Tales to tell of ten-gallons | AspenTimes.com

Tales to tell of ten-gallons

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

“If it’s her you want/I don’t care about that/You can have my girl/But don’t touch my hat,” from “Don’t Touch My Hat,” by Buttermilk denizen, Lyle Lovett. And that’s pretty much how it is with hats, especially the cowboy kind.

With all due respect, we have to remember that John B. Stetson, the “father” of the western hat as we know it today, hailed from New Jersey and made most of his hats in Philadelphia, but really, who cares.

There used to be an old boy, a longtime local named Bishop, perennially sitting at the corner of the Red Onion bar, who assaulted anyone who dared enter with a cowboy hat upon his head, with the question, “Got any shit on your boots?” The difference between a genuine cowboy and a dude (with a hat), or so he seemed to imply.

My dad liked to tell the story about traveling to Denver on the train, scheduled the next morning to meet 200 head of cattle shipped from Woody Creek, and as was the custom of the time, hung his brand-new Stetson on a rack outside the dining car while having dinner. Upon leaving to return to his seat, his highly prized chapeau was gone, replaced by a nondescript and battered fedora, apparently left by a man of questionable means. Dad was appreciative of being left a hat, at least, but often wondered what effect its miserable look had on the price of cattle the next day.

My granddad had a beautiful, silver belly, ten-gallon Stetson, a big crease down the middle and a wide brim, the edge bound by tightly woven silk thread. A wide, silk band around the crown gussied out the hat and Gramps kept it in the tiny alcove at the top of the basement stairs. He only wore it when he and I were out moving cows or chasing wild horses, a fact that made it special to me. When Granddad died, the hat became mine, and I have to say, a 12-year-old kid wearing such a lid on top of his skinny body probably looked a little strange, but I didn’t care.

Ever since I’ve been old enough to ride a horse, I’ve always had at least one Stetson in my possession, and I’d feel my wardrobe wasn’t complete without one. Hats get passed down, in the sense that an original dress hat eventually becomes one for riding and drinking, then used for working and drinking, and then finally, just a well-worn hat on the rack. I don’t have any really old hats, simply because I’ve given them all away over the years to good-looking women who have admired them. I gave one ol’ wrecked hat to my cousin, Don Stapleton, who claims to still have it. I’d like to see it some day before I die ” it’d be kind of like seeing an old friend, come back from wherever he moved to long ago.

Hats are personal items, not unlike shirts or even underwear, so it’s not as though they make a very good general gift, ’cause they also come in a variety of sizes and styles. But, you know, the nicest hat on my wall was a gift from my good friend, Tom Yoder, proprietor of the cowboy emporium up on Cooper and also the resident horseman of Emma. A lady friend of mine once remarked, “Yoder sure looks good under a cowboy hat,” and thus, I can only hope I look near as good in a hat that Yoder had something to do with.

Anyhow, dress or work, a man’s hat is his most treasured item of personal apparel, and to the lady mentioned above, “Say or do what you want, my dear, but don’t, don’t touch my hat.”