“Big Hat, No Cattle”

 “I was feeling real good and real manly. Until a real cowboy walked by and told me I had my hat on backwards. So much for my career as a cowboy.” – Michael Biehn

Okay, the title is an old Texas saying about someone who is all talk but brings nothing but his mouth to the table of life. A variation is “All Hat, No Cattle.” I began following a pig trail that involved Texans and their cowboy hats…or the lack thereof.

We have family in Texas…no we don’t say that in whispers despite Governor Greg Abbott and Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz being two of my least favorite people. It is my bride’s family anyway. I have plausible deniability. To be clear, we are not from Texas…no, we’re from South Carolina. Oh, the irony.

We have just returned from a week plus in Texas due to a family emergency. My bride’s brother had some issues, and we loaded the modern Conestoga, threw Quigley the Blue Heeler in the back, and drove straight through…as much as our bladders would allow to drive straight through. Including painful gasoline stops, fifteen hours to Richardson just outside of Dallas. I don’t suggest you do that even though we did the same thing coming back.

The brother is recovering, thanks for asking, but it was touch and go for a bit. I’m not sure Quigley will recover…or my back.

I grew up watching “oaters”, western movie reruns and TV programs, on a black and white TV. Many focused in Texas. The Lone Ranger for instance was a former Texas Ranger. I’m sure John Wayne played a Texan at some point in his nearly two hundred movies. Turns out, 1959’s Rio Bravo, its unnecessary 1967 remake El Dorado, and other sixties-era westerns like The Sons of Katie Elder, The Comancheros, and The Undefeated were all filmed in Texas.

Tom Tryon, with his turned-up Stetson, played real life Texas lawman, “Texas John Slaughter”, “who made ’em do what they oughta, and if they didn’t, they died.” That might be the Texas motto, or at least Governor Greg Abbott’s. Chuck Norris in “Walker Texas Ranger?” Too new? Maybe.

Texas is one of those places whose size is only dwarfed by their attitude of self-importance, but I found it interesting that I saw only one cowboy hat. One, and it wasn’t a ten-gallon one or a Stetson. I know they live near the urban center that is Dallas but even JR Ewing of “Dallas” fame, wore a big Stetson, usually white. I thought the good guys wore white hats.

The Texans I saw dressed just like the people from South Carolina. Baseball caps and “do rags” were the fashion choices. There were plenty of wide brimmed, floppy Boonie hats, too. Good thing, it was bright, sunny, and 99 degrees. The heat index? As a Texan so colorfully expressed, “Hotter than three feet up the Devil’s colon.”

The one cowboy hat I saw was obviously on the head of a working cowboy. It wasn’t the hat that was the giveaway but his cowsh!t incrusted cowboy boots. These weren’t boots for looks, these were boots that had stepped in a lot of manure. In between the hat and boots were faded Levi’s, a plain, big, buckled cowboy belt, and a long-sleeved denim snap button shirt. Yes, this fellow was the real deal.

His face was beetle brown, both from the sun and his ethnic background, and etched with crevasses. There seemed to be the permanent squint associated with staring into the sun.  I paused to watch him walk past to see if he had John Wayne’s practiced gait. He didn’t.

John Wayne saunters across the street in Rio Bravo

My thoughts circled, as they often do. I wondered what this fellow thought about the “Saturday Night” cowboys I sometimes see in my home state. Pointy toed cowboy boots, starched jeans with sharply ironed creases, a faded circle caused by a tin of Copenhagen Snuff in the back pocket, colorful western shirt, and a cowboy hat. All contained in a jacked up four by four that costs more than my house and requires a step ladder to climb into.

For some reason, the term “Dime Store Cowboy” comes to mind. I don’t know when I first heard the descriptor but according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “1: one who wears cowboy clothes but has had no experience as a cowboy. 2: one who loafs on street corners and in drugstores.”

