Just like all of my stories, this particular one needs to begin with the Spanish Vaqueros. Vaqueros, the original cowboys, wore wide brimmed sombreros to protect their faces from the sun and their bodies from the elements. They were fashioned with just a bit of stylish lacing or conchs to fit the individual rider.
As cowboying spread with the cattle drives and ranches, southern cowboys adapted the hat to suit their own needs, using beaver or other type of pliable hide.
Other hats of the time were typical round brimmed planter hats, top hats, military hats, bowlers, pork pie hats. Some were sold from catalogs like Sears and Roebuck, others shipped to western stores from eastern manufactures. The loggers, wagon-trainers, native people, miners, farmers, writers, riders, soldiers, merchants of the west wore what was needed and determined by their culture, heritage, circumstances and money.
No matter where the hat came from it was a treasured item, a necessity for the growing western population
Around 1860 a young son of a Philadelphia businessman, named John Stetson, went out west for his health. While there, he crafted a hat made of beaver hide, with a high crown to insulate the head and a wide, stiff brim to help protect his upper body. He loved the hat and wore it on his travels, eventually selling it to another rider. After returning to Philadelphia he began manufacturing the hats, calling them “the boss of the plains” It was said that these hats were perfect for watering a horse out on the dusty tail, and was marketed with a picture of a cow hand watering his horse from the hat, but in actuality, that would have been pretty tough on the shape and sturdiness of the fur.
This style increased in popularity, and varieties of them were created, to be snapped up by western cow hands, farmers. Originally, a un-creased simple version, the “boss” modified with use, becoming the hat now synonymous with the western cowboy. Some hats were called the Montana Peak, from the four finger dents placed in the crown by it’s wearers, and others came to called the Carlsbad Crease, derived from the long back to front crease placed in it’s brim by handling.
The ten gallon hat was first created in the early 1920’s. The hat itself was more of a 4 gallon variety and was slightly misnamed; again derived from the Vaqueros, whose sombreros were measured by diameter by the galleon, a unit of measure. These hats were epitomized by the cowboys of the silver screen and rodeos.
Cowboy hats have continued to evolve, being worn today by businessmen and cowboys alike. Cowboy hats have become part and parcel of western romance and will continue to represent the rugged old west forever.