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The Other Hat that Won the West


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The Other Hat that Won the West
It's widely believed that from the time of the first trail drive onward, all outdoor activities performed by Texans of the masculine persuasion were done under the shade of a wide brim provided by Mr. John B. Stetson. 
But while the Stetson and its imitators were extremely popular in Texas, especially on ranch and range, it had nothing approaching a monopoly.
If you examine a few thousand photos taken in Texas from the 1870s to about 1900 (and I have) you will see your share of silk toppers, straw boaters, slouch hats, and various caps.
You will also see more than your share of the melon crowned bowler, also known as the derby. It was probably the most popular hat of the last quarter of the 19th century.
Some men preferred it because it was less likely to blow off in a strong wind, but mostly they just liked the way they looked wearing it.
Quanah Parker on his front porch about 1890
The bowler was created in 1849 by London hat makers Thomas and William Bowler, so you can probably guess how it got it's name.
They created it for the Earl of Leicester, who wanted a hard crowned, tight fitting hat to protect the heads of his gamekeepers from low hanging branches while riding.
It became popular with working classes, and like so much working class style (blue jeans, tattoos...), it was adopted by the younger members of the middle and upper classes.
An 1886 ad from the Dallas Herald
As you know, fashion also has its victims, and the bowler claimed some famous scalps.
When not robbing trains and banks, The Wild Bunch (aka Hole-in- the-Wall Gang,) would head for Fort Worth and the area south of the Tarrant County Courthouse known as Hell's Half Acre. Butch Cassidy and the boys enjoyed the saloons, brothels, and gambling dens.
One day in 1900 they decided to sit for a portrait to show off their new duds, especially their dapper bowler hats, purchased with some of the $32,000 they had recently taken from a bank in Nevada.
Unfortunately for the Wild Bunch, the photographer they chose also took all the mug shots for the Fort Worth Police Department, and he was proud enough of their photo to display it. When an officer brought in a suspect to be photographed, he recognized the derby topped hoodlums. The gang scattered.
Butch and Sundance lit out for Argentina. With the photo now circulating among lawmen, they probably decided to ditch the bowlers.
The Wild Bunch
Front Row: Harry Alonso Longbaugh (aka The Sundance Kid), Ben Kilpatrick (aka The Tall Texan), Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy), 
Back Row: Will Carver, Harvey Logan (aka Kid Curry)
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