A derby ain’t just a horse race opinion dchieftain.com youtube gas monkey


They say there’s nothing that makes a person feel more foolish than chasing after their hat blown off in the wind. You run and run, finally slamming your foot down on it to pick it up. But it isn’t a hat anymore. It’s changed into something else, something symbolic; a conquest, bringing out my inner hunter-gatherer. Maybe that’s just me but being a hat person I’ve had to hold onto one almost every day this spring.

That’s what I get for wearing a broad-brimmed cowboy hat. My druthers would be to have a hat like Longmire’s, but, I fear, it would look silly on me. Come to think of it, I probably look silly in the old hat I wear every day, but after all these years I’m relegated to it.

I took to wearing cowboy hats in high school in Western Kentucky, which I blame on the television westerns of the 1950s and 60s. I mean, Rowdy Yates looked so cool and stoic in Rawhide, Paladin’s hat had silver conchos, and Bret Maverick, who wore his black hat on the back of his head. But then there was the Stetson derby worn by the real-life Bat Masterson.

Speaking of derbys, I was reading a book by Captain William French called Recollections of a Western Ranchman. French was manager of the sprawling WS Ranch over in Alma in the 1880s, and although he was “veddy” British he acquired a knack for western ways and his observations of the cowboy ranch hands at the WS was, as the English would say, spot on. He relates first-hand experiences with saddles, round-ups, Apache attacks and even the Elfego Baca Frisco Plaza standoff.

In the book French muses that the ranch hands wore all sorts of hats, mostly standard wide brimmed hats, but one particular cowboy who was the envy of others sported – you guessed it –a dapper black derby. High fashioned in those days, I guess, but I can’t picture Matt Dillon wearing one.

Those old westerns are getting a second life thanks to DVDs and streaming sites on the internet. Speaking of which, there were TV shows and movies where hats can be distinctive, such as Robin Hood’s whatever-it’s-called hat and the tri-cornered pirate hat Johnny Depp wears as Jack Sparrow, both of which would elicit either grins or double takes if worn while walking down a Socorro street.

The most common head cover in Socorro besides the cowboy hat seems to be the baseball cap. Everyone needs to have at least one. It may be a city ordinance, I don’t know. As designed, baseball caps are great at keeping the sun out of one’s eyes. Which doesn’t work if worn backwards. You think we could start a new trend if we start putting cowboy hats on backwards?

That’s besides the chapeau worn by various professions like firefighters, state police officers, Greek fishermen or Scottish pipers. I always fancied the hat worn by Sgt. Preston of the Yukon in the old TV show. Although some refer to it as a Smokey Bear hat, it started out as an Army campaign hat and is still worn by drill sergeants in boot camp, but for some reason it makes me think of pictures I’ve seen of President Theodore Roosevelt when he led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. Hmm…I don’t if Teddy ever own a derby, but I know he was an avid fisherman and probably had one with lures pinned to it. Actually, poet Carl Sandburg once said politicians should have three hats: “One to throw in the ring, one for talking through, and one to pull a rabbit out of if elected.”