Boss of the Plains

Few articles of clothing tell you more about the wearer than the cowboy hat. In fact, it’s probably tied with the yarmulke for “most defining headwear!” When you see someone wearing a cowboy hat, it’s a pretty safe bet that the person knows his way around a horse, or, at the very least, around a country and western song.

There are a couple of theories about the origin of the cowboy hat. For the sake of at least appearing unbiased, I will present both of the predominant theories.  Some people believe the cowboy hat, as we know it, evolved from the Mexican sombrero. Boy, it seems you can’t get through a day with an evolutionism vs. creationism argument, even when discussing cowboy hats!  I suppose it’s possible that the cowboy hat is a cousin of the sombrero through some sort of headwear big bang theory. But, as for me, I prefer to believe that some thoughtful and sensitive designer in the American West created the cowboy hat. Most people believe that designer to be none other than John B. Stetson. (Okay, so much for appearing unbiased!)

As far as how the design came about, there are a couple of tall tales!  One story says that Stetson had traveled west for health reasons. During a hunting trip, he fashioned a no-sew, cloth hat from beaver fur, without weaving. Why? Legend has it that he was in the middle of a testosterone-filled, brag session with friends. As a joke, he wore the hat for the rest of the trip,  and to his great surprise, he was very impressed with its utility. Following the trip, he decided to manufacture what is now known as the cowboy hat.  Another version of the Stetson story says he created the hat while panning for gold in Colorado. Again, he is said to have created the first hat from beaver fur felt. In both versions of the story, Stetson became fond of the warmth and protection of (what must have been a sight to behold) the first cowboy hat.

But, hold onto yer hats! There is reason to believe that Stetson might have borrowed the idea for the Stetson hat from a hat designed by Christy’s Hats in England. England???!!!! (I will pause for the collective gasp.) There is documentation that Christy’s produced the first ten-gallon hat. Stetson even lost a patent case with Christy’s. This resulted in Stetson paying a licensing fee to market the Stetson hat.

However it happened, in 1865, the John B. Stetson Co. was founded. The original hat style was called the “Boss of the Plains”. The Boss of the Plains was first sold in Central City, Colorado. In 1869, John B. Stetson returned to his home in Philadelphia, where he continued to churn out his $5 Stetson for the masses. By 1886, the John B. Stetson Co. was the largest hat manufacturer in the world. The company ceased manufacturing in 1970, began again in the 1980s and went bankrupt in 1986. But, the cowboy-hat-wearing-world wasn’t ready to bid farewell to the Stetson. Hatco, Inc. is currently manufacturing the Stetson.

Stetson hats have graced the heads of everyone from John Wayne to the Lone Ranger, from Annie Oakley to Trisha Yearwood. You can even visit the Stetson hat worn by J.R. Ewing on the television show “Dallas,” at the Smithsonian National Museum. The Stetson is still pretty much a part of the unspoken dress code for all country music crooners.  A flat-brimmed version is even worn with the Canadian Mounties’ dress uniform.

The cowboy hat still serves both fashion and function. You can even tell a lot about a person by the crease of his Stetson.  However it is worn, it is interesting to note that, more than 150 years after its creation, the Boss of the Plains continues to be Stetson’s biggest seller.

Hats off, Mr. Stetson. Hats off.


Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia


The Great Chili Controversy

It’s November. . .the time of year when we’re all thinking about “hot” topics.  As American citizens, we’re thinking quite a lot about the Presidential election.  But, as Westerners, we have our minds on a far more controversial topic than tax plans and healthcare reform; after all, IT’S CHILI SEASON!

Yes, it’s that happy time of year when tempers flare, almost as wildly as do taste buds. There are heated discussions and passionate debates. There may be discord among family members, and neighbors may be scarcely able to keep a civil tongue.  (Yes, I’m still talking about chili!)

If you want to see some real fireworks, ask the following questions to any group of people living west of the Mississippi:

■ Is chili with beans really chili?
■ Is there really such a thing as white chili, or is that just something created by the Liberal cooking shows?
■ Saltines, cornbread or Fritos?
■ Chunks of beef or ground beef?
■ Should chili be eaten with a dollop of sour cream or is that sacrilege?
■ Is vegetarian chili an oxymoron or is it just moronic?
■ Mild or spicy?

Chili is an issue of  epic proportions, which has led me to ponder how we might possibly harness that power, and put it to good use.  Could we perhaps use it to overhaul our entire electoral system? Instead of debates on pesky issues such as jobs or immigration, Presidential candidates could be asked their thoughts on chili. You can really tell a lot about a person by his chili preference, you know!

Then, instead of endless months of campaigning and debating, Presidential candidates could just face each other for a real match of wits . . . a chili cook off! Picture it!  Candidates could be given one day and all of the ingredients their hearts desire to create a killer chili, one sure to get them elected to the White House!  They could spend the day throwing in a dash of this and a dash of that, stirring, simmering and tasting. Finally, voters could line up and sample the entries.  This is still in the planning stages, so bear with me. I have yet to work out how every voter will be able to attend.

Chili cook offs are practically a fall and winter sporting event in the West.  A Presidential cook off would allow the rest of the nation to know what we in the West have known to be true for generations . . . chili matters! Chili  is a topic the entire unified nation can rally behind. It would be interesting to see if candidates might flip-flop on certain chili nuances depending upon the audience, but I digress.

While I would not normally share such personal information in a public arena, I’ve been thinking about my own answers to all of the important chili questions. I have done some major soul searching and here’s my official position on chili . . .  I can accept that ”real” chili has no beans. However, I enjoy beans in a bowl of what would otherwise be chili. The same is true for white chili, chicken chili and vegetarian chili. I find them spicy and delightful (although that probably has some chili connoisseurs outraged). Give them another name and I would still enjoy them.  A bowl of hot goodness by any other name is still delicious!

Saltines, cornbread and Fritos can each make for a nostalgic, chili-dining experience. Truth be told, I would probably choose a jalapeno cornbread to accompany my chili. While some purists will say that toppings have no place on chili, I enjoy them. Some grated jack cheese and some extra peppers should have a place on any chili-like substance.

Since it is obviously too late to change the handling of this upcoming Presidential election, and since the Founding Fathers would likely have disapproved of my suggestion of a Presidential Chili Cook-off , I am willing to table my proposal.  However, I do have a sudden and irresistible urge to attend a local chili cook-off, right about now!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia