Eagle County Rodeo: The way the West is worn
July 31, 2010
EAGLE, Colorado – Eagle is in the West.Aspen is in the West, too, but Ass-Pain has all the Western charm of a prairie dog hole and in Ass-Pain they wear their cowboy hats all wrong.Maybe you’re a cowboy, maybe you’re a fellow traveler on Spaceship Earth headed for New Mexico to stand on a mesa with your thumb in the air trying to hitch a ride off the planet.Out West, in places like the Eagle County Fair & Rodeo, we sit around the ol’ campfire telling stories about ropin’, ridin’, cowboyin’ and arguing about whether barbed wire was named after a prickly barroom floozy named Barb.Real American Cowboys do not sip chardonnay with their pinkies extended or eat sushi with chopsticks. That’s for dudes who sit around the dome lights of the Beemers and sing “Yuppie Tie Yo Tie Yay.”Real American Cowboys are allergic to dudes.Real American Cowboys wear their cowboy hats in the proper manner, and so should you. To find out what that is, exactly, we could have Googled it or Binged it, but that’s for latte lickin’ losers. We went straight to the source of all reliable information on these matters – a bar packed with Real American Cowboys.This is the West, home of the individual and other endangered species. So of course all the Real American Cowboys wore their hats the same way – straight across and level. There was none of this hats-cocked-askew or sideways. Real American Cowboys wear their hats pulled down snugly, about an index finger width above their eyebrow.Country singer Clint Black is considered a minor deity because he wears his hat that way.NASCAR legend Richard Petty does not. He wears his pushed back with a big feather hat band. But the Real American Cowboys in this bar, Eagle’s Brush Creek Saloon, say he’s excused because he does not claim to be a cowboy. Besides, he’s The King.
Sue and Ray Wade have been traveling cowboy hat sales people for years, a rolling haberdashery migrating from fair to fair selling their wares all summer.Sue will sell you a dandy hat, then show you how put it on.”You seat the front first, over your forehead, then the back. You snug it down so it’s about one finger width above your eyebrow,” Sue explained. “Handle it by the crown. Never, ever pull it down by the brim, on the sides or the back.”Hats are seasonal. Wear a straw hat in the summer and a felt hat in the winter. Most hats are rated by lining up a bunch of X’s. The more X’s the better the hat.A 20X Resistol will set you back about $400. You can buy hats up to 30X in the U.S., says Ray.Like cowboys themselves, cowboy hats are easy to care for.”You need a nice horsehair brush and a little bit of common sense,” Ray says.Lining up X’s is not just a film rating for movies of a certain type, or a brand of Mexican beer. We were told that Real American Cowboys only remove their cowboy hats for one thing, if you know what we mean and we think you do.But that’s not entirely true, either.Stephanie Johnson is a barrel racer from Texas and in the words of country star Lyle Lovett, “She’s cute as a button, short as a minute, she’s a pretty little package with everything in it.”She wears her jeans and Western shirts so tight that you can read the laundry instructions from across the room. Her perfectly worn cowboy hat floats above clothing that bounces like a burlap bag full of bobcats. When she walks, the girl has more moving parts than a Swiss watch.Cowboys have engaged in fisticuffs because someone said something untoward to her. Wars have been fought for sillier reasons.”You can tell there’s going to be some trouble when a cowboy stands up, takes off his cowboy hat and carefully sets it upside down on the table,” Johnson says. “They’ll knock each other all over the place, but they won’t let anything happen to their hats if they can help it.”Real American Cowboys never, ever mess with someone’s hat. When the ruckus is through, Real American Cowboys might be missing an appendage or two, but their hat will be untouched, right where they left it.
The cowboy hat was invented by John Stetson in 1862. His family was in the hat business back East. He was hunting Out West when some of the guys in his party said they wished someone would invent a hat that would keep the sun and rain off their faces. Young Mr. Stetson dug a round hole, formed together some rabbit fur and whatever else his family used to make hats, made sure it had a nice wide brim and gave it to the guy – who was so thrilled he almost proposed marriage right there on the spot.The cowboy hat is great for fanning the camp fire, around which stories of Barbed Wire Barb will be told. Cowboy actor Tom Mix made cowboy hats famous. Leonard Franklin Slye made every kid in America want one when he rode Trigger across the small screen as Roy Rogers. The Lone Ranger wore a white ones; his opponents wore black ones.