In December 2022, the Great Florida Cattle Drive will hit the trail, driving approximately 1,000 cattle from Deseret Ranch in St. Cloud, zigzagging to Kenansville. Anyone can go, so long as you have a horse to ride or wagon or buggy and horse or mule to pull it. If you spent your childhood dreaming of riding the range and sleeping under the stars, this is your chance! But it’s not something you should attempt without preparation for yourself and your horse. My horse, Callie, and I are registered to participate in the drive. We’ll spend the coming months preparing for the trip. So follow along as we celebrate the Florida cattle industry and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime on Great Florida Cattle Drive.
“Can I use this hat to give my horse a drink of water?”
While most milliners and hatters would balk at this request, Jay “Jaybird” Crews at Eli’s Western Wear in Okeechobee laughed. He pointed to a box emblazoned with the classic Stetson ad depicting a cowboy pouring water into his hat to share the precious liquid with his thirsty mount.
Felt or palm hats will hold water, he explained. Straw hats will not. But Florida cowboys usually have no lack of abundant water sources and rarely have to resort to sharing the contents of their canteens with their horses.
“Now a real cowboy might lie down and take a drink from the stream with his horse,” he added.
Whether or not it can be used to water a horse, the hat is a critical part of a cowboy’s attire. The traditional “cowboy hat” has evolved over the years.
When European-Americans headed west, they brought with them many different types of headwear. Bowler hats, which had a reputation for staying on in windy conditions, were popular on the frontier, as evidenced by photos of Bat Masterson, Butch Cassidy and Kid Curry. Lucius Beebe, who wrote for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada, dubbed the bowler “the hat that won the west.”
A rare photo of Billy the Kid shows the outlaw wearing what appears to be a top hat.
Hundreds of thousands of uniform hats were manufactured during the Civil War (1861-1865). After the war, some former soldiers adapted these hats into their everyday dress.
A trip out west inspired a Philadelphia hat maker to create what would become the iconic cowboy hat. According to legend, in 1865 John B. Stetson invented the hat while on a hunting trip. He fashioned felt from beaver fur and then molded it into a hat. He then reportedly wore this protype hat for much of the rest of the trip. The story goes that a cowboy saw the hat, tried it on and offered Stetson a $5 gold piece for it. Stetson, realizing the market for the durable, practical hat returned to Philadelphia and started manufacturing high quality Boss of the Plains hats that could stand up to the elements.
Stetson used beaver fur because he wanted the hat to be waterproof. Despite the high price for the time, the Boss of the Plains hat soon became popular with working cowboys who prized the hat’s durability. The wide brims provided protection from the sun or the rain. The high crown provided insulation.
The durability of a Stetson Boss of the Plains hat received notoriety in 1912, when the battleship U.S.S. Maine was raised from Havana Harbor. A Stetson hat was recovered from the wreck, after being submerged in seawater for 14 years. The hat was cleaned up and appeared to be in remarkably good condition.
Over the years, individuals began to customize Boss of the Plains hats by steaming them to soften the felt, then creasing them or curving the brims in various designs. Rodeo riders used a different crease design than working ranch hands. Some ranches had their own designs.
EarnYourSpurs.com offers the following rules for cowboy hats:
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