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Cowboy Gear: Bandana

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

Wild Rag. Neckerchief. Wipes. Bandana.

Cowboys don’t just wear neckerchiefs to look good. They actually serve a useful purpose.

The history of cowboy gear can be traced back to the Mexican Vaquero, who without question, looked very fine sitting astride a horse. The cattle handling talents of the Vequero, and their clothing and gear, were adapted by frontier cowboys. Their unique appearance added much to their mystique and Hollywood contributed their own spin to the image of the American cowboy. The tools of the trade and the garb they wore had more to do with the work at hand. The wild rag, or bandana, 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. More than a century ago the frontier town mercantile sold a square of cloth in a paisley design. These tear drop shapes first appeared in the early 1900s, and were thought to have originated in Persia and India thousands of years ago before coming to Europe.

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 ‘cowboy chic’ style, and day workin’ cowboys and cowgirls wear them too. Fashionable wild rags are usually silk or rayon, and you can find cotton bandannas still with the paisley design in a variety of colors.

Natalie Bright is an author, blogger, and speaker. MAVERICK HEART coming January! Written with co-author Denise McAllister, the new WILD COW RANCH series will be available January 2021, a Christian Western Romance from CKN Christian Publishing. Book #1 MAVERICK HEART. Book #2 WILD COW WINTER. Book #3 FOLLOW A WILD HEART.

In May 2021, look for KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN‘ featuring authentic recipes from the cattle trail along with ranch photography and history of the great cattle driving era. Pre-order it now from TwoDot Books.

Find out more about Natalie books here: Amazon Author Page.