“Dime Store” Cowboy? From Urban Cowboy Apparel

One of the most popular films of the 1980s was “Urban Cowboy.” It’s the story of a Houston oil rig roustabout (John Travolta) and a feisty young thing (Debra Winger) that looked great in her jeans. “Bud and Sissy” were “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places” according to Johnny Lee. Mostly the film’s action centered around the real-life Country-Western hot spot known as Gilley’s Club and helped elevate country-western music to the forefront.

The movie influenced me…not in a clever way. I hate to admit it, I had a big ole straw cowboy hat with a feathered hat band that put Richard Petty to shame and tried to learn the Texas Two Step. I mean, its two steps, how hard can it be?

I even rode a mechanical bull in an inebriated state once, just once. It was after my first run with Jose Cuervo. That would make me a dime store cowboy, and I don’t think it positively affected my ability to attract cowgirls in tight Levi’s.

Famed Race Car Driver Richard Petty with a hat I always wanted to pet.

Later, the lyrics to a Jimmy Buffett tune ran in my head, “Livingston Saturday Night.” “You got your Tony Lama’s on your jeans pressed tight. You take a few tokes make you feel all right. Rockin’ and a rollin’ on a Livingston Saturday Night.”

“Pickup’s washed and you just got paid. With any luck at all you might even get laid. ‘Cause they’re pickin’ and a kickin’ on a Livingston Saturday night.”

For the uneducated, Tony Lama’s refer to cowboy boots…expensive cowboy boots. I perused their site and the cheapest I saw were on sale for $695.00. I’ve bought cars for less. A Stetson El Presidente worn by JR to top off his western business look was a cool $919.00. Maybe that is why I didn’t see but one cowboy hat and it was the cheaper straw variety. Boy Howdy.

Cowboys wearing wide brimmed ten-gallon hats were a myth perpetuated by their depiction in early movies. Early western film star, Tom Mix wore the biggest in almost three hundred, mostly silent films. Of course, he was more flamboyant matinee idol than cowboy although he was an excellent rider and shot in real life. He was also friendly with Wyatt Earp of OK Corral fame, who didn’t wear a ten-gallon hat. He wore a medium brimmed, somewhat tall, crowned hat in photographs.

Tom Mix in a white ten gallon plus hat

The hat of choice by western cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen? The Derby, often called a Bowler. Narrow brimmed, it stayed on their heads in high winds and still protected from the sun. Renowned lawman Bat Masterson, renowned outlaw Butch Cassidy, and renowned killer or a misunderstood young man, William Bonney, known as Billy the Kid, shared that fashion statement. So did many of their contemporaries who were not as famous.

Butch Cassady and the Hole in the Wall Gang

To be clear, all cowboys didn’t wear one type of hat, but it was more about what they could get their hands on. Wild Bill Hickok even wore a ladies’ pancake hat.

The man with the cowboy hat seemed out of place in an area that should have been awash in cowboy hats. Out of place but then I realized I saw him in a Walmart. Nothing is out of place in a Walmart whether in South Carolina or Texas.

Gene Autry’s ode to the dime store cowboy before there were dime stores. “I’m an Old Cowhand.”

Don Miller’s writings can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1l23Kv0gebvmz3IbLqYeEtFUuZyUvj4_kM3k59LhVQjCr0bkmbp6V_Hd4

9 thoughts on ““Big Hat, No Cattle”

  1. Your post brought back lots of happy memories of watching Western cowboy movies in our small hometown of Georgetown, Guyana. Lots of John Wayne and Gene Autry movies. Later came the Western cowboy classics, like The Magnificent Seven (1960s).

    Like

  2. My dad was an authentic cowboy growing up in Montana on a very small Homestead. He bought a 10 gallon hat one time when I was a kid just as a joke. There’s a lot of Cowboys and a lot of hats here in Wyoming.

    Like

  3. Better than Lots of Cattle, No Hat?!?!?! 😀
    I hope your BIL continues to do well.
    I grew up on Westerns. We still get excited when a new Western comes out (movie or TV show) and still enjoy watching the well-seasoned ones from days gone by.
    I enjoyed Michael Biehn in The Magnificent Seven a American western television series based on the 1960 film. 🙂
    Most of my life we’ve lived near ranches and ranchers…some of our best friends. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

    Like

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