn in Church.
    3. You greet a lady you better tip that hat.
    4. Never eat with your hat on unless your outside.
    5. Take care of that hat their expensive.
    6. Real Cowboys always use good manners.

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    1. Anonymous11:56 AM

      I was raised many miles north of New Mexico but believe every word you say is true. It was almost an unwritten law of the land. Hardly anyone needed to be told and hardly anyone asked a question like "what do I do now"? The folks you grew up with " were my kind of people"! Thanks for your comments, Bill Dunn

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  16. Paul Timmerman10:36 AM

    U.S. soldiers are required to remove headgear when entering any building, unless "under arms." This habit has stuck with me for 30 years after my discharge. Also, if anyone lays his hat on a table in the officers' club, he buys a round.

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  17. Anonymous11:07 AM

    I did not grow up with cowboys, but was taught by my dad, that hats come off in the house and are never set on the table. Makes me so mad when I see young and old alike and never take there hats off, they should know better

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  18. Anonymous9:42 PM

    Bob, This is Dan Coleman, Glenn Boyers son, I hope you are well. There are a few simple rules on hats

    1) No hats indoors
    2) tip the hat to the ladies and remove on a greeting
    3) always off for the Star Spangled Banner and the Pledge
    4) A bar is NOT Indoors under this rule. A cowboy can wear his hat in a saloon or dance hall as a fashion piece, not as a hat. However not to eat

    Thanks, hope you are well

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  19. Anonymous9:42 PM

    PS, I live in Pie Town now!!

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