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Cowboy Gear: Hat

Stetson. Conk-case. Lid. War-bonnet. Ten-gallon.


“Don’t Mess with a cowboy’s hat.”

The cowboy hat remains a universal image of the working cowboy. If you put one on your head, you’ll feel taller, perhaps a little more adventurous. In the fraction of a second, you suddenly become part of the golden age of the American west.

John Batterson Stetson called his 1865 creation “Boss of the Plains”.

Suited for hotter climates of the west, Stetson’s original design had a four inch crown, four inch flat brim, and cost $5 bucks.


Stetson learned the hat-making trade at an early age from his father. As a young man, he was diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis), forcing him to leave his home and family in New Jersey for dryer climates. He relocated to the gold fields of Pikes Peak, Colorado where the idea came to him for a hat. As with everything a cowboy uses, even the lid on his head can become a valuable tool.

With a smaller brim than the sombrero, Stetson made his design more practical for the western lifestyle and climate. 

  • A water container for your horse

  • Fan for campfire flames

  • When swatted against a thigh, a useful tool to motivate stubborn livestock

  • Shield a riders neck and face from sun, rain or snow

  • Smaller brim allowed a rider to swing a rope over his head.


As popularity grew, production was established in Philadelphia and throughout its history, about 3,300,000 felt hats were produced making John B. Stetson the largest hat maker in the world.

Over the years, the Stetson has maintained its reputation for exceptional quality. Remaining unchanged from the basic 1865 design, these western style hats are worn today by the Texas Rangers, National Park Service employees, and US Calvary soldiers.

Today you can find a wide variety of styles and colors made by numerous hat makers, but the cowboy hat remains an iconic symbol of the American West.

All photos by N. Bright.

Natalie Cline Bright is a blogger, hobby photographer, 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). Visit her Amazon Author Page to learn more.