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Cowboy Gear: Wild Rag

Bandana. Neckerchief. Wipes. Wild Rag.

“It’s the man that’s the cowhand, not the outfit he wears.”

The history of cowboy gear can be traced back to the Spanish Vaquero, who without question, looked very fine sitting astride a horse. The clothes they wore added much to their mystique and Hollywood contributed their own spin to the image of the American cowboy. The tools of their trade and the garb they wore had more to do with the work at hand and the tools used by a man whose days were spent under an endless blue sky. The costume of cowboys and cowgirls have adapted because it is more applicable to the work they do rather than the latest fashion trends. The wild rag is an example.


From pirates who sailed the seas, to British colonists, and even highway robbers, the simple square of cotton or linen has been around for centuries. Men sitting horseback and wearing neckerchiefs can be seen in most every historical photo of the American West. Evolving from the handkerchief, or the gentleman’s cravat, colorful bandannas are not just for looking fancy. They are a necessary tool of the working cowboy.

 Throughout the American west, this versatile piece of fabric has proved to serve many practical uses:

  • Tourniquet

  • Warmth in winter

  • Protection from the sun

  • Hot pot holder for the camp fire coffee pot

  • Wash cloth

  • Arm sling

  • Water filter

  • Wild bronc blindfold

  • Face shield from dust when you’re riding drag

Today the demand for wild rags continues as a popular part of the western style, and day workin’ cowboys and cowgirls wear them too. Fashionable wild rags are usually silk or rayon, and you can find cotton bandannas in a variety of colors.

Natalie Cline Bright is a blogger and author of the fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades, the RESCUE ANIMAL eBook series, and is currently working on an action-packed novel for young adults, WOLF’S WAR. Read about Natalie’s grandmother and her cherry salad recipe, recently selected for “THE WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: Favorite Recipes, Cooking Tips, and Writing Wisdom” (TwoDot Publishing, June 2017). Find out more about Natalie books here: Amazon Author Page.